Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mehrotra Presents Law, Politics, and the Modern American Fiscal State (1880-1930) at Washington U.

MehrotraAjay Mehrotra (Indiana-Bloomington) presented Sharing the Burden: Law, Politics, and the Making of the Modern American Fiscal State, 1880-1930 yesterday at Washington University as part of its Tax Colloquium Series hosted by Adam Rosenzweig:

At the turn of the twentieth century, the U.S. system of public finance underwent a dramatic transformation. The late nineteenth-century system of indirect national taxes, associated with the tariff and regressive excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco, was eclipsed in the early decades of the twentieth century by a progressive income tax that soon accounted for more than half of all federal tax revenues. A similar, albeit much less pronounced, shift occurred at the state and local level where the income tax soon challenged the dominant reliance on property taxes. This book project seeks to provide a comprehensive history of how and why this transformation came to be. It chronicles how between the end of Reconstruction and the onset of the Great Depression the foundations of the modern American fiscal state first took shape. What began as a series of social movements against the prevailing late nineteenth century system of regressive, hidden, politicized, and ineffectual taxes gradually crystalized over the course of three generations into an intellectual, legal, and administrative revolution – one that dramatically changed the distribution of fiscal burdens, the meaning of civic identity, the existing regime of American governance, and the opportunities for an activist state. The central aim of this book is to uncover the contested roots and paradoxical consequences of this fundamental transformation and to explain how and why this new fiscal polity came to be.

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I have been reading Daniel Okrent's "Last Call," which makes clear the relationships between the Constitutional Amendments allowing the income tax; women's suffrage; and Prohibition. Their supporters achieved their goals by working with each other because their interests coincided. This is probably obvious to most historians, but maybe I was absent that day.

Before the income tax, 30% of federal revenue came from alcohol excise taxes. Prohibition would not have been possible, without the new revenue stream from the income tax. And women who made Prohibition their cause, learned political skills as they learned that the ultimate tool in the practice of politics, is the vote.

Posted by: Bob | Sep 11, 2012 3:50:08 PM