Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue book launch

Special CBT event with Michael Keen and Joel Slemrod

The CBT hosted a special event on June 9 from 4.00-5.00pm BST to mark the publication of a book by two of its International Research Fellows, Michael Keen and Joel Slemrod, Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue: Tax Follies and Wisdom through the Ages. Mick and Joel are giants of the public finance world - and their book shows that while taxation is a serious business it can also be surprisingly entertaining. 

The event started with a 20-minute presentation by the authors followed by a Q&A.

About the book

Governments have always struggled to tax in ways that are effective and tolerably fair. Sometimes they fail grotesquely, as when, in 1898, the British ignited a rebellion in Sierra Leone by imposing a tax on huts - and, in repressing it, ended up burning the very huts they intended to tax. Sometimes they succeed astonishingly, as when, in eighteenth-century Britain, a cut in the tax on tea massively increased revenue. In this entertaining book, two leading authorities on taxation, Michael Keen and Joel Slemrod, provide a fascinating and informative tour through these and many other episodes in tax history, both preposterous and dramatic - from the plundering described by Herodotus and an Incan tax payable in lice to the (misremembered) Boston Tea Party and the scandals of the Panama Papers. Along the way, readers meet a colourful cast of tax rascals, and even a few tax heroes.

But this is not just a collection of fun tax facts. The book aims to use lively tax episodes from history, from the bizarre to the tragic, not just for fun but also to convey painlessly some of the otherwise dry and drab principles of taxation. Keen and Slemrod show that yesterday’s tax systems have more in common with ours than we may think. Georgian England’s window tax now seems quaint, but was an ingenious way of judging wealth unobtrusively. And Tsar Peter the Great’s tax on beards aimed to induce the nobility to shave, much like today’s carbon taxes aim to slow global warming. Some of what we do today may look no less strange to those who will come after us. 

Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue is a one-of-a-kind account of how history illuminates the perennial challenges and timeless principles of taxation - and how the past holds clues to solving the tax problems of today.

More about the Book

You can read more about the book and purchase it at Princeton University Press. You can read a review of the book on the International Monetary Fund website.

About the authors

Michael Keen is Deputy Director of the Fiscal Affairs Department of the International Monetary Fund.

Joel Slemrod is Paul W. McCracken Collegiate Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy at the Ross School of Business, and Professor in the Department of Economics, at the University of Michigan. 

How to register

Registration for this event has now closed.


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rebellion rascals and revenue front cover