Category: World Building

Taxes Cont’d – It’s a Real World Thing

Last time we explored why you should get excited about taxes. Because you want to be an accountant! Really though, it’s another way to craft and build your world and ask all those questions of “why are things the way they are?” The real world is a great place to steal ideas so let’s take a look at that! We played in China last time, and continuing the vein of ancient civilizations: Ancient Egypt and it’s original Pharaoh system. Back in those days, there wasn’t even a concept like currency; instead people traded in goods, and, in most cases, back then food was money. Literally! The Pharaoh directly oversaw a number of farmers whose yearly harvest was taxes (the dreaded harvest tax).!

This grew out of a system where a main leader controlled the farmland. But as the number of citizens grew, so did the administrative burden, to the point where nobles controlled other farmland and these estates instead paid an income tax (a harvest tax). As the wealthy grew more powerful and farmland more numerous, it became increasingly difficult to assess farmland properly and so there came to be a new tax levied on people; the wealth tax. It was easy to march inspectors into an estate and evaluate its holding and then tax based on someone’s wealth; because who knew what their income might have been? But the finer points, like hiding your wealth, became common and so you can imagine a setting there might have these little tidbits crop up (someone may purchase very fanciful furniture and then have storage spaces to hide it during tax time).

Tax Time!

It’s that time of the year again: Taxes. But, you know what’s more fun than doing taxes? Designing a taxation system for your setting! It’s all the rage these days in world building.

Why design a tax system at all? It needs extreme detail, but think of it as exploring your world in a different way. Taxes are about history and it’s about goals. There’s lots of reasons for why something may be the way it is in your fantasy land and taxes are a way to show it happening.

Think about something in the real world. Let’s look at Yuan Dynasty, the imperial regime created by Kublai Khan to rule over much of what is now modern China. This was a vast empire and with a myriad of different people. It also had a centralized government which meant provinces had to pay enormous sums of silver to the government in Khanbaliq (Beijing). What to do with literally millions of tonnes of silver? Paper currency. Then, what of their primary source of income? Trade. Thus there were all sorts of merchant fees, tariffs and sales taxes.

Inspectors went out in hordes. China, like other nations back then, had an economy with a backbone in agrarian industries; this meant harvest taxes were still top priority. Gigantic barges full of grain were shipped north and south along the Grand Canal. You can imagine all of these little tidbits come about when a very large and epic setting. Agrarian economy with its harvest taxes. Urban economy with land and property taxes. How people might evade wealth taxes. There’s possible political slants to how taxes work; you can base outcomes on real historical use of a tax system or you can take something to the extreme as sci-fi likes to do.

It’s your world to explore… and tax.