Posts Tagged ‘tax farming’

“Knuckles” Lavoisier

Posted in General, On This Day on May 8th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

On this day in 1794 Antoine de Lavoisier was guillotined for treason. This may have been one of the greatest senior pranks, and certainly got the students out of taking their chemistry finals. Actually, “The Father of Modern Chemisty” never taught the subject; so he was not the victim of irate students. His vindictive enemies were the taxpayers of France.

Unlike a modern professor who would supplement his income by forcing the students to buy his books or sitting as an unctuous cipher on a corporate board, Lavoisier earned money as an extortionist. Mind you, his racket was sanctioned by the French Crown; he had paid the government up front for his extortionist permit. The specific term for the racket was “tax farming.” A tax farmer would pay the Crown for the right to collect taxes in a specified region. The similarity of the words franc and franchise is no coincidence. The more money the tax farmer collected–no questions asked about the tactics–the more he got to keep. You might be surprised but very few philanthropists applied for the position.

Perhaps the squeezed subjects in Lavoisier’s territory should have been gratified to know that they were subsidizing his scientific research. It was not as if he was spending their money on luxurious carriages and young mistresses. Unfortunately, the French taxpayers might have been more sympathetic about that.