Egyptian peasants seized for non-payment of taxes. (Pyramid Age) The first known system of taxation was in Ancient Egypt around 3000 BC – 2800 BC in the first dynasty of the Old Kingdom. Records from the time document that the pharaoh would conduct a biennial tour of the kingdom, collecting tax revenues from the people. Early taxation is also described in the Bible. In Genesis, it states “But when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh. The other four-fifths you may keep as seed for the fields and as food for yourselves and your households and your children.” Joseph was telling the people of Egypt how to divide their crop, providing a portion to the Pharaoh. A share (20%) of the crop was the tax. While not money, the idea is the same.
Quite a few records of government tax collection in Europe since at least the 17th century are still available today. But taxation levels are hard to compare to the size and flow of the economy since production numbers are not as readily available. Government expenditures and revenue in France during the 17th century went from about 24.30 million livres in 1600-10 to about 126.86 million livres in 1650-59 to about 117.99 million livres in 1700-10 when government debt had reached 1.6 billion livres. In 1780-89 it reached 421.50 million livres. Taxation as a percentage of production of final goods may have reached 15% – 20% during the 17th century in places like France, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia. During the war-filled years of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, tax rates in Europe increased dramatically as war became more expensive and governments became more centralized and adept at gathering taxes. This increase was greatest in England, Peter Mathias and Patrick O’Brien found that the tax burden increased by 85% over this period. Another study confirmed this number, finding that per capita tax revenues had grown almost six fold over the eighteenth century, but that steady economic growth had made the real burden on each individual only double over this period before the industrial revolution. Average tax rates were higher in Britain than France the years before the French Revolution, twice in per capita income comparison, but they were mostly placed on international trade. In France, taxes were lower but the burden was mainly on landowners, individuals, and internal trade and thus created far more resentment.
Taxation as a percentage of GDP in 2003 was 56.1% in Denmark, 54.5% in France, 49.0% in the Euro area, 42.6% in the United Kingdom, 35.7% in the United States, 35.2% in The Republic of Ireland, and among all OECD members an average of 40.7%