Is That My Bagel That You Are Taxing? (Creative Taxation on Everything)


It’s a new year, a great time for politicians to start making promises about how they will lower all our taxes. When in truth they will be planning new and more creative ways to tax us and call it something other than a tax.  I for one am rather tired of paying over and beyond the basic inescapable taxes. We are all faced with income tax, sales tax and gas tax, but the taxman is constantly inventing some seriously dodgy taxes, and yet we still seem to see the worlds’ economy slipping further and further into bankruptcy. That is probably the bankers fault, but I’ll deal with that in a later issue.

Of course, as long as there have been countries, there have been taxes. Nations need taxes to survive. They need money to fund education, infrastructure, public transport and a lot of other services which people use every day. They also need to overpay themselves. And most governments also feel the need to waste huge sums on stupid projects that no one wants as well. Very few people enjoy paying tax, but it is an inevitable part of living. Governments has always taken something – in olden days it may have been your grain, your cows or even one of your sons – now they just want cash. And they seem to come up with more and more ways of taxing, well, just about everything.

Slave Market in Rome (1884) Jean-Léon Gérôme

History is littered with stupid taxes. The Romans had a “Manumission” tax, which basically said that if you were a freed slave, you would have to cough up 5% of your former price tag and hand it over to the government. This was probably not all that easy if you had just received your freedom and were a bit more concerned with little things like where you were going to live or getting something to eat.  In the middle ages the Vikings imposed a tax to pay tribute to the Viking raiders and to save their land from being ravaged. Basically a tax for not being a Viking. A tax, so that they would not kill you. Yes, it’s probably closer to extortion than tax, but just like today’s taxes, no one wanted to pay but indeed, you had to pay up .

In the 14th century the English began to get very creative with their taxes. They imposed a “poll” tax, which basically means that if you are alive, you have to pay. The word poll is an English word that once meant “head” – and still does in some contexts (but these are the same people who say leave to remain – figure that out). Poll taxes were levied by the governments of John of Gaunt in the 14th century, Charles II in the 17th and Margaret Thatcher in the 20th century. All of which ended in spectacular disaster and riots. How can you tax someone just for existing? But the stupid tax ideas didn’t stop there.
The 1600’s brought about a window tax, where you pay more when you have more light coming into your house. So people just bricked up many windows and lived in the dark. The Hearth tax of 1660 charged you to have a fireplace. This meant that (once again) the lower class wound up overtaxed.  People started concealing their chimneys with whatever they could, prompting inspectors to come around to make sure nobody was hiding hearths. But the tax was repealed in 1684 after a fire destroyed 20 houses and killed four people, after a baker’s attempt to discreetly make use of a neighbouring house’s chimney went a bit wrong. Of course, the Americans already know all about the British penchant for taxing things, they dumped a load of tea in the harbor in Boston and started a revolution over taxes.

But it is not just in the days of old that governments thought up stupid tax ideas. It carries on today, even in your own back yard. Whenever the powers that be feel that people are getting fed up with income taxes or sales tax (conveniently called “VAT” in the UK, so it doesn’t SOUND like tax) then they will find a way to tax you for something else, and hope that you don’t notice that it is a tax, but rather a “service” charge.

There are many stupid taxes out there these days, but there is almost nothing as stupid as the US government’s attempt to collect tax money from drug deals. In many U.S. states, you are required to go to your local tax collection office and pay the tax on your illegal drugs ahead of time. They will give you a stamp that you can attach to your container of drugs. The amount of tax you pay depends on the size of your stash. You can not get arrested at the tax office, because it is illegal for tax authorities to report you. But if the cops do get you, at least you will not get done for tax evasion. But also, according to Form 1040, line 21 on the US governments federal income tax declaration, “illegal income, such as money from dealing illegal drugs, must be included in your income form.” So you have to pay up twice. Both state and federal.

In the state of New York, the sale of whole bagels isn’t subject to sales tax. But tax does apply to “sliced or prepared bagels” according to the state Department of Taxation and Finance. So if they cut your bagel in half for you, you pay tax. And if the bagel is eaten in the store, even if it’s never been touched by a knife, it’s also taxed. In Colorado, Washington, and a few other states, a Kit Kat counts as tax-exempt food, but a Hershey bar is taxable candy, thanks to the presence of flour. In Hungary and Denmark, people pay a “fat tax” on things like butter, mince beef, potato chips and all unhealthy foods packed with saturated fats, sugar and salt. While I agree that obesity is a huge problem, when the government starts taxing things people enjoy, then it becomes a slippery slope.

Where I live, you are required to pay for a TV license. This means you have to pay if you own a TV. Even if you don’t watch TV at all or only use your set for watching DVDs or playing on your xbox, if it is even hooked up to any kind of reception device (cable, antenna) then you have to pay. But I suppose this is no different from having a dog license, gun license, fishing or hunting license or even having to get a marriage license. They are all just a means to income as far as the government are concerned.

As a radical new idea, I will be proposing a new plan to Downing Street (that is the UK version of the White House) which will require anyone wanting to get into politics (or anyone already in politics) to apply and pay for a Politico Licence©. It will have to be renewed annually and applicants will have to pay extra when they have been accused or found guilty of misdeeds relating to public funds. All proceeds for the licence (aka tax) will go towards funding free accountancy services for people earning less than £50,000 a year, so that they to can screw the government on tax breaks. It may mean that there is little left for frivolous spending on wars, half-finished projects and free government travel, but it will also mean less people will decide to get into politics.

Why not get rid if some of that loose change? Help keep us writing.

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