Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mehrotra on Religion in Tax History

Ajay K. Mehrotra, University of Indiana-Bloomington Maurer School of Law, has posted Render Unto Caesar . . .": Religion/Ethics, Expertise, and the Historical Underpinnings of the Modern American Tax System, which is forthcoming in a symposium in the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal 40 (2009). Here is the abstract:
A variety of scholars and commentators have been recently exploring the connections between religion and current U.S. tax policy. The relationship between religion and American taxation, however, runs much deeper than our present period. Indeed, it is no coincidence that roughly a century ago the foundations of our current tax system were taking shape at the height of the religious and ethical fervor known as the Social Gospel movement. At that time, religious and ethical sentiments played a central, though ambivalent, role in fiscal reform. This Article investigates the influence of religious and ethical values on the tax reform struggles of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By examining the writings and actions of leading Progressive Era political economists, ministers, and moral leaders, this essay contends that a group of ethically inclined academic professionals, operating as pivotal intermediaries between state and society, ambivalently undermined the religious support for a new fiscal order by secularizing and domesticating tax reform. Though many of the key political economists behind tax reform were imbued with moral and ethical sentiments, they ultimately privileged science over religion. Consequently, these professional social scientists reoriented religious and ethical approaches toward tax reform, and in the process they set the boundaries of acceptable social analysis. In their cautious application of religiously-motivated ideas about public finance, they ultimately did as much to temper-as to advance-fiscal reform. This article was part of a conference on "Tax Law in a Liberal Democracy: Exploring the Relation between Taxation and Good Governance" sponsored by the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal.