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Vanessa Williamson

Vanessa Williamson

Fellow - Governance Studies

Vanessa Williamson is a Fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings. She studies the politics of redistribution, with a focus on attitudes about taxation. She is the author of the new book Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud to Pay Taxes.

Bringing together national survey data with in-depth interviews, Read My Lips presents a surprising picture of tax attitudes in the United States. Americans view taxpaying as a civic responsibility and moral obligation. But they worry that others are shirking their duties, in part because the experience of taxpaying misleads Americans about who pays taxes and how much. Upending the idea of Americans as knee-jerk opponents of taxes, Read My Lips examines American taxpaying as an act of political faith.

Ironically, however, the depth of the American civic commitment to taxpaying makes the failures of the tax system, perceived and real, especially potent frustrations. While Americans see taxpaying as a moral commitment to the community, they tend to underrate the tax contributions made by the poor – a mistake that is reinforced by the taxpaying process. Moreover, though most believe the rich need to pay more in taxes, their experiences of the tax system leave them misinformed about the tax reforms that would achieve this end.

Williamson is also the author, with Harvard professor Theda Skocpol, of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, which examines how the Tea Party pushed the Republican Party farther to the right. The book was named one of the ten best political books of the year in the New Yorker. Her other work includes examinations of the political origins of the state Earned Income Tax Credit, the electoral effects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the conditions in which voters have supported state tax increases, and the factors predicting protests against police brutality.

She has testified before Congress and appeared on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS," MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” and Al Jazeera America. She has written a variety of outlets including, including a recent Op-Ed on Donald Trump’s non-payment of taxes in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, a Teen Vogue piece on the defense of democracy in America, as well as for The Atlantic, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and her hometown newspaper, the Sacramento Bee. Her work has also been cited by the Economist, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and on National Public Radio, among other sources.

Williamson previously served as the Policy Director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. She received her Ph.D. in Government and Social Policy from Harvard University. She has a master’s degree from NYU's Institute of French Studies, and received her B.A. in French language and literature from NYU.

Vanessa Williamson is a Fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings. She studies the politics of redistribution, with a focus on attitudes about taxation. She is the author of the new book Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud to Pay Taxes.

Bringing together national survey data with in-depth interviews, Read My Lips presents a surprising picture of tax attitudes in the United States. Americans view taxpaying as a civic responsibility and moral obligation. But they worry that others are shirking their duties, in part because the experience of taxpaying misleads Americans about who pays taxes and how much. Upending the idea of Americans as knee-jerk opponents of taxes, Read My Lips examines American taxpaying as an act of political faith.

Ironically, however, the depth of the American civic commitment to taxpaying makes the failures of the tax system, perceived and real, especially potent frustrations. While Americans see taxpaying as a moral commitment to the community, they tend to underrate the tax contributions made by the poor – a mistake that is reinforced by the taxpaying process. Moreover, though most believe the rich need to pay more in taxes, their experiences of the tax system leave them misinformed about the tax reforms that would achieve this end.

Williamson is also the author, with Harvard professor Theda Skocpol, of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, which examines how the Tea Party pushed the Republican Party farther to the right. The book was named one of the ten best political books of the year in the New Yorker. Her other work includes examinations of the political origins of the state Earned Income Tax Credit, the electoral effects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the conditions in which voters have supported state tax increases, and the factors predicting protests against police brutality.

She has testified before Congress and appeared on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” and Al Jazeera America. She has written a variety of outlets including, including a recent Op-Ed on Donald Trump’s non-payment of taxes in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, a Teen Vogue piece on the defense of democracy in America, as well as for The Atlantic, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and her hometown newspaper, the Sacramento Bee. Her work has also been cited by the Economist, the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and on National Public Radio, among other sources.

Williamson previously served as the Policy Director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. She received her Ph.D. in Government and Social Policy from Harvard University. She has a master’s degree from NYU’s Institute of French Studies, and received her B.A. in French language and literature from NYU.

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