Sunday, May 20, 2018

Income Tax in Jane Austen’s Time

From Austen Authors:
The tax structure in Jane Austen’s time was far more complex because it was applied to well, just about EVERYTHING. From windows greater than 6 in a building to how many servants an estate employed to mail to anything purchased and even carriages and horses! Despite the high number of taxes, there was interest in levying taxes in a fair manner. For example, take the window tax. The window tax began in 1695 to help compensate for people clipping coins. This is a complicated situation, back then coins were often weighed, not counted. So what people could do was clip just a tiny bit of an edge so the weight would be within the deviation of the scale (we’re not talking digital precision here). Then you take those clippings, melt them down, and press a counterfeit coin with the King’s mark. It would be like if you could tear a little corner off a dollar bill today, take all of those bits and glue them together and print what could pass as a legitimate bill today.

It sounds absurd to tax someone based on how many windows they have, but in 1695, only the rich had more than 6 windows. If you were poor and living in a small cottage, you might only have 3 or 4 windows. And therefore, no tax. But eventually, taxes did creep down to affect the working classes. And it was controversial that taxes went to pay for the poor. We learned at JASNA’s AGM from scholars there that in Jane Austen’s time there was a gross discrimination against the poor as being in such a state from a defect in morality. We can still see these attitudes in modern times when discussions come up about welfare and social programs. Some things, never change. (Read more.)

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