The origins of tax systems: A french-american comparison

Kimberly J. Morgan, Monica Prasad*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


This article examines the origins of tax systems. Through a historical comparison of France and the United States, and analysis of several shadow cases, the article explains why the United States has relied more heavily on progressive income taxation than France, which has favored regressive sales taxes. This study traces the origins of these two tax systems to the early 20th century, arguing that decisions about tax structure were shaped by resistance to the concentration of economic power in the United States and the centralization of state power in France. In the United States, the rapid concentration of economic power in the late 19th century spurred a political movement for a tax with clear redistributive purposes. In France, resistance to the centralization of state power and concomitant fears of "fiscal inquisition" weakened the drive for an effective income tax, leaving the state to rely on consumption taxes to meet its revenue needs. These 19th-century movements of resistance to modernization shaped the foundations of contemporary political economy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1350-1394
Number of pages45
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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