y dear readers it seems almost yearly that this publication gets bombarded with questions regarding tax reform and how that relates to land management and titles. While I cannot comment on the current Nirathi tax system or on any plans to reform the system I present to you a selection of systems of taxation that have been used in our ancient past, are used now both within and without Nirath and have been proposed for use in the future.
((This is a look at various modern and historical forms of taxation and how they might (and might not) work in Chronicles of Elyria))
No one would deny that a ruler has the right to raise revenue from his subjects. This revenue may be used for many things, from supporting the ruler and his line to infrastructure and defence projects to simply paying taxes to more senior rulers. What many people debate are the forms that such taxation should take, should the more productive be taxed more than the indolent? Should merchants, adventurers and vagabonds pay for the upkeep of the roads they use, or should the burden fall upon the communities those roads connect?
Land taxes are a fairly simple form of taxation to understand and target landholders. These landholders pay their feudal lords a fee every taxation period as part of their responsibilities as landholders. Land taxes come in two general types, Fixed and Variable, these types can be further subdivided into many sub-types of which only a few more common sub-types will be mentioned here. In general, land taxes tend to fall more heavily on the gentry and aristocracy than any other class.
In fixed land taxation (often called tallage, or gelt) the lord levies a uniform fee on every parcel of land within his domain with the landholder of each parcel paying the same per parcel. This fee can be collected either for a specific purpose, for example, defence, or for the lord’s general treasury. There are many arguments about how fair or unfair tallage is, on one hand, every landholder is paying the same fee for each parcel, on the other hand, it does not take into account the intrinsic value of the land meaning those who hold intrinsically poorer land are inherently treated harshly compared to those who hold intrinsically richer land. This tax is very simple and is best for those who don’t want to have the paperwork of variable taxation or those who are removed from their subjects.
One of the recent proposals for tax reform that I have seen in other kingdoms is that kings or dukes set a base tax rate for their immediate vassals that is dependant on the number of parcels within the vassal’s domain. This can allow these rulers to determine a basic budget quickly and efficiently though it doesn’t take into account situational variables
Variable land taxation assesses the worth of the land either by land value or by usage and assigns a fee. Variable land taxation is often seen as an attempt to make land tax fairer, though it has several attendant issues, not least of which is a requirement for a bureaucracy to keep track of the varying land rates.
Value-based land tax is when a parcel is taxed based upon either the inherent value of the land or upon the value of any improvements to the land. While this can seem fair, and in some ways is, value-based land tax disincentivises landowners from improving their land and penalises those who purchase later (when land values have risen). This can create in the long term an economic slowdown as landowners make minimal improvements for fear of being taxed. It is common for commercial or industrial buildings to be more heavily taxed than residential or agricultural.
Usage-based land tax, often called rent, is when a parcel is taxed based upon its primary usage. This tax is more generally used as a form of encouraging or discouraging the construction of certain types of building to ensure that the needs of the lord are met as well as the needs of the individual landowner. As with value-based tax, this can create an economic slowdown as landowners are discouraged from diversifying industries but it can create economic growth if used correctly by encouraging new industries and industrial specialisation. Within settlements, a usage-based land tax can also be applied to the occupiers of individual buildings allowing for a difference in rates between essential and non-essential services.
Fixed taxes are the most simple form of tax, a lord levies a fee directly upon his vassals in order to meet his budgetary requirements. Generally, fixed taxes are the domain of kings and dukes whose list of direct vassals is much smaller. There are a few different types of fixed tax, the most common of which I will mention here:
Scutage is perhaps the most common of the fixed taxes. Scutage is a fee paid by a vassal to their lord in lieu of military service, this tends to be to the benefit of the vassal as it allows them to focus solely on their profession without being required for periods of service. One proposal that I’ve seen is for a duke to require a certain amount of manpower from each of his counties or payment in kind through scutage, whether this would work more efficiently than pure scutage has yet to be seen.
The inward, or inguard is closely related to scutage and is a tax levied by the king on a county to pay for the provision of guards for the Royal Household during a royal visit to the county. Generally, this is commuted when there is no royal visit planned or is used as a regular tax to provide for the county sheriff.
A poll tax, sometimes called chevage, is a flat tax levied against every adult within a domain or settlement. Historically unpopular amongst the lower orders as they target everyone equally regardless of wealth or income poll taxes are nonetheless a viable way of ensuring that the burden of taxation does not fall disproportionately on the wealthy. Poll taxes work particularly well within settlements as a means to pay for services the entire settlement uses.
Feudal Aids are specific fixed taxes that are levied on a lord’s vassals for specific events as determined by contract and tradition. Examples of feudal aids are to pay for the lord’s eldest son’s knighting ceremony or to pay the lord’s ransom. These taxes are slowly falling out of favour but are occasionally seen in more traditional counties.
Project-based taxes are taxes levied upon a lord’s vassals for the completion of a specific project. Usually, this is to complete a specific infrastructure or communal building task, such as paving a new road or construction of a courthouse. Commonly done at the settlement level and rarely imposed by the nobility project based taxes are one of the staples of modern Elyrian taxation.
Proportional sometimes called scot and lot, taxes are taxes assigned by a lord to his vassals as a proportion of the total needed. This is most commonly applied by the nobility on each other and on the aristocracy and forms the basis of a fair amount of high-level taxation throughout Elyria.
Personal taxes are those taxes that target the individual rather than the group and are variable in nature. Like all variable taxes, personal taxes require a bureaucracy to keep track of the variations.
Income taxes are taxes applied as a variable proportion of income. Most income taxes are as a fixed percentage, whereupon they’re called tithes, but occasionally those who earn more pay a greater proportion of their wealth. Income taxes are rarely efficient as there is no incentive to correctly report income unless there is an unwieldy and costly bureaucracy to enforce correct reporting.
Services taxes are taxes based on services that the taxpayer believes they might use in the period coming, or in some cases used in the period previous. Most often found in settlements services taxes are a fair way to fund non-critical settlement services that not everyone uses such as certain wells, safety nets or emergency services. One of the more interesting proposals that I have seen in recent years includes applying a tax in exchange for voting or speaking rights within a settlement, this is interesting because it allows those who are interested in politics to show their commitment while allowing those disinterested to avoid penalty.
Variable proportional taxes are similar to proportional taxes in that a lord assigns a proportion of the total needed to his vassals. The difference is that rather than dividing the sum equally he assigns different proportions to his vassals based on, whim, ability to pay or a myriad of other factors. This has benefits and disadvantages over a fixed proportional system as it allows more control over income, but can be perceived as unfair particularly by those who shoulder a greater share of the tax burden.
Merchet and Leywrite
Increasingly rare, Merchet is a variable tax on marriage while Leywrite is a variable tax on giving birth out of wedlock. In theory, these, percentage-based, taxes represent the loss of labour to the lord during the birth and raising of a child, where they still exist they are purely nominal.
Monopoly rights are taxes that grant the right to a monopoly, or letter patent, on goods or services to the payee. Common within many larger towns guilds can pay a variable amount, usually a proportion of their income, in order for the right to be the only supplier of a good or service within the settlement. In smaller settlements, this is occasionally done with semi-vital services, such as milling or baking but tends to have a long term effect on economic growth. Monopoly rights are occasionally issued by kings and nobility but the larger the area to which the monopoly applies the harder it is to enforce.
Wealth taxes are taxes that target, nominally at least, ostentatious displays of wealth. These taxes tend to fall more heavily on the nobility and aristocracy but are generally efficient moneymakers, at least within settlements. The main disadvantage of wealth taxes is that if it becomes too heavy, or if it becomes cheaper to move to a lower tax jurisdiction a significant amount of ‘capital flight’ occurs as the wealthy move their assets from the areas of high taxation to the areas of low taxation.
Reliefs or heriots are taxes issued by a lord to their vassals in order that the vassal might inherit their ancestor’s land and titles. Typically nobility and aristocracy pay reliefs while gentry and peasantry pay heriots. The rates of reliefs vary wildly but heriots tend to be similar, the so-called ‘best beast’ or monetary equivalent.
Escheat is a tax upon families with no designated heirs, or on those who commit offences that allow their lord to seize their assets. It is a total wealth tax in which the entire assets of the deceased or criminal default to their lord who may keep it or distribute it at will.
Fifteenths and Tenths
Fifteenths and tenths are taxes on moveable wealth. Originally named for the varying rate of taxation, one-fifteenth the value in the country and in smaller settlements and one-tenth the value of the goods the rates are variable with the ruler and are in many areas not collected at all. Taxes on moveable wealth are generally fairly hard to assess accurately, as many people hide their wealth but can provide a reasonably profitable means of taxation.
A less obvious wealth tax is the so-called window tax. The window tax is a tax applied based on the number of windows or floors of a building upon its residents. Seemingly a simple tax this tends to be unevenly applied and leads to architectural styles deliberately designed to avoid taxation.
Tolls and Tariffs
Tolls and tariffs are fairly common ways for rulers to generate income. The primary difference between the two is that tolls tend to be fixed while tariffs tend to be variable and are usually percentage based. Depending on the nature of the toll or tariff they are notoriously difficult to account for totally, and evasion is rife.
Import and Export Duties
Import and export duties typically only apply at a kingdom level though in the past some duchies and counties have implemented similar policies. With import duties, foreign goods entering the country, usually at ports, are taxed either according to the good in question or as part of a general tariff. Export duties are much rarer and generally only applied to strategic goods that the kingdom doesn’t wish exported. These duties are either fixed as a toll per weight or carriage or tariffed as a percentage, usually between five and ten per cent, of the worth of the goods.
Pavages or road tolls are tolls applied to road users and are typically applied at narrow chokepoints along the roadway. Like most infrastructure tolls these are fairly profitable if used wisely and enforced well, though in many cases the infrastructure of enforcement can become more costly than the original infrastructure.
Easier to collect than pavages, pontages or bridge tolls are usually applied per leg or per wheel on those using the bridge to cross. While officially used for the maintenance of the bridge some more unscrupulous rulers find it an effective way of making a profit.
Murages or gate tolls are tolls paid at the gate of a walled settlement for entry into the settlement. Like pontages, these tolls are usually applied per leg or per wheel and are designed to contribute towards the maintenance of the walls of the town, and the payment of the town’s militia.
Stallage is a toll paid by merchants for the right to set up a stall or shopfront within a settlement. These tolls are usually comparative to the area of stall or shopfront that the merchant wishes to own. In many cases, stallage is waived for residents of the settlement or for merchants bringing much-needed supplies.
Lastage is a toll paid by travellers and merchants for the right to store goods within a settlement. These tolls are usually comparative to the mass of the goods being stored and like stallage are often waived for residents and merchants bringing much-needed supplies.
Moorage is a toll paid by owners or operators of boats and ships for the right to moor at a settlement’s harbour. Moorage is usually determined by the length of the vessel and is nominally for the maintenance of the harbourfront.
We conclude with a discussion on how taxes are collected. In many domains, officials in the employ of the local ruler collect taxes on behalf of the ruler. Settlements have officials that collect for themselves and the count, counts have officials that collect for themselves and the duke and so on. This includes assessment where such is due and guards who enforce duties and tolls. For some, a guaranteed income is more vital so they sell the rights to collect taxes to private enterprises for a fixed periodic sum. This carries very little risk to the ruler, though tax farmers who overcharge too much can cause revolts, but is risky for the tax farmer who has little recourse in years of poor trade and bad harvests.