5 Best Books About Taxes Update 05/2022

Taxation has had a significant impact on the course of history, and it will continue to play a significant role in the society we build in the future. In this section, public finance academics Michael Keen and Joel Slemrod, both authors of Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue: Tax Follies and Wisdom Through the Ages, propose works about taxes that are both educational and entertaining.

Showdown at Gucci Gulch: Lawmakers, Lobbyists, and the Unlikely Triumph of Tax Reform

by Alan Murray & Jeffrey Birnbaum

Gucci Gulch is the name given to the hall outside the US Congress where the tax committees meet and where the lobbyists in their Gucci loafers line up. Some of them would not be able to enter the committee room, so they would form a queue outside and listen for updates. It does read a little bit like a thriller at times. A tax thriller that’s probably the only one of its kind.

When it comes to income tax reform in the United States, the Tax Reform Act of 1986 was our next-to-last major initiative. Few individuals, even a few years prior to the bill’s passage, would have predicted that such a thing could happen in tax policy. President Reagan requested a tax reform study from the Treasury Department for political reasons. Three volumes were produced as a result of their thorough investigation. When it reached Congress, it looked even less likely to become law.

The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688–1783

by John Brewer

Mick: This one is about the expansion of the British government’s ability to raise revenue, which was a key factor in the country’s rise to worldwide dominance throughout the 18th century. One can learn about how parliamentary sovereignty grew during the Glorious Revolution and before that, the rise of a professional civil service and even interest groups’ role in lobbying in this extremely comprehensive study. For those who want to know how Britain evolved from being a second-rate power to being able to afford a global military presence on both land and water, this is a captivating and thrilling account of how it was done. Despite the French Revolution, the British were raising three or four times as much money per capita by the end of the 18th century. However, they did so in a manner that was generally accepted.

Sinews is also a well-written book that focuses on the people involved in revenue-raising, from the well-known to the humble clerks and excise inspectors. There are plenty fascinating tales. To illustrate how high professional standards were getting, Brewer relates the story of an excise collector who crossed something out in his ledger book and became scared that he was going to be in trouble since playing about with your tax collecting book looked so suspect. That very human level is conveyed, while yet delivering significant and vital truths, in this work. Due to its prominence on our list, we had to include it right away. To think that Britain can tax at three or four times the rate of France while the French king goes to the guillotine is interesting.

“That’s right,” Mick replied. How far back do you need to go to explain the differences between Britain and France? The Glorious Revolution is Brewer’s starting point. Some argue that parliamentary dominance was much more firmly established during the American Civil War. And even before that, the United Kingdom was not as fractured as France. Internal borders and regional norms and practices made the French tax system extremely convoluted.

Taxing the Rich: A History of Fiscal Fairness in the United States and Europe

by David Stasavage & Kenneth Scheve

Next, let’s have a look at that book. Taxing the Rich: A History of Fiscal Fairness in the United States and Europe is the title of the book. Mick: Here’s a topic that’s most relevant to today’s issues. It attempts to explain why the wealthy have been taxed at a high rate in the past. There are countless hypotheses that may be advanced in this regard. To what extent was the expanding of suffrage and the establishment of democratic institutions, the notion being that a majority of non-rich citizens would vote to tax the wealthy in order to extract money for themselves? Were these taxes necessary to combat unacceptably high inequality as a result of a social consensus?

Scheve and Stasavage, on the other hand, offer a completely different theory. As a result of mass conscription during and following major wars, they contend, we’ve taxed the wealthy disproportionately more often than the rest of the population. Essentially, the premise is that when the poor incur a big financial burden in order to achieve a common goal, the rich have been compelled or perhaps considered it appropriate to make a similar financial commitment. The conscription of wealth is required to complement the conscription of labor in large-scale wars. I think this is related to Joel’s remark about how important conflict is when it comes to the creation of tax structures. Taxing the wealthy has historically been a common response to major conflicts because the poor are perceived to be suffering disproportionately during times of conflict, rather than just as a means of raising additional revenue.

The Income Tax: A Study of the History, Theory, and Practice of Income Taxation at Home and Abroad

by Edwin Seligman

Edwin Seligman, a professor at Columbia University around the start of the 20th century, is the author of this work. In 1894, he began work on this book. His plan was to compile everything of what was known about the income tax at the time, because the United States had just approved a new law enacting one. Before that, it had been imposed in a number of countries. In 1895, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal income tax was unconstitutional because of the equal protection clause. After that, Seligman went back to thinking about it. It was published in 1911, 17 years after he began writing. At this time, the United States was considering reinstituting a federal income tax. The 16th Amendment was passed in 1913 as a response to the necessity for a constitutional amendment. In 1913, the United States enacted the Revenue Act of 1913, which included an income tax.

To me, it is remarkable that he is writing the book at the same time as the United States is implementing an income tax. A advocate of the income tax, Seligman included a brief chapter at the end of the second edition, published in 1914, evaluating the US income tax that had been enacted. He’s a professor, so there are certain to be some things he’d do differently, but he’s generally encouraging.

Mick: What struck me most about this book was how accomplished a scholar Seligman was. He devoured obscure texts written in German and French. If taxes had an Edward Gibbon, he would be that man. Without Google, it’s hard to believe he could have written this book. He is a wonderful example of academic scholarship, which isn’t as common as one might think.

Dimensions of Tax Design: The Mirrlees Review

by Institute for Fiscal Studies

Mick: The Institute for Fiscal Studies in the United Kingdom issued a study based on these studies in 2011. We chose this book because, despite its dated nature, it gives a good feel of where our field is today despite the fact that it is heavily influenced by the UK. Over the past forty years or more, a theoretical apparatus has been built, and this century has seen a dramatic improvement in empirical methodologies. It’s not just in the UK that the various chapters are still the go-to places for a wide range of issues. Isn’t taxation a big part of our culture these days? Is it now a fairly efficient procedure according to economists’ techniques?

Joel: A unique feature of this book is the pairing of academic economists with policymakers from the private sector in nearly every chapter. This makes for an engaging read. When people inquire about our taxing abilities, this is the first thing that comes to mind, because taxation is not solely the province of economists. ‘Economists cannot pretend to have all the solutions to smart tax design,’ reads a passage from the final Mirrlees report. In addition to the practical elements of administration and enforcement, I believe that this is also true in terms of ethics. Choosing what is fair isn’t a matter of economics, as Mick and I and others would blithely proclaim when discussing the “fairness of taxation.” For answers, we must appeal to the political system or even to philosophers.

These are some of the world’s greatest economists, despite the fact that they’ve been writing about the same issues for a decade already. Before recommending it to your readers, take a sip from the 1347-page cup. Mick: In retrospect, once we selected it, I realized that each of us had actually co-authored one of the chapters. I’m hoping we’ll still be able to choose it.

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