Taxes are part of the current socio-economic system and constitute the primary means of income for the state, plain and simple. By taxing the income of the citizens, the authorities are able to sustain the economy of the country and reinvest this cash in funding the education, infrastructure, military and government. Irrespective of the form of ruling, be it a democracy, monarchy or even dictatorship, the state will always garnish the wages of its citizens.
In fact, taxes have been around since the dawn of time, although in the early stages of history they mainly took the form of a percentage of harvested grains or livestock. Nevertheless, in addition to the standard versions of these “fees”, certain rulers decided that they want a slightly bigger cut. Let’s find out about the more creative taxes that have been imposed.
1. The facial hair tax of Peter The Great
The debate on whether Peter the Great was a forward thinking, radical monarch or simply a lunatic who thought that the crown eliminates the need to apply reason in his decisions can go on and on. Now, without denying that he definitely is a colorful character, the infamous “beard tax” definitely tips the scale towards the latter category. In essence, his notorious detestation of facial hair determined him to apply a substantial tax on any citizen that has the audacity to grow such a vial “ornament” on his face. Not only that, but his bearded loyal subjects were also required to wear pendants that admitted to the ridiculousness of their facial hair.
2. The tax on money earned from dealing illegal substances
The IRS apparently can’t get enough out of the taxes on the legal income of the U.S. residents and consequentially, they came up with the idea of taxing the less law-abiding activities in the country, namely dealing illegal substances. At first glance, this seems pretty stupid, but when you examine the idea behind this tax up close your suspicions are confirmed. To put it simply, paying the tax would automatically imply incriminating yourself by admitting that you have engaged in illegal activities, thus risking jail time. That’s certainly an incentive!
3. The tax paid by the freed slaves
The manumission – which is what this tax was called in Ancient Rome – was originally applied to the owners who were required by the state to pay a certain fixed amount for every emancipated slave. So far so good, as the wealth of a person who could afford to own slaves was much greater compared to the tax! However, at some point, Rome decided that the slave who is set free should also be asked to pay up to 10% of his price before the emancipation was pronounced official. As you may have guessed, a lot fewer slaves could actually afford the freedom.
4. Oliver Cromwell’s tax on the royalists
Oliver Cromwell’s tax on the remnants of the royalist circles following his ascension to power and the use of the money obtained in this manner – funding a military force to fight against the very people he taxed – was definitely a stroke of genius. What could be better than having your mortal enemies pay for the war you wage against them? And to be frank, Cromwell also instituted a number of other creative taxes during his rule.
5. The tax for the sheer existence
Poll taxes – taxes that are imposed to a person regardless of his income – were rather common in 14th century England. The bubble eventually burst after several increases of the existence tax, when the famous Peasant’s Revolt erupted, engulfing the country in anarchy and violence. In all fairness though, poll taxes were the preferred source of income for monarchs and rulers of those days, because up to the revolt of 1381 they never considered that the ordinary citizens might feel so strongly against it.
6. The tax paid by Nobel Prize winners
If you thought that winning the Nobel Prize – no matter the category – deems you exempt from turning a “fair” share over to the IRS, think again. Alfred Nobel was probably spinning in his grave when the authorities announced that even those who confer humankind the greatest benefit should subject to taxes. However, there is also a catch here, as you can also choose to donate the full sum (emphasis on full) to a charity organization of your choice or, of course, directly to the government. And the Internal Revenue Service is gracious enough to let you decide where your money goes!
7. Canada’s tax on the Chinese immigrants
The tax that Canada levied against the waves of immigrants from China persisted from 1885 to 1923, but it is fair to point out that the idea of taxing foreign citizens was not exactly uncommon in that period. The role of this excise was to deter the large numbers of Chinese from immigrating to the Canada and it was removed in 1923 but not for the reason you may think. None of the authorities experienced a radical change of heart, but rather the Chinese Immigration Act was instated, a law that forbid any person with Chinese citizenship to set foot on Canadian soil.
8. England’s fireplace tax
Medieval England is definitely among the leading countries in terms of ridiculous tariffs imposed, mainly because the monarchs always seemed to run out of cash. The fireplace tax constitutes the perfect example in this direction. It was in place between 1660 and 1684, but it only applied to the lower-end class, which naturally forced the people to attempt to conceal the fireplaces and chimneys. When a massive fire broke out in 1684, engulfing over twenty homes and killing four people, the rulers finally decided the tax was a bad idea.
9. The Danegeld tax
Ethelred the Unready was the ruler who agreed to England paying the Danegeld tax. Mainly, it was an excise that ensured the Danes would not invade the country and slaughter everyone. Considering Ethelred’s short and inglorious rule, agreeing to pay this shameful tax and admitting weakness to the enemy doesn’t come as a surprise.
10. The tax on refined salt
While you might think that taxing salt is not something a lot of people would get angry about, historically that is pretty inaccurate. To name a couple violent revolts that stem from the tax salt, we have the French Revolution and the uprisings that determined the downfall of the Chinese empire. Not to mention that even Gandhi organized a protest against this tax back in the ’30s, which represented the cornerstone and inspiration for Marin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy.