[FOUNTAIN]When taxation becomes a weaponWhen looking at a historic British building, there is an easy way to tell roughly when it was built. If it has no chimney, it is sure to have been built between 1662 and 1689, when kings levied property taxes based on the number of chimneys a house had. If it doesn’t have many windows, it was probably built between 1696 and 1851, when taxes were decided according to the number of windows. During those years, even the British nobility chose to live in darkness.
Taxes can change not only architectural trends, but people’s lifestyles. The Soviet Union imposed an unusual tax on the childless. The revenue was originally earmarked for World War II orphans, but the tax evolved into an incentive to increase the population. Because this 6-percent income tax was imposed on single men and women as well as childless couples, it became hard for anyone to resist having children.
The “fat tax” being considered in Britain and Switzerland is also worth noting. The idea is to tax fast food companies and use the money to tackle the obesity problem. Whether taxes can actually reduce waistlines remains to be seen.
The original meaning of the Chinese character for “tax” is “collecting rice.” It dates from the early days of agriculture. Since to tax, in effect, is to collect money by coercion without the promise of anything in exchange, it is not too far from being government-authorized violence. That’s why, despite everyone’s urge to evade them, no one can escape their tax obligations. “In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes,” grumbled Benjamin Franklin after an enormous stamp tax was levied on his writings.
Nowadays, the more ridiculous taxes have disappeared, and have been replaced by income, consumption and property taxes. Taxes are the standard that divide the modern age from the feudal one. Modern nations faithfully abide by the German economist Adolph Wagner’s major principles of taxes ― that they be general, that they be imposed fairly, and that they not take away a person’s fortune or seed money.
Recently, the government has been intent on controlling real estate prices by way of taxation. It plans to use the capital gains tax to pressure real estate owners who plan to sell their property, while using the property tax to pressure those who would be likely to wait it out. Perhaps this policy exists because the president specialized in tax matters as a lawyer. But taxes that conflict with reality cannot last. The effects are questionable, and what’s most worrisome is that, regardless of time or place, few governments that used taxation as a form of force have come to a good end.
by Lee Chul-ho
The writer is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.