Did William Petty (1623-1687) pioneer the carbon tax?

It is stable, easier to measure, hard to game “Of all the Accumulative Excizes, that of Harthmoney or Smoak-money seems the best; and that onely because the easiest, and clearest, and fittest to ground a certain Revenue upon; it being easie to tell the number of Harths, which remove not as Heads or Polls do: Moreover, ’tis more easie to pay a small Tax, then to alter or abrogate Harths, even though they are useless and supernumerary; nor is it possible to cover them, because most of the neighbours know them; nor in new Building will any man who gives forty shillings for making a Chimney be without it for two.”

2 comments so far

  1. Phil Gasper on

    It’s not really a carbon tax, though, at least if the rationale of such a tax is to reduce carbon emissions. Petty’s tax is simply a fireplace tax, presumably based on the assumption that number of fireplaces is an indicator of wealth. The idea is not to reduce the number of fireplaces, as his last sentence makes clear.

    I don’t know if such a tax was ever introduced in England, but there was, famously, a window tax in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which led to the widespread phenomenon of bricked-up windows. So perhaps, despite Petty’s claim that “’tis more easie to pay a small Tax, then [sic] to alter or abrogate Harths,” a fireplace tax would have had a similar result, in which case it might have been a carbon tax in effect if not in intention.

  2. mperelman on

    Phil is correct, but I did not mean that he intended it as a carbon tax. Nonetheless, his reasoning is identical to the logic behind the current preference for a carbon tax rather than a cap and trade.

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