Online conference: Imperial inequalities: states, empires, taxation and reparations

3 - 4 December 2020

Online conference: Imperial inequalities: states, empires, taxation and reparations

An analysis of inequality stemming from imperialism and an exploration of reparation pathways

Event description

Co-organised with Gurminder K Bhambra, University of Sussex and Julia McClure, University of Glasgow and based on a forthcoming volume Imperial Inequalities: Taxation and Welfare across European Empires

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Colonial histories remind us, time and again, that the poverty of what comes to be understood as the global south and the wealth of the global north are intrinsically connected. That is, the very same historical processes that generated the wealth of European countries are the ones that made other places poor. During the phases of imperialism from the sixteenth century onwards, European countries extracted revenues and resources through formal and informal channels and spent this money often on domestic welfare and infrastructure. The precise value of the ‘colonial subsidy’ to European states and their citizens is incalculable or, at least, no attempt has been made at the global level to attempt to calculate it.

During the age of European global empires, European countries imposed tax regimes both nationally and across their imperial hinterlands that have also contributed to the establishment of trends of inequality that continue through to today. Taxation is not only a fiscal tool for revenue extraction but a political concept whereby extraction of taxes has legitimacy in return for belonging within a political community and sharing the benefits of this; in the 1760s ‘no taxation without representation´ became the slogan of the American Revolution. But the relationships between taxation and belonging within political communities across European empires was always unequal. The different returns of taxation to both national and imperial subjects and the performative provision of welfare by empires has created deep inequalities that exist to the present day. An examination of the contemporary legacies of these processes is necessary for understanding how tax is organised, and avoided, in global context.

This conference will bring together leading academics to present new research highlighting the linkages between empires, nation states, taxation, welfare, and resource extraction, and the resulting inequalities in polities and welfare systems experienced as a consequence of this mass extraction. The conference will further explore where society and institutions can go from here to begin to address the centuries of damage and to investigate how reparations could begin to go some way to addressing inequalities; highlighting new research in reparations policy and look at what role tax policy and ideas of citizenship can play in making reparations for historical and continuing injustices. Further we will hear from leading experts working in the field of reparations to discuss necessary policy changes and action needed to gain political momentum and move reparations policy up the international agenda.

This event will explore the following themes:

  • To what extent has the European project of public expenditure on welfare been made possible by imperial extraction?
  • What role has taxation and welfare played in creating imperial inequalities? Do these challenge any pre-established theories about pathways to global inequality?
  • What role has been played by promoting dependent territories as ‘tax havens’, in the more recent period of extraction, and how has this damaged those territories as well as others?
  • How do tax laws, which can themselves be understood as having imperial legacies, continue to shape inequality trends?
  • What sort of reparations could conceivably address the scale of damage created from imperial extraction, and how can taxes be collected and redistributed to begin to mitigate the economic damage created?
  • How can we move reparations policy up the international political agenda and gain political momentum to move reparations forward?


Alex Cobham

Chief Executive, Tax Justice Network

Andrew Mackillop

Senior Lecturer in Scottish History, University of Glasgow

Arianne Shahvisi

Senior Lecturer in Ethics, Brighton and Sussex Medical School

Camille Sallé

PhD Candidate, European University Institute

David Brown

Research Fellow, History, Trinity College Dublin

Gurminder K Bhambra

Professor of Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies in the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex

John P. Maketo

Programmes Manager, Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development

Julia McClure

Lecturer in Late Medieval and Early Modern Global History, University of Glasgow

Keval Bharadia

Independent Consultant

Kyle Willmott

Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Alberta

Laura Channing

PhD candidate in Economic History, University of Cambridge

Liz Nelson

Director, Tax Justice & Human Rights, Tax Justice Network

Lyla Latif

Lecturer, University of Nairobi and PhD Researcher, University of Cardiff

Madeline Woker

Postdoctoral Fellow in International and Public Affairs Watson Institute, Brown University

Mia Rodríguez-Salgado

Emeritus Professor, Department of International History, The London School of Economics and Political Science

Naomi Fowler

Creative Strategist, Tax Justice Network

Ndongo Samba Sylla

Development Economist, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation

Paul Gilbert

Senior Lecturer in International Development, University of Sussex

Priya Lukka

Economist and Visiting Fellow, Goldsmiths University

Steven Dean

Faculty Director of the Graduate Tax Program, NYU Law

Yvonne Tan

Goethe University Frankfurt

Vanessa Ogle

Associate Professor / Historian, University of Berkeley

Clair Quentin

PhD Researcher, Queen Mary University of London and Senior Adviser, Tax Justice Network

Esther Stanford-Xosei

Jurisconsult, Reparationist, historian and Co-Vice Chair, Pan-Afrikan Reparations Coalition in Europe (PARCOE)

Peter Cruchley

Council for World Mission


  • 1:15 pm
    Introduction and welcome remarks
  • 1:30 pm
    Panel 1: ‘Institutional and fiscal issues’ and Q&A
  • 3:00 pm
  • 3:15 pm
    Panel 2: ‘Welfare, Taxation, and Resistance’ and Q&A
  • 4:45 pm
    Keynote: ‘Decolonisation is also a movement of money’ with Q&A
  • 12:15 pm
    Introduction and welcome remarks
  • 12:30 pm
    Keynote: ‘Colonial Macroeconomics then and now’ and Q&A
  • 1:00 pm
    Panel 3: ‘Postcolonial legacies’ and Q&A
  • 2:30 pm
  • 2:45 pm
    Panel 4: ‘Reparations policy and narratives: proposals for addressing colonial injustices through taxation’ and Q&A
  • 4:15 pm
    Panel 5: ‘Reparations in action’ and Q&A
  • 5:25 pm
    Closing remarks from co-hosts

Suggested material

Imperial Inequalities Conference – Full programme

Panel 5 papers and slides:

Recalibrating financial transaction tax policy narratives Keval Bharadia full paper

Recalibrating ftt policy narratives for reparations Keval Bharadia slide pack 04 Dec 20

Shahvisi Redistribution and moral consistency arguments for granting automatic citizenship to refugees – full paper

Shahvisi Citizenship as Reparation slide pack 04 Dec 20

Willmott, Decolonizing Tax slide pack 04 Dec 20

Dean, Redefining alternative allocation schemes slide pack 04 Dec 20

Dean, Redefining alternative allocation schemes full paper