A stakeholder empire: the political economy of Spanish imperial rule in America



This article revises the traditional view of Spain as a predatory colonial state that extracted revenue from natural resources and populations in the Americas while offering little in return. Using eighteenth-century Spanish American treasury accounts, we show that local elites exerted important control not only over revenue collection, as previously argued by the authors, but also over expenditure allocation. The Spanish colonial state developed into a stakeholder model, in which local interests were deeply invested in the survival and expansion of empire. The means of co-optation were intra-colonial transfers, as well as credit relations between the state and colonial individuals and corporations, which guaranteed that much of colonial revenue was immediately fed back into the local economy, while minimizing enforcements costs. By allowing stakeholder control of both revenue and expenditure, Spain managed to avoid the problems faced by France, where royal control of expenditure clashed with partial elite control of revenue-raising.