Coal Tax Post Redux

Once a government has tasted a tax, they never forget the flavor.

Long ago, The Crown had a “coal tax”. Eventually it was overturned.

Yet, somehow, I can’t help but think that the governments of the world have had “Coal Tax Post” envy and want to get back to the Golden Days, when any fuel being moved resulted in a nice stiff tax levy to The State.

What am I talking about? A bit of history from Merry Old England. The Coal Tax Post.

All around London, there was a “Tax Post”. Anyone passing, with any coal, had to pay a tax at that post. Rather like a “Toll Road” booth. This was all jolly good fun for the crown, not so much for the cold starving peasants. Who eventually got tired of it and “did in” the old coal tax.

And time passes. And people forget. But not governments… And now, many decades later, the gluttony of government wants just one more cake… and fondly remembers the old Coal Tax Post… If only they could get that tax on carbon again…

The Wiki

As the Wiki tends to be erased whenever a sceptic uses it (or rewritten to mindless trash), I’ll quote the entire wiki here as it stands today:

Coal-tax post

Coal-tax posts were marker posts, about 250 in number, first erected in 1851 and forming a rough circle about twenty miles from the centre of London, England, to mark the points where taxes on coal and wine due to the Corporation of London had to be paid.

Coal Tax Post Wormley

Coal Tax Post Wormley

Original Image

Coal-tax obelisk by the railway at Wormley, Hertfordshire. The inscription reads: 14 & 15 VIC C 146, identifying it with the 1851 Act of Parliament

Coal Tax Post Broxbourne

Coal Tax Post Broxbourne

Original Image

No byway was too small to evade the liability for coal tax. This post is on a footpath in Wormley Wood, Hertfordshire


Coal sold in the City of London had been taxed since mediaeval times and, as it was all brought in by sea to one or two riverside wharfs, the collection of the duty had been relatively easy. A similar duty was collected on all wine landed in London. By the nineteenth century, however, there was increasing trade by canal and rail, and various acts of parliament extended the catchment area to a radius of about twenty miles from London, From Colnbrook in the west to Gravesend and Crayford Ness, by the mouth of the Darent, in the east. The City is a small (one square mile) but influential part of London and in 1851 an Act was passed specifying the points, far beyond its boundaries, where the collections could be made. Marker posts, inscribed with this legal authority, were erected. About two hundred have survived. Following enlargement of the Metropolitan Police District (which, paradoxically, did not include the City of London) in 1861 a further Act was passed and new marker posts were set to show the boundary inside which the duty was payable. Most of these later posts survive.

Not all of the points were staffed by tax collectors but on well-used routes with a heavy coal traffic, such as on the Grand Union Canal at Grove Park, Hertfordshire, permanent toll houses were built. In other cases local coal merchants or, after the bulk of the traffic had passed to the railway, the railway companies calculated the sums due and passed the money to the Corporation. The railway companies were allowed to offset the coal they used for their engines, but only when employed on coal trains.

The erection of these posts was very much a last ditch attempt to retain the tax in the face of growing opposition. The tax had been running for at least two hundred years but within twenty years of the posts going up it was abolished.
The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, London was expanding rapidly. The outer suburbs were becoming towns and their residents beginning to resent paying a tax which had very little direct benefit for them. One extreme case is Caterham which lay (and still lies) outside the Metropolitan Police District (MPD) but if coals were to be brought there by rail they had to pass through the MPD and presumably were subject to the tax.

The powers to extract these taxes were abolished in 1889, notwithstanding the City had fought against the abolition moves with some underhand tactics: a parliamentary select committee sitting in 1887 found that signatures on a petition in support of keeping the tax had been forged.


Most posts were made of cast iron and stood at four or five feet tall, but the railway posts were large and impressive obelisks of granite fourteen feet in height. All bore the City coat of arms. Most of those surviving are painted white, with the arms picked out in red, but the stone ones are often of a sombre black, still bearing the stains accumulated on the smoky trackside. There are five different forms of Coal Tax boundary markers in all. Most of the posts are Grade II listed buildings.

See also
The London Stone in Staines is very much older but lies on the line of route of the posts
Close-up image of the shield
Two posts near Tattenham Corner

^ Nail, Martin. “The boundary marks today: List of extant marks”. Retrieved 16 January 2011.
^ a b Making History, BBC Radio 4, broadcast 23 December 2003, commencing 3′ 50″. Real Player audio accessed 16 January 2011
^ The Queen’s Head public house in Colney Heath has a “canted front bay said to have been used for the collection of coal tax”.
^ Lowther, W; et al. (June 1887). “London Corporation: forged signatures to petitions in favour of coal and wine duties”. Sessional Papers of the House of Commons. British Official Publications Collaborative Reader Information Service. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
^ Maurice Bawtree, “The City of London Coal Duties and their boundary marks” (6MB download from the Archaeology Data Service, University of York Department of Archaeology)
External links Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Coal tax post

“Coal Tax Posts”. Corporation of London. Retrieved 2008-11-06.
“List of posts with links to image galleries”. Retrieved 2007-07-18.

So it looks like some things never change. Governments want more money. If it moves, tax it. If it is usable, tax it. If it is needed for life, tax it. If the tax is threatened, lie to keep it. Sounds about right to me…

At it a very long time

From this page:

we find that England had be ‘at it’ with taxing coal for a very long time. What did they do upon the “union” with Scotland?

III. 1650-1660.

Union of England and Scotland under Commonwealth, Condition of country, Imposition of taxation, Revenue and expenses of Scotland, New customs tariff, Prohibitions of export, Scottish import of salt into England, Tax on coal, Trade with England, Effect of the Union on foreign trade, Losses of ships during civil war, Hindrance to trade through Dutch and Spanish wars, Results of Union.

From that embedded link to more details:

Their troubles arose from the connection of the salt manufacture with the coal-works. These produced two kinds of coal, great and small. The former were as a rule exported, and the latter employed in the salt-works. But if anything hindered the sale of the great coals, no small were produced, and the salt manufacture was then at a standstill. Now in 1656, a duty of 4s. per ton was imposed on great coal exported in British ships, and 8s. on coal exported in foreign ships. Both coal and salt owners complained, declaring that” the trade of Coales and Salt (the best staple commodityes of this Nation) must be utterly ruined.” The “intrinsick value” of the coal, they said, was only 4s. per ton. English coal could more easily bear the tax than Scottish, as a great deal of the Newcastle coal was used in England, and was therefore not liable to the tax. Also the Dutch found English coal indispensable in their iron-works, but Scottish coal was only used in the Netherlands for soap-works and brewing, and was not absolutely necessary. Indeed coal from Luyck was already being substituted for it. It was to the Netherlands, too, that most of the Scottish coal was sent. Twenty thousand people were said to be affected by a decline in the prosperity of the coal- and salt-works, while the revenue would suffer greatly from the loss of the customs on these two commodities. After these remonstrances, the duty was temporarily reduced in 1658 to 2s. 6d. and 5s. per ton, but seems to have been increased again, for in 1660 the Burghs asked that the “extraordinarie imposition upon coall and salt may be moderated.” The advantage of the Scottish over the English salt-works was therefore only temporary.

Golly… and they even found that putting a tax on coal caused a failure of industry to remain competitive in international trade…

The distortions on economic production can be clearly seen in the history of England. From this link:

we find that the complete abandonment of an economic good can happen when the tax on moving it becomes high. Then again, perhaps that is the whole purpose of the “carbon tax”… consequences be damned.

Soon after the Restoration this grievance attracted the notice of Parliament; and an act, the first of our many turnpike acts, was passed imposing a small toll on travellers and goods, for the purpose of keeping some parts of this important line of communication in good repair. This innovation, however, excited many murmurs; and the other great avenues to the capital were long left under the old system. A change was at length effected, but not without much difficulty. For unjust and absurd taxation to which men are accustomed is often borne far more willingly than the most reasonable impost which is new. It was not till many toll bars had been violently pulled down, till the troops had in many districts been forced to act against the people, and till much blood had been shed, that a good system was introduced. By slow degrees reason triumphed over prejudice; and our island is now crossed in every direction by near thirty thousand miles of turnpike road.

On the best highways heavy articles were, in the time of Charles the Second, generally conveyed from place to place by stage waggons. In the straw of these vehicles nestled a crowd of passengers, who could not afford to travel by coach or on horseback, and who were prevented by infirmity, or by the weight of their luggage, from going on foot. The expense of transmitting heavy goods in this way was enormous. From London to Birmingham the charge was seven pounds a ton; from London to Exeter twelve pounds a ton. This was about fifteen pence a ton for every mile, more by a third than was afterwards charged on turnpike roads, and fifteen times what is now demanded by railway companies. The cost of conveyance amounted to a prohibitory tax on many useful articles. Coal in particular was never seen except in the districts where it was produced, or in the districts to which it could be carried by sea, and was indeed always known in the south of England by the name of sea coal.

Not Just Governments Want Control

From another Wiki, we have the attempt at a cartel on coal from Newcastle:

Hostmen of Newcastle upon Tyne

The Hostmen of Newcastle upon Tyne were a cartel of businessmen who formed a monopoly to control the export of coal from the River Tyne in North East England. They were so known from the medieval practice of “hosting”, whereby local businessmen provided visiting merchants with accommodation and introduced them to local traders. The Hostmen acted as middlemen with whom the coal producers and those who shipped the coal to London and elsewhere were forced to deal.

Ah, yes, the time honored process of “hosting” where you bribe someone to get them to sell out their bosses… and make sure you get a ‘kickback’ on all transactions. Kind of like a government “commission”…


From the time in the mid-13th century when coal began to be exported from the River Tyne, the burgesses of Newcastle tried to gain a monopoly over its export. In 1216, King John granted Newcastle the right to elect a mayor and also to form trade guilds. These guilds sought to ensure that trade in various commodities was concentrated in Newcastle. The desire of the Newcastle burgesses to monopolise trade on the Tyne led to a dispute with the Prior of Tynemouth regarding the shipment of coal from nearby settlement of North Shields, which was owned by the priory. In 1267 the mayor of Newcastle, Nicholas Scott attacked North Shields with a band of merchants, setting fire to several buildings. In 1290 the burgesses petitioned the King regarding North Shields and succeeded in suspending the export of coal, as well as other trade, from the new settlement. Henceforth, North Shields remained solely as a fishing port. In 1350 Edward III granted a licence to the Newcastle burgesses to excavate coal from Forth Banks and the Town Moor area. From 1446, shipments of coal from North Shields were permitted, but in 1530 a royal act confined all shipments of coal to Newcastle quayside, thereby giving the Newcastle burgesses the monopoly they desired. This reinforced a medieval monopoly granted by Henry I, which was still in place.

And here we see that The Sovereign has been involved all along in making a monopoly (more efficient to collect your taxes that way…)

Skipping down a bit, we again have the Sovereign greasing some palms, and no doubt getting a cut too.

The Grand Lease

Towards the end of the 16th century, the Hostmen began to buy up leases in the Tyneside coalfield until they soon had a near total monopoly of the production of coal. This move was aided in 1583 when Queen Elizabeth leased the ex-palatinate mines of Gateshead and Whickham to two Newcastle merchants, Henry Anderson and William Selby, who in turn apportioned them to the leading Hostmen. This became known as the “Grand Lease”, and the Hostmen came to be known as the “Lords of Coal”, as they now controlled both production and export of this commodity. In 1590 the lord mayor of London complained that the regulation of coal exports from the Tyne was unfairly raising prices.

Yes, that “Companies and Governments working together to restrain competition and increase profits” has been around for a VERY long time. When talking about Fascism and the “Third Way” or Socialism of the Marxist sort, remember that it is only the labels that change, not the process. “Lord and Queen” vs “Company and Country” vs “Peoples Commissar and Dear Leader”. In the USA, we are very different. Here it is “Corporate Lobbyist and Congressional Representative”…

Missing from all these pictures? Free markets. Competition. Libertarian individualism.

And, in fact, we can see the early stages of this evolution of power and corruption in the Hostmen, as they adopted that new fangled legal construct, The Corporation:


In 1600 the Company of Hostmen was incorporated through a charter granted by Elizabeth I. This gave them exclusive rights to trade coal in the Tyne in return for a one-shilling tax on every chaldron (wagonload) of coal shipped from the Tyne.
The charter allowed an exclusive body of electors, in practice the Hostmen, the right to elect the mayor and burgesses of the town. In 1600, 240,000 tons of coal were shipped from the Tyne, 20 times more than the tonnage produced by the Durham coal industry and shipped from the River Wear.

The tightly knit Hostmen, with their cartel and control of the Tyne, now controlled the coal production business. They had capital and economies of scale on their side. Few local coal entrepreneurs could survive if they were not members of the Company of Hostmen. The Commons in 1621 included the Newcastle Hostmen in a list of monopolists who should have their privileges revoked, but an act of 1623 specifically exempted them.

Once again, it was Scotland and Scotts to the rescue:

Scottish invasion

In 1637 Charles I, in an attempt to raise revenue, doubled the tax on Tyneside coal in return for allowing the Hostmen to regulate production and set the price of the coal. The London coal importers and the East Anglian ship-owners were outraged and resolved to boycott Tyneside coal. As a result, the price of coal rose and the royal revenues dropped.
Charles was forced to cancel the Hostmen’s monopoly. When the Scots rose in 1639 against Charles’ introduction of the English Prayer Book into Scotland, the anti-royalist London merchants encouraged the invading Scots to capture Newcastle. This they did in 1640, totally disrupting the export of coal. The Scottish army remained in Newcastle for a year and charged the Corporation a regular fee for billeting its troops.

We also see a very early manifestation of The Laffer Curve in action. Raise tax rates, get less revenue.

Now if only we could get congress to learn that… And are there any Scotsmen who would like to spend a couple of years billeted in DC? (Just pondering… nothing serious… honest…)

Now this next bit of the history I find just precious. We have an overthrow of the Evil Monopolists, and the folks who did it immediately set about being the New Monopolists… and a guy who gets busted for making his own beer and not paying the unions to make it for him. Some things really do never change…

Civil War

In 1642 the English Civil War began between Charles I and the Parliamentarians, and the Newcastle burgesses sided with the monarchy. In 1644 Cromwell’s forces blockaded the river to prevent the royalist burgesses from profiting from their coal exports. As a result, London passed that winter almost without coal to burn. To ease this situation Parliament encouraged the export of coal from Blyth and from Wearside. Unfortunately not enough coal was available from those sources to replace the Tyne coal. In the winter of 1644, Scottish troops again crossed the border and Newcastle was besieged for three months before the garrison capitulated. The Scots occupied Northumberland and Durham for two years and taxes from the coal trade were used to pay for the occupying army. After the Civil War had ended, in 1648, Puritans replaced the Royalist burgesses on the Newcastle Corporation, but the new men were just as anxious to maintain Newcastle’s trading monopoly as the burgesses that they replaced. It was at about this time, in 1655, that Ralph Gardiner of Chirton accused the Newcastle Corporation of “tyranny and oppression”. He was imprisoned for illegally brewing in North Shields and contravening the monopoly of the Bakers and Brewers Company of Newcastle. Gardiner petitioned Parliament for the abolition of the regulations that forced traders to deal through Newcastle. His petition was unsuccessful.[1]

And thus has it always been. The rich and powerful, in cahoots with The Sovereign, enforce restraint of trade, work to establish oligopolies and monopolies, screw over the individual for not bending to their will, and suppress liberties.

But all things eventually end. And so it was for the Hostmen:

Eventual decline

The Civil War had allowed the River Wear to emerge as a competitor of the Tyne for coal exports. By 1660 the Tyne coal trade had recovered but was now only a third greater than the Wearside production. At this time the Newcastle Hostmen clashed with the Sunderland coal traders by claiming their charter rights and imposing a shilling tax on all coals exported from Sunderland. The Newcastle monopoly continued until between 1700 and 1750 the coal production increased to such an extent that non-Hostmen businessmen were drawn in. This seriously weakened the strength of the Hostmen and they would never again have such a stranglehold on the north-east coal trade.

And here we again see the use of a tax as an attempt to restrain competition. Never forget that. Whenever congress (or any other Sovereign) proposes a tax, it is partly for the money and power it gives them, and partly to punish someone they do not like. Friends get “charters” and “rights”, enemies get “taxes” and “regulations”. Individuals get BOHICA.

The laws of Economics are firmly rooted in human nature and the realities of the physics of production and distribution. They are no more changeable than the laws of physics or chemistry. Yet governments continue to think they can legislate the economic laws. They can not. All they can do is what has always been done. Distort the markets by imposing taxes and regulations.

In Conclusion

Why mention all that?

Because it is an important background to the stupidity being done in Australia (and proposed for the USA). We see in it the precursor to what is unfolding now. The only question unanswered is “Who are the Hostmen now?”

Gillard Stares Down ‘Electoral Annihilation’ With Carbon Tax
By Gemma Daley – Jun 24, 2011 1:01 AM GMT+0100

With the least-liked government in almost four decades and the lowest personal popularity in 13 years, Gillard is wooing legislators across Australia for the package.

“Anyone who thinks I am going to fold because it’s tough out there has got me wrong,” Gillard told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio today. “We are doing these tough reforms because they are right for the country’s future.”

Graham Perrett, a member of parliament in Gillard’s Labor Party, backs her plan to cap carbon emissions even though voters in his district near Brisbane oppose it by what he says is a 3- to-1 margin. Gillard has visited his district five times since taking office on June 24, 2010.
The first woman to lead Australia, Gillard is seeking to start an emissions trading system next July in the world’s biggest coal exporter. The Minerals Council of Australia says the plan would destroy 126,000 jobs and threaten company investment. It would be the world’s third emissions-trading system after the European Union and New Zealand.
oal & Allied Industries Ltd., a unit of Rio Tinto, and Whitehaven Coal Ltd. may see earnings fall by as much as 10 percent should a carbon tax be put in place, Citigroup Inc. analysts led by Elaine Prior said in a June 16 research note.

The Australian Coal Association says 18 coal mines may close in the next decade if the system is introduced and that it will be harder to attract investment. Anglo American Plc (AAL), the third-largest producer of steelmaking coal, said it will struggle with a $4 billion Australia expansion because the climate plan would slash its investments there by 45 percent.

Australia carbon tax to cost 14,000 jobs: study
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) June 14, 2011

Australia’s proposed carbon tax would cost more than 14,000 jobs, a study commissioned by the coal industry said Tuesday, warning that billions of dollars in exports would be lost.

Economic consultancy firm ACIL Tasman said Canberra’s pollution tax would result in more than Aus$22 billion (US$23 billion) in lost coal exports over its first decade of operation, costing the Australian economy 14,100 jobs.

Some 4,700 of these would be at existing coal mines, 4,000 of which were at risk within the first three years, ACIL said, adding that future jobs could be reduced by as much at 37 percent.

Commissioned by the powerful Australian Coal Association (ACA), the report assumed the trade-exposed coal sector would get no concessions and that the levy would target a five percent reduction in Australia’s 2000-level emissions by 2020.

“The carbon tax will put thousands of jobs at risk and push billions of investment dollars in new mining developments offshore to our competitors,’ said ACA chief Ralph Hillman, launching the report.

“The most frustrating part is despite losing coal mining jobs and investment, global greenhouse gas emissions could actually rise as coal is mined from countries with more emissions-intensive and less energy-efficient coal.”
Canberra plans to tax the nation’s 1,000 biggest polluters for carbon emissions linked to global warming from mid-2012, with a fixed price giving way to a cap-and-trade scheme within five years.

Though the final dollar amount is yet to determined, the centre-left Labor party plans to charge polluters a fixed price for every tonne of carbon emitted, returning most of the revenue to householders and businesses through tax cuts.

Once a cap-and-trade system is phased in, under which emissions will be limited, firms will receive permits to pollute which they can trade on international carbon markets, with the price to fluctuate in line with global demand.

Just drop your coal tax in the bin next to that nice white Coal Tax Post on your way to do anything involving the use of energy…

I, for one, have pulled my money out of Australian companies pending the outcome of the whole mess. Eventually, should this become law, the coal mines of China and Russia will be the big winners. No CO2 will be reduced. More real pollution will be generated (as China is not known for clean practices) and more lives lost (as China is not a very safe mining place either). In the end, there will be less western prosperity, more pollution and land destruction, more lives lost, and a much richer China.

I really do wonder if some very wealthy folks are poised to invest in Chinese coal mining… Perhaps they are the Hostmen of today. Folks with access to The Sovereigns… or perhaps just getting a ‘cut of the action’ at the Tax Trading Floor of the Cap’nTax Casino…

I know it’s not the guy working in the coal mine, nor the loading the ships. And it’s not the folks buying Chinese tube socks on minimum wage working flipping burgers. All I can do is suggest that folks remind their governments of this fact of history from above:

“The tax had been running for at least two hundred years but within twenty years of the posts going up it was abolished.”

We’ve had “fuel taxes” for a long time in the USA and Australia. Don’t let “Cap and Tax” become your “Coal Tax Post”… History is pretty clear on what happens after that. In the case of England, I’d just point out that the next step was the rise of the USA as an industrial powerhouse where such taxes were not present; and the demise of England as a world power.

Now we have China rising as an industrial powerhouse where such taxes are not present… Think about it. Please. “For the children”…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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17 Responses to Coal Tax Post Redux

  1. The phrase could have been “who hosts the Hostmen?”

    The sad part of all of this is the fact that many of the damnable consequences to humanity and prosperity that we are concerned about suit the new Hostmen just fine. This is revealed in many places, including in the ClimateGate emails containing the proposal to destroy the United States by breaking it up into fifty countries that would never again be allowed the economic power the US has.

    Reduce civilization to abject poverty again? We deserve it. Destroy the engine of free enterprise that has created the world’s wealth? Absolutely; that’s right here in their charter.

    It is sad, this pseudo-environmental movement by the catastrophists. It is a siren song of suicide ,,, but unfortunately, not theirs. Or at least, not at first. For them, their success would be an “accidentally” self-inflicted wound. But by that time, it would be too late to put them out of our misery.

    ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

  2. Ian W says:

    Think about it. Please. “For the children”…

    They won’t.

    Politicians are incapable of thinking ahead past the next election and never learn from history – you are expecting them to do both.

  3. dearieme says:

    “first erected in 1851….to mark the points where taxes on coal and wine due to the Corporation of London had to be paid.” not to the Crown, note, but to the City Corporation.

    “From the time in the mid-13th century when coal began to be exported from the River Tyne,…”: oh, no. There’s a Roman repair to a Roman road near Cambridge with some Tyne coal underneath. Presumably the wagon hit a pothole and spilled a bit of its load, and the pothole repair crew didn’t bother to sweep it all up. That implies to me that Tyne coal was probably pretty cheap at the time anywhere near a decent road from an east coast port like Colchester. (One of the Roman writers recorded that the Brits were clever enough to burn stones.) Anyway, it’s a fine reminder of just how far backward a country can go – something like 800 years before the trade was restored and a further 500 years before the canal builders made a substantial technological improvement in shifting the stuff. Then Watt and the Stephensons made further leaps, and then, you could argue, the builders of iron ships

    Click to access ironhulls.pdf

    and then .. well since then no futher leaps of comparable magnitude.

    Mind you, wasn’t coal a pretty sensible thing to tax, if you want a tax that’s cheap to administer and hard to avoid? Until the canals were built, most countrymen burned wood or peats; it was mainly the townsman who burned coal.

  4. Wayne Job says:

    I seem to have a vague recollection that America started its life as a free country on a tax revolt, something to do with afternoon scones and tea and a party.

  5. Beth Cooper says:

    Thank you for your pertinent historical info on the will to tax, Chiefio. A large majority of Australians, of whom I am one, are protesting PM Gillards proposed Carbon Tax. Trouble is Gillard gained office in a hung election by a deal with the Greens Party and her urge to stay in power is dependent on supporting a green?socialist agenda. The opposition, requiring one voter to cross the floor, would vote against ‘The Big New Tax.’

  6. Jim says:

    Beth – Is there any legal means of removing Gilliard?

  7. Richard Ilfeld says:

    A nice article. This propensity to tax is one of the two evil twins of sovereignties. The Other is debasement of the currency, the revenue raising method of choice when taxation of identifiable groups leads to rebellion by same. Also nicely tracable back to the Romans, and before.
    You didn’t mention it but in my scant rememberence of history, as here, the monopolists were suceeding in actually lowering the cost of the commodity in the interests of widening their market, as opposed to gouging the populace. The government has no such scruples. One suspects, as with most fuels today, the net take of “the Crown” is far larger than that of the capitalist, who knows enough to only squeeze the golden goose a bit, but not strangle it.

  8. Interesting Connections says:

    It is interesting that coal has been in use for so long in England.

    I wonder if there are any other localities where it has been used for that long or longer?

  9. E.M.Smith says:

    @Keith DeHavelle:

    Like that turn of phrase “put them out of our misery” ;-)

    I may steal it some day….

    @Ian W:

    I know… I presume you noticed the sarchasm on “for the children” without any 8-^) tongue in cheek marker…

    @Beth Cooper:

    I love Australia. Spent a long visit there once and almost emigrated. I regretted the decision not to do so until the point where your liberties were removed. Gun confiscation, now green taxes. When the “model” for Crocodile Dundee was killed for his freedom, that was a watershed moment for me. I no longer have that regret… My son was a “Student Ambassador” to Australia and loved it. Diving on the Great Barrier Reef was one of his favorite moments. I hope to get back down under again some day. I wish you luck with your Welfare State and Green Agenda…

    And may your Opposition gain a bit more strength as it rests on the back benches…

    @Richard Ilfeld:

    I see inflation as “just another kind of tax”. Been aware of it that way for so long I tend to forget other folks don’t see it as a “hidden tax on money”.

    And yes, capitalists are smart profit maximizers. Politicians and Royals are not. They are simply parasites that know there will always be another host if this one dies…

    @Wayne Job:

    Why yes, we did. Still a fine tradition here, though not always remembered. Though I’ve heard that someone is having a rememberance Tea Party near here… supposed to be a pretty popular event… Maybe I’ll go see if they have any fireworks planned (the 4th of July is just around the corner!).

    I understand history has a way of repeating…. As of now, nearly 1/3 of the US populace is no longer happy with a ‘party affiliation’ with the Dimicans or Republicrats, and growing daily… One may have noticed a few Republicans who didn’t win their elections as some Tea Partiers were uninterested in playing the game of “support what you find unacceptable to avoid a more unacceptable choice”… Sorry (well, not really sorry sorry) but those days are gone. I vote for what I think is right, not sloppy seconds from a political whore. They can “straighten up and fly right” or be out of office. NEXT!… There is a deep unrest brewing here, and I’m quite sure that neighther half of our ruling class has a clue how deep it is.


    If you note in the earlier history of the Hostmen, the Crown was up to its eyeballs in the coal trade and coal tax. Yes, it’s a bit of conflation, or poetic licence, to call the coal tax posts “crown”, but you can be quite shure that London as an enterprise and the coal feeding it were well taxed by the Crown…

    Lots of things are “logical to tax”. Even the air we breath. Doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to the person being taxed. (Nor to the taxer, for that matter. Heck, one guy even tried to tax tea and stamps…)

    While, at that time, the economic theory was not as well developed as now, I think they probably would have been bright enough to know that the more you tax something, the less of it you get. Were I making tax policy, I would only tax those things where you desire less of them, not more.

    Zero tax on production, invention (free use of patent for the life of the holder), accumulation on wealth (“propensity to invest” rises with wealth so you get more production), income.

    Tax on consumption (ex food, heating, commute costs- a production cost. Basically, the ‘self maintenance’ items are not taxed). So things like clothes below the 1/4 of median price: No tax (basic clothing). Clothes priced over 1/4 of the median? That’s moving out of ‘basic maintenance’ and into “conspicuous consumption”, so gets a sales tax. Essentially, you get an allowance of “basic maintenance” and when you go over that, things like gasoline and clothing get taxed.

    (There are many mechanisms that would let you do this. Conceptually simplest is a “rebate” on average maintenance consumption at the end of the year. Each citizen gets a cheque equal to the “basic tax exemption”. So you have a sales tax on gasoline, clothes, etc. Figuring everyone has a $1000 tax paid on “the basics”, you send that back to everyone as the rebate of their “maintenence” portion of purchases. So if you choose to have a very long commute, big car, and / or take a lot of recreational drives, you still have the excess consumption discouraged, as you only are going to get a ‘rebate’ of the tax on, say, 20,000 miles / year of average fuel consumption).

    High tax on cigarettes, alcohol, prostitution (yes, I see no reason to make it illegal and spend money fighting it), non-medicinal drugs (same reasoning), very high tax if caught in a crime (like, burglars have all their stuff sold… commit fraud, become a pauper).

    Now, in a bit of finesse, I’d even go so far as to divide GDP into net wealth creation, wealth maintenance, and wealth destruction. So if you were, for example, building homes, there is no tax. If you were a house painter (so maintenance) no tax. If you are tearing down a home to build MacMansion or shopping mall, you get a tax equal to the destruction component of your “Creative Destruction”…. (it is still destruction.). And an arsonist gets all their stuff taken (and if they have no, or insufficient, stuff, gets assigned to a work gang building barracks for prisoners to live in until a creation equal to his allocation of average arson distruction is achieved…) Oh, and I’d love to put a tax on wars, but I haven’t figured out how… perhaps each senator and congress critter who votes for a war has 1/2 his paycheck and 10% / year of his personal wealth taxed away? That’s the best I’ve come up with so far…

    In the end, would coal be taxed? Not the part for home heating and keeping production running… As seen in the “salt” production part of the story in the link above, too much tax on a production input results in less production, less growth, and less total tax. It’s just a bad idea. Even if it is easy to do…and a “logical” place to levy a tax…

    (Or, more simply: The logic of what OUGHT to be taxed is orthogonal to the logic of what is EASY to tax…)

    @Interesting Connections:

    Anywhere coal was found on the surface it has likely been burned for a very long time. From a quick search, I found:


    Scientists are unsure as to when it was discovered that coal could provide heat when burned; however, coal has probably been used as a fuel since prehistoric times. The ancient Chinese mined coal hundreds of years before the Christian era, and developed the world’s first coal industry around 300 A.D., when they began using coal from shallow deposits for heating buildings and producing metals. By 1000 A.D., coal had begun to replace charcoal–which is made from wood–as the leading fuel in China. One of the earliest records of coal’s economic value appears in a poem written by Shen Kua, a Chinese scientist of that era.

    In Europe, coal was mined in Germany about 1,000 years ago. During the 1200s, coal was produced commercially from open pits in England and Belgium. Mainly, it was used for smelting and forging metals; blacksmiths, for example, took advantage of coal’s hot flame to shape their products. Because of the pungent smoke given off by burning some coals, wood and charcoal remained the preferred fuels in Europe until the 1600s. However, the manufacture of bricks, glass, salt, and soap consumed huge quantities of charcoal, and, when a severe shortage of wood developed, most factories were forced to switch to coal. To meet this demand, England and other European countries sharply increased their output of the fuel. By the end of the 1600s, England was the world’s leading coal producer, a position it would hold for some 200 years.

    In North America, native peoples had learned to use coal long before the first settlers arrived. The Pueblos dug it from hillsides and burned it to bake pottery. European explorers discovered coal in the New World as early as 1673, but because wood was so plentiful, only a few coal mines were opened during the 1700s.

    Coal is found in every continent on Earth, but the greatest amounts occur in the United States, China, Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan.

    So looks to me like “about 1000 to 2000 years” in most places. That we know of…

    There are some very small coal seams at the surface in California. If I owned such a “worthless” coal seam on my “ranch”, I’d drag a bag of coal into the home and burn it each winter. What evidence would be left behind?

  10. John F. Hultquist says:

    At this time the Newcastle Hostmen clashed with the Sunderland coal traders by claiming their charter rights and imposing a shilling tax on all coals exported from Sunderland.

    Here is a link (TIME – 1923) to a tax like the one mentioned:,9171,845858,00.html

    STEEL: Enemies of Pittsburg Plus
    Under the ” Pittsburg plus” system, freights on steel and steel products are based on Pittsburg. Thus, . . .

    The great State of Washington had a stealth tax on license plates. Stealth is the appropriate word because few knew where the money went after it was paid to the State. An initiative that got about 58% approval was declared unconstitutional. Then a similar measure passed the WA house and senate – they got worried. Now, fees are creeping up again but still are much lower than they were.
    History here:

  11. gallopingcamel says:

    Unpopular taxes have a way of derailing politicians. Maggie Thatcher was done in by the Poll tax. Is it too much to hope that carbon taxes will bring Gillard down?

  12. Hillbilly33 says:

    E.M. Greetings once more from cold but beautiful Tasmania.

    Re: “Eventually, should this become law, the coal mines of China and Russia will be the big winners.”
    You might want to amend that to ‘the coalmines of Australia owned by China’!

    Check this out for the ultimate in fiscal and sovereign carelessness and stupidity of Gillard’s hopeless government’!

    “The Gillard government is investigating potential loopholes in foreign investment regulations after it was revealed a Chinese mining giant spent $213 million buying 43 farms for coal exploration in the NSW Northern Tablelands.

    The Australian revealed today Chinese government-controlled Shenhua Watermark Coal carried out a two-year spending spree in 2009 and 2010 outside the rural township of Gunnedah, 500km northwest of Sydney.

    The purchases triggered an overnight property boom for the community, with some properties changing hands for 10 times more than their previous sale price.”

    Surprise, surprise! Foreign purchases under $230 million apparently don’t come under government scrutiny. I wonder how many more “small” acquisitions there have been or are planned! Gillard and the Greens are not only determined to ruin our economy and export our jobs by imposing a useless, destructive carbon dioxide tax, they want to sell the farms too!

  13. Fred Streeter says:

    The Coal Tax was used to build & rebuild the infrastructure of a growing metropolis: bridges, embankments, roads, sewers, parks, etc. Whether the free market would (eventually) have provided these could be debated until doomsday.

    I really do wonder if some very wealthy folks are poised to invest in Chinese coal mining…
    Just as, In the 19th century, some very wealthy Britains invested in US mines.

    In the case of England, I’d just point out that the next step was the rise of the USA as an industrial powerhouse where such taxes were not present; and the demise of England as a world power.
    Again, billions were invested in the USA by the British. Being a small island with limited resources, Britain could never have matched the US as an industrial powerhouse and world power – even with an identical economic model.

  14. E.M.Smith says:


    Yeah, China is busy buying up resources wherever it can. Dumping currency in exchange for “stuff”. By stealth were possible.

    @Fred Streeter:

    My thesis in this piece is not that everything ought to be done by private enterprise. Only that “carbon tax” has been around a long time, and still desired by our masters. Would a tax on horses hooves have been better? Who knows… but I note that “car registration taxes” are a big deal to states…

    Um, need I point out a time in the history of the “small island” when “The Sun Never Sets On The British Empire”? I think we have an existance proof of Britain being a world industrial power…

    Then again, that was during a less Progressive time…

  15. Jeff Alberts says:

    “but I note that “car registration taxes” are a big deal to states…”


    Washington State has been ramping up their car tab fees as they call them, since recent attempts to add new taxes to previously un-taxed items failed a public vote. Instead of just running the state more efficiently, they’re intent on simply getting more money to maintain the status quo.

  16. E.M.Smith says:

    @Jeff Alberts:

    Florida used to have a $25 plate fee. Last trip I found out that to get a plate for my car was going to cost, all up, about $400 as they now charge for the plate itself the first time (then you own it and can move it from car to car and pay just the reg.)

    This trip I need to ‘suck it up’ and do that as the reg is expired on the car I left there…

    Trip is “on” via air for July 5th. If anyone near Orlando has a clunker plate they would like to sell cheap… I’m looking for a lower cost way to get a plate for the Banana Boat…

    They also got rid of the “snowbird” drivers licence. Used to be you could get a “good in Florida only” second drivers license just by showing your home license. No more. Now it’s way more complex and expensive.

  17. Jerry says:

    Coal and commies to the rescue. Whom wudda ever thunk it? :)

    “The researchers from Boston and Harvard Universities and Finland’s University of Turku said pollution, and specifically sulphur emissions, from coal-fuelled growth in Asia was responsible for the cooling effect.”

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