From Tariffs to the Income Tax: Trade Protection and Revenue in the United States Tax System




Magness, Phillip W.

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Utilizing historical and statistical data, it is argued that the federal income tax amendment of 1913 drastically, and somewhat inadvertently, altered the constitutional political economy of congressional trade politics by decoupling the import tariff from its traditional role as a revenue device. Prior to this change, the revenue attributes of the tariff system acted as a mild constraint upon the extreme protectionist interest group politics that characterized the early 20th century. The removal of this constraint and its ensuing policy effects are illustrative of the complex and often overlooked role that revenue may play in trade and tariff politics. By treating the 16th amendment as a trade policy measure gone awry, this study challenges the prevailing historical consensus on the original purposes and intent of federal income taxation.



Tariffs, Economic history, Income tax, International trade, Interest group theory, Constitutional theory