Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Article excerpt

Now that Philip Hammond is promising yet more tax hikes, he might consider how Athens managed it.

During the whole period of their direct democracy (which ended in 323 BC), the decision-making assembly was dominated by the poor. Their empire made Athens a wealthy place, and the poor ensured that wealth came their way, not that of the rich, in forms such as payment for jury service, rowing the triremes (which kept the empire together) and much more.

Meanwhile, tax was paid only by the rich. The 300 top richest every year paid property taxes to, for example, construct and maintain Athens' triremes and fund state festivals for public enjoyment. Neither came cheap: to subside the Dionysia (a major drama and song festival), one would be paying for the training of no fewer than 1,165 men and boys for months on end. In the case of war, a tax was levied on the top 6,000. Consequently, Greeks admired those who kept their money intact: it meant the level of state support did not drop.

So what was in it for the very rich? The key is that the 300 did not give their taxes to the state. …

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