Nobody woke up one day and said, let’s tax the heck out of people for their bad behavior, for existing, for traveling on roads, for smoking, for drinking, for trash disposal, for luxury goods, for pollution, for phone use, radio, TV, Internet, for buying goods and services, property, hunting, fishing, building, learning, farming, and other purposes.
Taxes were added slowly over centuries for the “common good,” to redistribute wealth, to subsidize politicians and their parties, for “climate change” and for not buying health insurance. It was a slow, one paper cut at a time until the tax-paying and hard-working citizens bled to death from the burden of taxation.
Taxation has become a very lucrative bottomless funding industry, easy revenue for the ever-spending politicians who keep squandering or giving away taxpayer dollars often to the enemy.
Taxes are so ancient, they are even mentioned in the Bible. Tax collectors during the time of Jesus could stop a person and tax them for what they were carrying.
Matthew 22: 15-22 talks about Caesar’s imperial tax levied on non-Roman citizens:
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Ancient Egypt used scribes to tax cooking oil. The annual flooding cycle of the river Nile prompted the taxation of people based on the flood level; those whose land was never flooded paid lower taxes. Egyptians whose land was flooded annually paid the highest taxes.
Ancient Greece taxed its citizens during times of war and rescinded the tax once the war was over. How unheard of to rescind taxes, they certainly would not do it today! Foreigners had to pay a poll tax called metoikion for not having an Athenian Mother and Father.
The Romans were tax happy. They paid customs duties called portoria. An inheritance tax paid for the military retirement. The corrupt Roman tax collectors in the British Isles led to Queen Boadicea’s revolt in 60 A.D. with her army of 230,000 which killed 80,000 people before Emperor Nero crushed it.
Cato convinced the Senate in 181 B.C. to pass laws imposing high taxes on foreign goods such as carriages, perfume, silk clothing, and highly educated slaves.
Cemeteries were exempt from property taxes in Roman times, so the poet Virgil came up with an ingenious idea to avoid paying taxes on his home. He buried a fly in his yard with pomp and circumstance, speeches and food, in order to exempt his villa as a cemetery. We are not sure if his loophole worked.
Emperor Vespasian placed a tax on urine collected from public toilets. Those needing urine to launder (whiten) wool paid a tax when they bought it.
When Judea became a Roman protectorate following its conquest by Pompey in 63 B.C., the Jews had complete religious freedom as long as they made a daily contribution to the Roman emperor’s coffers. They were exempted from military service and were allowed to run their own businesses.
Assyria (mât Aššur) was the ancient empire located in the northeastern part of modern Iraq, on the east bank of the Tigris River. The Assyrians treated their neighbors so badly during their pillaging raids that the chieftains decided to pay tribute and swear allegiance to the Assyrian king in order to avoid the hordes descending on them from the desert. The system of taxation in the name of their god Ashur was so efficient that it supplied the empire with money and men.
The Chimu Empire which existed in northern Peru between the 13th and 15th centuries did not have a system of coinage. As master weavers, they used textile as payment for taxes and tribute.
The Incas used an elaborate system of one foot cords with other colored strings attached called quipu, “knot,” with which they were able to record “the tributes received from conquered tribes and taxes owed to the king by his subjects.” Those who kept up with the quipu were called quipucamayocs and were exempt from taxation and other duties.
The Anglo-Saxon Lady Godiva rode naked through the streets of town to persuade her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia, to reduce taxes on the residents of Coventry in the 11th century England.
Poll taxes were levied in 1377-1380 by the Regency of Richard II in order to pay for the French war. The taxes were extremely painful to the poor since both rich and poor had to pay the same rate. In late spring 1381 a crowd of 20,000 peasants and laborers rebelled outside London against the aristocrats whom they blamed for the high taxes they had to pay in order to support the failed war with France.
Armed with axes, bows and arrows, the rebels refused to pay taxes and marched through town and burned buildings owned by aristocrats, destroying legal documents that implicated those who did not pay their taxes.
Excise taxes on goods such as meat, grain, tobacco, wine, lamp oil, silks, spices, and even luxuries were quite burdensome across the centuries.
In Cordoba, the capital of the Muslim Andalucía, the non-Muslim citizens had to pay a poll tax based on income and could be paid in installments. The source of revenue to Andalucía was so large, the Moors discouraged conversion to Islam.
The colonists paid import duties on sugar, wine, and molasses under the Molasses Act. The Stamp Act collected taxes from colonists on newspapers and commercial and legal documents.
There were English taxes on soap, a property tax based on the number of windows, on the number of bricks, scutage (opt out of war duties), candles, wig powder, salt, perfumes, printed wallpaper, TV (black v. color, even blind people must pay), a property tax based on exterior appearance (Italy), a tax on freedom (Rome), beards (Russia), furs, cooked v. raw food, stolen property, and many other strange taxes in various American states. http://www.efile.com/unusual-strange-funny-taxes-throughout-the-world-and-history/
Some taxes are necessary for the running of a large empire but others are burdensome and unnecessary, often necessitating a licensed accountant to understand the ever-intricate code. The IRS code, famous for its complexity, comes to mind.
It will be interesting to see how much revenue will be generated from the Obamacare insurance non-compliance tax/penalty. A lot of health exchange beneficiaries who receive subsidies will be apoplectically surprised when the subsidy or part of it will be taxed.