The Conscription of Wealth: Mass Warfare and the Demand for Progressive Taxation

60 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2010

See all articles by Kenneth Scheve

Kenneth Scheve

Stanford University

David Stasavage

New York University (NYU)

Date Written: December 15, 2009


The dominant narrative of the politics of redistribution in political science and economics highlights the signature role of the rise of electoral democracy and the development of political parties that mobilize working class groups. We argue in this paper that this narrative ignores the critical role played by mass warfare in the development of redistributive public policies. Focusing attention on the determinants of progressive taxation, we argue that mobilization for mass warfare led to demands for increased taxation of the wealthy in order to more fairly distribute the burden for the war effort. We then show empirically that over the last century mass mobilization for war has been associated with a notable increase in tax progressivity. In the absence of war neither the establishment of universal suffrage, nor the arrival of political control by parties of the Left is systematically associated with large increases in tax progressivity. In making these arguments we devote particular attention to a "difference-in-differences" comparison of participants and non-participants in World War I.

Suggested Citation

Scheve, Kenneth F. and Stasavage, David, The Conscription of Wealth: Mass Warfare and the Demand for Progressive Taxation (December 15, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Kenneth F. Scheve (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

David Stasavage

New York University (NYU) ( email )

Bobst Library, E-resource Acquisitions
20 Cooper Square 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10003-711
United States

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