Thursday, December 9, 2010
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."
CBC's radio show Spark had a recent discussion of African E-Commerce (episode 130). Basically, individuals are increasingly using cel phones to conduct business transactions using texting services whereby they are able to communicate their inventories of goods, their demands for goods, and transfer funds between banks and individuals. Without cel phones, these transactions involved individuals traveling from village to village with their goods, incurring significant time costs while traveling between. These can be particularly high given that traveling to purchase some goods may require an individual to miss a day's wages. As such, cel phones serve the role of infrastructure in reducing the opportunity costs of engaging in transactions.
There are a lot of digital conveniences we take for granted in the Western world. Ok, let’s be honest and say we take most of them for granted. If we want something –anything– it is available at our fingertips. So what’s it like in places where the infrastructure still doesn’t exist to make those digital conveniences viable? Femi Akinde is the founder and CEO of Slimtrader, a company that is looking to change the way people in sub-Saharan Africa do business…all through their cell phones.