Professor Yanni Kotsonis (Department of History, New York University) will give his presentation on Thursday, March 20, 4:00-5:30 pm, Washington Hall 201.
Taxes secure revenue but taxes are equally tools that reshape societies. In Russia this was a movement away from regimes of privilege where only the lower orders paid, to systems of income and excise taxation where everyone paid, though at flat rates. Soon the demand for equality yielded to the need to tax progressively on income as a form of socioeconomic fairness. Taxes could also produce new kinds of subjectivity as citizens were asked to fill out their tax forms and declare who they are economically, while states used the fiscal tools to encourage certain activities and lifestyles and penalize others. Modern tax systems therefore embody larger modern tensions that are still with us: between political equality and social fairness, between our right to be left alone and our obligation to the society as a whole, between our laissez faire impulses and our expectation that people can be reshaped and improved. This lecture shows how the evolution and the paradox were played out in the diverse historical settings of Imperial Russia, Soviet Russia, Europe, and North America.