Going to war isn't for everybody, as illustrated by the fact that all branches of the military are having a hard time reaching their recruitment quotas. Men even risked imprisonment by dodging the draft during the Vietnam War, figuring that sharing a cell with Stabby McGee was a far more enjoyable prospect than being shot at all day.
"Uh ... guys, I think I'm just going to sit this one out if you don't mind."
But there was a time when you could get out of your fighting duties just by paying a tax. Called scutage, it was levied on knights who refused to go to war. See, back in the Dark Ages the entire point of a knight was to fight for his king. That's why many of them were rewarded for their service, built big houses, married an important guy's daughter and basically started living the (relatively) cushy life of an aristocrat. But then some king would remind you that you only got to live that way because you (or more likely your grandfather) had been a great soldier. Never mind if you had serfs and children to be looking after -- if a war started, you had to be there.
Eventually, Henry II worked out that some knights were just not going to fight, or at least fight well, under this system and came up with an idea to let them pay a fine for being pansy asses afraid of a getting their heads chopped off in battle. This way the king could hire regular soldiers to fight for him who were much cheaper, enlarging his fighting force. For a while this worked quite well, even as the tax you had to pay to get out of fighting slowly got more expensive.
After a while, only a rare few could still afford it.
Then things fell apart. King John of Robin Hood fame, not remembered by history as one of the great monarchs, raised the tax again. This might have been fine, but he even started charging men this tax in years where no wars occurred. Now, we can understand having to pay for being a coward, but having to pay because the king didn't feel like going to war that season? That seems a bit much. The barons thought so too, and scutage was one of the main issues brought up in the Magna Carta they made John sign.
#2. Wigs and Hats
As ridiculous as we might think men in old portraits look wearing white curly wigs, for the rich, having a wig was a big deal back in the day. Fortunes were spent on buying them and keeping them nice. A lot of highway robbers weren't after the money or jewels people had, but the wigs, the most expensive thing they owned by far. They were so expensive that only the very rich could own one. So when the British government was looking for a way to fairly tax the rich more than the poor in the late 1700s, it decided to tax wigs and wig powder.
And we all know what happens to wigs without the powder.
However, the plan backfired when almost overnight the number of people who wore wigs, or even just powdered their natural hair, plummeted. The high tax effectively ended the fashion for wigs. But the government had an ace up its sleeve: the hat tax.
Oh, HELL no!
By the time the wig tax was levied, wigs were already considered a bit uncool, and mostly older men wore them. But hats were very cool. Even poor men owned hats, while the rich might own several very expensive ones. Therefore, the tax depended on the price of the hat you were buying, and boy, was the increase steep. Every hat sold had to be from a licensed retailer (like with alcohol today) so that the government knew it was getting its tax money. If you were stopped in the street and had to prove you'd paid the tax, you simply showed a stamp on the inside of your hat. So unlike those mattress tags that say, "Do not remove" but you do anyway, no one would remove the paper tag inside his hat.
While others never removed the actual hat.
Anyone caught not paying the hat tax was heavily fined. But the government was seriously not fucking around when it came to getting its money out of this. Anyone caught forging the stamps that proved the tax had been paid faced the death penalty if convicted. Holy shit!
And the forgeries weren't that hard to spot.
Most of the items on this list are from the olden days, but don't worry -- creative taxation is something that won't go away until the last nation disappears from the earth.
Probably not Germany.
For instance, obesity is becoming the plague of the modern world -- increased rates of diabetes and heart disease put a strain on health services, and those are strains that a lot of broke countries can't afford. So what to do if you and your neighbors let yourselves go a little too much? Tax you for it. The logical way to do this would be to increase taxes on fast food or sodas, but Japan went for a more literal approach and just straight-up taxes your extra inches.
Wait ... Japan? Literal? Isn't there something in the Bible about this?
Despite not being famed for its big-boned population, Japan got ahead of the game by refusing to let its citizens go the way of America and the U.K. It has started measuring the waists of all of its citizens over the age of 40 which is about 44 percent of all the people in the country. Men and women with waists larger than 35.5 inches will be given information on healthier eating and lifestyles. If after a few months they have not lost enough weight, they will be fined by the government.
And possibly forced to "stop doing crazy shit."
Technically, it isn't the individual being taxed. Companies and local councils are responsible for keeping their people in line, and in the end, they are the ones who actually pay the fine. And these aren't small fines, either; one company discovered it would be fined $19 million if none of its employees lost any weight. Since no company wants to lose money because of fat employees, the pressure to be slim is huge. Because that is obviously so much better for your stress level -- if you look like you're carrying a little extra weight, say goodbye to your job. Or maybe you suddenly find that all your neighbors are bullying you every time you so much as look at a dessert.
Fortunately, healthy options do come in Hello Kitty form.
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For more insane laws, check out 6 Laws That Were Great On Paper (And Insane Everywhere Else) and The 5 Most Popular Safety Laws (That Don't Work).
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