Make and Sell Alternatives to Taxed Goods

I mentioned boycotts of government-produced or -taxed goods and services as a variety of tax resistance or a tactic that has accompanied tax resistance campaigns. Today I’m going to cover a related tactic: the manufacture and sale of untaxed alternatives to taxed goods.

  • This tactic was put to good use in the American Revolution. Boycotts of British products like tea, paint, cloth, were supplemented by expansion of local industry to make alternative products:

    Members of Boston’s Whig Party demonstrated their patriotism by nursing tea leaves and mulberry trees in their gardens. New England farmers were exhorted to convert their oak plains into sheep pastures and produce enough wool to clothe every American. Colonists were urged to abstain from eating lamb or mutton in order to encourage American woolen manufactures.

    In less than a year the boycott had so disrupted Transatlantic trade that thousands of British workers lost their jobs.

    Gatherings at which dozens of people would card and spin yarn, weave fabric, or sew clothing, were simultaneously acts of resistance and patriotic rallies. Towns competed with each other over how many yards of cloth they could produce, with results breathlessly reported in the newspapers. At society balls, a woman who turned up in anything but a homespun cloth dress would be shunned.

    …at the first commencement exercises of Rhode Island College (later Brown University), the president proud-spiritedly wore wholly homespun clothing. At Harvard, the faculty and students had all taken to homespun in support of their women spinners, of whom the Boston Chronicle had bragged “[T]hey exhibited a fine example of industry, by spinning from sunrise until dark, and displayed a spirit for saving their sinking country, rarely to be found among persons of more age and experience.”

    American tea drinkers switched to “balsamic hyperion” — dried raspberry leaves — which could be produced domestically.
  • Homespun cloth, or khādī, was a signature part of the Indian independence movement (which also, famously, promoted the domestic production of salt to break Britain’s taxed monopoly). Gandhi insisted that everyone in the resistance movement should participate in producing, and of course should exclusively wear, domestic cloth.
  • I’ve tried to promote home-brewing beer and cider as a way of avoiding the federal excise tax on those products. Home distilling is another option, though it’s not legal in the United States. When Britain increased the excise tax on distilled spirits in Ireland in , “the only effect was to increase illicit distillation. The decrease in the duty was £7,361 4s. The number of persons in confinement for breach of the revenue laws had increased from 84 to 368.” A few people have started growing their own tobacco as a way of combating the increasingly prohibitive tobacco excise taxes. Audrey Silk grew and cured enough tobacco at her Brooklyn home in to roll nine cartons worth of cigarettes, which would have cost more than $1,000 at taxed rates at the time.
  • The “Addiopizzo” movement in Italy founded a supermarket, the shelves of which were stocked exclusively with goods from producers who had vowed not to pay any more protection money to the mafia. They also maintain a buycott list of such companies to help consumers make pizzo-free shopping choices.
  • When Greece tacked new taxes onto electric bills as a way of combating tax evasion, the sales of gas-powered electric generators shot up.