When and Why Do Countries Tax the Rich? New Book by Kenneth Scheve

In today's social climate of acknowledged and growing inequality, why are there not greater efforts to tax the rich?

In this wide-ranging and provocative book, Kenneth Scheve and David Stasavage ask when and why countries tax their wealthiest citizens—and their answers may surprise you.

Taxing the Rich draws on unparalleled evidence from twenty countries over the last two centuries to provide the broadest and most in-depth history of progressive taxation available. Scheve and Stasavage explore the intellectual and political debates surrounding the taxation of the wealthy while also providing the most detailed examination to date of when taxes have been levied against the rich and when they haven't.

Fairness in debates about taxing the rich has depended on different views of what it means to treat people as equals and whether taxing the rich advances or undermines this norm. Scheve and Stasavage argue that governments don't tax the rich just because inequality is high or rising—they do it when people believe that such taxes compensate for the state unfairly privileging the wealthy. Progressive taxation saw its heyday in the twentieth century, when compensatory arguments for taxing the rich focused on unequal sacrifice in mass warfare. Today, as technology gives rise to wars of more limited mobilization, such arguments are no longer persuasive.

Taxing the Rich shows how the future of tax reform will depend on whether political and economic conditions allow for new compensatory arguments to be made.

Read a review in the Financial Timesby Hugo Greenhalgh

Kenneth Scheve is the Director of The Europe Center at Stanford Global Studies, Professor of Political Science, and Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He is the coauthor of Globalization and the Perceptions of American Workers. David Stasavage is Julius Silver Professor in the Wilf Family Department of Politics at New York University. He is the author of States of Credit: Size, Power, and the Development of European Polities (Princeton).


"This book pulls together a vast array of evidence and develops a collection of compelling arguments that enhance our understanding of the prospects for redistributive taxation in modern economies. Drawing from a wealth of different country experiences, Taxing the Rich will appeal to a wide range of readers in economics and political science and inform current policy debates."

Timothy Besley, London School of Economics

"This is a fascinating book. In a comprehensive and accessible manner, Scheve and Stasavage trace the rise and fall of sharply progressive taxation of income and inheritance in America, Europe, and Japan over the past century. They stress the key role played by mass mobilization and compensatory claims and provide critical insights into the conditions that could lead to the return of high tax rates on the rich. A must-read."

Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century

"Scheve and Stasavage provide a thoughtful historical and comparative perspective on the key question of why countries choose to impose high taxes on the rich. In this important and timely book, they elegantly challenge several common theories that seek to explain why countries increase taxes on the wealthy. Their findings nicely explain past tax treatment and provide a sobering prediction of future tax burdens for those at the top of the income and wealth distribution."

Eric M. Zolt, UCLA School of Law


View recent publications by other affiliated faculty at Stanford Global Studies.

Read a Q&A with the authors via Princeton University Press.