13 April 2011
One reason taxes may have been lower in the past

Because if the state taxed the people any more they would starve.  And when people are in danger of starving they get rebellious.

I read somewhere (and it could be true) that as recently as 1900 50% of household incomes went on food.

PermalinkFeedback (4)Economics


  1. Is it true that starving people are more rebellious?  I always thought uprisings happened when the peasants could afford them.

    Surely the important point is that people who have starved to death can’t pay taxes.

    Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 13 April 2011 at 09:50pm

  2. Are starving people more rebellious?  Not in the case of the Irish Famine but there was no tax increase there.  They were in the case of Germany towards the end of the First World War.  I believe there was quite a lot of low-level rebellion in Ukraine in the 1930s.  So, perhaps.

    Fair point, though, about the consequences if they’re not rebellious.  Mind you if they’re dead it’s much easier to seize their assets.  Wonder if that’s ever been tried?  To Hell or Connaught perhaps.  But that’s after a rebellion.

    More to the point, do states care if they’re starving their people?  Perhaps not.  But they will care if they’re not pulling in the taxes.

    Hmm, I’m rambling.

    Posted by Patrick Crozier on 14 April 2011 at 05:25pm

  3. Perhaps the question is why some states continue to starve their populations when it has become clear that is what they are doing and that tax revenues (or equivalent) are declining.  The common factor in the 20th century seems to be communism.  With the exception of Great War Germany.

    Posted by Patrick Crozier on 14 April 2011 at 05:29pm

  4. I think there has been a clear connection between rising food prices and civil unrest in quite a few instances in the last couple of years. I don’t think there is a lot of starvation, but if 50% of your income is spent on food and it goes up to 75% of your income, your “above subsistence” income halves. And that is a much bigger deal than if you go from spending 10% of your income on food to 15% on food.

    Posted by Michael Jennings on 15 April 2011 at 01:07am

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