Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue: Tax Follies and Wisdom through the Ages by Michael Keen & Joel Slemrod; The Dreadful Monster and Its Poor Relations: Taxing, Spending and the United Kingdom, 1707–2021 by Julian Hoppit - review by Frances Cairncross

Frances Cairncross

Be Thankful I Don’t Take It All

Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue: Tax Follies and Wisdom through the Ages

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Princeton University Press 536pp £25 order from our bookshop

The Dreadful Monster and Its Poor Relations: Taxing, Spending and the United Kingdom, 1707–2021

By

Allen Lane 336pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

These two books mix taxation and history, but in quite different ways. Michael Keen and Joel Slemrod are both professional economists: Keen, a former academic, is now at the International Monetary Fund, and Slemrod teaches at the University of Michigan. They set out to write a history of taxation that would also serve as a primer of tax principles. The result is a fascinating and often funny book, without a single chart or quadratic equation to intimidate the nervous.

Julian Hoppit is a distinguished economic historian with a chair at University College London and an interest in the 17th and 18th centuries. He has set himself a more ambitious goal: to chart through three centuries the ways in which policies of taxation and public spending have impinged on and shaped the relations of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom.

Keen and Slemrod have a nose for a good story. You want to know why the UK’s tax year starts on 6 April, when most other countries go for the start of the calendar year? It all began with Lady Day (25 March), which for centuries marked the start of

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