Theses Bachelor's

The Price of Citizenship: Corporations, Congress and Mineral Depletion in 1969

Somjee, Salman

Taxes are generally not given a particularly detailed treatment as analytic concepts. Instead, thinking on taxes has tended to focus on the technical aspects of how they behave. Historians have generally dealt with taxes in two ways: the first looks at them as encapsulating a moral transaction based on duty to the state and fellow citizens; and the other treats taxes as though they were simply a tool by which the government raises revenues. The second approach does not take full appreciation of the extra-economic implications and meanings of tax transactions while the first does not actually explain how taxes work to enforce these moral obligations. Taxes affect all parties in the nation in significant but almost completely imperceptible ways. For this reason, tax relationships between citizens and the state are complicated enough; let alone the interactions between corporations and the state. The corporation was and continues to be a key structure that enables and is enabled by the nation state. Despite its long and storied history in America, it occupies an ambiguous place in American society and law. Legal thinkers have tried to understand the corporate entity as existing in an uneasy cohabitation with the individualist legal tradition in America, yet this becomes harder and harder to do as corporations have come to dominate the economic and thus legal landscapes. Legislators have come to equate conceptually corporations and citizens. This becomes problematic because of the different roles that are played by corporations and citizens, a fact that is highlighted during moments of tax reform. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of the oil industry. After the railroads of the Gilded Age, no other industry has so completely transformed the American economy and the way of life of American citizens. Yet the tax privileges granted to the oil industry have always sparked the ire of various citizens even as they are vociferously defended by others. The arguments tend to focus on why and how taxes and tax breaks for corporations can be justified. This question is a reflection of a more significant one: what is the place of the corporation in American society? I believe that the financial crisis of the late 1960s, which provoked Nixon's tax reform of 1969, gives us some insight into how legislators have sought to grapple with this question. The arguments for and against the mineral depletion allowance in 1969 are thus indicative of a much deeper trend in American thinking on the corporation.

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Academic Units
B.A., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2010


Senior thesis.