Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Strange and Weird Taxes

by Donna MacMeans

If there's a truth that runs consistently through history, it's this - if the government taxes it, the populace will find a way around it.

As many of you know I'm a CPA which means I'm usually tied up in doing tax returns this time of year - and I hate it. I'd much rather be writing or reading a good romance ("it's research, honey"), or just about anything else. So to make this time of year, otherwise known as tax season, a little more fun, I thought I'd share some goofy and weird taxes and tax deductions that have existed, or in some
cases, still exist.
Taxes are by no means a recent phenomenon. They've existed as long as governments have needed money, and they've fueled a number of rebellions and revolutions along the way.

In 1696, the British government taxed everything they thought showed conspicuous consumption, including wig powder, male servants (as opposed to the female servants which were less expensive),
riding horses (as opposed to farm horses) and windows.
A house was allowed a certain minimum amount of windows. Any windows above that number were taxed.
Some chose to brick in there windows rather than pay the tax. You can still see buildings with those bricked in windows today.

In 1705, Peter the Great in Russia had a thing about men's beards. He much preferred the clean shaven look of Western society so a tax was levied on beards (presuming on the men only). You just don't see beards like this anymore.
More recently, taxes have been proposed in Ireland and Denmark on cow flatulence. The laws were voted down before they could be imposed, but there's talk of resurrection amid global warming concerns.

In the Netherlands, it's legal to deduct the cost of training in the art of witchcraft from taxes.
(I understand the finest witches trained in the Netherlands - grin)

In America, there's a form of architecture called a Shotgun House.
It's said you can shoot a bullet with a shotgun in the front door and it'll come out the back door.
The house is long and narrow. This is the result of taxes placed on the width of one's property. Minimum width meant minimum taxes and voila - the shotgun house.

Here's a classic - a stripper named Chesty Love deducted her expenses to "enhance her natural assets" to a size of 56-FF (ouch!). She argued she did so to enhance her tips. The deduction was allowable as a business expense.

How about this one: There is something called the Jock tax levied on the winnings
of athletes who compete in another state. California first levied this tax in 1991 on the Chicago Bulls after the bulls beat the LA Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals. Chicago, of course, reciprocated. Now the Jock Tax exists in just about every city and state that a team plays in - can you imagine the paperwork!

My favorite - Royal Navy ships that enter the Port of London must pay a tax of a barrel of rum to the Constable of the Tower of London.
I'm thinking of requiring a tax of a bottle of wine to visit my house - what do you think?

Personally, I'd like to see the expense of purchasing books be considered a deductible item as a way of raising the nation's literacy levels - and the government should give extra credit if the books are

So let's have some fun - what would you like to see taxed, or allowed as a deductible expenditure - maybe the cost of a hero developing a ripped set of abs should be deductible, or how about chocolate? Definitely a tax free item in my book. What do you think?

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barb said...

is he coming to me

barb said...

Hi Donna,
I remember when VAT started in England they had 2 levels basic and luxury and they included washing machines and fridges in the luxury tax.... not sure how it goes now as I haven't lived there for over 30 years.
Books and chocolate should be tax free and ....

Caren Crane said...

Barb, good on ya for snagging the GR. I may have to start another rumor about the two of you!

barb said...

He likes coming here especially mean as it warmer here LOL and he especially likes tim tams

Caren Crane said...

Donna, thanks for the laughs this morning! It's amazing what they think of to tax, though empty coffers do beg for them, I suppose. *g*

I think there should be a tax on gaining weight. We would all be healthier and those of us who couldn't afford the tax would be really motivated to get out and exercise! My rear end would be grateful. :)

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

At one time WV had no tax on food. That didn't last long but it was nice for a while. We have 6% sales tax which isn't bad I suppose compared to some other states, but I think they need to go back to no tax on food.

No taxes on reading material would work for me Donna and a tax break for sharing used books with a library would be a good idea too.

Deb Marlowe said...

Great post, Donna!

I just want to know who gets the job of calculating the cow flatulence tax. Ugh!

Caren, I would be afraid your weight tax would backfire with some people. They'd gain weight just to show they could afford it!

Donna MacMeans said...

Hey congrats on the GR, Barb. No tax on him as yet though I suppose he would be considered a conspicious bird.

Donna MacMeans said...

Caren - I agree - a lard tax might be a good thing - with all the money directed to going to health care as you know those extra pounds are going to come back as expense at that end.

I recall going to an OSU football game where your "seat" id basically a number on a bleacher. They allow so many inches per butt. That calculation must be based on some mighty skinny people, though. I also seem to be in the row with what my father-in-law called "wide loads". I'd get squeezed to death just sitting still. So a "derriere tax" wouldn't be a bad thing. (grin).

Donna MacMeans said...

Dianna - Ohio doesn't tax food. Just another reason to move closer to me (grin), although as I look out the window at the snow, I'm hesitent to tell anyone to move north.

In one sense, there is a deduction for sharing used books with the library. If you donate books, that's considered a charitable deduction and as long as you itemize deductions, you can get a little bit of a tax break. You couldn't take the full value of the book when new - more like .50 a paperback, but if you're like me...that still adds up to something.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Deb - LOL on the rich people getting fat to prove they could afford the tax.

I believe the cow flatulence tax is a set rate per cow regardless of output (grin).

Susan Sey said...

Oh, Donna, what a fun question! You know I'd love to see taxed? When people throw out a recyclable bottle or leave the lights on or the water running or the fridge open or (this one kills me) the windows open with the AC on. That kind of purposeful anti-environmentalist kills me. A little cha-ching would ease the sting.

They did this (sort of) in Michigan where I grew up. Whenever you bought a pack of soda or beer, you were automatically charged 10 cents per bottle--the bottle deposit. When you brought the empties back to the store, you got your 10 cents per bottle back. People did NOT throw bottles into the trash or (worse) the ditch. Those things got recycled because money was at stake.

The unfortunate side effect was my dad slamming on the brakes & kicking the kid closest to the door out into the street every time he spotted a bottle in the ditch. "What? You're too rich to pass up free money? Go get that bottle!"

Which we did. In our school clothes, or church clothes or whatever. We can only be grateful he never spotted a bottle on the way to any of our weddings.

Slush said...

Congrats on the GR Barb!!

Donna, fun post! Wish I was the Constable of The Tower of London. lol

I agree with Susan that bad behavior toward the environment would be an interesting thing to tax.

At the same time I would like a deductible for recycling. So many trash companies charge for recycling (which I think is ridiculous), why not deduct that contribution for being good to our environment.

I also wouldn't mind a deduction for a every book purchase I make. LOL! Extra points for Historical purchases.

Anna Sugden said...

Only you could make taxes fun, Donna. Personally I think we should get tax breaks on Victoria's Secret (research) and shoes (research) *g*.

I agree with Susan about the taxing on littering and other wasteful behaviour.

I'd also like to see a tax on rudeness! Or a tax break on polite, helpful behaviour.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Fun post, Donna. As I was reading this, I thought of how houses used to be taxed on how many rooms they had. Closets were counted as rooms, and thus taxable, so that's why a lot of historic homes have armoires rather than closets.

Anna Sugden said...

Trish, you also see a lot of older houses in the UK with painted windows, where the real ones were taken out or bricked over. This was to avoid paying a substantial window tax.

Donna MacMeans said...

Susan -

I suspect if we trace our geneologies back, I think we might discover we're related. Our fathers sound like brothers (grin). I think they talked about doing something like that here in Ohio but it got defeated. Opponents said the residue in the bottles waiting to be recycled would attract rats and the supermarkets didn't want to deal with the hassle.

We recycle in our house, but I bet we could recycle more - especially if there was financial incentive to do so. Good idea!

Donna MacMeans said...

Slush - Of course! Talk about your advanced education...I wonder if reading romances would qualify for the Lifetime Learning tax credit LOL.

There should be a way to give credit for recycling. I'd do just about anything reasonable to protect the environment - except use those awful dim lightbulbs. The ones that have to warm up before give a somewhat useable light. We have one of those in our porch light, and I have to open the door to check if the light is on when I flip the switch (in case someone turned the light on before me and I'm turning it off). I think the energy loss in opening the door in the winter cancels out the savings of the light (grin).

Donna MacMeans said...

Anna S. - you mean you don't deduct Victorian S purchases? LOL - like I could actually find something in that store to fit me. Yes - a tax credit for sexy underwear. I think we could argue that it goes to calming the aggressions of society...a peaceable tax break!

More than a tax, I think a jolt of electricity is in order for rudeness...something like an invisible taser touch. We seem to have an overabundance in today's society, this make straighten it out (though some unnamed entire cities might be black and blue LOL)

Donna MacMeans said...

Trish - You're right. I went on a plantation tour in Louisiana years and years (and even more years) ago. I remember the tour guide telling us that, but I couldn't find verification on my very brief research check. However, if you've heard the same thing - there obviously is truth in it. I too love the way taxation can mold the habits of society.

Donna MacMeans said...

Another goofy tax -

Well maybe not as goofy as it originally sounds, but Tennessee and North Carolina tax the possession of illegal substances. If I understand it correctly, if you own an illegal substance, you can pay a tax anonymously and receive a stamp showing payment. But if you get busted without the stamp, you pay a much higher tax. I think I read that most of the tax paid comes from the latter maybe not so goofy as it sounds.

June M. said...

I agree with the comments on not taxing books. BTW, KY also does not tax food items.

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Birthing balls.

Yes, there should be an "in the nurse's way" tax. A "total waste of money" tax. An "impossible to monitor your baby and assure it's safety" tax.

I think there should be toll of a box of chocolates for babysitting grandchildren, too.

Donna MacMeans said...

June M - I do love that purple avatar with the butterfly. I think West Virgina must be in the minority on the taxing of food thing. It seems rather cruel to the poor that still need to buy food. But then England was criticized for taxing fresh air and light with their window tax. They also tried to tax matches but that only lasted two weeks - public outcry brought it down.

I don't have an electronic reader or I would know this - but do they tax electronic books? Just curious.

Donna MacMeans said...

LOL Suzanne - I can't begin to describe all the images that came to mind with "birthing balls". I have to ask - is this an object of some sort? Or a basic swear word? I have visions of nurses and doctors dancing around pushing hospital beds of very pregnant women - all to the lilting refrains of a waltz. (grin)

You've got the right of it with that chocolate toll - though I imagine you'd have so many boxes of chocolates you'd have to have a dedicated pantry just to handle the supply. (grin)

Beth Andrews said...

What a great post, Donna!

I'd personally love a tax break on all things college related *g* Food, clothing, transportation, that trip the ER when the boy sprained his ankle during basketball :-)

Or how about a Thumper tax? You know, If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all *g* Maybe that would cut back on some of the negativity that seems to pop up online.

Beth Andrews said...

"What? You're too rich to pass up free money? Go get that bottle!"

LOL, Susan! My husband and his friends used to collect bottles and turn them in for cold hard cash *g* And I remember my mom buying pop in those 8-pack bottles then we'd return them for cash.

I always thought pop tasted better from glass, too! Every time we see Coke in an old fashioned bottle, my husband has to buy one - even if it's five times the price of a can :-)

jo robertson said...

What an interesting post, Donna! Of course, there's the old tea tax that started the whole American Revolution. Sort of.

Hmmm, I'd like to get a tax credit for tending our Emma weekly. She's two now and making her demands known. She takes no hostages!

Congrats, Barb. Maybe the rooster can help with your taxes.

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) Closets were counted as rooms, and thus taxable, so that's why a lot of historic homes have armoires rather than closets.

Any idea when that tax went away? I always wondered why older houses didn't have closets, now I know.

My home was built in 1942 and there is not a closet except for one that was built on later. No insulation, in the winter I freeze when I open my closet. Unfortunately the rooms are not large enough to handle an armoire.

Anna Campbell said...


Donna, fun post. Much more fun than actually doing my taxes - I'm in the throes of that right now.

The window tax remained in force long enough to reach Australian settlement (1788). There are early 19th century buildings in Sydney with bricked up windows so they don't get hit with the window tax.

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Donna, think over-sized plastic balls kids played on, used in some gyms for people to balance on or stretch their backs.


Mom's sit on them, bounce on them, (not making this stuff up)...kneel and roll on them...while in labor...

See...needs a tax!! or better yet, an embargo!

Donna MacMeans said...

Beth - Love the thumper tax. Unfortunately, a tiny sum of money could be raised right now from enforcement.

You do know there are tax credits to help with the cost of tuition, books, supplies, and rooms. Not much help though for the incredible amount of food a college kid consumes - nor does it help the incredible amount of clothes they grow out of so quickly. Boys. Gotta love them but they're expensive buggers (grin).

Donna MacMeans said...

Jo - You need to levy Suzanne's babysitting toll. One box of chocolate for babysitting (or a bottle of wine - your choice).

Donna MacMeans said...

Anna - I did cross some interesting taxes and tax exemptions for Australia - but they were sort of X-rated so I decided not to use them. Come to think of it, we have some X-rated taxes and exemptions here as well.

Funny that the windows are still bricked it up to today. What dark rooms those must be. I wonder if its an historic preservation thing that keeps them blocked.

Donna MacMeans said...

Suz - LOL well that explanation of birthing balls makes much more sense than my X-rated imagination. I imagine the hospital does get an exemption on them, though. They'd be a business expense.

catslady said...

PA taxes some food items 7% depending on what they feel is necessary (sure). Cat and dog food is but I don't think it should be since I buy so much of it (feed ferals and whatever wildlife thinks it's their's too lol). Food in restaurants is but shouldn't be. And Pittsburgh has an extra tax on alcohol bah humbug. It's all very confusing - thread and underwear are not taxed but swimsuits are lol.

Donna MacMeans said...

catslady - It is all confusing and extremely political. In Ohio, it used to be all soft drinks were taxable - except root beer. Root beer was considered a food item. Who knew? (Apparently the A&W lobbyist). Not sure that's still the case, but it is crazy.

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Donna: I imagine the hospital does get an exemption on them, though. Hmmm... we don't sell them or provide them. The patients bring them. But you may be onto something. My boss might take a shine to them if they brought in extra income...hmmm

Louisa Cornell said...

Yes, Barb, people ARE starting to talk about you two. There should definitely be a mileage tax on the GR !!

I would love to get a tax break on all of the romance novels I buy and on the Regency research books as well. Heck, just give me a tax break on every book currently in my home and I will have my trip to Nationals paid in full !!

I think you should get a tax break for adopting a pet from a shelter. I also think you should be able to deduct all expenses for that pet - food and medical on a sliding scale for ten years or so. And all taxes collected should go to build no-kill shelters and mobile spay/neuter clinics all over the country.

We have a tax free weekend for school supplies at the end of August in the county where I live. I tend to buy ALL of my copy paper, ink cartridges and most of my other writing supplies on this particular weekend.

And I really need to be able to write off Milo's tea and Peanut Butter M&M's as a writing expense!

I think you should get a tax break for buying physical books rather than eBooks. All of this talk of the physical books disappearing in the next five years or ten years makes me very, very sad. I am just an old dinosaur, I guess!

Louisa Cornell said...

Oh and Beth, my sister! I LOVE the taste of Coke in a glass bottle. I don't care what anyone says, the glass bottle makes it taste better!

And I cracked up when you said your Dad kicked one of you out of the car to pick up stray bottles. My Dad was the same way!!

Leni said...

It sure would be lovely not to pay taxes on candy or books :) I can dream, though.I didn't think that I'd be able to laugh about the subject of taxes.

Beth Andrews said...

You do know there are tax credits to help with the cost of tuition, books, supplies, and rooms. Not much help though for the incredible amount of food a college kid consumes - nor does it help the incredible amount of clothes they grow out of so quickly. Boys. Gotta love them but they're expensive buggers (grin).

Oh, yes, but I'd like some for travel expenses and all the extra expenses that seem to pop up out of nowhere *g* And he is expensive. When he was home over Christmas break, my grocery bill went up substantially!

Donna MacMeans said...

Louisa - Once you get that manuscript published, you'll be able to deduct all those regency research tomes. That, in itself, is iincentive. Of course, if your writing is a business (hint) and not a hobby, you could be deducting them now. You're so close to selling.

With you 100% on the shelter/pet expense. Granted we get paid in love, love, love for providing a home to a shelter animal...but a little moola would be nice to offset those expenses.

Definitely should be able to deduct chocolate as a necessary medical expense (grin).

Donna MacMeans said...

Leni - Glad you liked the blog. Hey - you gotta laugh at taxes or you'll end up crying. They are a PITA, but at least they've been a PITA for centuries.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Popping in late, so sorry. But what a FUN post, Donna!

Once again, ya never know what you'll learn in the Lair. ;-) I thought those "shotgun houses" were built that way to allow for cooling breezes to blow all the way through. Never heard the tax based on width before, but I'm not a BIT surprised. I had heard of the window tax, and I must say I LIKE the idea of that rum tax.

They are talking about taxing soda here in California. If that does happen, you'll hear my howls of outrage all the way to Ohio and beyond. GRRRR!


jo robertson said...

Good idea, Donna. I'd take the wine if I drank. Emma's parents invited us to dinner Sunday. I think that'll be my toll!

Donna MacMeans said...

AC - I hear you, Cindy. As a regular Diet Coke and Diet Dr. Pepper connoisseur - I'd be outraged myself. I'm trying to drink more water and tea and cut back on the soda, but I can't go cold turkey. I imagine the soda industry lobby would have something to say about such a tax. Those lobbyists, they are a large part of the reason behind our goofy tax structure.

Donna MacMeans said...

Hey Jo - Hope you have a great dinner on Sunday!