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Taxing the Rich:
A History of Fiscal Fairness in the United States and Europe
Kenneth Scheve & David Stasavage
Copublished with the Russell Sage Foundation

One of Bloomberg’s Best Books of 2016

Paperback | October 2017 | $19.95 | £14.95 | ISBN: 9780691178295
288 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 20 b/w illus., 3 tables
Hardcover | 2016 | $29.95 | £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691165455
288 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 20 line illus.
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A Q&A with Kenneth Scheve & David Stasavage

In today's social climate of acknowledged and growing inequality, why are there not greater efforts to tax the rich? In this wide-ranging and provocative book, Kenneth Scheve and David Stasavage ask when and why countries tax their wealthiest citizens—and their answers may surprise you.

Taxing the Rich draws on unparalleled evidence from twenty countries over the last two centuries to provide the broadest and most in-depth history of progressive taxation available. Scheve and Stasavage explore the intellectual and political debates surrounding the taxation of the wealthy while also providing the most detailed examination to date of when taxes have been levied against the rich and when they haven't. Fairness in debates about taxing the rich has depended on different views of what it means to treat people as equals and whether taxing the rich advances or undermines this norm. Scheve and Stasavage argue that governments don't tax the rich just because inequality is high or rising—they do it when people believe that such taxes compensate for the state unfairly privileging the wealthy. Progressive taxation saw its heyday in the twentieth century, when compensatory arguments for taxing the rich focused on unequal sacrifice in mass warfare. Today, as technology gives rise to wars of more limited mobilization, such arguments are no longer persuasive.

Taxing the Rich shows how the future of tax reform will depend on whether political and economic conditions allow for new compensatory arguments to be made.

Kenneth Scheve is professor of political science and senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. He is the coauthor of Globalization and the Perceptions of American Workers. David Stasavage is Julius Silver Professor in the Wilf Family Department of Politics at New York University. He is the author of States of Credit: Size, Power, and the Development of European Polities (Princeton).


"These findings run counter to a popular narrative. Recall that in 2012, Mitt Romney said that in a democracy, a candidate who offers tax breaks to the less well-off at the expense of the rich will win mass support ‘no matter what.' That claim does not appear to be supported by the historical record."--Robert J. Shiller, New York Times

"In its big picture argument the book is convincing: on both the correlation and nature of causality between wars that required the mass of working people to sacrifice not just their labour but also their lives; and on the imposition of higher tax rates on the rich in the 20th century."--Torsten Bell, Prospect

"A sweeping look at the history of levies on the wealthy."--Hugo Greenhalgh, Financial Times

"[Scheve and Stasavage] flesh out their big picture with a mass of compelling evidence. Overall, an outstanding book."--Bryan Caplan, EconLog

"What is surprising about this book is how robustly the authors discount other widely held explanations for the gradual reduction in tax paid by the richest 1% since 1980. The influence of political lobbying, liberalised capital flows and the breakdown of the postwar consensus are, in their view, inadequate answers. What has changed is the focus of ‘equality of sacrifice,' which has returned to a debate about fairness."--Zac Tate, Capx

"Apart from anything else, the historical data on top tax rates is fascinating."--Diane Coyle, Enlightened Economist

"[A] fine and stimulating book."--Financial Post

"More than any other book I've read in the past few years, their arguments have prompted me to review what they wrote and look for other research that supports or counters their points."--David Cay Johnston, Tax Notes

More reviews

Table of Contents:

Figures and Tables xi
Acknowledgments xiii
1. Why Might Governments Tax the Rich? 3
2. Treating Citizens as Equals 24
3. The Income Tax over Two Centuries 53
4. Taxing Inheritance 93
5. Taxes on the Rich in Context 114
6. The Conscription of Wealth 135
7. The Role of War Technology 170
8. Why Taxes on the Rich Declined 185
9. What Future for Taxing the Rich? 206
Notes 219
References 247
Index 261

Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by David Stasavage:

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Copublished with the Russell Sage Foundation

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