Edwin R. A. Seligman
Born(1861-04-25)April 25, 1861
DiedJuly 18, 1939(1939-07-18) (aged 78)
Academic career
InstitutionColumbia University
Alma materColumbia 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.[1] A prolific scholar and teacher, his students had great influence on the fiscal architecture of postcolonial nations.[2] He served as an influential founding member of the American Economics Association.[1]

Early life

Edwin Seligman was born April 25, 1861, in New York City, the son of the banker Joseph Seligman. His family was Jewish. He was tutored by Horatio Alger and had a broad facility for languages.[1]

Seligman attended Columbia University at fourteen and graduated in 1879 with an AB[1][3] Seligman continued his studies in Europe, attending courses for three years at the universities of Berlin, Heidelberg, Geneva, and Paris.[4] He earned his MA and LLB degrees in 1885 and successfully defended a PhD in 1885.[3] 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.[3] He was made an adjunct professor of political economy in 1888.[4] He became the first McVickar Professor of Political Economy at the same university in 1904, a position which he occupied until 1931.[3]

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.[5][3] He also taught courses at Columbia in the field of economic history.[3]

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.[3] 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.[3]

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.[6]

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

Among his students was B.R. Ambedkar, the Chief architect of Indian Constitution and first Law and Justice minister of India.[7]

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.[8][9] In particular, Seligman's economic viewpoints to history helped inform Beard's work An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.[10] As a mentor to fiscal experts including Carl Shoup, Seligman's ideas also guided post-World War II tax reform.[11]


Books and pamphlets

Selected articles


  1. ^ a b c d Mitchell, Wesley C. (1939). "Edwin Robert Anderson Seligman, 1861-1939". American Economic Review. 29 (4): 911–913. JSTOR 1804219.
  2. ^ Madeleine, Woker (November 2018). "Edwin Seligman, initiator of global progressive public finance". Journal of Global History. 13 (3): 352–373. doi:10.1017/S1740022818000190.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Leon Applebaum, "Edwin R. A. Seligman," in John D. Buenker and Edward R. Kantowicz (eds.), Historical Dictionary of the Progressive Era, 1890-1920. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988; pp. 425-426.
  4. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Seligman, Edwin Robert Anderson" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 24 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 606.
  5. ^ Ajay K. Mehrotra, Making the Modern American Fiscal State: Law, Politics, and the Rise of Progressive Taxation, 1877-1929. Cambridge Historical Studies in American Law and Society. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  6. ^ See the published stenograms of debates with Nearing (1921) and Waton (1922).
  7. ^ "Letter from Ambedkar to Seligman". Columbia University. 16 Feb 1922. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  8. ^ Mehrotra, Ajay (2014). "Charles A. Beard & The Columbia School of Political Economy: Revisiting the Intellectual Roots of the Beardian Thesis". Constitutional Commentary. 29: 475.
  9. ^ The Reader's Companion to American History, by Eric Foner
  10. ^ Historians in Public: The Practice of American History, 1890-1970
  11. ^ Ajay K. Mehrotra, "From Seligman to Shoup: The Early Columbia School of Taxation and Development," in W. Elliot Brownlee, Yasunori Fukagai & Eiasku Ide (eds.), The Political Economy of Transnational Tax Reform: The Shoup Mission to Japan in Historical Context. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013, 30-54. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2134359
  12. ^ Davenport, H. J. (1906). "A New Text: Seligman: "Social Value"". Journal of Political Economy. 14 (3): 143–169. doi:10.1086/251205. ISSN 0022-3808.