This paper studies the practice of Müsadere in the Ottoman Empire. Müsadere refers to the expropriation of elites—often tax farmers or administrators—by the Sultan. This practice is interesting from both political economy and economic history perspectives as the Ottoman Empire continued to increase its reliance on it during the eighteenth century, a period when European states were investing in fiscal capacity and building bureaucratic tax systems. The main argument is that Sultans faced a “political Laffer curve:” if revenue is too low, the state collapses; if fiscal extraction is too high there is a rebellion and the Sultan risks losing power. While expropriations (müsadere) allow the Sultan to keep taxes low, they are vulnerable to provoking elites to invest in fugitive rather than (more productive) captive assets. We also show that the Sultan is more prone to target politically strong elites when his fiscal capacity is low.
State predation in historical perspective: the case of Ottoman müsadere practice during 1695–1839
5 March 2020