Phillip W. Magness

U.S. Economic & Political History

Philanthropy and the Great Depression: what historical tax records tell us about charity

| May 19, 2017

As part of my ongoing investigation into early 20th century tax policy, I recently compiled a data series to track patterns in charitable giving during the 1920s and 1930s. As a result of tax code changes in 1917, the IRS began allowing federal income tax payers to deduct up to 15% of their taxable income […]

Different Measurements of Income Inequality – the interwar Wisconsin Example

| May 16, 2017

I have a new paper, co-written with Vincent Geloso, on the measurement of inequality in Wisconsin between 1919 and 1941. The discussion’s geography may initially seem obscure, but there’s a method to this investigation. In the early part of the 20th century Wisconsin had a stable state income tax system and, more importantly, generated high quality […]

Are the “inequality” charts simply tracking tax code changes?

| September 7, 2016

The main historical argument made by inequality scholars such as Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman asserts that the income and wealth distributions of the United States follow a U-shaped pattern across the past 100 years. According to this narrative, the century began at very high levels of inequality. Intervening events such as the adoption […]

Fed economists attempt to piketty their own U.S. inequality data

| December 26, 2015

Earlier this month the St. Louis Federal Reserve published a new briefing paper by economists William R. Emmons and Lowell B. Ricketts, in which they claimed to find recent evidence of the growing inequality trends predicted in Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. As asserted in the Fed paper: “Data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances […]