August 17, 1661 Party Like it’s 1661

Back when newspapers printed the news, Hearst columnist Ambrose Bierce (my favorite curmudgeon) was surely looking at New York corruption when he labeled politics “A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage“.

Having once been rolled by two officers of the “law” in a certain neighbor to our south (it was a very polite mugging), government graft is near and dear to my heart. History is replete with official avarice on levels great and small, far more than a couple meagerly compensated cops, looking for a “gratuity”.

New York’s own Boss Tweed elevated graft to heights previously unknown in American politics, to where construction of a single courthouse cost taxpayers more than the entire Alaska purchase. Nearly twice as much.

Tammany Hall’s kickbacks were so lavish a single carpenter billed the city $360,751, for a month’s work. One plasterer billed $133,187 for two days’ work.

Back when newspapers printed the news, Hearst columnist Ambrose Bierce (my favorite curmudgeon) was surely looking at New York corruption when he labeled politics “A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage“.

Rodrigo de Borja served as Pope Alexander VI, at a time when the job of Bishop of Rome was not always that of a pious man. Rodrigo bribed his way to the top and used the papacy to benefit family and friends making the name Borja synonymous, with licentiousness and greed. A man utterly devoid of morals the man sold his beautiful and fair-haired daughter Lucrezia no fewer than three times, to cement alliances. He openly fathered seven children by two married mistresses appointing one of their brothers Cardinal, who then went on to be known as “Cardinal of the Skirts”. Alexander’s October 30, 1501 “Banquet of Chestnuts” was an all-night feast and orgy featuring no fewer than fifty prostitutes Italian officialdom remains happy to sweep under the rug, to this day.

When the Florentine friar Girolamo Savonarola chided Alexander for his behavior the Pope is said to have laughed, out loud.

And yet, these are all as amateurs compared with French finance minister Nicolas Fouquet, a man who made King Louis XIV, the “Sun King” himself, blush.

Europe’s longest reigning monarch once commented “l’état, c’est moi”. I Am the state. Such arrogance is hard to understand for the political descendants of the generation, who threw King George’s tea over the side. It wasn’t at all difficult for the hoi polloi of Louis’ France who were expected to pay up, and shut up. Such was the world of Nicolas Fouquet, marquis de Belle-Île, vicomte de Melun et Vaux and Louis’ minister, of finance.

In 1651 Fouquet married his not inconsiderable wealth to that of Marie de Castille, herself the daughter of a wealthy Spanish family. The interminable wars of the age and the greed of courtiers frequently caused the new minister to borrow, against his own credit. Public and private accounts soon became so intertwined as to become indistinguishable from one another. Fouqet came to wield even greater wealth than his own chief benefactor Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister to Kings Louis XIII and XIV.

The minister completed construction in 1661 of the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, his own personal palace of Versailles before there was, a palace of Versailles. That’s him and his modest little three room bungalow, at the top of this page. The man even used three of the same artists for the Château’s lavish appointments, as Louis himself would later use for that most famous, of royal shanties.

Worried that he might have gone a little too far, Fouquet bought himself and fortified a place off the west coast of France, a modest little island some 5 by 15 miles across called Belle-Île-en-Mer. You know, just in case of…disgrace.

But none of it stopped the party of parties, a celebration for the ages held on August 17, 1661, at Fouquet’s petit Château .

There were 6,ooo guests including the Sun King himself. Gifts were given to party goers, a diamond brooch for the ladies and a thoroughbred horse, for the gents. A performance was presented specifically written for the occasion by none other than the playwright, Molière.

A spectacular fireworks display lit the skies above lavish gardens and splendid paths. Fouquet’s little soirée was supposed to impress the King but instead turned him into, a party pooper. Apparently, such “unashamed and audacious luxury,” is what it takes to embarrass, a Sun King. Louis ordered his finance minister, arrested.

The trial stretched on for three years. The judges found the defendant guilty and ordered banishment but, Louis would have none of that. For the first and last time in French history a King overruled the verdict and ordered, imprisonment for life. The Mrs. was exiled and Fouquet’s crib snatched up, by the state.

EVENING OF AUGUST 17, 1661, ARRIVAL OF LOUIS XIV ACCOMPANIED BY THE COURT, hat tip Daniel Druet, sculptor

Fouquet spent the rest of his life in prison and died in his cell at Pignerol on March 23, 1680. His remains weren’t removed for another year. Just in case…I guess.

In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson stated, “This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.” Since that time the American taxpayer has plunked down $22 Trillion on Johnson’s War on Poverty.

Even with Social Security and Medicare excluded that’s still three times the cost of every military war from the Revolution to the unfolding collapse of Afghanistan, combined.

Rates of poverty as measured by the United States Census Bureau remain basically, unchanged.

So hey, never you mind a conga line of public “servants” leaving offices of trust wealthier, than when they went in. You don’t need to worry about who’s paying the kid $500,000 for those finger paintings either, or government debt your grandbabies’ grandbabies will never pay back. Just pull out the credit card & have a party. Like it’s 1661.

December 31, 1695 Fleeced

Tax revolts are nothing new. Neither are the many and sometimes novel ways that politicians have concocted to fleece those of us who pay their bills.


Somewhere in the English midlands during the reign of Edward the Confessor, there lay the Kingdom of Mercia. It was 1054 or thereabouts and Leofric, Earl of Mercia, had a problem. Leofric was the kind of ruler who never saw a tax he didn’t like, his latest the “Heregeld”, a tax to pay for the King’s bodyguard. Leofric’s wife was Godgyfu in the Olde English, meaning “Gift of God”.  Today we call her “Godiva”. Take pity on the people of Coventry, she said, they are suffering under all this oppressive taxation.

lady-godiva-statue

A guy can only take so much, even if he is an Earl. Tired of his wife’s entreaties, Leofric agreed to repeal the tax on one condition; that she ride a horse through the streets of town, dressed only in her birthday suit and her long hair. Lady Godiva took him at his word.  She issued a proclamation that all townspeople stay indoors and shut their windows, and took her famous naked ride, through town.

The story probably isn’t true, any more than the one about Tom, the guy who drilled a hole in his door so he could watch and lost his sight at what he saw.  But a thousand years later, we still use the term “Peeping Tom”.

Tax revolts are nothing new.  Neither are the many and sometimes novel ways that politicians have concocted to fleece those of us who pay their bills.

bricked-up-window

On December 31, 1695, King William III decreed a 2 shilling tax on each house in the land. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to “stick-it-to-the-rich”, there was an extra tax on every window over ten, a tax that would last for another 156 years.

It must have been a money maker, because the governments of France, Spain and Scotland followed suit with similar taxes. To this day, you can see homes where owners have bricked up windows, preferring darkness to the payment of yet another tax.

Czar Peter I returned from a trip to Europe in 1698, hot to “modernize” Russia. All those European guys were clean shaven, so Peter instituted a tax on beards. No, really. When you’d paid your beard tax of 100 Rubles, (peasants and clergy were exempt), you had to carry a “beard token”. Two phrases were inscribed on the coin: “the beard tax has been taken” and “the beard is a superfluous burden”. Failure to shave or pay the tax might lead to your beard being forcibly cut off your face. Some had theirs pulled out by the roots by Peter himself, all 6-foot 8-inches of him.

In Holland, they used to tax the frontage of a home, the wider your house the more you paid. If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, narrow houses rise several stories, with hooks over windows almost as wide as the building itself.

singel-7
Singel #7

Those are used to haul furniture up from the outside, since the stairways are too narrow. The narrowest home in Amsterdam can be found at Singel #7, the house barely wider than its own front door.

You can find the same thing in the poorer quarters of New Orleans, where the “shotgun single”, a home so narrow you can fire a shotgun in the front door and pellets will go out the back, and the “Camelback” (second story out back) are the architectural results of tax policy.

shotgunsingle-camelback
Shotgun Single, Camelback

England has a “Telly Tax” paid in the form of a television license. There’s good news though; you only have to pay half if you’re legally blind. This is in addition to the council tax, income tax, fuel tax, road tax, value added tax, pasty tax, national insurance, business rates, stamp duty, and about a thousand other taxes. But hey, the health care is free.

 In Canada, makers of children’s breakfast cereal are tax exempt if their cereal contains a free toy. The exemption is limited to toys not containing “beer, liquor, or wine.” Good to know.

Sweden has had a “name ordnance” in effect since 1901, requiring parents to obtain blessings from the government for what they name their children.

In 1991, Elisabeth Hallin and Lasse Diding gave birth to a baby boy. The couple failed to register a name by the age of five and received a fine of 5,000 Kronor, equivalent to $1,206, US. The pair petitioned the court in 1996 to call the kid Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (pronounced “Albin) and failed to gain permission. The couple then tried to change the boy’s name to “A” (also pronounced Albin). The court rejected that one too, and upheld the fine.

Tennessee has a “Crack Tax” you’re supposed to pay on illegal drugs (don’t ask), and Massachusetts will charge you a “meals tax” on five donuts, but not 6. The state of Illinois taxes candy at a higher rate than food. Any item containing flour or requiring refrigeration is taxed at the lower rate, because it’s not candy. So yogurt covered raisins are candy, but yogurt covered pretzels are food. Baby Ruth bars are candy, but Twix bars are food. Get it? Neither do I.

The Roman Emperor Vespasian, who ruled from 69 to 79AD, levied a tax on public toilets.

vespasiani

When his son, the future Emperor Titus wrinkled his nose, Vespasian held a coin under the boy’s nose. “Pecunia non olet”, he said.  “Money does not stink”.  2,000 years later, his name is still attached to public urinals. In France, they’re called vespasiennes, in Italy vespasiani.  If you need to piss in Romania, you could go to the vespasiene.  History fails to record the inevitable push-back on Vespasian’s toilet tax, but I’m sure that ancient Romans had to look where they walked.

Environmentalists in Venice, Italy have been pushing a tax on tourism, claiming that the city’s facing “an irreversible environmental catastrophe as the subsequent increase in water transport has caused the level of the lagoon bed to drop over time”. Deputy mayor Sandro Simionato said that “This tax is a new and important opportunity for the city,” explaining that it will “help finance tourism”, among other things. So, the problem borne of too much tourism is going to be fixed by a tax to help finance tourism. I think. Or maybe it’s just another money grab.

As of December 2015, state and territory tax rates on cigarettes ranged from 17¢ per pack in Missouri to $4.35 in New York, on top of federal, local, county, municipal and local Boy Scout council taxes (kidding).  Philip Morris reports that taxes run 56.6% on average, per pack. Not surprisingly, tax rates make a vast difference in where and how people buy their cigarettes.  There is a tiny Indian reservation on Long Island, measuring a few miles square and home to a few hundred people. Tax rates are close to zero there, on a pack of butts.  Until recent changes in the tax law, they were selling 100 million cartons per year.

If all those taxes are supposed to encourage people to quit smoking, I wonder what income taxes are supposed to do?

antarctica-icebound-ship-1

Back in 2013, EU politicians were discussing a way of taxing livestock flatulence, as a means of curbing “Global Warming”. At that time there was an Australian ice breaker, making its way to Antarctica to free the Chinese ice breaker, that got stuck in the ice trying to free the Russian ship full of environmentalists.  They were there to view the effects of “Global Warming”, before they got stuck in the ice.

Honest, I wouldn’t make this stuff up.

July 10, 1040 Death and Taxes

Tax revolts are nothing new.  Neither are the many and sometimes novel ways that politicians have concocted to fleece those of us who pay their bills.

In the age of Edward the Confessor somewhere in the English midlands, there lay the Kingdom of Mercia. It was 1040 or thereabouts and Leofric, Earl of Mercia, had a problem. Leofric was the kind of ruler who never saw a tax he didn’t like, his latest the “Heregeld”, a tax to pay for the King’s bodyguard.  The Earl’s wife  Godgyfu had other ideas, her name in the Olde English, signifying “Gift of God”.  Today, we call her “Godiva”.

Take pity on the people of Coventry, Godiva said, they are suffering under all this oppressive taxation.

Lady Godiva

A guy can only take so much, even if he IS an Earl. Tired of his wife’s entreaties, Leofric agreed to repeal the tax on one condition; that Godiva ride a horse through the streets of town, dressed only in her birthday suit.  Lady Godiva took him at his word.  She issued a proclamation requiring all townspeople to stay indoors and shut their windows, so it was she took her famous ride through Coventry.

The story probably isn’t true, any more than the one about Tom, the guy who drilled a hole in his door so he could watch and lost his sight at what he saw.  But a thousand years later, we still use the term “Peeping Tom”.

Tax revolts are nothing new.  Neither are the many and sometimes novel ways that politicians have concocted to fleece those of us who pay their bills.

isOn December 31, 1695, King William III decreed a 2 shilling tax on each house in the land. Never one to miss an opportunity to “stick-it-to-the-rich”, there was an extra tax on every window over ten, a tax which would last for another 156 years.

It must have been a money maker, because the governments of France, Spain and Scotland followed suit. To this day, you can see homes where owners have bricked up windows, preferring darkness to the payment of yet another tax.

singelIn Holland, they used to tax the frontage of a home, the wider your house the more you paid. If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, narrow houses rise several stories, with hooks over windows almost as wide as the building itself. These are used to haul furniture up from the outside, since the stairways are too narrow. The narrowest home in Amsterdam can be found at Singel #7, the house itself barely wider than its own front door.

You can find the same thing in the poorer quarters of New Orleans, where the “shotgun single”, a home so narrow you can fire a shotgun in the front door and pellets will go out the back, and the “Camelback” (second story out back) are the architectural remnants of long-dead taxation policy.

Charles_Marville,_Urinoir_en_ardoise_à_3_stalles,_Chaussée_du_Maine,_ca._1865The Roman Emperor Vespasian who ruled from 69 to 79AD, levied a tax on public toilets. When Vespasian’s son, the future Emperor Titus wrinkled his nose, the old man held a coin under the boy’s nose. “Pecunia non olet”, he said.  “Money does not stink”.  2,000 years later, the name remains inseparable from public urinals. In France, the er…pissoir… is called vespasiennes, in Italy vespasiani.  If you need to piss in Romania you could go to the vespasiene.  History fails to record the inevitable push-back on Vespasian’s toilet tax, but I’m sure that ancient Romans had to look where they walked.

benfranklinEnvironmentalist types in Venice, Italy have been pushing a tax on tourism, claiming the city’s facing “an irreversible environmental catastrophe as the subsequent increase in water transport has caused the level of the lagoon bed to drop over time”. Deputy mayor Sandro Simionato said that “This tax is a new and important opportunity for the city,” explaining that it will “help finance tourism”, among other things. So, the problem borne of too much tourism is going to be fixed by a tax to help finance tourism.  I think. Or maybe it’s all just another money grab.

cig-tax-revenueAs of December 2015, state and territory tax rates on cigarettes ranged from 17¢ per pack in Missouri to $4.35 in New York, on top of federal, local, county, municipal and local Boy Scout council taxes (kidding).  Philip Morris reports that taxes run 56.6% on average, per pack. Not surprisingly, tax rates make a vast difference in where and how people buy cigarettes.  There is a tiny Indian reservation on Long Island, measuring a few miles square and home to a few hundred people. Tax rates are close to zero there, on a pack of butts.  Until recent changes in tax law, the tiny reservation was selling 100 million cartons per year.

If all those taxes are supposed to encourage people to quit smoking, I wonder what income taxes are supposed to do?

131228122048-exp-why-icebreakers-get-stuck-00001601-story-topBack in 2013, EU politicians were discussing a way of taxing livestock flatulence, as a means of curbing “Global Warming”.  At that time there was an Australian ice breaker, making its way to Antarctica to free the Chinese ice breaker that got stuck in the ice trying to free the Russian ship full of environmentalist types.  They were all there to view the effects of “Global Warming”, until they got stuck in the ice.

Honest.  I wouldn’t kid you about a thing like that.

98316915_o

September 5, 1698 Death & Taxes

The English dramatist George Chapman once said ‘The law is an ass’. I haven’t the slightest idea why that comes to mind at the moment.

It’s been said that there are only two sure things in life. None of us get out of here alive, and the government thinks it’s entitled to what you earn. Or something like that.

There have always been taxes, but over the years some governments have come up with truly imaginative ways to fleece their citizens.

European Broadcasting
H/T Wikipedia

Twenty-eight countries around the world have a “Telly Tax” paid in the form of a broadcast receiving license.  There’s good news though, the British government will waive half of it, if you can prove you’re legally blind.

This is in addition to the council tax, income tax, fuel tax, road tax, value added tax, pasty tax, national insurance, business rates, stamp duty, and about a thousand other taxes. But hey, the health care is free.

Tennessee passed a “Crack Tax” on illegal drugs in 2005, which drug dealers were expected to pay anonymously in exchange for a tax stamp (don’t ask). The measure was found unconstitutional in 2009, on grounds that it violated the drug dealer’s fifth amendment right to protection from self-incrimination.

Milwaukee attorney Robert Henak became a collector of state drug tax stamps, not long after helping to overturn Wisconsin’s crack tax on similar grounds.

a97318_g201_3-crack-taxUndeterred, then-Governor Elliott Spitzer proposed a tax on illegal drugs as part of the Empire State’s 2008-’09 budget, making New York the 30th state to pass such a measure. “Mr. Clean” stepped down in a hooker scandal, amid threats of impeachment by state lawmakers. The state Senate passed a budget resolution the following day, specifically rejecting the crack tax.

Massachusetts will charge you a “meals tax” on five donuts, but not 6. Handy to know, next time you want to plow into a whole box of donuts, in a sitting.

Illinois taxes candy at a higher rate than food. Any item containing flour or requiring refrigeration is taxed at the lower rate, because it’s not candy. So, yogurt covered raisins are candy, but yogurt covered pretzels are food. Baby Ruth bars are candy, but Twix bars are food. Get it? Neither do I.

tax-this-cow1New Zealand proposed a tax on bovine flatulence in 2003, to curb “Global Warming”. The fuss raised by New Zealand farmers over a tax on cow farts, was near-measurable on the Richter scale.  Red-faced politicians quietly dropped the proposal.

President Obama levied a 10% tax on indoor tanning in 2010, leading to 10,000 of the nation’s 18,000 tanning salons closing, with a loss of 100,000 jobs. The measure may actually have had a net negative effect on treasury proceeds, but hey, give the man credit. He figured out how to tax white people.

Bricked up windowIn 1662, Charles II levied a tax on fireplaces, to finance the Royal Household.  Britons hurried to brick up their fireplaces to avoid the “hearth tax, preferring to shiver rather than pay up.  The village baker in Churchill in Oxfordshire knocked out the wall from her oven to avoid the tax, and not surprisingly, burned the whole village down.

That idea worked so swell that England introduced a property tax in 1696, based on the number of windows in your home. Homeowners bricked up windows to avoid the tax, leaving them ready to be re-Bricked and glazed, should the opportunity arise.

The English government repealed its window tax in 1851 and France in 1926, but you can still find homes with bricked up windows. Perhaps they’re getting ready for window tax version 2.0. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne proposed just that, as recently as 2012.

a97318_g201_1-flush-taxIn 2004, the Maryland Legislature passed a monthly fee on sewer bills, ostensibly to protect the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic tributaries. You pee, you poo, you pay. The fee doubled in 2012, the year in which Governor Martin O’Malley signed a tax – on rain.

At one point, Holland levied a tax on the width of homes. Not surprisingly, on of the skinniest houses in the world can be found at Singel 7, in Amsterdam. It’s a meter across, barely wider than the door.

On this day in 1698, Czar Peter I had just returned from a trip to Europe, and he was hot to “modernize” Russia. All those European guys were clean shaven, so Peter introduced a tax on beards.

Beard_tokenWhen you paid your beard tax of 100 Rubles, (peasants and clergy were exempt), you had to carry a “beard token”. Two phrases were inscribed on the coin: “The beard tax has been taken” and “The beard is a superfluous burden”. Failure to shave or pay the tax might lead to your beard being forcibly cut off your face. Some unfortunates had theirs pulled out by the roots, by Peter himself.

An anti-religious man and a Big fan of Voltaire and the secular humanist philosophers, ol’ Pete passed a tax on souls in 1718, joining the Russian levy on beehives, horse collars, hats, boots, basements, chimneys, food, clothing, all males, birth, death and marriage.

KingJohnMagnaCarta2When King Henry I reigned over England (1100 – 1135), people who avoided military service were charged a “Cowardice Tax” called a”Scutage”. It was modest at first, but Richard Lionheart’s little brother John raised it by 300% when he became King, charging even his knights in years when there were no wars. It’s no small part of what led to the Magna Carta.

Often, taxes are used to shape social policy.

In 1862, the California legislature passed a tax on Chinese residents, entitled “An Act to Protect Free White Labor against Competition with Chinese Coolie Labor, and to Discourage the Immigration of Chinese into the State of California.

CHINESE_COOLIES

The new law levied a tax of $2.50 per month on every ethnically Chinese individual residing within the state, and followed a gold rush era measure levying a tax of $3.00 a month on all Chinese miners. This at a time when the average gold miner made $6 per month.

In 1795, British prime minister William Pitt (the Younger) levied a tax on wig powder.  By 1820, powdered wigs were out of style.

Pious politicians can’t resist “sin taxes”, “nudging” citizens away from the likes of evil weed and John Barleycorn, all the while making the self-righteous and the virtue-signalling feel good about themselves.

I wonder. If cigarette taxes are supposed to encourage smoking cessation and taxes on Chinese were supposed to decrease competition from coolie labor, what are income taxes are supposed to do?

imageedit_1297_6600491944

Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton introduced the first tobacco tax in 1794, and they’ve been with us ever since.

Federal and state governments both get their vig on a pack of butts, ranging from 30 cents a pack in Virginia, to $4.35 in New York. Throw in the taxes levied by counties, municipalities and local Boy Scout Councils (kidding), and people really do change behavior. Just, not always in the intended direction. There is a tiny Indian reservation on Long Island, home to a few hundred and measuring about a square mile. Their cigarette taxes are near zero and, until recently, tribal authorities sold about a hundred million packs a year.

European governments levied a tax on soap in the middle ages, leading to memorable moments in personal hygiene, I’m sure.

lwlpr04927-soap-tax

In ancient Egypt, Pharoah levied a tax on cooking oil. It was illegal to re-use the stuff, but no worries. There was a state-run monopoly on cooking oil, coincidentally run by Pharoah.  Imagine that.

In the first century AD, Roman Emperors Nero and Vespasian levied a tax on piss. Honest. In those days, the lower classes pee’d into pots which were emptied into cesspools.

Urine was collected for a number of chemical processes such as tanning, and it did a swell job whitening those woolen togas. When Vespasian’s son Titus complained about the disgusting nature of the tax, his father showed him a gold coin, saying “Pecunia non olet”. “Money does not stink”.

Vespasiano e vespasiani.

To this day, Italian public urinals are called vespasiani.  In France they’re vespasiennes. And if you need to pee in Romania, you could visit the vespasiene.

My personal favorite might be the long distance tax that used to appear on American phone bills. This one began as a “Tax the Rich” scheme, first implemented to pay for the Spanish-American war, in 1898. Nobody ever made long distance phone calls but rich guys, right? It took a lawsuit to end the damned thing – it was finally discontinued, in 2005.  We must not be too hasty about these things.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

September 5, 1698 Death and Taxes

There have always been taxes, but over the years some governments have come up with truly imaginative ways to fleece their citizens.

It’s been said that there are only two sure things in life. None of us get out of here alive, and the government thinks it’s entitled to what you earn. Or something like that.

There have always been taxes, but over the years some governments have come up with truly imaginative ways to fleece their citizens.

In England, there is a “Telly Tax” paid in the form of a television license. There’s good news though; you only have to pay half if you’re legally blind. This is in addition to the council tax, income tax, fuel tax, road tax, value added tax, pasty tax, national insurance, business rates, stamp duty, and about a thousand other taxes. But hey, the health care is free.

Nebraska, $10 Tax Stamp on Illegal Drugs
Nebraska’s $10 Tax Stamp on Illegal Drugs

Tennessee passed a “Crack Tax” on illegal drugs in 2005, which drug dealers were expected to pay anonymously in exchange for a tax stamp (don’t ask).   The measure was found unconstitutional in 2009, on grounds that it violated the drug dealer’s fifth amendment right to protection from self-incrimination.

Milwaukee attorney Robert Henak became a collector of state drug tax stamps, not long after helping to overturn Wisconsin’s crack tax on similar grounds.

Undeterred, then-Governor Elliott Spitzer proposed a tax on illegal drugs as part of the Empire State’s 2008-9 budget, making the New York the 30th state to pass such a measure.   “Mr. Clean” stepped down in a hooker scandal, amid threats of impeachment by state lawmakers.  The state Senate passed a budget resolution the following day, specifically rejecting the crack tax.

Massachusetts will charge you a “meals tax” on five donuts, but not 6.  Handy to know, next time you want to plow into a box of donuts, in a sitting.

Illinois taxes candy at a higher rate than food. Any item containing flour or requiring refrigeration is taxed at the lower rate, because it’s not candy. So, yogurt covered raisins are candy, but yogurt covered pretzels are food. Baby Ruth bars are candy, but Twix bars are food. Get it?  Neither do I.FART Tax

New Zealand proposed a tax on bovine flatulence in 2003, to curb “Global Warming”.  New Zealand’s farmers made an almighty fuss over a tax on cow farts, and red-faced politicians quietly dropped the proposal.

President Obama levied a 10% tax on indoor tanning in 2010, leading to 10,000 of the nation’s 18,000 tanning salons closing, with a loss of 100,000 jobs. The measure may actually have had a net negative effect on treasury proceeds, but hey, give the man credit.  He figured out how to tax white people.

Indoor Tanning Tax-10

In 1696, England introduced a property tax based on the number of windows in your home. Homeowners bricked up windows to avoid the tax, leaving them ready to be re-Bricked up windowglazed at some future date.

England repealed their window tax in 1851 and France in 1926, but there are still homes with bricked up windows. Perhaps they’re getting ready for window tax version 2.0. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne proposed just that, as recently as 2012.

At one point, Holland levied a tax on the width of homes. Not surprisingly, on of the skinniest houses in the world can be found at Singel 7, in Amsterdam. It’s a meter across, barely wider than the door.Skinny House

On this day in 1698, Czar Peter I had just returned from a trip to Europe, and he was hot to “modernize” Russia. All those European guys were clean shaven, so Peter introduced a tax on beards.

When you paid your beard tax of 100 Rubles, (peasants and clergy were exempt), you had to carry a “beard token”. Two phrases were inscribed on the coin: “The beard tax has been taken” and “The beard is a superfluous burden”.  Failure to shave or pay the tax might lead to your beard being forcibly cut off your face. Some unfortunates had theirs pulled out by the roots, by Peter himself.

Beard_token
Czar Peter’s Beard Token

When King Henry I reigned over England (1100 – 1135), people who avoided military service were charged a “Cowardice Tax” called a”Scutage”. It was modest at first, but Richard Lionheart’s little brother John raised it by 300% when he became King, charging even his knights in years when there were no wars.  It’s no small part of what led to the Magna Carta.

Often, taxes are used to shape social policy.

CHINESE_COOLIESIn 1862, the California legislature passed a tax on Chinese residents, entitled “An Act to Protect Free White Labor against Competition with Chinese Coolie Labor, and to Discourage the Immigration of Chinese into the State of California.”

The new law levied a tax of $2.50 per month on every ethnically Chinese individual residing within the state, and followed a gold rush era measure levying a tax of $3.00 a month on all Chinese miners.  This at a time when the average gold miner made $6 per month.

Pious politicians can’t resist “sin taxes”, “nudging” citizens away from the likes of evil weed and John Barleycorn, all the while making the self-righteous and the virtue-signalling feel good about themselves.John Barleycorn Must Die

I wonder.  If cigarette taxes are supposed to encourage smoking cessation and taxes on Chinese were supposed to decrease competition from coolie labor, what are income taxes are supposed to do?

Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton introduced the first tobacco tax in 1794, and they’ve been with us ever since.

Federal and state governments both get their vig on a pack of cigarettes, ranging from 30 cents a pack in Virginia, to $4.35 in New York. Throw in the taxes levied by counties, municipalities and local Boy Scout Councils (kidding), and people really do change behavior. Just, not always in the intended direction. There is a tiny Indian reservation on Long Island, home to a few hundred and measuring about a square mile. Their cigarette taxes are near zero and, until recently, they “smoked” about a hundred million packs a year.

European governments levied a tax on soap in the middle ages, leading to memorable changes in personal hygiene, I’m sure.

In ancient Egypt, Pharoah levied a tax on cooking oil.  It was illegal to re-use the stuff, but no worries. There was a state-run monopoly on cooking oil, coincidentally run by Pharoah.

vespasianiIn the first century AD, Roman Emperors Nero and Vespasian levied a tax on piss. Honest.  In those days, the lower classes pee’d into pots which were emptied into cesspools.

Urine was collected for a number of chemical processes such as tanning, and it did a swell job whitening woolen togas. When Vespasian’s son Titus complained about the disgusting nature of the tax, his father showed him a gold coin, saying “Pecunia non olet”. “Money does not stink”.

To this day, Italian public urinals are called vespasiani, in France they’re vespasiennes. And if you need to pee in Romania, you could visit the vespasiene.

My personal favorite might be the long distance tax that used to appear on your phone bill. It began as a “Tax the Rich” scheme, to pay for the Spanish-American war, in 1898.  Nobody ever had long distance phone charges but rich guys, right? The tax was discontinued in 2005, as the result of a lawsuit. We must not be too hasty about these things.