Taxes and Inflation

Two things I read recently reminded me of the central argument of my dissertation and Brewing Battles. At the beginning of the month, I read a review of Roger Lowenstein’s new book Ways and Means: Lincoln and His Cabinet and the Financing of the Civil War. Eric Foner wrote the review. Eric is a very prominent historian and was my dissertation sponsor.

The other thing I read was from a newsletter I get from the New York Times DealBook. DealBook which is about business and economic news had a post that Roger Lowenstein wrote discussing inflation and how war can affect the economic climate of the country.

Both Eric’s review and Lowenstein post talked about the need of the north to finance the war which resulted in a myriad of taxes being a placed on a variety of objects and activities. Many years ago, I discovered that Salmon P. Chase, Treasury Secretary, and the Lincoln administration established taxes on alcohol and tobacco as well as creating an income tax. Although Congress repealed almost all the other taxes from following the end of the war, the Internal Revenue taxes on liquor and tobacco remained. These taxes provided over 50% of the federal government’s revenue until the enactment of the Internal Revenue tax in 1913.

What follows is an excerpt from Chapter Two of Brewing Battles that describe the efforts by Chase and the Lincoln administration to finance the war.

“From the moment Southern troops fired on Fort Sumter the Federal government required large sums of money to finance the Civil War. A Special Session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress (July­–August 1861) attempted to meet this need by increasing certain customs duties, imposing a direct tax of $20 million on the States, and instituting an income tax.[1]

It soon became clear that these measures alone could not relieve the country’s financial burdens. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase was hoping to raise $85 million and sent a bill to the Thirty-Seventh Congress. Congress, which reconvened on December 2, 1861, reviewed his request for a small increase in the income tax and excise taxes on manufactured goods. Distilled spirits, malt liquors, cotton, tobacco, carriages, yachts, billiard tables, gross receipts of railroads, steam boats and ferries, and playing cards all became taxable items. Signed by President Lincoln July 1, 1862, the measure became effective the following month.[2] By the 1870s Congress had repealed most of the excise taxes; the liquor tax, however, has remained in effect until today. The Internal Revenue Act of 1862 marked the entrance of the federal government into the affairs of the liquor industry; it has never left.

The federal government did not regard the liquor industry as an ordinary business. Alcohol was more than a manufactured item — officials saw drinking as a luxurious, even evil, habit that deserved a heavy tax. Ignoring the mixed history of ante-bellum attempts at taxation, collection, and sumptuary legislation, Civil War legislators assumed that an excise on distilled and fermented beverages would raise a large amount of much needed revenue.

Civil War legislation of 1862 established the federal system of taxation of alcoholic beverages. At that time, the government instituted excise taxes on liquor, tobacco, and other items as well as imposing an income tax. Most of these Civil War taxes were short lived; the liquor and tobacco taxes were permanent. Until the imposition of the federal income tax in 1913, liquor taxes generated a significant portion of the nation’s internal revenue and played an important part in maintaining the economic health of the country.

Taxation provided the context for an explicit relationship between the state and industry, a pattern that would become more common later in the century. For the liquor industry as a whole the relationship did not develop smoothly. Throughout the nineteenth century, mismanagement and politicization of the Bureau of Internal Revenue led to fraud and corruption. The government did not seek and could not maintain regulatory power over the liquor industry. Although several individuals devoted themselves to reform efforts, officials failed to develop or maintain long range plans for efficient tax collection. Within this context, the brewing industry developed a good working relationship with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and was able to hold the line on tax increases”

[1] U.S. Department, Internal Revenue Service, History of the Internal Revenue Service 1791-1929, prepared under the direction of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, (Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1930), 2.

[2] Ibid., 3; Charles A. Jellison, Fessenden of Maine: Civil War Senator (Syracuse, N.Y: Syracuse University Press, 1962), 149; Leonard P. Curry, Blueprint for Modern America: Non-Military Legislation of the First Civil War Congress (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968), 149–181; Bray Hammond, Sovereignty and an Empty Purse: Banks and Politics in the Civil War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 52; Charles Estee, The Excise Tax Law (New York: Fitch, Estee, 1863), passim.

©All Rights Reserved. Do not reproduce without the permission of the author. Amy Mittelman, 2022.

 

NaNoWriMo Day 12

Before I started NaNoWriMo, I  talked to myself about keeping my expectations in check and realizing that life happens and I would have to roll with the punches. It is good I worked on that because today we had another flood.

All of Amherst had a flash flood . The water was coming in so quickly that our sump pump couldn’t keep up and, once again, my office flooded. I had written about 150 words when this happened but I had to stop, basically in mid sentence.

I could see the water coming up through cracks in the unfinished part of the basement. It was very frightening, so we called the fire department. They came quickly and at first they could not figure out where the water was coming from. They concluded that it was coming up through the basement floor. They tried to pump the water out, using a  hose that they snaked through the downstairs bathroom window. To get the hose through the window, one of the firemen put his fist through the screen.

Their pump didn’t work because the waters had started to recede and wasn’t high enough to trigger the float. They advised us to get an external floor pump. Fortunately one of our lovely neighbors had such a pump. Anther neighbor lent us a shorter hose than the one we have and we pumped the water into the toilet.

We then used towels and our water vac to get up the rest of the water. This was particularly discouraging because last weekend we put back all the stuff from one of the rooms downstairs that we had moved out when we had the flood from Tropical Storm Ida.

It was about three hours of solid work and we still will have to put the rooms together again, probably next weekend.  The firemen said to throw out one power strip that got wet. That and the screen is really  the only damage, which is fine. My papers were all safe.

I was able to come upstairs and write a little more for a total of 319 words today. I feel that was an amazing  accomplishment. I am so grateful that we are okay and for the wonderful help from our neighbors. The firemen were very solicitous and understanding and I plan to make a donation in their honor.

As climate change increases, there will only be more of these floods and violent rain storms. The Democrats must pass true climate change legislation for the planet’s sake.

Book Review: Death in a Tenured Position

As part of my summer reading which you can find about here and here, I finished Death in a Tenured Position by Amanda Cross. Cross was the pseudonym of Carolyn Heilbrun, feminist and noted scholar. Heilbrun taught, as a full professor, at Columbia University for many years. She was also a faculty wife. Her husband,  James Heilbrun, was an economics professor Fordham University. You can find out more about Carolyn Heilbrun here.

I read it because it took place at the Radcliffe Institute which I am writing about in my current chapter. Another book that I read this summer was The Equivalents which is a study of some of the women who were in the first group at the Radcliffe Institute. You can read my review of it here.

As Amanda Cross, Heilbrun wrote fourteen Kate Fansler mysteries from 1964 to 2002. I read several of them when they first came out. I’ve also read Heilbrun’s Writing Women’s Life which is excellent. If I had enough room, I would write about her in my book. Unfortunately, she doesn’t quite fit and I’m running out of room.

I enjoyed reading the book. It was entertaining enough that I also read her collected stories which has several Kate Fansler stories in it. I had some mixed feelings about Death in a Tenured Position. In a way it represented the bad aspects of second wave feminism which many people claim was only about white cis gendered middle-class women’s goals and aspirations and did not include women of color or poor women. Kate Fansler, a professor like Carolyn Heilbrun, is a privileged person and her opinions about lesbians, working class feminists, and other groups seem dated.

Book Review: Act Your Age, Eve Brown

I read Act Your Age, Eve Brown, by Talia Hibbert because Amazon gave me a Kindle credit. The book is the third in a series about three sisters. At first I thought I would read all three books. I was thinking of using at least one for my Jane Austen Book Club. A new season will be starting in February; I plan to have the club read Sense and Sensibility and then have the rest of the readings be about sisters.

Once I finished Act Your Age, I was not that interested in reading the other two. I do not plan on using the book for the club. It was interesting, however to read it and think about it in the context of what Austen wrote.

Many modern Romance novels uses the basic plot from Pride and Prejudice where two people meet, dislike each other but then realize that they have a lot in common and fall in love.  A variation that Hibbert employed is that the two people, after the initial dislike,  have fallen in love but there is a misunderstanding that pulls them apart until the final resolution where they are reunited. To some extent this plot twist is derived from Persuasion, my favorite Jane Austen book, where Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth  face many misunderstandings over a ten year period before they finally declare their love for each other and presumably live happily ever after.

Act Your Age uses these plot structures but with less writing skill and much more sex than either Jane Austen novel. Eve Brown is a twenty something young woman who has not yet figured out what she wants to be when she grows up. She falls into a position cooking at a bed and breakfast where the owner becomes her love interest. The formulaic nature of the book is reduced somewhat by Eve being a person of color while the owner is not. Locating the book in Britain also adds some interest. The book was an easy read and enjoyable but not particularly noteworthy.

 

Summer Reading Recap

Here it finally is – my long-awaited recap of my summer reading plans. In my original post of July 2, I outlined 5-6 books that I wanted to read this summer. Part of my motivation was to participate in the Jones Library Summer Reading Program. I turned in my log on Aug. 27. At that time, I had read five books; three of them were books I mentioned in that original post.

Since summer doesn’t actually end until Sept. 21, I am counting two more books that I read after I turned my log in as part of my summer reading achievement. Seven books in three months is not bad. I am currently reading Alison Lurie’s Love and Friendship. If i finish that in the next 5d days, I will have read eight books for the summer.

Books I Read this Summer

Maggie Doherty, The Equivalents 

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

Sara Fitzgerald, Conquering Heroines: How Women Fought Sex Bias at Michigan and Paved the Way for Title IX

Molly Greeley, The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh

Amanda Cross, Death in A Tenured Position

Amanda Cross, The Collected Stories of Amanda Cross.

Talia Herbert, Act Your Age, Eve Brown

I liked all the books but Greeley’s second book, imagining the life of Anne de Bourgh from Pride and Prejudice was not as good as her first book, The Clergyman’s Wife about Charlotte Lucas. I will have a separate review of Herbert’s book next week.

I didn’t read the book about training your cat, Wayward Lives or Butler’s Parable of the Talents.  I hope to read them all, but it will have to be part of my ongoing reading schedule.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Equivalents

I finished the book The Equivalents while we were in Florida. it is the first of the books I plan to read for my summer reading. You can read about that here. The book, by Maggie Doherty, tells the story of five women who were in the first two groups of Fellows at the Radcliffe Institute.

Mary Bunting,  president of Radcliffe College from 1960 to 1972, established the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study as a way to provide opportunities for married women with children who may have delayed or stopped their study or profession because of  marriage and children. Maggie Doherty  chose to focus her book on five women who all were accepted to the Radcliffe Institute but did not have advanced degrees. They received the term. “Equivalents” because they did not have advanced degrees but their experiences as writers, poets and artists counted as equivalent. to advanced degrees.

The women were the poets, Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, the writer Tillie Olsen who started in the second year,  the artist Barbara Swan and the sculptress, Marianna Pineda. Sexton and  Kumin had a relationship that began before their time together at the Institute, 1961-1963, and lasted until Sexton’s suicide in 1974.

The parts of the book where Doherty explores the lives of her five main characters and their relationships while they are at the Institute are well-written; this is the strongest part of the book.

During the first few years of the Institute, all of the Fellows were white. Although the story of the five “equivalents”  is the main part of the book, she tries to place their experiences within a larger societal context. To do this she introduces other characters, such as Alice Walkers, Institute Fellow 1966-1968, so Doherty can talk about issues such as race which her main actors didn’t experience.

Alice Walker is a compelling figure but Doherty should have written about her with more nuance. I find it problematic that she does not even mention Walker’s later career and controversies over her perceived anti-Semitism. A few sentences would have sufficed.

Doherty tries to position the women as precursors to second wave feminism. Although the bond between the five “equivalents” was very strong with elements of later consciousness raising sessions, I feel this is overstated. None of the women expressed overtly feminist ideas while they were at the Institute.

I read the book because the topic interests me and has something to do with what I’m currently writing about in my own manuscript. Because I am taking the PVWW writing class I read the book both for what it said about these women who were in the first group of the Radcliffe Institute and also how it is written, what kind of techniques and craft skills she used in writing it. Doherty does a good job with scene setting and uses quotations judiciously (both craft techniques)

I enjoyed the book and it did give me ideas about how to strengthen scenes and reduce my use of quotes, by putting more things into my own words. I am off to a good start with my summer reading. If any one else has a summer reading plan, I would love to hear about it.

Summer Reading

For several years, pre-Pandemic, I have participated in summer reading challenges hosted by the Jones Library. Usually you are supposed to read, at least, three books, and write a review of one. Once you turn that information in, you get a gift card to a local retail or dining institution.

In the past, the library also had a bingo game connected to the theme for the year’s summer reading challenge. Playing that meant you read three more books, for a total of six,  and had a better chance of winning a more elaborate prize.

Obviously, last year, the library didn’t do anything for summer reading or anything else. This year, they are doing an Adult Summer Reading Program; the theme is Tails  & Tales. It started yesterday and continues until August 27th.

I went today and picked up the material for the Jones Library program and a few of the books they suggest are entrancing. One,  a nonfiction book, The Trainable Cat A Practical Guide to Making Life Happier for You and Your Cat, by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis is particularly appealing because, eventually, we are going to get a new cat to replace Bella, our cat who we had for eighteen years. Early this summer we had to put her down.  If possible, I would like to get a short haired cat who we keep indoors and we don’t have to declaw. Maybe the book would help us have a cat who doesn’t starch.

My plan for my own summer reading is to finish five books; six if I add the cat book. The books are Maggie Doherty, The Equivalents which I want to read because it is about the early years of the Bunting Institute , a program of continuing education for women at Radcliffe College. The chapter of my book that I am currently working deals with similar programs developed at various academic institutions in the post World War Two period.

For my Jane Austen book club meeting in August I am reading Zadie Smith’s, White Teeth. Also Austen themed, I will be reading, The Heiress by Mollie Greeley. I read her book, The Clergyman’s Wife which is one of my favorite Jane Austen retellings. I wrote a review of it which you can read here.

One of the people in my year long manuscript class suggested I read Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidya Hartman. She thinks it will be a good model for how to structure my  book.

The final book I plan on completing before August 27th is Octavia Butler’s, Parable of the Talents. I just finished reading her Parable of the Sower and it was a great book; very dark but very prescient. Written in the 1990s, the novel starts in 2022, a year from now. It tackles issues of race, climate change, loss of our democracy and  concepts of God and organized religion. These are all issues we are currently grappling with. I highly recommend it.

To complete all of these books by the end of August, I will have to read about 36 or 37 pages  a day. I think that is very doable. If I add in the cat book, it will raise my daily reading page count to about 43 pages a day which I still fell is doable. I will keep you posted about my progress.

I will not have a blog post next week. I will resume my regular schedule on July 16th. Have a nice two weeks.

 

Book Review: Such A Fun Age

I recently read Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid. The reason I read it is because I had seen an excerpt of a review of the book by JoJo Moyes which said “An amazing debut…A sort of modern Austen-esque take on racism and modern liberal sensibilities…except that description makes it sound far more serious and less clever than it is. [Kiley Reid] has a forensic eye.” 

Because I am a sucker for anything to do with Jane Austen, I decided to read the book. The joke was on me because Such a Fun Age has nothing to do with Jane Austen, neither the style of writing nor the topic of the book.

Such A Fun Age is, on one level, the story of a clash between a 35-year-old white woman, Alix, and a 25-year-old  black woman, Emira. Alix is an influencer, although the writer doesn’t use that word about her, while Emira is, to some extent, the stereotypical aimless college graduate. Emira works for Alix as a babysitter.

The author portrays the differences between the two women as stemming from class and race. Alix is established in her career, with a book deal, a husband, a home and two children. Emira has no idea what she wants to do and is worried about losing her health insurance when she turns 26.

One evening while Emira is at a party, Alix calls her to take her older daughter out of the house because there has been an incident and the police are coming. Emira and a friend go and get the child and bring her to a local convenience store. A white woman, a Karen, thinks it is odd that Emira, all dressed up, is with a white child and alerts security.

A confrontation ensues, a bystander is filming it and it is only resolved when the child’s father, Peter, appears and vouches for Emira. This is the beginning of the book and it is certainly a timely scene.

Once Alix heards of this incident she is determined to show Emira that she is a good person. She does not articulate to herself that she wants it proven that she is not a racist. Alix becomes almost obsessive about Emira.

Emira, on the other hand is disinterested in Alix and her life. She doesn’t even google Alix to find out about her. Peter is a local tv news anchor but Emira seems unaware of this as well. She is not savvy about social media or the internet. This seemed implausible, given her age.

Although the book had nothing to do with Austen, I enjoyed reading it, especially in these fraught times. For me, the book reveals how problematic transactional relations in intimate settings can be, especially when there is disparity between the two parties involving race and class.

 

 

The Mysteries of Udolpho

I run a Jane Austen book club for the Jones Library. Despite the library being closing, I will be hosting, via Zoom, a meeting of the club tomorrow. This is the second year of the club. I have structured it so the first meeting of the year we read a Jane Austen book. Then, for the rest of the year, we read books related to the Austen work.

This year, we read Northanger Abbey. On Thursday we will be discussing The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Scholars consider Udolpho to be the first Gothic novel. Austen satirized it in Northanger Abbey. Udolpho is a very long book; almost 700 pages.  The gothic or “frightening part” is the middle third. It was slow reading up until that point and then the pace picked up.

During her stay at the Udolpho castle, Emily, the heroine suffered mightily. Many eerie and unexplained things happened. The author also builds suspense because you do not know if there will be a reunion of Emily and her love, Valancourt. After Emily leaves the castle, the pace of the book slows down again.

In the end, there is a rationale explanation for everything that occurred. Emily is a sensible, intelligent young woman. Throughout the book she only rarely succumbs to belief in the supernatural. In this way, she and Catherine Moorland, Austen’s heroine, are similar.  Catherine, partly because she is reading The Mysteries of Udolpho throughout Northanger Abbey, initially believes horrid things have happened in the castle she is visiting. In the end of her book, sense prevails as well.

I had mixed feelings about The Mysteries of Udolpho. There were parts I enjoyed and parts I disliked. The book, while it might have been new in 1794, feels dated in a way Northanger Abbey doesn’t.

Marie Kondo Revisited

A few years ago, I read  the Marie Kondo book and posted a review of it. At that time, I was not that impressed and had no plans to use the method in my home. This year, however, there were some areas of my house that really needing organizing so I gave Marie another look.

So far I have fixed up my sweaters that I have in an armoire.  I used the Kondo method for folding, but that actually works best in drawers where you will just have a single layer of clothes. I have more then one layer of sweaters and the space is much higher than a drawer. I had to pile sweaters on top of each other. When I finished it looked good, but the pyramid started to fall apart as soon as I took one sweater out. It isn’t perfect but it is better than how it was before I started.

Her folding and stacking method worked much better in my sock, bra, and underwear drawers. They have all stayed very neat and I love to look at them.  I also cleaned out my closet. I didn’t really use her “does this item bring me joy” shtick. I mostly kept or threw things out based on whether they ft or not. Some of clothing I got rid of I really loved. For sorting the closet I used the What Not to Wear mantra that you have to dress the body you have now. The closet also looks really nice and it is much easier to get my clothes out.

My new conclusion about Marie Kondo’s method for organizing is that it  works better for some things than for others. In my recent cleaning phase, I probably used the spirit of her approach more than hewing strictly to her rules.

I started  re-organizing before COVID-19, but, since I have been homebound, I have also worked on my linen closet and the junk drawer. What organizing projects have you done since the epidemic started? I hope every is safe and healthy.

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