Yesterday was a tumultuous day both inside and out. Have you ever had days like that? It’s as if the thunderstorms blew through the house, and it’s all I can do to keep papers from flying away. Computers shut down, phone calls mount up, and frantic e-mails pass back and forth, and before I knew it, the day was over. Fortunately for me, I already had my blog sketched out, and it’s based on a humorous column so I can smile as I polish.
As some of you know, I’m an accountant as well as a writer, so I’m painfully aware of how numbers can be manipulated to prove all manner of argument, even if close scrutiny will reveal that both argument and numbers are specious. Still, I’m capable of finding taxes humorous, and I thoroughly enjoyed this article on the transfat tax from www.funnytimes.com.
The writer argues that instead of outlawing things that are bad for us, why not tax them, which makes total sense to me. We already tax cigarettes and alcohol and gas. Why not charge taxes on transfat if society has to pay for your ills? If marijuana is our biggest cash crop, as the author claims, just think of all the mental hospitals we could build by taxing it!
But when he got down to taxing McMansions and Maseratis, he hit my history nerd nerve. Taxing conspicuous consumption has been done. The original taxes had absolutely nothing to do with taxing things that are bad for us and everything to do with taxing the rich, but if it works both ways…
So naturally, I had to dig out my tax research. The window tax
was the first attack on McMansions, seventeenth century style. England passed a law in 1697 assessing a tax on buildings according to the number of windows and openings it had. Any building with more than six windows got hit with a tax bill. In its first year, the tax raised 1,200,000 pounds! Just think of those castles and all their openings! Heck, I wonder if an arrow slit counted? Did the English quit building McMansions? Of course not. They just quit putting windows in them. Or bricked up the old ones. Did the government quit taxing them? Of course not. They had so much fun that they increased the tax six times between 1747 and 1808 and never entirely got rid of it until 1851. And the money was so lovely that France has a similar tax to this day.
Which teaches one to be very wary of suggesting taxes to governments! Want to pay for a war? Peter the Great came up with a charming method of taxing SOULS to pay for his military might. Apparently,
only males had souls, and then, only if they weren’t part of the nobility and the clergy (what a broad-minded thinker was old Peter– the rich don’t have souls!), and you couldn’t prove you were soul-less (or even spineless) by leaving town, because then they taxed the town for your useless soul. Better yet, if you were one of those old-fashioned types who didn’t accept Pete’s modern church beliefs, you got taxed double! Not certain if Old Pete meant nature-worshippers had twice the soul, but I’m sure they were twice as much trouble as orthodox believers.
And Peter was such an imaginative man, he even taxed beards. Taxing conspicuous hair growth instead of consumption must have made it easy for the tax collectors! Guess he figured all those peasants were saving money by not going to a barber and ought to pay to support the haircut industry, although I’m pretty certain he put the tax to work by paying barbers to be soldiers.
Oh, and back to taxes on things that are bad for you—in 1795, William the Pitt the Younger, not a dull or
stupid man by any means, decided to tax wig and hair powder to pay for all those soldiers he had to keep buying. Maybe he thought all those good-looking young redcoats in their fancy wigs would be better off without them, because that’s more or less what happened. Rather than pay the tax, men whacked off their queues, thus ushering in the Regency era style of shorn locks and no powder. Of course, he also put a lot of wigmakers out of business…
And just to give you a little peek at the nakedy discussion going on behind the scenes in preparation for our anniversary blog next week, check out this amusing version of how Lady Godiva talked her husband out of charging outrageous taxes by pulling off her outrageous stunt. It makes a good tale, if nothing else.
All right, fire up your imaginations. What taxes would you charge to pay for our sins? Do you know of any modern taxes on sins? (I do, but I’m biting my tongue.)