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Fiscal innovation in nondemocratic regimes: Elites and the adoption of the prussian income taxes of the 1890s⁎

Isabela Mares and Didac Queralt

Explorations in Economic History, 2020, vol. 77, issue C

Abstract: The income tax is a central pillar of the modern fiscal state because of its revenue-raising capacity and administrative sophistication. Existing accounts point to interstate war and class conflict as key drivers of modern fiscal breakthroughs. In this article, we evaluate a third explanation for the origins of fiscal capacity that highlights the importance of intraelite competition for political and economic power in times of rapid industrialization. Modern forms of taxation generated a conflict between industry and agriculture over the distribution of the tax burden across sectors. The presence of electoral institutions that connected tax payments to voting rights created opportunities to overcome this sectoral divide and facilitated the formation of a political consensus for fiscal innovation. The political coalition supporting income tax adoption included higher-income industrial and agricultural elites who anticipated fiscal and electoral gains associated with the adoption of the new tax. Drawing on parliamentary debates in Prussia and additional district-level data, we document both the origins and electoral and economic consequences of the new income tax. We show that the adoption of a highly sophisticated income tax in 1891 shifted the tax burden from land to industry and diluted the political influence of the middle class. The findings clarify the coalitional dynamics leading to fiscal tax adoption in nondemocratic contexts.

Date: 2020
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DOI: 10.1016/j.eeh.2020.101340

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