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Taxes for Independence

Rejecting a Fiscal Model of Reciprocity in Peri-urban Bolivia

Miranda Sheild Johansson


In peri-urban Cochabamba, Bolivia, the ‘informally’ employed population reject the government's fiscal offer of taxes in return for welfare, infrastructure, and rights, including the offer's underlying logic of reciprocity. Instead, they disaggregate the fiscal landscape by choosing to engage with some taxes and avoid others, understanding the exchanges that do take place as vehicles for independence from the state as opposed to interdependence with the state. An anthropology of tax must do the same: deconstruct fiscal systems, examine the multiple exchange logics at play, investigate the production of diverse forms of ‘economic citizenship’, and locate emic definitions of tax within their historical and cultural context. Specifically, reciprocity should not be assumed to be an organizing principle of fiscal imaginaries or realities.