Taxes have been around for centuries, as common as the trading of goods or services. However, while we’ve grown accustomed to taxes on our money, strange, and often bizarre, taxes have been around over the course of history. Of course, many of these were unfair, typically benefitting monarchs and tyrants, but interesting nonetheless. Specifically, here’s a look at five strange taxes in Denmark, England, India, Russia, Germany and France.
The Cow Tax
Who in the world would place a tax on a cow? This tax, the cow tax, has everything to do with air quality and the number of cows a person can own. Something that will surprise no one is a cow releases exorbitant methane into the air and nearly 20% of green house gases comes from methane. As a result, there’s a tax in many European countries to reduce the number of cows a person can own.
The Windows Tax (Not Microsoft)
Historically, the perception of wealth has been tied to quantity. For instance, the larger the “hat,” the higher the status; the more buttons on a coat, the more wealth they must have. Similarly, back in the 1800s, there was a tax on the number of windows a person had in their home. While this tax actually benefitted the nation (helping the country paying off debts owed), it was ultimately discontinued as the financially conscious simply opted for fewer windows. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lack of windows, sunlight, and fresh air in peoples’ homes started leading to massive health issues across the country. As a result, they discontinued the tax as health was becoming a crisis.
The Beard Tax
In the early 1700s, the King of Russia put a tax on anyone with a beard. The King (Peter) wanted to modernize Russia and felt the beards were holding them back from the rest of the world as being clean-shaven was the new trend. Of course, he wasn’t going to lock anyone up for “not shaving” so the resolution was simple, if someone wanted to keep their beard, they’d have to pay a tax; if they didn’t want to be taxed, shave.
The Scutage Tax
The scutage tax started as early as the 13th century but continued in some form for over a century until it became obsolete. The scutage tax was charged to knights (and peasants) in lieu of military service. This didn’t only apply to wars, but specifically campaigns, you could opt out of a battle (be it for fear or lack of conviction) by paying a tax to your lord. While this was usually a financial payment (such as shillings), it could also be livestock or a horse. This wound up being especially profitable for the countries that enacted it. Not only did this bolster the economy, but the military force as well. Need more horses? Raise the scutage tax. Don’t want soldiers to turn coat and run? Pay a tax instead and hire someone else.
The Flush Tax
This one sounds sillier than it is. It’s called the flush tax in Maryland and was started in 2004. Ultimately, many houses were still reliant on septic systems in their house and this was damaging Chesapeake Bay. What they sought to do was improve the sewage treatment facilities. This tax started at $30 per resident per year and in 2012, doubled to $60 per resident per year. While some people huffed about it, it’s been delivering on that process and the Bay is cleaner than it has been in years. A little change can go a long way.