Strange Taxes

Rulers and governments down the ages have taxed their citizens for the strangest of reasons. You know what they say about escaping taxes and death, donít you?

Jasodhara Banerjee
Published: Mar 1, 2011 06:47:27 AM IST
Updated: Feb 26, 2011 09:51:59 AM IST

  Strange Taxes

1 In 1718, under czar Peter the Great, everybody in Russia had to pay a tax on souls. If you didn’t believe in souls — Peter himself was anti-religious and followed secular, humanist philosophers — you would have to pay a tax for being a religious dissenter. Peter also taxed beards, hats, basements, chimneys, births, marriages and burials.

2 King Charles II introduced the Hearth Tax because it was easier to count hearths instead of individuals — people would run away and hide if they were to be taxed. It was levied in 1662, England.

3 This tax wasn’t really imposed, but simply proposed in Rhode Island, in 1971. It was suggested that $2 should be introduced on every act of sexual intercourse and that only men will have to pay it. It was an attempt at raising money during a financial crisis, but, predictably, was shouted down.

4 In Tennessee, you can declare that you are in possession of illegal drugs, pay a tax on it and get a stamp fixed on the illegal substance. If you pay the tax, revenue officials cannot rat you out. And no identification is required to pay the tax. And some people even came forward to pay it!

5 When in New York, buy your bagel, but don’t eat it at the shop. In 2010, the city authorities got strict about enforcing a rule that levies a sales tax (8 to 9 cents) on eating a bagel at the bagel shop, but not on taking it home. The fact that the bagel will be sliced and served to you at the shop makes it a taxable transaction.

6 Roman emperors Nero and Vespasian imposed a tax on the collection of urine by toilet operators who sold it to tanneries. The high ammonia content in urine was useful in treating leather.

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(This story appears in the 11 March, 2011 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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