Tax Analysts Blog

To Balance the Budget: Tax Sex Appeal

Posted on Apr 29, 2013
Sometimes it is said all philosophy is a footnote to Plato. Perhaps it should also be said that all political satire is a footnote to the Irish clergyman Jonathan Swift. In his many works, Swift unmercifully challenges the status quo with unsurpassed wit and humor. Though they have just as much raw material, modern political writers hardly come close.

In 1726 Swift published Gulliver’s Travels. We all have heard about Gulliver travelling among little people (Lilliputians) and giants (Brobdingnagians). But less well known is Swift's idea on how to raise government revenue. In Chapter 6 of Book 3 he suggests that we tax individuals on their sex appeal and good looks, not according to some unbiased opinion of judges or experts, but according to their own subjective assessment of those qualities.

Although it goes unsaid by Swift, to make this tax work would require public disclosure. Nobody would want to be low-tax. That would not look good on your facebook page. Enforcement would be no problem. People would gladly pay. The federal Treasury would be overflowing with funds from a nation of egotistical self-promoters. Of course, to pass the tax Congress would have to overcome the opposition of the cosmetic and health club industries.

For those who are interested, here is the full quote from Gulliver’s Travels:

    I heard a very warm debate between two professors, about the most commodious and effectual ways and means of raising money, without grieving the subject. The first affirmed, "the justest method would be, to lay a certain tax upon vices and folly; and the sum fixed upon every man to be rated, after the fairest manner, by a jury of his neighbours." The second was of an opinion directly contrary; "to tax those qualities of body and mind, for which men chiefly value themselves; the rate to be more or less, according to the degrees of excelling; the decision whereof should be left entirely to their own breast." The highest tax was upon men who are the greatest favourites of the other sex, and the assessments, according to the number and nature of the favours they have received; for which, they are allowed to be their own vouchers. Wit, valour, and politeness, were likewise proposed to be largely taxed, and collected in the same manner, by every person's giving his own word for the quantum of what he possessed. But as to honour, justice, wisdom, and learning, they should not be taxed at all; because they are qualifications of so singular a kind, that no man will either allow them in his neighbour or value them in himself.

    The women were proposed to be taxed according to their beauty and skill in dressing, wherein they had the same privilege with the men, to be determined by their own judgment. But constancy, chastity, good sense, and good nature, were not rated, because they would not bear the charge of collecting.

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