Guest Blog Post: The Timeless Search for an Equitable System of Taxation

Guest blog post by University of Oregon School of Planning, Public Policy and Management graduate student Jes Sokolowski:

For the last few semesters I have been assisting a professor with a research project on inequality and taxes. Most of my involvement with this project has been with data collection— analyzing tax forms to uncover charitable giving information, and eventually extrapolating enough information to design visuals.

During the project, our team would occasionally talk about the rhetoric involved with a partisan issue, such as taxes. These thoughts on taxes, inequality, and rhetoric, lead me to ask the question “I wonder how tax talk has transformed over time”? Shortly after I posed this question, the new Historic Oregon Newspapers website was released, and historic newspapers seemed like the perfect place to search to discover how tax talk had evolved over the years. Not only would Historic Oregon Newspapers allow me to learn more about the history of taxes in Oregon, but it would allow me to search for tax-related keywords and phrases.

Thus, I proceeded to search through Oregon Digital Newspapers using terms such as “taxation”, “tax policy”, and “tax reform”. This was an exciting search process! I had never read about early 20th century tax reform before this Digital Newspaper search, so it was particularly exciting to read early opinion articles, editorials, and local advertisements either for or against a tax measure. Fun fact: it was common for the list of local tax evaders to be published on the front page of the newspaper— that way everyone knew who wasn’t paying their fair share.

The most important find for my newspaper search project, showed up in the January 24th, 1909 Sunday Oregonian. From this newspaper, it was clear that, for more than 100 years, there has been concern with issues of inequality and taxes in Oregon. The article, titled Procedure for Tax Reform in Oregon, was written by F.G. Young, Professor of Economics and Sociology at the University of Oregon. According to Young, “An equitable system of taxation is necessary not only for social health and mutual good will, but also for internal peace and general prosperity.” Young’s call for equitable taxes is as timeless as his comment on tax evasion: “Classes or interests, who under existing practices are escaping their rightful share of the public burdens, see to it that all the confusion possible is created…”.

Thanks to the Historic Oregon Newspapers website, I began to better understand the history of taxes, and Oregonian’s attitudes towards taxation. Though the people discussing taxes change, people’s polarizing views and writing on taxes seem to be ageless.

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