Monday, December 15, 2008

Lump-Sum Taxes / Poll Taxes / Head Taxes

An example of an extremely efficient tax is a lump-sum tax. A lump-sum tax is a tax that is the same monetary amount for every person. For example, a lump-sum tax might require every person to pay $50. The marginal tax rate of a lump-sum tax is equal to zero. If a person earns additional income, he or she does not pay any additional lump-sum tax. A lump-sum tax is very efficient because it does not reduce people’s incentive to work because the tax does not vary with their income. There is also very little administrative burden. The only records that need to be kept are whether each person has paid the tax. For example, the government does not need any information about a person’s income to levy a lump-sum tax.

Lump-sum taxes are also called poll taxes or head taxes because they have been imposed as a prerequisite for voting and are assessed per person (i.e., per head).

According to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, poll taxes were used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States by local governments in the former Confederacy and neighboring states as part of an effort to reestablish a society based on white supremacy :

Poll taxes required citizens to pay a fee to register to vote. These fees kept many poor African Americans, as well as poor whites, from voting. The poll tax receipt displayed here is from Alabama:

Denying black men the right to vote through legal maneuvering and violence was a first step in taking away their civil rights. Beginning in the 1890s, southern states enacted literacy tests, poll taxes, elaborate registration systems, and eventually whites-only Democratic Party primaries to exclude black voters.
The laws proved very effective. In Mississippi, fewer than 9,000 of the 147,000 voting-age African Americans were registered after 1890. In Louisiana, where more than 130,000 black voters had been registered in 1896, the number had plummeted to 1,342 by 1904.

Here is a poll tax receipt from Jefferson County, Louisiana in 1917:

It was not until January 23, 1964 that the ratification of the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution made it illegal to use poll taxes as a requirement for voting in federal elections.

Passed by Congress August 27, 1962. Ratified January 23, 1964.

Section 1.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.

Section 2.
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

See also: "Margaret Thatcher and the Lump-Sum Head or Poll Tax".


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