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The Price of Civilization

Taxation during the Great Depression and World War II

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The Price of Civilization, a publication of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts, is a broad-ranging study of U.S. federal taxation between 1932 and 1945. In particular, the project seeks to illuminate the development of mass-based personal income taxation, uncovering the ideas, interests, and imperatives that moved the income tax to the center of federal finance. World War II and its dramatic revenue needs tell much of the story, but the war does not explain why various alternatives -- including a general sales tax -- were considered but ultimately rejected. In an effort to recapture the contingency of the policy process, the Price of Civilization hopes to shed light on what might have been but wasn't.

The Price of Civilization includes both documentary and analytical components. Culling material from the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and various presidential libraries, the Project compiles and republishes key policy studies on federal taxation. The Project also seeks to collect and preserve interviews with key federal tax officials.

For more information on The Price of Civilization, contact Project Director Joseph J. Thorndike.