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Edwin R.A. Seligman and the Beginnings of the U.S. Income Tax


Ajay K. Mehrotra


American Bar Foundation; Northwestern Pritzker School of Law


Tax Notes, p. 933, November 14, 2005
Indiana Legal Studies Research Paper No. 56

Abstract:     
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a group of political economists led the conceptual campaign for a fundamental transformation in the American system of public finance. Responding to the social and political conditions of their times, these public finance economists helped build a new fiscal state - one that was concerned not only about raising revenue, but also about the equitable distribution of fiscal obligations. One of the chief visionaries or architects of this new fiscal order was the Columbia University professor, Edwin R.A. Seligman.

This article focuses on how Seligman and his like-minded colleagues were able to apply their social and political theories to the development of American tax laws and policies. More specifically, this article contends that academics like Seligman played a pivotal role in supplanting the "benefits theory" of taxation with a more equitable principle of taxation based on one's "faculty" or "ability to pay." Using Seligman as a prism for understanding the spirit of the times, this article explores Seligman's personal background, his ideas, and his influence on the development of American tax laws and policies.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 19

Keywords: Tax policy, U.S. history, history of economic thought, history of legal thought

JEL Classification: B15, K34, N41


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Date posted: August 17, 2006 ; Last revised: June 20, 2013

Suggested Citation

Mehrotra, Ajay K., Edwin R.A. Seligman and the Beginnings of the U.S. Income Tax. Tax Notes, p. 933, November 14, 2005; Indiana Legal Studies Research Paper No. 56. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=925011

Contact Information

Ajay K. Mehrotra (Contact Author)
American Bar Foundation ( email )
750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
Northwestern Pritzker School of Law ( email )
375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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