The Permanent Tax Revolt: How the Property Tax Transformed American Politics

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Tax cuts are such a pervasive feature of the American political landscape that the political establishment rarely questions them. Since 2001, Congress has abolished the tax on inherited wealth and passed a major income tax cut every year, including two of the three largest income tax cuts in American history despite a long drawn-out war and massive budget deficits. The Permanent Tax Revolt traces the origins of this anti-tax campaign to the 1970s, in particular, to the influence of grassroots tax rebellions as homeowners across the United States rallied to protest their local property taxes.

Isaac William Martin advances the provocative new argument that the property tax revolt was not a conservative backlash against big government, but instead a defensive movement for government protection from the market. The tax privilege that the tax rebels were defending was in fact one of the largest government social programs in the postwar era.

While the movement to defend homeowners' tax breaks drew much of its inspiration—and many of its early leaders—from the progressive movement for welfare rights, politicians on both sides of the aisle quickly learned that supporting big tax cuts was good politics. In time, American political institutions and the strategic choices made by the protesters ultimately channeled the movement toward the kind of tax relief favored by the political right, with dramatic consequences for American politics today.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Isaac William Martin offers an important and insightful addition to this research strand, presenting a powerful mix of social policy assessment, social movement analysis, political science, and economic sociology. ...Martin's book is recommended reading to all interested in the linkages between social policy, social movements, and taxation."—Rafael Marques, American Journal of Sociology

"A very informative and stimulating read."—Marginal Revolution

"A must-read for anyone seeking to understand the true origins of the fiscal crisis of the United States."—Edwin Amenta, author of When Movements Matter and Bold Relief

"The Permanent Tax Revolt tells a surprising story about the anti-tax movement that has dominated American politics for the past several decades. In a welcome break with market fundamentalism, this lively, well-written, and insightful book casts much-needed new light on debates about tax politics, the welfare state, and contemporary social movements."—Chris Rhomberg, Yale University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804758703
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 3/5/2008
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Isaac William Martin is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     ix
Introducing the Tax Revolt     1
A Seedbed of Taxpayer Revolt: The Modernization of the American Property Tax     25
The Outbreak of a Tax Protest Movement     50
The Two Faces of Federalism     74
A New Ball Game: How the Tax Revolt Turned Right     98
Welcome to the Tax Cutting Party: How the Tax Revolt Transformed Republican Politics     126
American Exceptionalism Reconsidered     146
Epilogue: Lessons of the Tax Revolt     166
How Great Was the Tax Privilege of Fractional Assessment?     175
Was Proposition 13 Really a Turning Point?     181
How Did Tax Limitation Policies Affect the Politics of Taxation?     185
Archival Sources and Their Abbreviations     189
Notes     191
Index     239
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