[FOUNTAIN]The 'ajumma' tax

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[FOUNTAIN]The 'ajumma' tax

Had it not been for taxes, Jesus Christ would not have been born in a manger. That is the theory by the Oxford University financial historian Niall Ferguson. The New Testament tells the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to take part in the census for the purpose of taxation on all citizens of the Roman Empire -- and Jesus was born.

Jesus aside, taxes have been an inseparable part of human history. In this part of the world, taxes were closely associated with the rise and fall of dynasties right up to the Joseon Dynasty. As far as the people were concerned, good administration was for fair and manageable taxation. Corrupt officials extorting taxes led to peasant revolts, opening the way for the fall of a kingdom.

Let's look at one of the hottest topics in Korea now -- property taxes. The tax was first introduced in 1909 in the form of a housing tax. If the capital gains tax is the leading tax on the transfer of real estate property, property tax is the chief ownership tax. Financial Supervisory Commission Chairman Lee Keun-young is a tax specialist who served as head of investigation at the National Tax Service and chief tax policymaker at the Finance Ministry. Mr. Lee has dubbed the property tax as the "ajumma tax," referring to the Korean term for "married women." The burden of property taxes has been so low that homemakers have paid it like they would pay water bills. A good example of that is the 42,000 won ($35) in property tax levied on a 90-square-meter apartment unit in southern Seoul valued at 550 million won.

The dilemma of property taxes is in the ajumma. The reality is that it is a tax paid by frugal homemakers who try to cut a deal shopping for dinner. Against that is the theory that property taxes should be raised to curb the horrendous increases in housing prices. Property taxes are, according to a principle of taxation, often considered to be a complement to income taxes. In other words, a property tax should provide just enough burden on the taxpayer to cover the portion of income not adequately levied by income tax -- the logic is that it is income, after all, that gets spent on buying a house. For those homemakers who have been saving penny by penny for their own homes, the idea of doubling a property tax is an outrageous prospect, even if they admit the problem of soaring housing prices. We have had reports that tax officials and home affairs bureaucrats may have mangled property tax increases because they forgot to consult with each other over how to go about it. They obviously do not know the wrath of homemaking property taxpayers.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Sohn Byoung-soo

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