Category Archives: Economics

Taxes: The Bad, The Ugly and the Absolutely Moronic

Russia's Peter the Great, 1672 - 1725

Russia's Peter the Great, 1672 - 1725

Fun Facts About Dumb, Annoying, Crazy or otherwise Controversial TAXES

BeardBeard Tax

To Shave or Not to Shave? Peter the Great taxed all (non-clergy) facial hair in 1705. As much as 90% of Peter the Great’s tax revenue used for military. (also taxed souls)

Facial Hair Tax

Massachusetts has a law on the books that makes it illegal to have a goatee without first purchasing a license to do so. A small fee must be paid in order to wear the facial hair in public, and one can be fined if a license is not presented to a law enforcement official upon request.

UrinalUrine Tax

Nero and Vespasian taxed collections from latrines. (used for textiles)

BribeBribe Tax

According to Page 87 of the IRS code, “if you receive a bribe, [you must] include it in your income.”

Mahatma GhandhiSalt Tax

Worth your weight in salt. 1930 Ghandhi’s first steps toward Indian Independence.

Ski Resort

Amusement Tax

In most states including Massachusetts and Virginia, is considered a tax on the patrons of places such as ski resorts, craft shows, and golf courses, but in reality is collected from the operators of such places. The government taxes the owners of places that offer “amusement” and in return those businesses pass the aforementioned taxes on to us.

Fountain sodaFountain Soda Drink Tax

Illinois has on record a tax rate on fountain drinks of 9 percent, as opposed to the standard sales tax of 3 percent.

Chinese take outTake-out Tax

Little did you know some areas levy a 0.5 percent tax on all take-out food. Chicago and Washington, D.C. both have enacted a tax on fast food, purportedly to pay for the removal of litter often accrued with the purchase of burgers and dogs. This tax applies to everything take-out, from your morning egg McMuffin to your late night cheese steak.

BlueberriesBlueberry Tax

In Maine, “anyone who grows, purchases, sells, handles, or processes the fruit in the state” makes those persons eligible for a ¾ cent per pound tax.

Playing cardsPlaying  Card Tax

Alabama has in place a 10 cent tax on the sale of all playing cards with 54 cards or less.

sparklerSparkler and Novelties Tax

West Virginia imposes a special fee on all businesses selling sparklers and other novelties. On top of the state’s 6 percent sales tax you can expect to pay an additional fee courtesy the state.

Illegal drugsIllegal Drug Tax

11 states in the U.S., including North Carolina and Nevada, tax citizens on possession of illegal drugs. After acquiring an illegal substance in North Carolina you are supposed to go to the Department of Revenue and pay a tax on it. In exchange, you will receive a stamp to affix to your drug which serves as evidence that a tax was paid.

NudityNudity Tax

In the State of Utah, taxpayers that own businesses where “nude or partially nude individuals perform any service” have to pay a 10% sales and use tax. It applies to all revenue from admission fees as well as the sales of merchandise, food, drink and services. These expenses are paid by the business owners who likely pass along the additional costs to their customers.

 

Special thanks to Huffington Post: A Dozen Dumb Taxes (from a compilation by Nick Sabloff)

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Criminal Justice, Economics, Entertainment, Food, Historical Events & Figures, Nature, Travel

Fort Knox: Gold Bullion Depository and Asset of the United States

Fort Knox

Fun Facts About Fort Knox

  • On June 28th, 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt authorized construction of the federal bullion depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky
  • Amount of present gold holdings: 147.3 million ounces.
  • The only gold removed has been very small quantities used to test the purity of gold during regularly scheduled audits. Except for these samples, no gold has been transferred to or from the Depository for many years.
  • The gold is held as an asset of the United States at book value of $42.22 per ounce.
  • The Depository opened in 1937; the first gold was moved to the depository in January that year.
  • Highest gold holdings this century: 649.6 million ounces (December 31, 1941).
  • Size of a standard gold bar: 7 inches x 3 and 5/8 inches x 1 and 3/4 inches.
  • Weight of a standard gold bar: approximately 400 ounces or 27.5 pounds.
  • Construction of the depository:
    Building materials used included 16,000 cubic feet of granite, 4,200 cubic yards of concrete, 750 tons of reinforcing steel, and 670 tons of structural steel.
    The cost of construction was $560,000 and the building was completed in December 1936.
  • In the past, the Depository has stored the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, three volumes of the Gutenberg Bible, and Lincoln’s second inaugural address.
  • In addition to gold bullion, the Mint has stored valuable items for other government agencies. The Magna Carta was once stored there. The crown, sword, scepter, orb, and cape of St. Stephen, King of Hungary also were stored at the Depository, before being returned to the government of Hungary in 1978.
  • The Depository is a classified facility. No visitors are permitted, and no exceptions are made.

 

Special thanks to www.usmint.gov 

Leave a comment

Filed under Economics, Historical Events & Figures, Travel

OPEC: Influential Oil Producing Cartel with “Diplomatic Immunity”

OPEC Cartel Logo

OPEC Cartel Logo

Fun Facts About OPEC

Members of OPEC meet

Members of OPEC meet

 

 

Current Members: Algeria, Angola, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela

Cartel: By definition, OPEC is a cartel — a group of producers which tries to restrict output in an effort to keep prices higher than the competitive level.

It no longer sets crude oil prices: OPEC admits to setting crude oil prices in the ‘70s and’ 80s — they would look ridiculous to try and deny it. However, the oil market underwent a transformation in the 1990s and today, prices for crude oil are established according to three markets: 1) The New York Mercantile Exchange; 2) The International Petroleum Exchange in London; and, 3) The Singapore International Monetary Exchange.

This isn’t to suggest that OPEC has no influence on prices; quite the contrary. Prices established by the exchanges are based on supply and demand; therefore any decision OPEC makes concerning restricting production, for example, will have some effect on prices. These decisions, however, can have a direct consequence on profit margin, so it isn’t always in their best interests.

Its practices are considered to be illegal: Simply put: Cartels are illegal in many countries. In the U.S., for example, OPEC is in direct violation of antitrust laws, such as the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 — the same act that broke up Standard Oil, American Tobacco and Ma Bell. Antitrust laws don’t criminalize monopolies per se, only if the monopoly is used to eliminate its competition through methods of production or price-fixing.

Ordinarily, U.S. antitrust laws explicitly prohibit dealing with cartels. What makes OPEC so special? Simple: Congress grants OPEC diplomatic immunity from prosecution and in essence treats it as though it were a sovereign nation, even though this is not remotely the case. This status was tested in 1978, when the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), a non-profit labor organization in the U.S., filed suit against OPEC under the Sherman Act. In 1981, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the case, claiming OPEC was protected by its sovereign immunity status.

In 2007, a pair of controversial bills were introduced in Congress designed to amend antitrust laws to include OPEC. If the measures are approved in both houses and the president doesn’t veto it, individuals harmed by OPEC in the U.S. can begin to sue the organization. If this were to happen, few expect OPEC to continue doing business with the U.S.

It isn’t the only game in town: If one only paid passing attention to the media, you might get the impression that OPEC is the only oil game in town. Granted, its member countries control anywhere from two-thirds to three-quarters of the world’s proven oil reserves and over 40% of the globe’s oil production; however, there are other sets of somewhat substantial oil-producing groups.

Originally formed as an agent of the Marshall Plan following World War II, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is a vast and all-encompassing organization with all sorts of arms and legs. Of its 30 member countries, a minority are oil producers, including the USA, Canada, Mexico, and the UK. Together they account for about 23% of the world’s oil production.

Additionally, the Russian Federation and a handful of former-Soviet states, such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, are responsible for about 15% of global oil production.

OPEC Member Nations

OPEC Member Nations

It was formed to fight the “Seven Sisters”: The world’s wealthy oil barons have not always resided in the Middle East. In fact, for most of the 20th century, the member nations of OPEC were at the mercy of the so-called “Seven Sisters,” a non-organizational set of oil producers and distributors which, perhaps due to that non-organizational status, somehow eluded antitrust prosecution. The Seven Sisters was composed of Standard Oil of New Jersey, Royal Dutch Shell, Anglo-Persian Oil, Standard Oil of New York, Standard Oil of California, Gulf Oil, and Texaco.

By 1960, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela had grown tired of exporting their oil and then having to buy it back at higher prices. They formed OPEC to assert their “legitimate rights in an international oil market,” and by the 1970s, thanks in part to strategic maneuvers such as the Arab oil embargo, began to dominate the market.

It’s “customers” see bigger oil prices than its members: Oil taxes by countries that regularly import oil from OPEC, such as the U.S., the UK, Japan, and Italy, are often as much to blame for high oil prices as OPEC. Such taxes allow some countries to see oil-related revenues that are three or four times higher than some OPEC members see from exports. In addition, the production and development of oil requires huge investments, a fact that further chips away at OPEC-member profit margins.

As gasoline prices soar, more and more attention gets paid to OPEC. In the Western press its easily vilified and is a common ”fall guy“ for every issue related to oil and oil prices — not always unjustifiably so.

More than a few people would be pleased to see OPEC’s influence reduced or even made moribund. However, proven oil reserves are defined in the industry as the amount of oil that can be recovered and produced using today’s technologies, and as of 2006, the world total was 1,195,318 million barrels of crude oil; OPEC’s share of that amount was 922,482 million barrels or 77.2% (if you accept OPEC’s figures; hardly everyone does). Thus, unless a drastic change occurs in the energy-consumption habits of much of the world’s oil-hungry population, interest in OPEC is unlikely to recede for some time.

Special thanks to www.askmen.com

1 Comment

Filed under Economics, Historical Events & Figures

The U.S. Federal Reserve: Determining Monetary Policy Since 1914

Fun Facts About the U.S. Federal Reserve


  • The 12 Federal Reserve Banks

    The 12 Federal Reserve Banks

    The U.S. Federal Reserve System began on November 16th, 1914

  • The Federal Reserve is a private institution. It is owned by the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks, which are each in turn owned by a combination of regional banks, commercial banks, foreign banks, and miscellaneous individuals who have inherited pieces passed down through generations. (Rockefellers, Rothschilds, etc.)
  • The Federal Reserve holds a monopoly on the issuance of currency in the USA. In essence, this is the power to borrow an infinite amount of money at 0%. The dollar bill in your pocket is a 0% loan to the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve then uses these 0% loans to purchase income-producing assets. Before 2008, the assets purchased were primarily Treasury debt, which is backed by the taxation power of the US Government. In other words, we are exchanging the property rights to our valuable assets (land, labor, entrepreneurship) for little slips of green paper to buy trinkets with. The government can then tax these valuable assets to pay for our excess. The more we spend, the more the Fed owns.
  • If all money created is debt and counts as principal, where does the money come from to pay interest on this debt? It comes from the money that gets printed in the future. This is why inflation is a natural result of our current monetary system.
  • Prior the the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act/TARP Act of September 2008, commercial banks were required to hold 10% of deposits as reserves. This placed a limit on the potential amount of money creation at around 9x the original deposit. An obscure clause in the TARP Act changed the reserve requirement to 0%, immediately making the potential money supply infinite.
  • The reason for the credit spread blowups of October/November 2008 was because in the same TARP Act the Fed was allowed to pay interest on deposits without publicly stating the interest rate. Before the TARP Act, there was around $20 billion deposited by commercial banks at the Fed. After the TARP Act, deposits immediately jumped 50x to $1 TRILLION. This resulted in a disappearance of demand for risky assets, which led to blowouts in credit spreads.
  • As a result of various acts of Congress in 2008, the Federal Reserve now has the authority to buy all sorts of assets (commercial paper, corporate bonds, mortgage loans, etc.). A cynical person would say this essentially allows the Fed to seize all valuable assets in this country directly by exchanging fancy bits of green paper for them without having to go through the intermediate step of coercing the US Government into spending more money and taking on more debt.
  • Much of the Fed’s activity is not made public because of the use of off-balance sheet vehicles.
  • There is debate over the constitutionality of the Fed’s various awesome powers.

What does this all mean? This economic crisis will not become a depression. By employing the new tools of monetary policy that the Fed has created for itself (interest on reserves and direct asset purchases), the money supply can be jerked around as if on a string. Initially, this means we will soon experience another period of easy credit and unsustainable economic growth.

However, the end result of current policies is that the Fed will be powerless to stop the next economic crisis. Assuming no outside shocks (another big war, nuclear attack, etc.), the dollar will over time lose its status as the reserve currency, and we will experience a currency crisis followed by rampant inflation at some point down the road.

Special thanks to www.seekingalpha.com 

2 Comments

Filed under Economics, Historical Events & Figures