Taxation Through the Ages

“A recurring lesson from history is that totalitarian control of a State over its subjects is the norm.”  Will and Ariel Durant

“In Sumeria about 2100 BC, the economy was organized by the State.  Most of the arable was the property of the crown; laborers received rations from the crops delivered to the royal storehouses…records were kept of all deliveries and distributions of nations.  Tens of thousands of clay tablets inscribed with such records were found in the capital Ur.

“In Babylonia (c. 1750 BC) the law code of Hammurabi fixed wages for the herdsmen and artisans, and the charges to be made by physicians for operations.

“In Egypt under the Ptolemies (323-30 BC) the state owned the soil and managed the agriculture; the peasant was told what land to till, what crops to grow, his harvest was measured and registered by government scribes, was threshed on royal threshing floors, and was conveyed by a living chain of fellaheen into the granaries of the king.  The government owned the mines and appropriated the ore.  It nationalized the production and sale of oil, salt, papyrus, and textiles.  All commerce was controlled and regulated by the State…banking was a government monopoly. Taxes were laid upon every person, industry, process, product, sale, and legal document.

“Roman Emperor Diocletian brought nearly all major industries and guilds under detailed control…taxation rose to such heights that men lost incentive to work or earn… Thousands of Romans, to escape the tax gatherer, fled over the frontiers to seek refuge among the barbarians.

“Chinese Szuma Ch’ien (c. 146 BC) informs us that  to prevent private individuals from ‘reserving to their sole use the riches of the mountains and the sea in order to gain a fortune, and from putting the lower class into subjection to themselves,’ the Emperor Wu Ti of the Han Dynasty (reigning 140-87 BC) nationalized the resources of the soil, extended governmental direction over transport and trade, laid a tax upon incomes, and established public works, including canals that bound the rivers together and irrigated the fields.

“These stories recounted by Will and Ariel Durant [The Lessons of History] underscore the continual drive for States to control citizens’ lives, and highlight the truly unusually alignment of circumstances and beliefs which allowed for the formation of the United States of America.”  William J. Federer, Change to Chains, p. 81f

The Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2012, p. A12 reports that, in 2007, Maryland raised the tax on incomes of $1 million or more to 6.25% and on incomes of $500,000 to 5.5%. Cities added up to 3.5%, so taxes in places like Baltimore rose to 9:75%.  The projected increase in revenue was $330 million, but only $120 million was realized.  About 40% of $1 million earners immediately disappeared [‘fled over the frontiers to seek refuge among the barbarians’] and the total is still down by 23%.  Many high-income earners merely stopped being residents of the state.  So, now the Maryland governor is seeking to raise taxes on earners of $100,000 or more—redefining ‘rich’ to include this group.”  Arthur B. Robinson, Access to Energy, March 2012, p. 4


One thought on “Taxation Through the Ages

  1. Phillip W. Kayser says:


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