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Homogenizing the High Street: the Economic Cleansing of Minority Elites through Fiscal Discrimination

Headshot of Asli Cansunar

Asli Cansunar


Fiscal discrimination, used as a tool to achieve political objectives against vulnerable groups is a common yet understudied political tactic. Why do governments use taxation to strategically weaken select groups? And given tax systems' intricacies, how can discriminatory policies be identified by political economists? We argue that when direct confiscation is politically risky, elites may opt for biased fiscal measures. Furthermore, fiscal policy weaponization can be identified through the mass departure of targeted groups from commercial and property sectors following the introduction of such tax strategies. We support these arguments using an original dataset from 1936-1953 telephone directories and 1942-1944 newspapers from Turkey. We find that the Turkish political elite used a capital levy to curb the property rights of targeted minority groups, facilitate inter-ethnic wealth transfers, and penalize non-Muslim minorities for non-compliance through a "progressive'' tax. Our findings highlight the importance of studying fiscal discrimination as a tool of ethnic violence. Additionally, this paper shows how to use economic and social resources to study ethnic violence in developing countries where population and diversity data is not available.


Asli Cansunar is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington. Before joining the University of Washington, she was a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Nuffield College and the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Oxford. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science (2018) and an MA in Economics (2014) from Duke University.