Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

In the current financial predicament, everyone seems much keener to cut government spending than raise taxes.

This is most unimaginative.

Various emperors invented all sorts of novel taxes to swell their coffers. Caligula (emperor AD 37-41) taxed prostitutes and ready-cooked (=fattening? ) food, and charged a levy on the sums of money at stake in court cases. At one stage there appears to have been a surcharge on the price of gladiators (=soccer transfers? ) supplied for the games. Who would not raise a cheer for any of these?

But far more effective psychologically was the ancient Greek invention of hypothecation - raising taxes targeted on specific ends. In Athens, wealth was judged on property, and one such tax was the annual leitourgia ('liturgy'), when the 300 richest men underwrote specific public projects, e. g. state dramatic festivals (when tragedies and comedies were staged in open competition with each other) and the running costs of the navy. The other tax was irregular, and levied only during emergencies, usually war. Again, this tax was imposed only on a selected few, the 6,000 wealthiest Athenians. …

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