Sin Tax

Pat Rice here.

I’m an accountant as well as a writer, so I’m painfully aware of how we can take the same numbers and prove both sides of an argument.  But as part of the entertainment industry, I thoroughly enjoyed this article on the TRANSFATHEAD TAX .

The writer argues that instead of outlawing things that are bad for us, why not tax them.  We already tax cigarettes and alcohol and gas.  Why not charge taxes on transfat if society has to pay for your diabetes and heart attacks? Let’s tax Big Macs! And if marijuana is our biggest cash crop, as the author claims, just think of all the substance abuse hospitals we could build by taxing it.

But when he got down to taxing McMansions and Maseratis, he hit my history nerd nerve.  It’s been done.  Of course, the original taxes had absolutely nothing to do with taxing things that are bad for us and everything to do with taxing the rich, but if it works both ways… 

So naturally, I had to dig out my tax research. The Window Tax was the first attack on McMansions, seventeenth century style.  England passed a law in 1697 assessing a tax on buildings according to the number of windows and openings it had.  Any building with more than six windows got hit with a tax bill.  In its first year, the tax raised 1,200,000 pounds!  Just think of those castles and all their openings!  Heck, I wonder if an arrow slit counted?  Did the English quit building McMansions? Of course not. They just quit putting windows in them.  Or bricked up the old ones. Did the government quit taxing them then? Of course not. They simply increased the tax six times between 1747 and 1808 and never entirely got rid of it until 1851.  And the money was so lovely that France has a similar tax to this day.

Which teaches one to be very wary of suggesting taxes to governments!  Want to pay for a war? Peter the Great came up with a charming method of taxing SOULS to pay for his military might. Apparently, only males had souls, and then, only if they weren’t part of the nobility and the clergy (what a broad-minded thinker was old Peter– the rich don’t have souls!), and you couldn’t prove you were soul-less (or even spineless) by leaving town, because then they taxed the town for your useless soul.  Better yet, if you were one of those old-fashioned types who didn’t accept the true church of modern times, you got taxed double!  Not certain if Old Pete meant nature-worshippers had twice the soul, but I’m sure they were twice as much trouble as orthodox believers.

And Peter was such an imaginative man, he even taxed beards. Guess he figured all those peasants were saving money by not going to a barber and ought to pay to support the haircut industry, although I’m pretty certain he put the tax to work by paying barbers to be soldiers.

Oh, and back to taxes on things that are bad for you—in 1795, William Pitt the Younger, not a dull or stupid man by any means, decided to tax wig and hair powder to pay for all those soldiers he had to keep buying.  Maybe he thought all those good-looking young redcoats in their fancy wigs would be better off without them, because that’s more or less what happened. Rather than pay the tax, men whacked off their queues, thus ushering in the Regency era style of shorn locks and no powder. Of course, he also put a lot of wigmakers out of business…

So yeah, a Transfathead Tax might put McDonalds and Krispy Kreme out of business, but look at it this way—then we wouldn’t need an obesity tax! Right here in Missouri they’re suggesting removing tax deductions for obese children. Can you picture the playground humiliation? “You’re so big, your dad has to pay taxes for you!”

All right, fire up your imaginations. What taxes would you charge to pay for our sins? Do you know of any modern taxes on sins?  (I do, but I’m biting my tongue.)

and for this week only–all formats of EVIL GENIUS are selling at $2.99 on BVC. As advertised on Daily Cheap Reads, the Kindle format only will be on sale at Amazon.




Sin Tax — 8 Comments

  1. There’s an article in the NY Times today, about the uptick in suicides at South Korean universities. It seems that one college president set up a sliding tuition scale — if your grades go down, your tuition goes up. The original goal was to get all the students to buckle down to their studies. The actual result is that, pressured financially and academically and unable to cope, kids are jumping off bridges.

  2. For a while in mid 19th C and maybe earlier, there was a room tax, you paid for the # of rooms in your home. A closet had a door, therefore it was a separate room and taxed. Architects built no closets, alcoves maybe that you could hide with a curtain but no door. Doors on bedrooms? just make the house one big room. So in essence it was a tax on privacy. That’s one way to keep the skeleton out of the closet and out in the parlor where it belongs, let alone illicit sex and other sins.

    Now we just put GPS monitors on everything.

  3. yeah, the window tax was called a tax on light. “G”
    Wow, on the bad grade tax! Those poor kids were already under so much pressure. Wouldn’t it be so much better if we encouraged them to love life instead of pressuring them to own the world? We might not have many rocket scientists, but the world would be a better place.

    We could tax GPS monitors!

  4. Before we start taxing unhealthy food, we need better science to figure out exactly what is unhealthy and what isn’t. I’ve been reading up on nutrition science and it has completely upended everything I thought was true.

    However, I’m for taxing bad food, so that it would be cheaper to eat good hamburgers rather than the cardboard served at most fast food places. Even if that wouldn’t do much about obesity, it would improve our eating pleasure! Alas, the recovering lawyer in me suspects that it would be impossible to draft such laws.

  5. I think a big fat tax on CEOs and politicians to start. They can be those things, but they pay a million bucks a year so we can fix the damage they cause.

  6. Hmmm, a personal tax on the CEO every time someone is laid off… Really, I think companies ought to dock management every time employee benefits drop instead of rewarding them, but then, I’m a dreamer.

    A tax on bad food! Probably too subjective. And restaurants would definitely go out of business, leaving us to have to cook. Must consider those consequences!

  7. Well, the window tax did have some reasoning behind it: they didn’t have to go inside the house to count. No intrusion on your privacy that way.

  8. Hmm. A lay-off tax. Now that has some real potential. It might not raise much money, but maybe it would do something about the unemployment rate.