Oprah, Hagrid and Peter the Great Walk into an H&R Block
Who here knows who Oprah Winfrey is?
Ok … and who here looks at her and thinks, ‘taxes.’
Just me? No one else had their first experience paying a tax because of Oprah?
When I was in elementary school my parents had a little family meeting. Great news, everyone! We would be getting an allowance! I was ecstatic. I did then, and do now, love money. Imagine how many GI Joes I could get with an allowance!
(And I have a very young son at home, and am so glad to finally have an excuse to buy toys again.)
Anyway. My parents told us about the allowance, but … we had to do certain chores. Fine, fine, that’s fair.
My parents bust out a sheet and explained how the chores were age-appropriate things so my brother might mow the lawn while I would unload the dishwasher.
And, our allowance would be age-appropriate too. It was this simple equation where you take your age and … my dad probably explained but whatever. Just gimme the money.
‘And, of course, there will be taxes.’
‘Well, there’s the vacation fund tax, you have to contribute to the vacation fund. And there’s the cleaning supplies tax. You wouldn’t want to use that same vacuum all the time right, we need to get tax dollars to one day afford a new one.’
My folks learned about this oh so delightful way of teaching your kids about taxes from Oprah. Oprah! Sure Oprah, you can be a kind woman, an entrepreneur, an incredibly impressive business woman … but you’ll always be a tax to me.
Taxes! What an unappetizing topic. And, unfortunately, I’m not about to tell you how you can reduce them, or get out of them, or anything applicable. But, perhaps, at the end of my speech, you’ll know the answer to one or two Jeopardy questions.
And, if you’re an optimist, a bright side of life kind of person, you can think, ‘well at least that’s not happening to me’ when you hear about some of these taxes.
The first known tax was brought to us by the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. They had their tax collectors, known as scribes, go around DOOR TO DOOR. That’s upsetting, but wait, there’s more.
The scribes would travel around to audit Egyptian houses to ensure they were using an appropriate amount of cooking oil! AND! AND! That you weren’t using other leftover oils as a replacement for oil.
Oh, one more detail. The cooking oil was sold by a monopoly run by … the pharaoh. Rough, right?
Come April, when you are filing your taxes using software you downloaded nearly instantaneously … yes, it is painful, and yes, our tax code is absurdly difficult, but at least you’re doing your taxes, unperturbed, in your pajamas.
From that very first tax, which was an obvious way to make the pharaohs richer … there have been a number of taxes with interesting backgrounds. We are of course aware of special taxes that come up for schools, new stadiums, or the county wants to set aside more land for preservation.
But what about taxes for fashion? Peter the Great was not a fan of beards. While touring some of Western Europe he decided that he liked the clean-shaved look he was seeing in their courts, so he imposed a beard tax back in Russia. IF you wanted to continue to sport your beard you had to carry around a token showing you had paid your beard tax. This was part of his effort to ‘modernize’ Russia.
Britain has created a tax break for films that are … “culturally British.” Your film gets reviewed and scored on four categories: cultural content, cultural contribution, cultural hubs and cultural practitioners. The purpose of this is to preserve British culture. But you have to wonder … or at least, *I* have to wonder … Would Harry Potter count?
You need 16 points and you get four points if the film is set in the UK … which it sorta is. Four more if the film represents a diverse British culture … which it kinda does. And four points for original dialogue recorded mainly in English language. That’s twelve points right there for a fictional magical place full of Brits.
Last but not least, we’ll travel to our flatlander neighbors, Kansas. Kansas taxes sales of admissions for amusement services, or entertainment, or recreation. There is a federal law prohibiting states having fees and charges on airlines and other airport users. So, if you get in a hot air balloon but don’t go anywhere … you’re taxed.
I don’t know why you would get in a hot air balloon and just STAY there. But, maybe that’s an entertaining thing to do in Kansas. If you ask me, it all sounds like classic big balloon lobby in action.
What did we learn today?
Did we learn that we’re glad we aren’t ruled by Egyptian pharaohs? You probably already felt that way, but if not, welcome to the club. They did worse things than tax, you know.
Did we learn that Hagrid will get a break in England, but be taxed if he ever goes to Russia?
Did we learn that Oprah is evil? I wouldn’t go that far, but you can if you’d like. And now, for the worst impression of Oprah you’ll ever see, I’d just like to invite everyone to look under their seats because … YOU GET A TAX! AND YOU GET A TAX!