Daniel Shaviro (NYU; Google Scholar), Tell Me a Tax Story (JOTWELL) (reviewing Michael Keen (IMF) & Joel Slemrod (Michigan; Google Scholar), Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue: Tax Follies and Wisdom through the Ages (Princeton University Press 2021)) (reviewed by Reuven Avi-Yonah (Michigan; Google Scholar), Steven Bank (UCLA; Google Scholar), and Frank Colella (Pace)):
As the saying ought to go, those who forget history are doomed to miss out on a lot of great stories. In Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue: Tax Follies and Wisdom through the Ages, Michael Keen and Joel Slemrod do their formidable best to save us from this dire fate. They also amply fulfill their aim of proving the truth of their opening quotation, from H.L. Mencken, to the effect that taxation is not just “eternally lively” but of greater interest than “either smallpox or golf.”
Keen and Slemrod are also so impressively comprehensive in their self-set task of combing thousands of years of history, across multiple continents, for enjoyable or illuminating tax anecdotes that I started to take it as a challenge. I read a lot of history books on the side. So, could I think of stories worth including that they had left out?
This did not go so well. Taxes as the subject of the Rosetta Stone? Check. Window taxes, salt taxes, beard taxes, and taxes on bachelors? Of course. Classic-era British rock lyrics complaining about high taxes? Everyone knows about the Beatles in “Taxman,” but what about the Who in “Success Story”? Or the Kinks in “Sunny Afternoon”? Yes, they have all three. ...
This is both a delightful and imaginative book, and a startlingly instructive and informative one. Despite all the humor, it is actually very serious in the best way. As Keen and Slemrod rightly tell us in the preface, “while rebellions will always be with us, taxes will always invite rascality [a well-chosen word that I have never previously seen in a tax article or book], and follies will always happen, we hope this book may bring a little more wisdom to the future of taxation.” (P. xviii.)