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The Conscription of Wealth: Mass Warfare and the Demand for Progressive Taxation

  • Kenneth Scheve (a1) and David Stasavage (a2)

The dominant narrative of the politics of redistribution in political science and economics highlights the signature role of the rise of electoral democracy and the development of political parties that mobilize working-class groups. We argue in this article that this narrative ignores the critical role played by mass warfare in the development of redistributive public policies. Focusing attention on the determinants of progressive taxation, we argue that mobilization for mass warfare led to demands for increased taxation of the wealthy to more fairly distribute the burden for the war effort. We then show empirically that during the past century, mass mobilization for war has been associated with a notable increase in tax progressivity. In the absence of war, neither the establishment of universal suffrage, nor the arrival of political control by parties of the left is systematically associated with large increases in tax progressivity. In making these arguments, we devote particular attention to a “difference-in-differences” comparison of participants and nonparticipants in World War I.

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International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
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