Bourbon Reforms and State Capacity in the Spanish Empire

We study the impact of a large-scale administrative reform on state capacity and political attitudes in the Spanish colonies in the Americas. During the late 18th century, the Spanish Crown overhauled the provincial colonial government, introducing a new corps of Intendants to replace the existing body of local Corregidores. These Intendants were carefully selected, well remunerated, and endowed with fiscal, legal, and executive powers. Our empirical strategy leverages the staggered adoption of this reform across different parts of the empire, extending from modern-day Mexico to Argentina, yielding three main findings. First, using granular administrative data from the network of royal treasuries, we show that the reform led to a sizable increase in Crown revenue of around 30%. Second, the reform also led to a reduction in the incidence of acts of insurrection by the indigenous population, which the corregidores had exploited before.
Third, the reform also heightened tensions with the local creole elites – as reflected by naming patterns – which potentially contributed to independence.
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