With taxes being big news on both sides of the Atlantic, from the Tories’ major u-turn on their proposed raise in NI contributions for self-employed people, to the continued questions over Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, we should take a look at taxes.
Tax forms a major part of the proper functioning of a modern society. As the saying goes, nothing is certain but death and taxes, and the same is true in your fictional world. As we’ve already looked at death (twice), it’s time to take a look at tax.
We often think of taxation being simply a modern invention. Something created in the last few hundred years in order to support the vast and complex bureaucracy and welfare systems which characterise modern developed countries. However, taxation is actually as old as civilisation itself, and tax records from Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt have been discovered which date back almost five thousand years.
This makes sense; cities are not merely collections of privately owned buildings. They require public buildings and infrastructure, law and order, health and sanitation, and so on, and these must be paid for. On a wider scale, any society where lords, barons and kings wage war must find a way to pay for them somehow. Accordingly, no world in which people live among one another can be a world without taxes.
Zin clenched his teeth as the Requisitor made his way steadily down the line. A second tithe in six months? The war must be going terribly.
“No!” Addy yelled, breaking from the line. “I’ve paid my tithe once, you’ve no right to take it again!”
The Requisitor’s expression didn’t change as two guards seized Addy from behind and dragged him back towards the line. “On the contrary. The Bloodlord’s armies are severely depleted. Your liege demands your contribution.”
Addy’s face drained of blood, the haunted look on the older man’s face faded to one of resignation. “Kill me, then,” he whispered. “The visions, the Glimpses… I can’t…”
Zin shuddered. The tithe he could cope with. The searing pain as the Requisitor sliced away part of his soul. That was at least over quickly. And it tended to dull itself.
The Glimpses, though… the view into those vile creatures given life by his fragmented soul… those were the true horrors.
“I will not,” the Requisitor said. “You have many tithes left to pay.”
We can see here a society whose leader demands a specific tax paid in order to support an ongoing war. Rather than make their payment in money, however, the Bloodlord requires payment in fragments of his subjects’ souls.
The idea of a “tithe” (usually one tenth of one’s production) being paid to religious or government bodies is a very old one, mentioned in the Old Testament and with references discovered dating back to ancient Babylon. In the European Mediæval context in which it is often used in western fantasy, it refers to the contribution paid by feudal serfs to the church, and later directly to the local feudal lord and the crown.
Other older forms of tax include scutage (a payment in lieu of military service, effectively a way to buy your way out of an obligation to fight) and tallage (a land use tax paid by tenant serfs to the king or lord).
Baynden watched as half of his constructor drones were loaded onto the transport. How long was it going to take this time? He pulled out his dataslab and examined the figures. With the amount he’d built over the last six months, he’d be lucky to see the things again.
This damned government. What the hell was wrong with making your own colony a better place to live? Constantly holding back the richer colonies so the poor ones can catch up didn’t make a lick of sense.
He shot a grimace at Caren, herself looking on in annoyance as the government took a dozen of her growbots. No doubt for some famine-ridden hellhole and the people stupid enough to live there.
“Goddamn stupid, isn’t it?” Caren said. “Getting in the way every damn time.”
Baynden smiled. “Know what I reckon? It’s the Earthers making damn sure nobody winds up stronger’n them. Yoking all the colonies together so’s we can only move as fast as the slowest.”
Caren nodded. “Likely true. Earth’s just jealous they’ve got noplace left to build and farm.”
Baynden smiled. “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink. Government ain’t got it’s hands on that yet.”
We see here a society where automated production is apparently the only real type of wealth. Rich colonies have many robots ready to build and farm and produce goods, while poor colonies seemingly have few. Accordingly, the taxation system here requires a mandatory period of requisition by the government, for redeployment in poor areas.
What we see here is an attitude toward taxation, which we can assume to be common in wealthy colonies; the feeling that the whole system is unfair and stacked against them. They feel that this taxation system doesn’t benefit them in any way, and so the assumption is that it is simply the central Earth government protecting its own interests by crippling competitors.
However, the central government’s aims with this taxation system might well be benefiting them in ways they don’t realise; by ensuring a broadly equal development of colonies, they are avoiding a situation where colonists all swamp the wealthy colonies, overwhelming their infrastructure, while poorer colonies are left desolate. They may be seeking to provide maximum returns on investment, as more developed economies are more productive. They may be ensuring peace and stability by quelling flames of rebellion or civil war.
Any government needs to have the resources in order to function, which must be provided for by general taxation. Have you considered how taxation might work in your fictional society, and how the needs and rules of your fictional world might inform it?