Tag Archives: Income tax

“Causes of the Transformation of the US Fiscal System in the 1930s,” VoxEU, 2016

VoxEU, October 11, 2016, with Martin Gonzalez-Eiras. HTML.

  • The US fiscal system underwent a radical transformation around the time of the Great Depression.
  • Perceived cost differences of revenue collection across levels of government, due to general equilibrium effects, can partly explain the rise of tax centralization and intergovernmental grants.
  • We develop a micro-founded general equilibrium model that blends politics and macroeconomics. (See the working paper.)

Taxing the Rich

In Taxing the Rich: A History of Fiscal Fairness in the United States and Europe, Kenneth Scheme and David 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. [Text from the Publisher’s website.]

Summary by Bryan Caplan:

Democracies have no inherent tendency to “soak the rich.”

Instead, democracies adopt high, progressive taxation in the face of compelling “compensatory” arguments for redistribution.

Only major wars of mass mobilization make compensatory arguments compelling.

Modern military technology has made majors wars of mass mobilization obsolete.

Therefore, tax the rich policies are a thing of the past, at least for developed countries.  They won’t be coming back

Tax Federalism

In the NZZMarius Brülhart and Kurt Schmidheiny discuss the Swiss experience with a federalist tax system. Cantonal and municipal taxes average roughly 40 percent of the total tax take in Switzerland, see the first figure.


The decentralized tax system, tax competition between cantons and communities as well as mobility of high income tax payers imply that the effective average income tax rate substantially falls short of the unweighted average tax rate on high incomes. In fact, the effective average tax rate is degressive for high incomes, see the second figure (which the authors reproduce from an article by Roller and Schmidheiny (2015)).