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About Joel Slemrod
Professor Slemrod has been a consultant to the U.S. Department of the Treasury and several foreign governments, as well as to Marriott International and Merck & Co., Inc. He has been a member of the Congressional Budget Office Panel of Economic Advisers, and has testified before the Congress on domestic and international taxation issues. From 1992 to 1998 Professor Slemrod was editor of the National Tax Journal, and from 2006 to 2010 was co-editor of the Journal of Public Economics. In 2005-6, he was president of the National Tax Association, and from 2015 to 2018 president of the Interenational Institute of Public Finance. He is co-author with Jon Bakija of Taxing Ourselves: A Citizen's Guide to the Debate over Taxes, whose fifth edition was published in 2017, and with Len Burman of Taxes in America: What Everyone Needs to Know, whose second edition was published in 2020. His latest book is Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue: Tax Follies and Wisom through the Ages, co-authored with Michael Keen, which will appear in 2021. In 2012 he received from the National Tax Association its most prestigious award, the Daniel M. Holland Medal for distinguished lifetime contributions to the study and practice of public finance.
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An engaging and enlightening account of taxation told through lively, dramatic, and sometimes ludicrous stories drawn from around the world and across the ages
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.
Among the questions discussed are: How much more tax could the IRS collect with better enforcement? How do tax burdens vary around the world? Why do corporations pay so little tax, even though they earn trillions of dollars every year? What kind of tax system is most conducive to economic growth? And, can taxes be fair?
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