Book launch for ‘Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue’ by Michael Keen and Joel Slemrod. Pre-order here.
To mark the launch of the book, the Resolution Foundation is hosting an interactive webinar with Michael, alongside fellow tax expert Professor Rita de la Feria, to discuss what policy makers today can learn from past successes and failures when it comes setting tax policy. Viewers will be able to submit questions to the panel before and during the event.
Governments have always struggled to tax in ways that are effective and tolerably fair. Sometimes they fail grotesquely, as when, in 1898, the British ignited a rebellion in Sierra Leone by imposing a tax on huts—and, in repressing it, ended up burning the very huts they intended to tax. Sometimes they succeed astonishingly, as when, in eighteenth-century Britain, a cut in the tax on tea massively increased revenue. In this entertaining book, two leading authorities on taxation, Michael Keen and Joel Slemrod, provide a fascinating and informative tour through these and many other episodes in tax history, both preposterous and dramatic—from the plundering described by Herodotus and an Incan tax payable in lice to the (misremembered) Boston Tea Party and the scandals of the Panama Papers. Along the way, readers meet a colorful cast of tax rascals, and even a few tax heroes.
While it is hard to fathom the inspiration behind such taxes as one on ships that tended to make them sink, Keen and Slemrod show that yesterday’s tax systems have more in common with ours than we may think. Georgian England’s window tax now seems quaint, but was an ingenious way of judging wealth unobtrusively. And Tsar Peter the Great’s tax on beards aimed to induce the nobility to shave, much like today’s carbon taxes aim to slow global warming.
Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue is a surprising and one-of-a-kind account of how history illuminates the perennial challenges and timeless principles of taxation—and how the past holds clues to solving the tax problems of today.
Michael Keen is deputy director of the Fiscal Affairs Department at the International Monetary Fund. Joel Slemrod is professor of economics at the University of Michigan, where he is also Paul W. McCracken Collegiate Professor at the Ross School of Business. Both have been awarded the National Tax Association’s Daniel M. Holland Medal for distinguished lifetime contributions to the study and practice of public finance, and both are past presidents of the International Institute of Public Finance.