Thursday, December 9, 2010

Taxation for Cultural Change

Now that the month of Movember is over, I thought I would post some interesting evidence on the use of taxation to achieve cultural change.

In 1705, Peter I of Russia implemented a tax on beards: Individuals who wore beards were required to pay a levy and, as evidence of having paid the tax, had to wear
a copper or silver token with a Russian Eagle on one side and on the other, the lower part of a face with nose, mouth, whiskers, and beard. It was inscribed with two phrases: "the beard tax has been taken" and "the beard is a superfluous burden".
Whatever you may think of beards and mustaches as aesthetic facial hair, Peter had his reasons. He was particularly interested in increasing trade and political interactions with the rest of Europe, much of whom viewed Russia as archaic. To try and change this perception:

Peter ordered his noblemen to wear fashionable Western clothes instead of their archaic long costumes. To add insult to injury, Peter personally cut off the beards of his noblemen. All men except the peasants and priests had to pay Peter's yearly beard tax and wear a medal proclaiming, "Beards are a ridiculous ornament."

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