Carpe Pecunia: Everybody Hates New Taxes

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Paying the Tax (The Tax Collector) 1620-1640 via Wikimedia Commons

If you live in Ireland you are extremely aware that we've recently had a property tax come in and are about to be taxed for water consumption.  Both of these taxes are new and have upset great swathes of the population.

I guess hailing from America, where I've always accepted and been prepared to pay property and water taxes, they don't upset me as much (I'm also one of the few people I know who likes paying taxes).  But whatever way you look at it, generally people do not like new taxes.  The Boston Tea party and birth of the United States springs to mind although now, if you live in the US, you will probably pay more varied taxes than in Ireland (income, sales, water, sewer, garbage,  even a 'flush' tax! (in Maryland) etc with no universal health care and third level education rates at least $10,000 per year per child).

We humans have a long history of trying to avoid taxes, or at least minimise our exposure.  A quick jaunt through Dublin's city centre will reveal more than a few Georgian houses with  bricked up windows (an attempt to avoid window tax) and Mansard roofs (seemingly created to avoid a floor tax, however this appears to be false).

Historically there is a long list of bizarre taxes.  Ancient Egyptians taxed cooking oil.  1st century CE Rome taxed urine. In 1535, Henry VIII introduced a beard tax.  His daughter and heir, Elizabeth I reinstated it and taxed beards up to 2 weeks of growth.  Peter the Great of Russia also taxed beards.  Men who had paid the tax received a 'beard token' (below).

Russian 'beard token/coin' as proof of paying the beard tax via Wikimedia Commons

Don't worry men, you are not the only targets of a gender specific tax.  In 19th century India, women of lower castes had to pay a tax called a mulakkaram if they wanted to cover their breasts when in public (modesty being a right of the upper classes, only).

21st century zeitgeist encourages us to hate taxes but "...income tax was the most popular economic justice movement of the late 19th and early 20th century." Oliver Wendell Holmes is credited with saying "I like to pay taxes.  With them, I buy civilisation." I must admit, I feel the same.  Taxes (and government) are both a part of civilisation I would not want to do without.  Some would suggest that not only are taxes good, but they are imperative for development, "Tax is more than just a source of revenue and growth.  It also plays a key role in building up institutions, markets and democracy through making the state accountable to its taxpayers. "

As Irish Water are due to send out our first bills in early 2015, it will be interesting to see how this tax affects households over time.  I fully expect that the taxes they receive will at least be enough to finally guarantee drinkable water throughout the country (boil water notices affect approximately 20,000 people, some of whom have had boil water notices for up to eight years).

What will the next new tax look like? My bet's on either a smartphone tax or an internet tax.  Maybe both? In fairness, if a beard-tax were enacted right now it would reap great results.


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