Richard Musgrave in Colombia: The Art of Tax Reform in a Developing Country

CHOPE Working Paper No. 2022-06

53 Pages Posted: 26 May 2022

See all articles by Maxime Desmarais-Tremblay

Maxime Desmarais-Tremblay

Goldsmiths, University of London; Centre Walras-Pareto, Université de Lausanne

Date Written: May 17, 2022


Richard A. Musgrave (1910-2007) is remembered today as the American economist who established modern foundations for public finance theory in the middle of the twentieth century. His work as a tax expert in developing countries has received little historical scrutiny. Musgrave was the chief economist of the 1949 World Bank mission to Colombia chaired by Lauchlin Currie. Twenty years later, he himself chaired an import fiscal reform mission in Colombia, the report of which served as a roadmap for the 1974 Colombian tax reform. Drawing from archival material and published sources, this paper reconstructs the intellectual baggage that Musgrave brought on his travels to Colombia. It situates his policy recommendations in the context of the Cold War developmentalist age and the rise of American expertise in Latin America. Musgrave’s worldview was consistent over the period. The paper shows how Musgrave employed normative principles of tax equity and positive knowledge about the economy to make the case for progressive reforms to the tax structure. In the long run, the legacy of the Musgrave mission in Colombia is less visible, but that was to be expected, as the conclusion of the paper argues.

Keywords: public finance, tax reform, development economics, Richard Musgrave, Colombia, IBRD

JEL Classification: B20, B41, H20, O10, O23, O54

Suggested Citation

Desmarais-Tremblay, Maxime, Richard Musgrave in Colombia: The Art of Tax Reform in a Developing Country (May 17, 2022). CHOPE Working Paper No. 2022-06 , Available at SSRN: or

Maxime Desmarais-Tremblay (Contact Author)

Goldsmiths, University of London ( email )

Lewisham Way
New Cross
London, SE14 6NW
United Kingdom

Centre Walras-Pareto, Université de Lausanne ( email )

Quartier Chambronne
Lausanne, Vaud CH-1015

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