By reinterpreting the recent literature on the fiscal history of Spain and Spanish America during the long span of the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, Irigoin and Grafe have written a major revisionist essay that will probably change the way historians think about intra-imperial fiscal relations and that raises many important issues regarding the strategies of local elites within the imperial structure. They also demonstrate that the analysis of the internal dynamics of the Spanish empire can contribute forcefully to contemporary debates on the comparative study of eighteenth-century empires.
Nonetheless, numerous facets of the essay run counter to the findings of many historians who have laboriously reconstructed the Bourbon tax system in Spanish America. A reading of the historical literature produced over the last two decades suggests that while political negotiations between the Spanish monarchy and privileged corporations and urban governments were of great importance, it would be a mistake to discount the importance of coercion and censorship as essential and frequently used instruments of the crown and the powerful to maintain the status quo. These were common instruments in the metropolis but were not infrequently applied with singular severity in the colonies. In the case of Spanish America in the second half of the eighteenth century, the nature of coercion and the brutal response to popular protests (particularly tax revolts) have been analyzed by numerous historians but are downplayed in the essay under discussion. Similarly, it is important to note that most recent historical studies demonstrate that the fiscal reforms carried out by the Bourbon regime throughout Spanish America were much more homogeneous and successful in extracting a rapidly rising level of tax resources from the colonial population than the authors would appear to suggest.