chapter  9
23 Pages

Taxing the Polluter

Since the beginning of civilization, tax codes have been both artifacts and instruments of history. Just about the earliest snapshots we have of the birth of writing, numbers, and money-5,000-year-old clay tablets unearthed in Iraq-appear to have recorded tax payments. Like the priest-kings of ancient Sumeria who extracted crop surpluses from farmers to support their cities, latter-day legislators have relied on effective taxation to maintain government power and stability, and thus to preserve civilization. Rulers' overriding concern has almost always been to perform the unpopular act of taxation with the least risk to their own careers. "The art of taxation consists of plucking the goose so as to get the most feathers with the least hissing," observed

Jean Baptiste Colbert, the finance minister charged with keeping Louis XIV's opulent court afloat.1