Thursday, February 12, 2015

No taxation without fenestration!

Returning to the paper by Marylanders Wallace Oates and Robert Schwab, they detail the problems the Brits had in earlier centuries administering property taxes. There was the hearth tax of 1662 that assessed a two shilling tax on every fireplace and stove in houses in England and Wales. That was unpopular because it required the tax collector to enter a man's castle to count the offending hearths (whoa, that sounds familiar).

So, replacing the hearth tax with a window tax meant the taxman could stand outside to do the counting. Both property taxes were intended to reveal ability to pay. Not so, said Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations;
A house of ten pounds rent in the country may have more windows than a house of five hundred pounds rent in London; and though the inhabitant of the former is likely to be a much poorer man than that of the latter, yet so far as his contribution is regulated by the window-tax, he must contribute more to the support of the state.
And, anyway, the difficulty of defining window, remained, according to Oates and Schwab.
In 1848...Professor Scholefield of Cambridge paid tax on a hole in the wall of his coal cellar.... Mr. Gregory Gragoe of Westminster paid tax for a trapdoor to his cellar....An individual might have to pay tax should a brick fall out of the wall if the hole admitted light into the house.
Naturally, the taxpayer targets responded. After William Pitt lowered the tax on tea and raised the tax on windows, Owners in both town and country began to disfigure their blocking up their windows....

In 1797 Pitt tripled the window tax to pay for the Napoleonic Wars and,  The day following this new Act, thousands of windows were blocked up, and "Lighten our darkness we beseech thee, O Pitt!" was written in chalk on the blocked-up spaces....

Not too surprisingly, the two professors say that, Bribery and corruption among tax assessors was common.

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