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Session Overview
G07: Panel discussion: Learning from Tax History
Thursday, 19/Aug/2021:
4:00pm - 5:30pm

Discussant Paper 1: Michael Keen, IMF
Discussant Paper 2: Joel Slemrod, University of Michigan
Discussant Paper 3: Chantal Stebbings, University of Exeter
Discussant Paper 4: Steven Bank, UCLA School of Law

Economists have not paid as much attention to tax history as have law and other disciplines. In this session MIchael Keen (IMF) and Joel Slemrod (University of Michigan), Chantal Stebbings (University of Exeter) and Steven Bank (UCLA) will draw on their work in the area to argue that tax history is a fertile and rewarding topic.

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Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue: Tax Follies and Wisdom through the Ages

Joel Slemrod

University of Michigan, United States of America

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, In this book, we 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.

Slemrod-Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue-281.pdf

Taxing Luxuries in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Old Perceptions and Modern Influences

Chantal Stebbings

University of Exeter, United Kingdom

This presentation examines the nature of the luxury taxes which lay at the heart of British fiscal orthodoxy in the eighteenth century. They used the range of available imposts, including the indirect duties of customs, excise and stamps, and the direct establishment taxes. (...) These taxes might be thought to be mere historical curiosities, but this presentation demonstrates that they are important in two principal ways. First, they reveal the values which legislators and taxpayers recognised as essential to effective and sustainable taxation; and secondly, they were of material significance in the introduction and shaping of an income tax, which came to dominate direct taxation in the following century and beyond. In that, they explain certain defining features of modern tax law.

Stebbings-Taxing Luxuries in Eighteenth-Century Britain-551.pdf

The Creation of an Expense Account Society

Steven Bank

UCLA School of Law, United States of America

Almost immediately after lockdowns were announced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, President Donald Trump called for restoring the deduction for business meal and entertainment expenses that had been removed in 2017. Perhaps imagining that it would result in a return to the post-World War II era when lavish spending was common, Trump hoped it would rescue a sinking restaurant industry. In a sense, he was right to connect tax with business meals and entertainment. Expense accounts, and the industry that evolved to support it, were a creature of the high post-war tax rates that persisted through the 1950s and beyond. Understanding the rise of this phenomenon, and the forces that conspired to defeat President John F. Kennedy proposal to eliminate deductions for meals and entertainment, helps to explain how inextricably linked tax is with business spending on meals and entertainment and how it became entrenched in American society.

Bank-The Creation of an Expense Account Society-285.pdf

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