Q&A: How FDR Built Today’s Tax System

tags: WSJ, FDR, taxes, income tax, Joseph Thorndike



A new book, Their Fair Share: Taxing the Rich in the Age of FDR, explores how the modern progressive income tax emerged from the Great Depression and World War II. Washington Wire posed a few questions to its author, historian Joseph Thorndike, who is director of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts, a visiting scholar at the University of Virginia, and a fellow of the George W. Bush Institute.

What gave you the idea for this book?
It’s hard to work in Washington without developing a more-or-less permanent sense of déjà vu. That’s especially true when it comes to tax policy, where so many of today’s arguments are just retreads of yesterday’s. I wanted to search out some of these earlier debates, since I think they have a lot to tell us.

But why the Roosevelt years?
The tax system we have today is basically the same one FDR built during the 1930s and 1940s. He had a lot of help, of course, especially from Congress. But FDR’s decisions – and his ideas about fairness – are very much with us today....



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