Although published for the first time only in 1849, La Decima scalata is the first treatise ever written on progressive taxation. Composed in the 1510s or 1520s, it is set in late fifteenth-century Florence, after the expulsion of Piero de’ Medici: in two discorsi, first in favore, and then in contrario, Guicciardini through the mouth of two unnamed Florentine speakers develops the arguments pro and contra the proposed progressive tax. After an overview of its initial reception in the public finance literature, this article closely examines the treatise. Although apparently using the second speaker as his mouthpiece, Guicciardini offers compelling and complex arguments both for and against the tax, anticipating a number of future arguments on the topic. Examining the relationship between the public and the private in Florence, the tax is attacked/defended with arguments invoking justice and liberty, economic efficiency, commercial interests, corruptive effects on individual and public morality, and political necessity. Distribution of limited resources is discussed in terms of a zero-sum game. In one of the key moments of the treatise, Guicciardini denies that preferences toward the best possible government are unimodal: if the ideal, austere regime such as Sparta (with equal property for all, and focused on virtue-in-arms) is not achievable, one should prefer the given stratified society, partial and non-virtue-directed redistribution being the worst option.
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Nikola Regent; Guicciardini’s La Decima Scalata: The First Treatise on Progressive Taxation. History of Political Economy 1 June 2014; 46 (2): 307–331. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-2647522
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