Knut Wicksell: Selected Essays in Economics - Vol. 2

By Knut Wicksell; Bo Sandelin | Go to book overview

30

EDWIN R.A.SELIGMAN, THE SHIFTING AND INCIDENCE OF TAXATION

Second edition, completely revised and enlarged, New York, Macmillan

The second edition of any work on economics is an uncommon enough phenomenon, and when the work is a monograph on a subject as abstract as tax shifting, a second edition is certainly an extraordinary rarity. Let me say at once that in this case the success of the work seems to me thoroughly deserved. Seligman is a master of popular presentation, in structure and linguistic formulation he almost always hits the nail on the head; as for the content, he knows as few do how to steer a middle course between too little and too much, between, on the one hand, those barren commonplaces that make the reader neither wiser nor better, but to which so many recent writers in this very field confine their remarks and, on the other hand, the overly abstruse discussion of minor points in a matter confronted with which the present state of our knowledge fails to yield any very precise information.

These virtues were perhaps still more evident in the first edition than in the new one, for in the latter the author has made a number of changes and additions, some of which in my opinion cannot be considered unquestioned improvements, or which at least fall rather too far outside the framework of the original plan. The latter objection is surely true for example of the detailed historical discussion of older theories of tax incidence that has been inserted in the new edition. To be sure, in itself this is one of the most valuable parts of the book. In the accompanying bibliography Seligman lists no less than about 200 works prior to Adam Smith; he has apparently taken upon himself the enormous labour of reading through and comparing all the most important of these works. This survey gives the reader a very interesting insight into that period of ferment in economics out of which the works of the physiocrats and Smith’s School were to emerge as the clarified

Originally published in Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik, 1900.

-193-

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