Asli Cansunar - "Adio Kerida”: Demographic Engineering of the Economic Elite Through Taxation

Encina Hall West, room 400

Most research on demographic engineering in diverse societies focuses on violent policies that the political elite pursue toward non-core groups, from population exchange and expulsion to ethnic cleansing and genocide. Although taxation is at the core of the political elite's policy toolbox to pursue political goals, little research has examined how discriminatory fiscal policies, such as extraordinary taxes, can shape the ethnoreligious composition of the economic elite. Using an extraordinary wealth tax disproportionately levied on non-Muslim minorities (Jews, Greeks, Armenians) by the Turkish government in 1942, we show how politicians use taxes to successfully change the economic elites' ethnic composition. Using a differences-in-differences design, we leverage the wealth tax of 1942 to identify and measure the demographic impact of a discriminatory tax policy relying on an original dataset that covers individuals and businesses in Istanbul's telephone registers between 1934 and 1950. We find that the extraordinary wealth tax significantly decreased the ethnic diversity of the economic elite and nationalized the economy. By demonstrating that tax policies can be used for demographic engineering, this article emphasizes the power of economic discrimination in altering the ethnoreligious composition of the rich in diverse societies.


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. 

Her research lies at the intersection of comparative political economy, comparative politics, and economic history, focusing on the political consequences of economic inequality. In particular, she works on the rich’s preferences on redistributive and tax policies. She also investigates the distributive impact of these preferences. She combines formal modeling with laboratory experiments, survey experiments, geospatial analysis, and archival research. Most of her research is concentrated in advanced industrialized countries and the Middle East. In addition, she teaches courses on economic inequality, political methodology, politics of the Middle East, and geospatial analysis.