Cato’s Radical Tax Plan

From Plutarch’s Life of Marcus Cato 18

“He also levied a tax of three on every thousand so that people, distressed by these charges, would note also that families of equal wealth whose lives were modest and simple payed less to the public treasury and repent from their behavior. Both those who payed the taxes because of luxury and those who gave up their luxury because of the taxes were angry to him. For most people believe that hindering the display of their wealth deprives them of it and also that the display comes from their luxuries not their necessities.

This is what they say really surprised Ariston the philosopher, that those who possess superficial excess are thought to be luckier than those who are well-supplied with what is needed and useful.”

 καὶ προσετίμησε τρεῖς χαλκοῦς πρὸς τοῖς χιλίοις, ὅπως βαρυνόμενοι ταῖς ἐπιβολαῖς καὶ τοὺς εὐσταλεῖς καὶ λιτοὺς ὁρῶντες ἀπὸ τῶν ἴσων ἐλάττονα τελοῦντας εἰς τὸ δημόσιον ἀπαγορεύωσιν. ἦσαν οὖν αὐτῷ χαλεποὶ μὲν οἱ τὰς εἰσφορὰς διὰ τὴν τρυφὴν ὑπομένοντες, χαλεποὶ δ᾿ αὖ πάλιν οἱ τὴν τρυφὴν ἀποτιθέμενοι διὰ τὰς εἰσφοράς. πλούτου γὰρ ἀφαίρεσιν οἱ πολλοὶ νομίζουσι τὴν κώλυσιν αὐτοῦ τῆς ἐπιδείξεως, ἐπιδείκνυσθαι δὲ τοῖς περιττοῖς, οὐ τοῖς ἀναγκαίοις. ὃ δὴ καὶ μάλιστά φασι τὸν φιλόσοφον Ἀρίστωνα θαυμάζειν, ὅτι τοὺς τὰ περιττὰ κεκτημένους μᾶλλον ἡγοῦνται μακαρίους ἢ τοὺς τῶν ἀναγκαίων καὶ χρησίμων εὐποροῦντας.


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