莫名其“税” Unusual Taxes in History



Taxation has been around since at least 3000 B.C., when Egyptian Pharaohs1) taxed many items, including grain, imported goods, livestock and beer. Citizens also had to pay a tax on cooking oil, and tax collectors (known as scribes) searched homes for used oil, trying to make sure that everyone was using new cooking oil—and thus paying the tax.

As part of his drive to modernize Russia—and to spur2) Russian men to look more like clean-shaven European men—Peter the Great3) introduced a beard tax in 1705. Any man who wanted to wear a beard, with the exception of priests and peasants, had to pay a tax of as much as 900 rubles. He then had to wear a special medallion4) around his neck as proof of payment.

1  One of the grievances that fueled the French Revolution of 1789 was the salt tax, also called the gabelle5). The tax varied by region, and in some areas residents also had to buy a minimum amount of salt. The result: lots of smuggling6) and unrest. In India, the British salt tax became a focus of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent protest7) against English rule.

Enacted8) in England in 1696 after the short-lived hearth9) tax on fireplaces, the window tax was based on the number of windows in a house. That made assessments easier, since windows, unlike hearths, could be counted from the outside. Many chose to block some of their windows to pay a lower fee. The tax was eventually repealed10) in 1851 on public health grounds11).

Following similar laws in other states, Tennessee passed the “crack12) tax” in 2005, which mandated13) that drug dealers pay taxes anonymously on illegal substances. If a dealer was caught without proof of payment, the state collected taxes, with penalties. Around 3000 people were eligible for14) refunds15) after the law was struck down16) in 2009; a revised law soon followed.

In Alabama, computer solitaire17) has one advantage: Anyone buying a deck18) of playing cards there must pay a 10-cent tax. And retailers must obtain a “playing card privilege license”.

Other states and cities have their own special charges. Maine has a blueberry tax, New York City taxes sliced (but not whole) bagels19), and Minnesota has a fur clothing tax.

1. Pharaoh [ˈfeərəʊ] n. 法老
2. spur [spɜː(r)] vt. 激励,驱策
3. Peter the Great: 彼得大帝(1672~1725),俄国沙皇彼得一世(1682~1725年在位),推行西化改革。在他的统治下,俄国社会摆脱了农奴制的落后面貌。
4. medallion [məˈdæliən] n. 大奖章
5. gabelle: n. (1789年法国大革命前的)盐税;税
6. smuggling [ˈsmʌɡ(ə)lɪŋ] n. 走私
7. Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent protest: 圣雄甘地的非暴力抵抗运动。圣雄甘地(1869~1948),印度民族解放运动领袖,领导印度争取独立。他领导了非暴力抵抗和非暴力不合作运动,提倡以非暴力的方式抵抗英国统治。
8. enact [ɪnˈækt] vt. 制定法律;颁布;扮演
9. hearth [hɑː(r)θ] n. 炉边;壁炉地面。hearth tax: 烟囱税
10. repeal [rɪˈpiːl] vt. 废除;撤销;废止;放弃
11. on (the) ground(s) (of): 根据……,以……为理由
12. crack [kræk] n. <美俚> (价格不太贵的)强效纯可卡因
13. mandate [ˈmændeɪt] vt. 命令;法律强制要求
14. be eligible for: 有……资格的
15. refund [ˈriːfʌnd] n. 退款;归还
16. strike down: 驳回;杀死;击倒
17. solitaire [ˌsɒlɪˈteə(r)] n. 单人纸牌戏
18. deck [dek] n. 一副(纸牌)
19. bagel [ˈbeɪɡ(ə)l] n. 百吉饼;贝果