The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Window Tax

I was in Montpelier, France a few days ago. It’s a beautiful town with typical European history of serial conquests dating back to the early middle ages. It’s also a town that in more recent centuries was built on the Parisian model with the same look as Paris—large public squares, lots of fountains and arches, and remarkably “Parisian architecture.

As we walked through the narrow side streets, I noted something odd. Windows were painted on the sides of building, sometimes next to or below one or two actual windows. Most of those building dated back to the 1500s and the painting looked quite weather worn. I also noticed that many of the newer window frames were placed inside a space that appeared to have be bricked up earlier. I assumed that the bricking was just a latter day architectural correction so that the newer window frame could be installed.

I asked the person I was with about all of this, and he responding without hesitation.

“Oh,” he said, “all of that was because of the ‘window tax.’ “

“Window tax?” I asked, confused.

“Yes,” said the Frenchman, “in the early 1800s, the government taxed windows – it was a property tax. So instead of installing actual windows, people painted them on the sides of houses and in some cases, bricked up existing windows so their taxes would be lower.”

So, the French government, in its desire to raise money, decided that light and air (or at least interior access to it) was a taxable commodity. Of course in taxing that commodity, the result was (as it always is) the availability of less of it.

The tax was repealed in the early 1900s and immediately, windows were added to many houses. The paintings of windows remained.

There’s a lesson for American in all of this. The current majority party is a big, big fan of taxation. Part of this fascination with taxes is due to the profligate spending and subsequent debt that has occurred over the past five years. But I think much of it is ideological. In the name of “fair share,” Barack Obama and the majority of the democratic party think that taxes (especially on the rich) are a very good thing.

Here’s the problem. The window tax began as a way to tax large houses built by the rich—an effort that was similar to “fair share.” But it applied to much more modest houses of tradesmen and others. The tax reduced their access to light and air.

The current income tax structure, along with myriad other taxes instituted by this president are sold in the name of “fair share” as well. But in reality, the taxes quickly drift downward to affect not only the rich, but the comfortable, and then the middle class.

The result? When you tax something, you get less of it. Fewer jobs, fewer business start-ups, less investment, less, less, less … You get bricked up windows of opportunity, of growth. And those windows must be open if the Middle Class (you know, the ‘folks’ who Barack Obama claims to care so much about) are to have better lives.