Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cloth for Taxes

It’s Tax Time!

I don’t think there is anything that inspires more dread than filing tax forms, unless it is an envelope from the IRS with an audit notification inside.

Face it!  Taxes have been around forever and aren’t about to go away anytime soon.

There are many examples in textile history about cloth used as tax payments as far back as the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.  I thought I would share a few examples from other cultures with you today.

In Hawaii, before the islands were “discovered” by westerners, commoners worked the land owned by their chief and paid taxes to both their local chief and the king.  Tax payments were in the form of food and clothing.

In China (500BCE-1500 CE) taxes levied on each household were paid in grain and cloth, one bushel of grain equaled one bolt of cloth.  The state levied taxes in “new textile” (cotton) which was grown in the north.  The raw cotton was sent to the south to be made into cloth and re-exported back north where taxpayers bought the cloth to pay their taxes.

In 17thC Spanish Peru cloth was the most valuable commodity.  It was used as a form of currency and for the payment of taxes.

One of the most interesting tax stories I have read comes from Korea in the late 1600’s.  It seemed Korea faced a problem with the minting of coins for their cash currency, which was used for personal and government debts.  Somehow the principle of a monetary economy was somewhat lacking and the minting of coins became so rampant that the people started melting the coins for the base metal itself.  In other sectors, the coins were hoarded as they were expected to increase in worth beyond their face value. For centuries cloth had been used as a tax payment, now with “cash” as the acceptable form a serious problem arose when certain citizens were unable to pay in “cash” if they couldn’t sell their crops for a reasonable return..  This started a political debate about whether cloth or cash were preferable.  It went so far, that in 1726 a proposal to eliminate cash for taxes and reinstate cloth or grain was instituted, however this lasted only a short while and was discontinued some six months later. (probably after everyone used their cash to purchase cloth, as in ancient China).

So, I guess I should be grateful that I can file electronically, use my credit card to pay the damages (while gaining air miles) and not have to worry about spinning, weaving and sewing my payment.

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