The American historical profession has in recent years witnessed a significant revival of two subfields that were once thought to be nearly dead. Both intellectual history and what is often referred to today as the history of capitalism are flourishing. In some cases, the two fields have converged. What role has law and legal history played in this revival and convergence? How have formal and informal laws, legal institutions, and legal actors and processes informed our conceptual understanding of the origins and development of modern American capitalism? This essay explores these historiographical and programmatic questions as part of a symposium directed at “Opportunities for Law’s Intellectual History.” This brief essay explores the role of law and legal history as a bridge between the two revived subfields. It does so in three parts. Part I briefly chronicles the recent revival of the two subfields. Part II explores why law, in its broadest sense, may be particularly well suited to help integrate the convergence between intellectual history and the new histories of capitalism. Why, that is, law has been and may continue to be a bridge between the two subfields. Part III uses the history of American tax law and policy as one example to show how law is vital to our understanding of the new intellectual histories of capitalism. The essay concludes with a modest set of observations on where the new literature on law and the intellectual histories of capitalism may be headed.
The second is "From Contested Concept to Cornerstone of Administrative Practice": Social Learning and the Early History of U.S. Tax Withholding, which appeared in the Columbia Journal of Tax Law 7 (2016): 144-168:
The process of establishing a stable and effective system of taxation is a hallmark of nearly all modern states. Among the many modern administrative innovations adopted to facilitate effective tax compliance in the United States, arguably none has been more significant than the use of third-party reporting and tax withholding. Yet, like most administrative achievements, the effective implementation of information reporting and tax withholding did not occur quickly or easily. The evolution of withholding and third-party reporting thus raises a series of important historical questions: how did a contested administrative concept become an accepted and celebrated method of tax collection? What were the pivotal periods of administrative reform during this seemingly path-dependent process? Why were activists, commentators, and lawmakers opposed to the growth of this administrative practice? And, how did reformers and government officials overcome this hostility during critical junctures in the development of this important administrative achievement? One of the principal aims of this article is to attend to the early U.S. history of income tax withholding and third-party information reporting. Building upon earlier studies, this article contends that examining the pre-1943 adoption of income tax withholding is critical not only to a deeper historical understanding of how information reporting and withholding were transformed from a contested concept to an administrative cornerstone, but also to our future expectations of administrative and bureaucratic reform.The third, written with Julia Ott, The New School for Social Research, is The Curious Beginnings of the Capital Gains Tax Preference, which appeared in the Fordham Law Review 84 (2016): 2517-2536
Despite the importance of the capital gains tax preference, and the controversy it often evokes, there has been relatively little serious scholarly attention paid to the historical development of this highly significant tax provision. This Article seeks to move beyond the normative and presentist concerns for or against the tax preference to recount the empirical beginnings and early twentieth-century development of this important tax law. In exploring the curious beginnings of the capital gains tax preference, this brief Article has several aims. First, its main goal is to show that the preference is not a timeless or transhistorical concept, but rather a historically contingent one—a concept that has been shaped not purely by economic logic, but rather by political compromise and social experience. Second, it uses the capital gains tax preference to shed light on broader historiographical questions about the rise and fall of different guiding principles of American political economy. Third, by examining the shifting political coalitions and constituencies behind the tax preference, it intends to show that it is not simply wealthy and elite American taxpayers and their representatives who have supported this tax law. Rather, over time, the law has had a variety of proponents, suggesting that the provision’s persistence can be explained as much by political forces and institutional inertia as by seemingly inexorable economic reasoning. Ultimately, an exploration of the beginnings and early twentieth-century development of the capital gains tax preference provides an opportunity to think about how “we are what we tax” -- the theme of this law review symposium.