Some of the dumbest taxes throughout history

Great newsletter hi-lighting the insane things that people put up with and the lengths those with power will go to:


September 24, 2014
Sovereign Valley Farm, Chile
In the days of ancient Rome, it was tradition for the upper class to liberate their slaves after a set number of years.

The Roman government, however, looked at this as an opportunity to generate revenue, and they taxed the newly freed slave on his freedom.

I can’t imagine anything more repulsive than paying tax on freedom. But they gave it a pretty good try–

In 1696, the English government under William III (William of Orange) passed a new law requiring subjects to pay a tax based on the number of windows in their homes.

Not willing to pay such a ridiculous tax on something as basic as sunlight, many Englishmen simply reduced the number of windows in their homes.

There was less light… and less ventilation… which ultimately became a public health problem.

To follow that up, England introduced a tax on candles in 1789. Making your own candles was outlawed unless you first obtained a license and paid tax on your own homemade candles.

As you could imagine, most people just did without.

Coupled with the window tax, this was a very dark time for England. And it took until the mid 19th century for the government to realize its stupidity and repeal the taxes.

But if that sounds excessive, consider the Johnstown Flood Tax.

In 1936, the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania was devastated by nasty flood, and in its efforts to ‘do something,’ the state assembly imposed an emergency, ‘temporary’ tax of 10% on all alcohol sold in the state.

This ‘temporary’ tax remained in place for nearly three decades, at which point it was raised to 15% in 1963, and again to 18% in 1968.

The ‘temporary’ tax still exists today, proving once again that there’s nothing more permanent than a temporary government measure.

Curiously, you can never find the tax on an alcohol receipt; state law requires that the tax be built into the price. So all alcohol simply costs 18% more in Pennsylvania, and most people don’t even know that they’re paying it.

But if that sounds ridiculous, consider that the city of Pittsburgh charges a 5% “amusement tax” on anything that offers entertainment in the city.

I was curious how the government, in its sole discretion, defines ‘amusement’. Well, it turns out there’s quite a lengthy definition, which includes

“concerts, moving picture shows, vaudeville, circus, carnival and side shows. . . wrestling matches, boxing and sparring exhibitions. . .”

Naturally. How could the great city of Pittsburgh possibly function if the government wasn’t out there grabbing its tax dollars from vaudeville and sideshows…?

But back in the United Kingdom, the government taxes you on entertainment even if you stay home through its television tax.

In the UK if you own a television in your home, you must pay an annual fee, formally called a television license, for each television you own.

The funds are used to finance programming on BBC, whether you watch those channels or not.

Color (or I should say ‘colour’) televisions are taxed at a 145.50 pounds annually, whereas black and white TV sets (seriously?) are taxed at 49 pounds per year.

Blind people still have to pay the tax, but at a reduced rate of 50%. How generous. And of course, failure to pay this fee subjects the violator to criminal penalties.

There were 155,000 convictions and fines in 2012 alone. And 51 people actually went to prison that year for failure to pay the TV tax.

You just can’t make this stuff up…

Until tomorrow,
Simon Black


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