A sophisticated and accessible application of the newest theoretical work in public-policy history and legal studies, this book is a detailed, and often surprising, account of how a permanent income tax was enacted into law in the United States.
Rather than finding the traditional panoply of interest groups, party alignments, and ideologies that one would expect when investigating a tax supposedly aimed at wealth redistribution, Stanley discovers that the tax originated as a symbolic apology for the aggressive manipulation of other forms of taxation, especially the tariff, during the Civil War. Levied with very low rates on a small proportion of the population and raising little revenue, the early tax was actually designed to preserve imbalances in the structure of wealth and opportunity, rather than ameliorate them.
Income taxation was not the product of a grassroots movement, an involuted elite conspiracy, or special interest groups. It was, rather, generated by a process called "centrism " - political officials acting as relatively autonomous trustees on behalf of the most powerful segments of society through the use of multiple dimensions of law. Income taxation originated in the last place one would look for it when using traditional lenses - within the state. Stanley finds that the picture of the polity generated by this episode is antithetical in the extreme to the dominant progressive and pluralist beliefs about the democratic process, and the values expressed by the right and the left.
A chilling portrait of law and society, as well as the authoritative source of pre-amendment income tax history, Dimensions of Law in the Service of Order will interest Civil War, Reconstruction, Progressive era, legal, and economic historians; political scientists; and social theorists.
"Will be useful to political scientists, economists, and historians concerned with the development of taxation and with the Progressive Era."--CHOICE
"A tour de force. Stanley's book will not only force a long overdue revision of the traditional understanding of the democratic origins of the income tax; more broadly, it represents one of the most fully developed, sophisticated, and clearly articulated applications of the newest theoretical work in both legal history and the study of public policy. He adds a vital symbolic dimension to income tax advocacy that is well-grounded in an understanding
of economic relations."--Mark Leff, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
"This book is a welcome addition and an important reminder that politics is often as much about symbolic display as it is about the allocation of resources and power."--American Journal of Sociology
"Robert Stanley has produced a highly sophisticated, tightly argued, and thought-provoking reinterpretation of the origins of the federal income tax....A compelling study."--The Journal of American History
"A valuable contribution to the literature. Stanley has a good story to tell and tells it well. One is continually struck by the author's erudition and intelligence."--Michigan Law Review
"Stanley's analysis is revisionist, responsible, and full of insight."--Reviews in American History
"Well-written, thoroughly documented, and should be of interest to a wide variety of scholars in political science, sociology, and history."--Perspectives on Political Science
"This is...a sophisticated work of legal history and the study of public policy....Such a text should be required reading for any course in legal history or tax policy and might be an important addition to a course in public policy."--Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly