Gustavo A. Flores-Macías

Associate Professor of Government

Associate Vice Provost for International Affairs

Cornell University

gaf44 [at]



2019. The Political Economy of Taxation in Latin America (Edited Volume) (New York: Cambridge University Press)

2012. After Neoliberalism? The Left and Economic Reforms in Latin America (New York: Oxford University Press)

Winner of the Latin American Studies Association’s Luciano Tomassini Book Award 2014


Cond. Accepted. “Building the Modern State: Understanding the Relationship between Public Safety and Taxes with Evidence from Mexico,” Politics & Society (with Mariano Sánchez-Talanquer).

Abstract. What is the relationship between taxation and public safety? Contrary to studies suggesting that both personal victimization and heightened perceptions of insecurity increase pro-social attitudes and support for state intervention in the form of greater taxation, we argue that concern for crime decreases people’s willingness to pay taxes to address public safety. Based on an original nationally representative survey conducted in Mexico, and relying on the contingent valuation method to assess the value of non-market goods, we estimate the amount citizens are willing to pay for reductions in crime. We also find that attitudes toward taxation respond to subjective, sociotropic assessments about public safety conditions, rather than the actual risk or occurrence of individual victimization. Our findings run counter to the conventional wisdom that demand for personal security enables greater extraction, a central proposition in classic accounts of statebuilding. By showing that the inclination to accept heavier taxation may be the weakest precisely among those who perceive the gravest need for security, the study adds precision to theories of fiscal exchange.

Forthcoming. “The Militarization of Law Enforcement: Evidence from Latin America,” Perspectives on Politics (with Jessica Zarkin).

Abstract. What are the political consequences of militarizing law enforcement? Across the world, law enforcement has become increasingly militarized over the last three decades, with civilian police operating more like armed forces and soldiers replacing civilian police in law enforcement tasks. Scholarly, policy, and journalistic attention has mostly focused on the first type, but has neglected the study of three main areas toward which this article seeks to contribute: 1) the constabularization of the military—i.e., when the armed forces take on the responsibilities of civilian law enforcement agencies, 2) the extent to which this process has taken place outside of the United States, and 3) its political consequences. Toward this end, this article unpacks the concept of militarized law enforcement, develops theoretical expectations about its political consequences, takes stock of militarization in Latin America, and evaluates whether expectations have played out in the region. It shows that the distinction between civilian and military law enforcement typical of democratic regimes has been severely blurred in the region. Further, it argues that the constabularization of the military has had important consequences for the quality of democracy in the region by undermining citizen security, human rights, police reform, and the legal order.

2018. “The Consequences of Militarizing Anti-Drug Efforts for State Capacity in Latin America: Evidence from Mexico,” Comparative Politics 51, 1:1-20.

Abstract. In response to the threat posed by drug-trafficking organizations, developing countries are increasingly relying on the armed forces for their counter-drug strategies. Drawing on the literature on violence and state capacity, this article studies how the militarization of anti-drug efforts affects state capacity along two dimensions: public safety and fiscal extraction. It advances theoretical expectations for this relationship and evaluates them in the context of Mexico. Based on subnational-level analyses, it shows that the militarization of anti-drug efforts has decreased the state's capacity to provide public order and extract fiscal resources: homicide and kidnapping rates have increased while tax collection has decreased. Given the wide-ranging consequences of diminished state capacity, the findings have implications not only for Latin America but also across the developing world.

2018. “Building Support for Taxation in Developing Countries: Experimental Evidence from Mexico,” World Development 105, 5 (May):13-24.

Abstract. Drawing on insights from the literature on institutional design—how rules shape behavior to achieve desired outcomes—this article examines how certain design features of taxes—such as allowing for civil society oversight, earmark mechanisms that direct tax revenue for a specific purpose, and sunset provisions that make the duration of taxes finite—affect political support for tax reforms. It also evaluates how three important aspects of the fiscal exchange—trust in government, perceptions of the public good, and level of income—shape the effect of these design features. Based on an original survey experiment focusing on the provision of public safety in Mexico, I find that these design features increase political support for taxation, especially among those with low trust in government and low income. These findings have important implications not just for Mexico but also a number of other countries across Latin America that have both low levels of extraction and increased public spending imperatives.

2017. “Borrowing Support for War: The Effect of War Finance on Public Attitudes toward Conflict,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 61, 5 (May) (with Sarah Kreps)

Abstract. How does the way states finance wars affect public support for conflict? Most existing research has focused on costs as casualties rather than financial burdens, and arguments that do speak to the cost in treasure either minimize potential differences between the two main forms of war finance--debt and taxes--or imply that war taxes do not dent support for war among a populace rallying around the fiscal flag. Using original experiments conducted in the United States and United Kingdom, we evaluate the relationship between war finance and support for war. We find that how states finance wars has important impacts on support for war, and that the gap in support resulting from different modes of war finance holds across the main democracies engaging in conflict, regardless of the type of war or individuals’ party identification. The findings have important implications for theories of democratic accountability in wartime and the conduct of conflict, since borrowing shields the public from the direct costs of war and in turn reduces opposition to it, giving leaders greater latitude in how they carry out war.

2016. “Latin America's New Turbulence: Mexico's Stalled Reforms," Journal of Democracy 27, 2 (April)

Abstract. Following his election as president, the domestic and international media heralded the prospect of the PRI's Enrique Peña Nieto ushering in “Mexico’s Moment.” The expectation of greater economic development and lower crime rates was so high that observers even preemptively labeled Mexico the “Aztec Tiger.” Initially, the country appeared to be on the path to successful reforms, which promised to jolt the economy out of stagnation and bring much needed growth and development. Within the first year of Peña Nieto’s administration, fiscal, telecommunications, antitrust, banking, education, and electoral reforms were adopted. As Peña Nieto’s presidency matured, however, the so-called Mexico Moment lost steam, derailed by important setbacks in the two most important spheres for Mexicans: public safety and the economy. The growth that was to follow the structural reforms has not materialized, and public safety concerns are as present as ever. Growth has remained tepid, and violent crime continues to be high. Additionally, the government’s record regarding human rights, freedom of press, and transparency has been dismal. How did the administration that had successfully approved the most significant structural reforms—many of which had been postponed for decades—find itself in this situation?

2014. “Financing Security through Elite Taxation: The Case of Colombia’s Democratic Security Taxes,” Studies in International Comparative Development 49, 4 (December)

Abstract. Governments across the developing world in general, and Latin America in particular, tend to have difficulty in raising taxes among elites. Beginning in 2002, however, the Colombian government adopted a series of wealth taxes among the wealthiest taxpayers. Revenue from the tax was earmarked for security expenditures and represented about 1 % of GDP. Drawing on elite interviews, surveys, government documents, and media sources, this article studies the factors behind the adoption of the tax. It finds that three main factors make the elite tax possible, namely the combination of fiscal and security crises, cohesion among business and government elites, and improving perceptions of the government's provision of public safety. The findings should inform efforts in the developing world, where low levels of fiscal extraction, deteriorating security conditions, and mounting public safety expenditures are common.

2013. “Political Parties at War: A Study of American War Finance 1789-2010," American Political Science Review 107, 4 (November) (with Sarah Kreps)

Abstract. What determines when states adopt war taxes to finance the cost of conflict? We address this question with a study of war taxes in the United States between 1789 and 2010. Using logit estimation of the determinants of war taxes, an analysis of roll-call votes on war tax legislation, and a historical case study of the Civil War, we provide evidence that partisan fiscal differences account for whether the United States finances its conflicts through war taxes or opts for alternatives such as borrowing or expanding the money supply. Because the fiscal policies implemented to raise the revenues for war have considerable and often enduring redistributive impacts, war finance—in particular, war taxation—becomes a high-stakes political opportunity to advance the fiscal interests of core constituencies. Insofar as the alternatives to taxation shroud the actual costs of war, the findings have important implications for democratic accountability and the conduct of conflict.

2013. “The Foreign Policy Consequences of China’s Economic Rise: A Study of China’s Commercial Relations with Africa and Latin America, 1992-2006,” Journal of Politics 75, 2 (April)  (with Sarah Kreps)

Abstract. What are the foreign policy consequences of China’s growing trade relations? In particular, are states that trade more heavily with China more likely to side with it on key foreign policy issues? Does a shift toward China come at the expense of American influence? We evaluate these questions using data on bilateral trade for China and developing countries in Africa and Latin America between 1992 and 2006. Using ordinary and two-stage least squares to control for endogeneity, we present the first systematic evidence that trade with China generates foreign policy consequences. The more states trade with China, the more likely they are to converge with it on issues of foreign policy. This has implications for the United States, whose foreign policy preferences have diverged from those of China during the period of study and who may find it harder to attract allies in international forums.

2013. “Mexico’s 2012 Elections: The Return of the PRI,” Journal of Democracy 24, 1 (January)

Abstract. With Mexico seeming poised for a change election in 2012, why did it vote in a regime that ruled the country for much of the 20th century? Is the new PRI different from the old PRI? What are the implications of the PRI’s return for Mexico’s democracy? This article argues that several institutions on which the old regime was based remained intact after the transition, which made the return of the PRI almost inevitable. It suggests that the PRI's return is a mixed blessing for Mexican democracy. On the one hand, the peaceful turnover of power among all parties is a welcome sign that democracy is maturing. Political parties should have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes—a sign that electoral accountability may be working. On the other hand, however, the return of the PRI is likely to reinvigorate several features of the old regime that remained unscathed by the country’s democratic transition, potentially representing a setback for Mexico's young democracy.

2012. “Making Migrant-Government Partnerships Work: Insights from the Logic of Collective Action,” Political Science Quarterly 127, 3 (Fall)

Abstract. This article analyzes government efforts to attract collective remittances for development. Building on insights from the literature on collective action and illustrating with the cases of Mexico and El Salvador, it finds that leadership incentives, positive inducements in the form of private good, and certain trust-enhancing rules play a key role in the success of government–migrant partnerships.

2010. “Statist vs. Pro-Market: Explaining Leftist Governments’ Economic Policies in Latin America,” Comparative Politics 42, 4 (July)

Abstract. Following the series of leftist victories in Latin America, scholars have focused on explaining how the left reached power but have overlooked the study of the left in government. Why have Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela adopted statist economic policies, while Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay have adhered to market orthodoxy? Three accounts—executive strength, drastic economic crises, and rentier state theory—are insufficient. Instead, differences in party system institutionalization best explain variation in economic policies. Institutionalized party systems make it more likely that leftist governments conduct piecemeal reforms, while inchoate party systems are conducive to significant economic transformations. This view is illustrated with cross-national evidence and case studies of Chile and Venezuela.

2009. “NAFTA’s Unfulfilled Immigration Expectations," Peace Review 20, 4 (Winter)

Book Chapters

Forthcoming. “The Political Economy of NAFTA / USMCA," in Gabriel Ondetti et al (eds.) Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American Politics, New York: Oxford University Press.

Abstract. The objective of this chapter is to present an overview of the political economy of NAFTA/USMCA. It first presents an overview of the context in which NAFTA was signed and its main objectives. Next, it discusses different views on the agreement, including the expected benefits and opposition at the time it was signed. Third, it examines NAFTA’s performance since 1994, with an emphasis on winners and losers across the region. The fourth section discusses the politics behind the re-negotiation of the agreement and the emergence of USMCA, as well the improvements and setbacks associated with it.

2018. “Mexico's PRI: Explaining the Resilience of an Authoritarian Successor Party," in James Loxton and Scott Mainwaring (eds.) Life After Dictatorship: Authoritarian Successor Parties Worldwide, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Abstract. Between 1929 and 2000, Mexico was an authoritarian regime. During this time, elections were held regularly, but because of fraud, coercion, and the massive abuse of state resources, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won virtually every election. It held onto the presidency until 2000, Congress until 1997, and did not even lose a gubernatorial election until 1989. By 2000, however, the regime came to an end when the PRI lost the presidency. Mexico became a democracy, and the PRI made the transition from authoritarian ruling party to authoritarian successor party. Yet the PRI did not disappear. It continued to be the largest party in Congress and in the states, and it was voted back into the presidency in 2012. This electoral performance has made the PRI one of the most resilient authoritarian successor parties of all time. What explains its resilience? The chapter is divided into four main sections. The first one introduces the authoritarian regime of which the PRI was a central part, presents an overview of the democratic transition, and shows the PRI’s electoral performance over time. The second provides an explanation for the resilience of the PRI since the transition, emphasizing three main factors: the party’s continuous control over state resources, the democratic governments’ failure to alter the nature of state-society relations that supported the authoritarian regime, and the mediocre performance of political alternatives. The third section discusses how the PRI’s resilience has undermined the quality of Mexico’s democracy. The fourth section concludes.

2016. “The Political Economy of Colombia's 2012 and 2014 Fiscal Reforms," in Mahon Jr., Bergman, and Arnson (eds.) Progressive Tax Reform and Inequality in Latin America, Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center

Abstract. This chapter outlines the main features of Colombia's 2012 reform, discusses key factors that contributed to its adoption, and provides lessons derived from this experience. It also introduces the contours of the 2014 reform, its main drivers, and potential outcomes based on information available at the time of writing.

Work in Progress

“Building the Modern State in Developing Countries: Understanding the Relationship between Public Safety and Taxes with Evidence from Mexico" (with Mariano Sánchez-Talanquer)

Abstract. What is the relationship between two key dimensions of state capacity: taxation and public safety? Contrary to existing studies suggesting that both personal victimization and heightened perceptions of insecurity increase pro-social attitudes and demand for state intervention in the form of greater taxation, we argue that concern for crime decreases people’s willingness to pay taxes to address public safety. Based on an original nationally representative survey conducted in Mexico, and relying on the contingent valuation method to assess the value of non-market goods, we find that attitudes toward increased taxation respond to subjective, sociotropic assessments about public safety conditions rather than personal experiences with crime or the actual risk of individual victimization.

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