The World's Wackiest Taxes

It seems governments can and will tax just about anything--no matter how bizarre.

Over the centuries, right up to today, taxmen across the globe have enforced crazy and nonsensical tariffs on a mixed bag of oddities: From beards and urine to tattoos and illegal drugs. Just recently, authorities in China have introduced the latest in a long line of strange taxes... a 5 percent consumption tax on wooden chopsticks.

Apparently, the Chinese produce 45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks each year--using timber from 25 million fully grown trees. So the Chinese government will be taxing wooden chopsticks in a move to save trees and as part of a wider, ambitious plan to slash energy consumption and combat pollution.

However, other countries, including the good old U.S. of A., are China's equal in every way regarding oddball taxes.

For example, state legislators in Tennessee and neighboring North Carolina--along with 21 other states nationwide--operate a tax on illegal drugs. Of course, one would presume that not many citizens actually report their secret stash to the Department of Revenue. Nevertheless, those who do 'fess up and buy tax stamps to affix to their illicit haul aren't signing their own arrest warrants. Revenue employees are supposedly prohibited from calling the cops on these tax-paying druggies.

In Arkansas, those displaying their attitude permanently inked on their biceps are subject to a tattoo tax. A bonus 6 percent levy is added to all tattoos, as well as body piercings and electrolysis treatment.

Up in neighboring Canada, a sales tax applies to muffins and doughnuts--but if you purchase six or more, the snacks are exempt (an incentive to those trying to expand their belt size?).

Another quirky law in the Canadian province of Ontario declares that the rental of a boat is taxable. If the boat is rented with an operator, however, it isn't taxable. But if it's rented with a guide, it's taxable again--unless the guide is also the operator, in which case it's not taxable.

History, too, has had its share of amazing tax oddities. Tsar Peter the Great, in a bid to "westernize" 17th-century Russia, imposed an annual tax of 100 rubles on bearded men (except peasants and priests). Though it's unclear whether men shaved off their facial hair to avoid paying their dues, perhaps this law inspired taxers in Massachusetts, where an old ordinance--which, unbelievably, is still on the books--forces men to buy a license before growing a goatee.

In further strokes of genius, Peter the Great introduced a "soul tax" for all males, which by 1724 generated 50% of the government budget. And Roman emperor Nero financed his notorious spending sprees with a tax on urine in the first century C.E.

In 1696, King William III of England established a tax on windows that would influence that country's architecture for centuries. It was effectively a glass tax on houses with more than six windows, as glass making was becoming costly. As a result, many Brits bricked up windows to avoid shelling out more money. However, some rich families installed extra windows in their homes, as glass soon became a status symbol akin to having a swimming pool today. In some extreme cases, windows were even built over structural walls, just to impress the blue bloods.

France followed suit; from 1798 to 1926, the French enforced a "door and window tax." And when the French fashion of wearing wigs arrived in Britain, King William III--the father of the window tax--imposed another unpopular tax, this time on wig powder.

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Posted 05-16-2006 1:14 PM by Doug Casey
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