Who would’ve thought there could ever be anything funny about tax? Though it may be the most mind-numbing thing you have to do all year, the history behind your tax return is fascinating and filled with many bizarre stories and amusing facts.
Get set for six strange tax facts even the best tax accountant probably doesn’t know:
1. The Russian beard tax
In an attempt to present a more clean-cut image of Russia, Peter the Great introduced a beard tax. Beards were perfectly legal still, you just had to pay the tax man if you wanted to have one. To prove he’d paid his tax, a bearded man would have to carry a special beard token. The beard tax was laid down in 1698 and lasted the better part of a century, ending in 1772.
2. The Japanese whisky tax
Japan imposed an interesting tax on whisky that didn’t go by the bottle or case but by the alcohol percentage of any given product. To avoid paying the tax, many Japanese whisky producers just diluted their whisky. This is a little like stacking up a bunch of deductions to get your taxable income down a bracket, and they weren’t doing anything wrong, at least not according to tax law. Stefan van Eycken, author of Whisky Rising: The Definitive Guide to the Finest Whiskies and Distillers of Japan, described the laws in question to Bloomberg in a 2019 interview. He said, “If they were any looser, you’d be able to sell tap water as Japanese whisky.”
3. The ancient Roman pee tax
The ancient Romans were an unusual bunch. They were quite enamoured with urine due to its ammonia content, using it to do everything from cleaning their clothes to whitening their teeth. Pee came to be such a high-demand product that, even though we all produce our own supply, a tax was levied on its trade. It was Nero who first imposed the tax, but his successor, Vespasian, who got the most memorable moment out of it. His son complained about the awful stench, and Vespasian replied, Pecunia non olet” (“money doesn’t stink”).
4. Argentina’s bachelor tax
In the early 1900s, Argentina had a “bachelor tax” which meant any unmarried man had to quite literally pay a tax on his lack of luck in the romance department. Being the fair and understanding institution that it was, the government offered tax breaks to men who had made a proposal but been turned down.
To qualify, a man had to submit a signed declaration from the woman who’d rejected him. Of course, humans being humans, this led to many schemes in which women would agree ahead of time to reject bogus proposals of marriage just so the single lad could claim the deduction on his taxes.
5. ABBA’s clever tax strategy
In 2014, famous Swedish band ABBA admitted that there was a reason they always wore such outlandish costumes, and it wasn’t because they wanted to fit in at Eurovision. No, we have Sweden’s tax laws to thank for those memorable, sparkly outfits.
Under the Swedish tax laws applicable in the 1970s, the band could deduct the cost of their outfits if they were 100% work-related. In other words, if it was clear that they couldn’t also be worn as everyday clothes out in public, then they could be deducted from their tax returns.
Who would’ve thought taxes were at the heart of so many entertaining stories? Keep these strange tales in mind this tax season, and make sure you get your tax return filed before the deadline!