Alumni Profiles | February 5, 2013

SSRC Fellow Scott Gehlbach

Current Position: Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Discipline: Political science and economics.


A recipient of a SSRC Eurasia Program Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship, Gehlbach works on issues of economic development and political stability in the countries of the former Soviet Bloc, adding unique insights into the complex relationships between economic and political stability. In addition to his research, he is actively involved in collaborative projects with Russian research organizations, such as CIFER (of the New Economic School), which contribute to the strength of non-state institutions in the Russian Federation. As a professor at a leading University, he is actively engaged in the development and mentoring of future Eurasia area scholars.

Gehlbach is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is also a research associate of CEFIR in Moscow, where he spent the 2007–2008 academic year as a Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad Fellow. He is the author of Representation through Taxation: Revenue, Politics, and Development in Postcommunist States (Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics). Based on his dissertation on the political economy of taxation in postcommunist states, which won the Mancur Olson Award for the best dissertation in the field of political economy, this monograph was awarded an honorable mention for the AAASS Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies. Gelbach has also authored numerous articles in various journals, including the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, and the Journal of Politics. Professor Gehlbach received his Ph.D. in political science and economics from the University of California – Berkeley. By uncovering approaches and reactions to taxation schemes, Gehlbach’s work informs the ways in which post-communist states relate to their citizens, raise revenue, and seek to establish political and economic stability.

Social scientists teach that politicians favor groups that are organized over those that are not. Representation through Taxation challenges this conventional wisdom. Emphasizing that there are limits to what organized interests can credibly promise in return for favorable treatment, he show that politicians may instead give preference to groups – organized or not – that by their nature happen to take actions that are politically valuable. Gehlbach develop this argument in the context of the post communist experience, focusing on the incentive of politicians to promote sectors that are naturally more tax compliant, regardless of their organization. In the former Soviet Union, tax systems were structured around familiar revenue sources, magnifying this incentive and helping to prejudice policy against new private enterprise. In Eastern Europe, in contrast, tax systems were created to cast the revenue net more widely, encouraging politicians to provide the collective goods necessary for new firms to flourish.