What was the capacity of European colonial states? How fiscally extractive were they? What was their capacity to provide public goods and services? And did this change in the “developmentalist” era of colonialism? To answer these questions, we use archival sources to build a new dataset on colonial states of the second French colonial empire (1830–1962). French colonial states extracted a substantial amount of revenue, but they were under-administered because public expenditure entailed high wage costs. These costs remained a strong constraint in the “developmentalist” era of colonialism, despite a dramatic increase in fiscal capacity and large overseas subsidies.
Cameroon was partitioned between France and the United Kingdom after WWI and then reunited after independence. I use this natural experiment to investigate colonial legacies in education, using a border discontinuity analysis of historical census microdata from 1976. I find that men born in the decades following partition had, all else equal, one more year of schooling if they were born in the British part. This positive British effect disappeared after 1950, as the French increased education expenditure, and because of favoritism in school supply towards the Francophone side after reunification. Using 2005 census microdata, I find that the British advantage resurfaced more recently: Cameroonians born after 1970 are more likely to finish high school, attend a university, and have a high-skilled occupation if they were born in the former British part. I explain this result by the legacy of high grade repetition rates in the French-speaking education system and their detrimental effect on dropout.