Tabs on Writing

The Business of Business Writing by John Tabellione, Principal at

A Taxonomy of Taxes

Date: 14 April 2010
Category: Holidays

Thursday, April 15th, is when we have to pay our income tax,  a day of reckoning, a taxing time to say the least. People take various tacks when addressing their fiscal responsibilities: some will file at midnight; others may take a 3-month extension; 47% don’t have to pay any federal income taxes. Then there are those of us who have filed on time whether we owe or are owed.

While U.S. citizens have being paying income taxes since the 16th Amendment was passed in 1913, it is noteworthy to take a brief look at the history and classification of taxation:

The Pharoahs of ancient Egypt actually levied a tax on cooking oil. The Athenians raised taxes to support their war efforts, but were magnanimous enough to rescind the tax when a war ended. If their plundering was successful, they even sent refunds to its citizens.

The Romans somewhat perfected tax assessments: Augustus Caesar established a 1% sales tax as well as a 5% inheritance tax. Hence, we have “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s…” The good news was that Matthew, the Apostle, who was a local tax collector employed by the Romans, eventually saw the Light and quit his day job.

The old saying about death and taxes was kicked up a notch during the Middle Ages when taxation by the various kings was already oppressive and often led to deadly revolts.

The coroner’s office originally acted as tax collector since that official was mainly responsible in those days for maintaining all legal records. After the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 the coroner would investigate all deaths – if it was a Norman, he would levy a tax on the community unless they could confirm that the corpse was that of a non-Norman. While that particular tax ended in 1340, these practices are why the coroner’s office to this day is responsible for inquiring into sudden, suspicious or violent deaths.

Today we have so many taxes, if you ride in a cab driven by a person who formerly stuffed the skins of animals, you have to pay the taxidermist taxi tax. Ouch – that hurt as much as sitting on thumb tacks!

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