This essay explores the public drama that ensues after a husband and wife lock themselves in their BMW to protest the Buenos Aires provincial tax authority’s attempt to sequester their vehicle. When the conflict airs in real time on the evening news, class tensions erupt outside the gated community, exposing a fierce contest between elite and poor citizens over legitimate methods of tax collection and the social logics of indebtedness. The essay shows how discourses emblematic of the postdictatorship and post–financial crisis periods—human rights on the one hand and welfare on the other—are deployed by different actors with conflicting views of the proper distribution and location of sovereign power. Foregrounding the role of fiscal practices in the forging of political obligation and affective bonds between citizens and the state, the essay reflects on the efficacy of el escrache, a form of public shaming incorporated into administrative practice. By eliciting judgment from neighbors and TV viewers, the tax operation mobilizes a moral economy of debtor-creditor relations that—however underrepresented in liberal discourses of government—is productive of sovereignty itself.

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