The Conservative Origin of Income Taxation

65 Pages Posted: 5 May 2015

See all articles by Isabela Mares

Isabela Mares

Columbia University - Department of Political Science

Didac Queralt

Juan March Institute

Date Written: May 4, 2015


This paper examines the adoption of income taxes by Western economies since the 19th century. We identify two empirical regularities that challenge predictions of existing models of taxation and redistribution: while countries with low levels of electoral enfranchisement and high levels of landholding inequality adopt the income tax first, countries with more extensive electoral rules lag behind in adopting these new forms of taxation. We propose an explanation of income tax adoption that accounts for these empirical regularities. We discuss the most important economic consideration of politicians linked to owners of different factors, namely, the shift of the tax burden between sectors, and examine how pre-existing electoral rules affect these political calculations. The paper provides both a cross-national test of this argument and a micro-historical test that examines the economic and political determinants of support for the adoption of the income tax in 1842 in Britain.

Keywords: fiscal capacity, income tax, autocracy, electoral systems, sectoral redistribution, political inequality

Suggested Citation

Mares, Isabela and Queralt, Didac, The Conservative Origin of Income Taxation (May 4, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Isabela Mares

Columbia University - Department of Political Science ( email )

420 West 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

Didac Queralt (Contact Author)

Juan March Institute ( email )

77 Castello Street
Madrid, E-28006


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