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The weirdest taxes in history

Posted by mandyf on January 18, 2012

Taxes are the one certainty in life aside from death, but while some taxes are well known and sensible, other are just flat out nuts. It isn’t just the U.S. that has had some bizarre taxes over the years, weird taxes are all over the world. While some are sensible – albeit little known which makes them seem weird – others are only partially sensible because they were obviously written and passed by people that failed to put their thinking cap on. Whether you laugh these off or shake your head in amazement or disappointment, these are some of the weirdest taxes the world has seen.

Don't ye be taxin' my Twix!The 2009 passage of the Illinois candy tax is a clear indication that it pays to think things out twice before writing legislation, and three times before voting. On the surface the candy tax is reasonable enough in that it charges a slightly higher rate than consumables classified as food. The problem is that they defined food as an item that requires refrigeration or contains flour. Under this standard Baby Ruth, Milky Way Midnight, and yogurt covered raisin are all candy – which makes sense. On the other hand, A raisin covered pretzel, original Milky Way, and Twix bar are all foods. Take a moment to enjoy the breakdown in the logic amongst yourselves …

Scutage tax which is more commonly referred to as cowardice tax was in effect for 300 years or so from the year 1100 during the reign of King Henry I. Initially, the tax was levied against those who refused to fight for the king, but over the years it expanded and became more expensive. Eventually it reached a point where knights were taxed for not fighting for the king even if the only reason for that was because there was no war for them to fight. By the time King John was in power, the scutage tax has been raised by 300%, and in part, the scutage tax is credited as being one of the factors that led to the Magna Carta.

Shilling for your hat?

Leave it to Britain to come up with a tax as weird as the hat tax that was in effect from 1784 until 1811. The logic behind the hat tax was that the rich would have a large collection of expensive hats to meet their style needs each day and that they would likely replace hats showing minimal wear far faster than the poor leading to more tax revenue. A special permit was also needed to sell hats. And while a fine was sufficient to punish those that plied the trade without license, forging a hat tax revenue stamp was punishable by death.

Both England and Russia had beard taxes at one time, but for different reasons. In England it was all about the money as King Henry VIII first introduced it in 1535. Elizabeth I eventually brought it back after being off the books, but changed it to tax only beards which had more than two weeks growth. This caused an obvious problem as beards grow at varying rates depending on the individual, and as we now know centuries later, even based on the weather and hormonal fluctuations. In Russia the beard tax introduced by Tsar Peter I was to get people to stop growing beards as he found them lacking refinement.

Rome once had a urine tax – and you can look that up! Emperors Nero and Vespasian both levied a urine tax. In that period of time in Rome, human urine was used quite differently than it is today – it was a commodity more so than simple waste product. The poor of Rome urinated in pots, paying a fee for doing so, and when the pots were sufficiently filled they were emptied in cesspools. When the pots were emptied, another tax was levied. The urine was then reclaimed – incurring another tax – and used for the raw materials it contained – particularly ammonia which was used in leather tanning and laundry cleaning.

While this never became a law, it was actually proposed in New Zealand in 2003 as a way to help try to get into compliance with the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gasses – the fart tax. Actually it was proposed as the flatulence tax and was going to ignore human flatulence and target that of livestock which accounts for about 50% of New Zealand’s methane emissions. The agricultural industry is too important to new Zealand for this to have ever actually worked, and the public outcry was far too great to ever push forward with the tax. As one farmer said, if they taxed cow farts, he’d be broke in a month.

While it is commonly known as the crack tax in Tennessee, it is not just a tax on the drug crack, but any illegal drugs which includes pot, LSD, and even moonshine. This is one of the most bizarre taxes around as it is unbelievable anyone would ever comply. To a certain degree, this has to be a move meant to try to grab the dumbest drug dealers in the state without spending resources identifying them.

In Tennessee, as well as 22 other states,  drug dealers and prostitutes are bound by law to pay taxes on their illegal activity. Supposedly, they can go to the state revenue office and report their illicit income and pay taxes on it anonymously. Just how that works out in actual practice and not on paper or fantasyland is a mystery. Once the taxes are paid, they receive a stamp that says they have paid their taxes on their illegal enterprise. If they are arrested they are not pursued for income tax evasion so long as their tax stamp is up to date.

The world over, weird laws are a fact of life. While some are from the distant past and best left there, some are in the here and now – and they just amaze you. Everyday holds the potential to see a new weird law pop up, or an old one silently get removed from the books. While there may be more unbelievable laws than these, they are as entertaining as they are puzzling.

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6 Responses to “The weirdest taxes in history”

  1. As you suggested, clear indications that maybe it’s a good idea to think things through before passing legislation! Legislators could perhaps ask themselves, “Is this a useful piece of legislation or are we just going to get mocked on a blog for it someday and look like a bunch of knuckleheads!” : )

  2. purgly said

    Interesting post.Thank you very much, Amanda.

  3. danajlange said

    I had to stop reading a couple times because I was laughing so hard. It never ceases to amaze me how we can get in our own way. Wouldn’t it be great if all legislation had to pass the “what if” and “duh” standards before becoming law. Then again, future generations wouldn’t have anything to point to say what a bunch of idiots we were. No worries, I hardly doubt we’ll be able to clear the hurdle of “duh” in all of our legislation. Future generations, enjoy a good laugh.

  4. txwikinger said

    Very interesting post. Shows again how much politicians need to be scutinized.

  5. While perhaps not as funny as some you outlined here, Amanda, England once had a window tax. The theory being that the more windows, the more luxurious your house and the more you should pay. That is why many historic buildings have bricked-up windows.

    On the subject of old laws, years ago my Father was once protesting a change of bus route. On doing some research, he discovered that, technically speaking, all buses in our town were required by local law to carry a bale of hay – the law hadn’t been changed since public transport was horse and cart.

  6. tenhagen said

    Reblogged this on ten Hagen's Blog.

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