Tax Analysts Blog

Director of the Tax History Project and Contributing Editor
Joseph J. Thorndike

Joseph J. Thorndike, director of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts is a nationally recognized tax historian. He is a regular columnist for Tax Analysts' publications, including Tax Notes magazine, and a writer for the Tax Analysts blog. A prolific author on the history of American taxation, Thorndlike's latest book is Their Fair Share: Taxing the Rich in the Age of FDR, published by the Urban Institue Press. Thorndlike serves as a visiting scholar in history at the University of Virginia and teaches tax policy at the Northwestern University School of Law. He holds a BA from Williams College and an MA and PhD from the University of Virginia.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

​Steve Bannon wants to soak the rich – or at least leave them a little bit damp. According to Axios, Bannon wants to use tax hikes on the rich to pay for tax cuts for the middle and working class. Apparently, President Trump’s chief political strategist believes such a move would be a “potent populist idea.”

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

​The federal gas tax turns 85 today – pretty respectable for an excise but nothing compared with federal levies on alcohol and tobacco, which first appeared in 1789. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Taxpaying is a civic ritual. The annual ceremony -- gathering records, completing returns, rushing to the post office -- has been diluted in recent years, especially by the rise of electronic filing. But April 15 remains a national anti-holiday of sorts. It may not be fun, but it's a touchstone of American citizenship.

Monday, March 27, 2017

No one likes to file their tax return. The process is tedious and confusing – unless you hire someone to do it, in which case it’s expensive. And even when we outsource the misery in April, we still have to collect and organize tax-related documents all year long

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Say you’re a liberal sort of politician and you want to build a durable government program. Is there some kind of formula for success? 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Carbon taxes are toxic, at least to most Republicans. But last week, a handful of GOP wise men, including several former Treasury secretaries, offered a challenge to party orthodoxy. Their plan? To impose a new carbon tax but refund the money to taxpayers before politicians get a chance to spend it.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Many of the same people who underestimated Donald Trump’s political skills on the campaign trail are now overestimating his policy sophistication in the White House. Or at least the specificity of his policy agenda. This tendency was on full display last week around the subject of “border taxes.” The root of the problem seems to be this “border” word. Since it’s associated with more than one policy proposal, it’s made for a lot of (possibly deliberate) confusion.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Swift (and probably piecemeal) destruction of the Affordable Care Act is a program fraught with peril -- both for Republican politicians and for millions of Americans currently insured through the individual market. As both liberal and conservative  experts have noted, repeal without immediate replacement seems likely to disrupt insurance markets and leave chaos in its wake.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

​If you listen to the lobbyists, tax reform is always just around the corner. For years, Beltway mavens have been especially vocal about the urgency – and even the inevitability  – of corporate reform. With some $2.6 trillion in corporate earnings “trapped,”  “stranded,”  “stashed,”  or simply held overseas, the status quo has long seemed untenable.

Friday, December 2, 2016

You hear it so often it’s become commonplace: There’s never been a president like Donald Trump. In any number of ways, that truism is undeniably true. But in some respects, there are precedents for a President Trump, or at least for some Trumpian policies, including his still vague “borrow to build” plan for infrastructure.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Democrats used to hate monopolies, and now they don’t.

Friday, October 14, 2016

When it come paying taxes, how much is too little? The answer depends on whether you're running for president. Ever since someone leaked portions of Donald Trump’s 20-year-old state tax returns, people have been speculating about the taxes he paid – or didn’t pay, as the case may be.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

In January 1953 President Dwight Eisenhower crossed party lines and named a Virginia Democrat to be the new commissioner of internal revenue. T. Coleman Andrews brought several virtues to the job, including a reputation for toughness and a set of strong convictions. Among other things, he was committed to bureaucratic reform, fiscal austerity, and vigorous enforcement of the revenue laws.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

This Thursday the federal estate tax will turn 100. And that brings to mind one of the most familiar set pieces of modern American politics: Republicans call for repealing the estate tax, and Democrats denounce the idea. This year Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have dutifully assumed their respective roles. And voters have the pleasure of watching this argument unfold. Again.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Most Americans are still waiting for Donald Trump to release his tax returns. But he’s not the only one dragging his feet. Hillary Clinton, who has generally been very forthcoming with her tax disclosures, hasn’t divulged her 2015 return, either.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bernie Sanders won’t withdraw and won’t endorse Hilary Clinton. He has promised to vote for the presumptive Democratic nominee – and to campaign against Donald Trump. But for the time being, he’s staying in the “race,” determined to boost his leverage within the Democratic Party.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Donald Trump is a big fan of tariffs. He’s made them a cornerstone of his get-tough trade policy, suggesting (among other things) a 45 percent import duty on Chinese goods and a 35 percent tariff on cars manufactured in Mexico. And as Time magazine recently observed, he’s not the least bit concerned about the potential fallout. “Who the hell cares about a trade war?” he said last month.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Donald Trump likes to compare himself to Ronald Reagan, especially when trying to explain how a former Democrat finds himself at the top of the GOP ticket. But Reagan and Trump have something else in common, too: The Gipper, just like The Donald, wanted to keep his tax returns private.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Donald Trump has now reneged on his promise to release his personal tax returns. That should come as no surprise, given The Donald’s difficulty in keeping his story (and his excuses) straight. But in saying that he expects to disclose no tax returns before the November election, Trump is set to become the first major party nominee since 1976 to elevate his personal privacy over the public interest.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Since 1960, Congress has enacted 66 major tax laws. At more than one major law per year, that makes for a pretty good clip -- and a lot of uncertainty.