Taxation Tales And The Window Tax

H.L. Mencken once wrote: "Taxation . . . is eternally lively; it concerns nine-tenths of us more directly than either smallpox or golf, and has just as much drama in it; moreover, it has been mellowed and made gay by as many gaudy, preposterous theories." Michael Keen and Joel Slemrod quote Mencken and then make his point in many vivid ways in their gallop through tax policy in their just-published book Rebellion, Rascals, and Revenue: Tax Follies and Wisdom Through the Ages For those (including economics instructors) looking to replenish and refresh their dusty anecdotes about offbeat tax policies, this is the book you've been waiting for. The book itself is an easy read, with copious footnotes leading to the research literature for those who want more detail.

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They write at the start: 

Tax stories from the past, we hope to show, can be entertaining—sometimes in a weird way, sometimes in a gruesome one, and sometimes simply because they are fascinating in themselves. They are also helpful in thinking about the tax issues that run through today’s headlines and politics. The stories we tell in this book span several millennia, from Sumerian clay tablets, Herodotus, and the unusual tax ideas of the Emperor Caligula through to the slippery practices revealed by the Panama Papers, the tax possibilities unleashed by blockchain, and the outlook for taxation in a world transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But this book is not a history of taxation. Nor is it a primer on tax principles. It is a bit of both.

The book is a torrent of examples, with general lessons proffered gently in the interstices. You've heard of the Rosetta Stone, right? But did you know that when it was deciphered, it "describes a tax break given to the temple priests of ancient Egypt." You can learn about the civil strife over the "armed resistance by  the Maori of Hokianga County in New Zealand to a tax on every dog in the district," or another dog-tax episode when "the Bondelswarts, a nomadic group in German Southwest Africa (now Namibia), rose up against an increase in the dog tax that had been imposed in 1917." You will find examples of a hut tax, a beard tax, a bachelor tax, and much more. 

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