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Weird Taxes (Shad Ahmad Khan)

Taxation has been a part of the governance since ages across the world. A very limited data is available about the exact history of taxation. In India also, certain taxes were discussed extensively like Jazia, Teerth Kar, Lagaan etc. All these taxes were criticized in one way or the other. In fact, tax as a concept, itself, is a term of criticism. Though taxes are very important from the governance point of view, but paying tax is a painful task for the taxpayer. Therefore, most of the taxation experts and authors say that in paying taxes an element of sacrifice is involved without any quid pro quo i.e. direct benefits. Taxes are criticized so much that the tax free or low tax nations are termed as ‘Tax Heavens’.

Any normal citizen of a tax country has to pay taxes irrespective of his age, gender, caste. A newly born child is also in a way is a tax payer as the medicine, milk powder, diapers and other things he is consuming are purchased by paying certain amount of tax. According to a report, in India, Indirect Taxes constituted about 67% of the total revenue collected by the government. This means that 2/3 of the total revenue is from the indirect tax which is paid by each and every citizen and residents of India.

Objective of tax is not only to generate the revenue but also to control the country. In order to discourage the practices against the culture of a nation often higher taxes are imposed on the undesirable goods, for instance, in India high taxes are imposed on alcoholic beverages, behind which the lone objective is not the generate money but to discourage the consumption. Sometimes as a part of encouragement, government announces certain goods tax free and sometimes even grants subsidy on it.

Objective of this article is not to teach taxation to the readers but it in order to come on the actual topic it was necessary to provide introduction to the people who don’t have any background of tax. The main objective of this write up is to provide some data over the memorable events with regards to taxation in and around the world. In the world there have been interesting types of taxes levied on the citizens and there have been events related to taxes which may sound weird to some. For the purpose of this article, I was able to collect few instances from the history. They are given as follows:

Egypt: During various reigns of the Egyptian Pharaohs, tax collectors were known as Scribes. During one period of time, Scribes imposed a tax on cooking oil. To ensure that citizens were not avoiding cooking oil tax, scribes were used to audit households to ensure that the appropriate amount of the cooking oil was consumed.

Greece: In times of war, Athenians imposed tax referred to as eisphora. No one was exempted from the tax which was used to pay for special wartime expenditures. Greeks were one of the few societies that were able to rescind the tax once the emergency was over. When additional resources were gained by the war effort the resources were used to refund the tax.

Roman Empire: Earliest taxes in Rome were customs duties on the imports and exports called portoria. . Caesar Augustus was considered by many to be the most brilliant tax strategist of the Roman Empire. Caesar Augustus instituted an inheritance tax to provide retirement funds for the military. This inheritance tax was imposed on the person inheriting the property of a deceased person. The valuation of tax was done based on the total value of the asset inherited.

During the time of Julius Caesar a ‘one percent’ sales tax was imposed. During the time of Caesar Augustus, the sales tax was four percent for slaves and one percent for everything else. This sales tax was a major source of revenue for the government, this triggers to the level of transaction happening in terms of slave selling.

Boadicea: In 60 A.D. Boadicea, queen of East Anglia led a revolt that can be attributed to corrupt tax collectors in the British Isles. Her revolt allegedly killed all roman soldiers within 100 miles; seized London; and it is said that over 80,000 people were killed during the revolt.

Lady Godiva- According to legend, lady Godivia’s husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia promised to reduce the high taxes he levied on the residents of Coventry when she agreed to ride naked through the streets of the town.

The 100 Years of War- The 100 years War (the conflict between England and France) began in 1337 and ended in 1453. One of the key factors that renewed fighting in 1369 was the rebellion of nobles of Aquitaine over the oppressive tax policies of Edward, The Black Prince. The Window Tax- A tax based on number of windows in houses was introduced in England in 1696. It has a progressive tax rate so that the more is the number of windows, the higher is rate of tax imposed. Surveyors were appointed to count window and issue assessments to the house owners. It seems that the theory behind the tax was that the number of windows in a house in some way provided an indication of the wealth of the owner.

Willie Nelson- In more recent times, American country music singer Willie Nelson found himself faced with a US$32 million tax bill. To pay his tax debt, he released an album entitled “Who’ll buy my memories/ The IRS Tapes”. 14 years later, he finally reached agreement with the IRS and the debt settled.

Despite all the odds, taxes are still a major player for most of the world’s economy. Though they are painful for the tax payers but still tax payers are paying it, as somewhere, if they want to criticize their government, they will have to pay the taxes.

There is a strong feeling that somewhere still in the world the weird taxes and instances talked above are getting imitated knowingly or unknowingly; But one thing is certain, that as long as governance is existing, there will some taxes levied on the citizens and the new interesting aspects of it will come into light.

*Shad Ahmad Khan is an alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University. He did Masters in Business Administration from Faculty of Management Studies and Research (FMSR), AMU. He also served as Secretary of University Literary Club, AMU. Currently, he teaches Management at Royal University of Bhutan. Khan is available at https://www.facebook.com/shad.a.khan2/
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