Tax and Quacks: the policy of the Eighteenth Century Medicine Stamp Duty
This author version is not to be cited. Please cite the definitive version published by Bloomsbury Publishing which appears in 'Studies in the History of Tax Law' Volume 6, edited by John Tiley. 2014 ISBN: 9781849464802, pp 283-304. Available at: http://www.hartpub.co.uk/BookDetails.aspx?ISBN=9781849464802
It is a rarity in the history of taxation to find an enduring tax on a specific commodity. In general such taxes constitute the ephemeral subject-matter of a major species of tax, the content shifting with changing social, political and fiscal imperatives. Imposts on hats, gloves, carriages, servants, windows, hair powder and armorial bearings are reflections of an earlier age where taxation had yet to reach the degree of sophistication and organisation that was to emerge in the later nineteenth century. The medicine stamp duty was a tax that was introduced in the context of a trade in medicines promoted and puffed by a wide range of unqualified entrepreneurs who were collectively and popularly known as quacks. They invented and sold remedies to the general public, with secret compositions and exaggerated claims for their efficacy in curing, preventing or relieving illness. These remedies were unproven, sometimes useless, frequently dangerous, and they were consumed in prodigious quantities by a gullible populace desperate for relief at a time when medical science was rudimentary. The trade had reached an unprecedented height in the later years of the eighteenth century and was viewed by many European states with concern. The overall aim of this paper is to analyse the nature of the British fiscal response to this problem and to identify the various social, political and legal forces that drove it. Specifically, and first, it ascertains whether the introduction of the medicine stamp duty was an attempt to curb or control the trade in quack medicines or merely to raise urgently-needed revenue, or both. Secondly, it establishes why Britain chose to tax when its European neighbours adopted an overt regulatory regime. Thirdly, it investigates whether the tax was perceived as an alternative to, or a form of, the regulation of dangerous medicines and unqualified medical practice. Finally, it explores the character of the original tax to identify what it was in its original form that enabled it to transcend fiscal fashions and endure for 160 years into the modern age of taxation.
This is the final author version of a book chapter, deposited by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. The definitive version appears in 'Studies in the History of Tax Law' Volume 6, edited by John Tiley. 2014 ISBN: 9781849464802, available at: http://www.hartpub.co.uk/BookDetails.aspx?ISBN=9781849464802
pp. 283 - 304 (21)
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