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Edwin R. A. Seligman
Edwin RA Seligman portrait.jpg
Born (1861-04-25)April 25, 1861
Died July 18, 1939(1939-07-18) (aged 78)
Nationality American
Institution Columbia University
Alma mater Columbia University
John Burgess
B. R. Ambedkar
Paul Douglas
Robert Murray Haig
Alvin Saunders Johnson

Edwin Robert Anderson Seligman (1861–1939), was an American economist who spent his entire academic career at Columbia University in New York City. Seligman is best remembered for his pioneering work involving taxation and public finance. His principles for a progressive federal income tax were adopted by Congress after the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment. A prolific scholar and teacher, his students had great influence on the fiscal architecture of postcolonial nations. He served as an influential founding member of the American Economics Association.

Early life

Edwin Seligman was born April 25, 1861 in New York City, the son of the banker Joseph Seligman. He was tutored by Horatio Alger and had a broad facility for languages.

Seligman attended Columbia University at fourteen and graduated in 1879 with an A.B.. Seligman continued his studies in Europe, attending courses for three years at the universities of Berlin, Heidelberg, Geneva, and Paris. He earned his M.A. and LL.B. degrees in 1885 and successfully defended a Ph.D. in 1885. He later was awarded a LL.D. in 1904.


Seligman spent his entire academic career at Columbia University, first joining as a lecturer in 1885. He was made an adjunct professor of political economy in 1888. He became the first McVickar Professor of Political Economy at the same university in 1904, a position which he occupied until 1931.

Seligman's academic work dealt largely with matters of taxation and public finance, and he was regarded as a leading proponent of the progressive income tax. He also taught courses at Columbia in the field of economic history.

From 1886 Seligman was one of the editors of the Political Science Quarterly. He also edited Columbia's series in history, economics, and public law from 1890.

Seligman was a founder of the American Economic Association and served as president of that organization from 1902 to 1904. He was also a key figure behind the formation of the American Association of University Professors, serving as that group's president from 1919 to 1920.

Seligman dedicated a great deal of effort to the question of public finance during World War I and was a prominent advocate of the establishment of a progressive income tax as a basis for the funding of government operations.

Although a proponent of the economic interpretation of history, commonly associated with Marxism, Seligman was an opponent of socialism and appeared in public debates opposing prominent radical figures during the early 1920s, including such figures as Scott Nearing and Harry Waton.

Seligman's later academic work revolved around questions of tax policy and consumer finance.

Among his students was B.R. Ambedkar, the principal architect of the Constitution of India.

Seligman's teaching career ended in 1931.

Death and legacy

Edwin Seligman died July 18, 1939. His beliefs were highly influential with Charles A. Beard, who was an academic colleague at Columbia. In particular, Seligman's economic viewpoints to history helped inform Beard's work An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. As a mentor to fiscal experts including Carl Shoup, Seligman's ideas also guided post-World War II tax reform.


Books and pamphlets

  • The General Property Tax. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1890.
  • Report of the Committee of Economists on the dismissal of Professor Ross from Leland Stanford Junior University. Detroit?: The Committee?, 1901.
  • The Next Step in Tax Reform: Presidential Address of Edwin R. A. Seligman, LL. D., Delivered at the Ninth Annual Conference of the National Tax Association, San Francisco, August 11, 1915. New York: National Tax Association, 1915.
  • A University School of Business. New York: Columbia University Press, 1916.
  • Financial Mobilization for War: Papers Presented at a Joint Conference of the Western Economic Society and the City Club of Chicago, June 21 and 22, 1917. (Editor.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1917.
  • Studies in Public Finance. New York: Macmillan, 1925.
  • Essays in Economics. New York: Macmillan, 1925.
  • The Economics of Instalment Selling: A Study in Consumers' Credit, with Special Reference to the Automobile. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1927.
  • The Economics of Farm Relief: A Survey of the Agricultural Problem. New York: Columbia University Press, 1929.
  • Price Cutting and Price Maintenance: A Study in Economics. With Robert Alonzo Love. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1932.
  • A Report on the Revenue System of Cuba. With Carl S. Shoup. Havana: Talleres tipográficos de Carasa y cía., 1932

Selected articles

  • "Economists," in Cambridge History of English and American Literature, 1907.
  • "The Crisis of 1907 in the Light of History," in Edwin R.A. Seligman (ed.), The Currency Problem and the Present Financial Situation: A Series of Addresses Delivered at Columbia University 1907-1908. New York: Columbia University Press, 1908.
  • "Recent Reports on State and Local Taxation," American Economic Review, 1911.
  • "The Crisis in Social Evolution," in Albert Bushnell Hart, et al., Problems of Readjustment After the War. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1915.
  • "Tax Exemption Through Tax Capitalization: A Reply," American Economic Review, 1916.
  • "Loans versus Taxes in War Finance," in Financing the War. Philadelphia: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 75, 1918.
  • "Who is the Twentieth Century Mandeville?" American Economic Review, 1918.
  • "Are Stock Dividends Income?" American Economic Review, 1919.
  • "The Cost of the War and How It Was Met," American Economic Review, vol. 9, no. 4 (Dec. 1919), pp. 739–770.
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