Tag Archives: Tax law

Tales of the unexpected

A rainy weekend looked just perfect for doing some maintenance work for my website: making backups, upgrading below the surface, reading and using a new handbook on the software involved. It turned out to be the perfect time for something you dreadfully fear: it did not work anymore. I will not inflict on you all the painful details, but yes, I had to put a notice on my site apologizing for any inconvenience caused by my virtual absence.

Almost two days after the first signs of a breakdown of the site installation the good news is that the backup of the information is safe and unharmed. And I have learned and learned again some lessons: upgrading equals releasing a new version; documenting of the exact structure below the surface is very useful; making a site depending very much on one central piece of software is nothing but creating the weakest link in a chain…

Of course I have often been warned that these things can go wrong, but this year I had taken new precautions. Of course I had met just a few days ago somebody who told me about the trouble with his e-mailbox. And best of all a few weeks ago I had read again by chance about a website with historical data which have triumphantly survived all major changes in computing since the original data were collected. The data for the Florentine Catasto of 1427 were collected and studied in the sixties and seventies by the late David Herlihy (1930-1991) and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber. Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber published in 1978 their study Les Toscans et leurs familles: Un étude du catasto Florentin de 1427. Robert Litchfield and Anthony Molho have taken responsibility for the version since 1995 online at Brown University. This university hosts also an online database with records of the tratte, the elections of the Florentine office holders from 1282 to 1532. More technical details about the transformations of the raw data can be found on the website of the University of Wisconsin with the complete data set of the 1427 Catasto, supplemented with ecclesiastical records from Florence. The harvest of online sources for the history of Florence and Italy is rich and varied, with for example Florentine charters and the Fondo Datini at Prato. Records on medieval taxation can be searched online for other countries, too, for instance the Taxatio Ecclesiastica Angliae et Walliae from 1291, a document on church properties in England and Wales. The Netherlands Economic History Archive in Amsterdam presents a fine overview of historical datasets. Do I need to remind you that these datasets yield their secrets only when you consider them in the light of their context, taking into account such things as the historical limitations of the data collected and the niceties of their online representation?

Perhaps you learn something in depth only when you make mistakes, when things break down, when errors and lacunae take away received wisdom and unmask your bad habits. I have to swallow this interruption of service as a fact of life, and to accept my own small addition to the march of human folly. Meanwhile I will try to re-establish my services to the visitors of my website as soon as possible. However, putting the necessary security devices and tuning the appearance will yet take some time. Most important, next time I will carefully prepare procedures before upgrading to something which looks promising and useful, but is also potentially dangerous. As for now I had better resume working on it, and leaving you hopefully a bit more informed about my site’s crash, perhaps a bit uneasy about your own website, or just amused – or annoyed! – by this unexpected mixture of daily misery and some historical information.

Ferdinand Grapperhaus and the history of taxation

Dutch legal historians are not often mentioned in national newspapers. On May 9, 2010, Ferdinand Grapperhaus passed away. Ferdinand Heinrich Maria Grapperhaus, born in Utrecht on December 26, 1927, became a legal historian after a career in fiscal law which brought him into politics. He had studied law at the University of Amsterdam where he got his degree in 1952.  He worked as a fiscal consultant and defended his doctoral thesis on fiscal law in 1966 at the University of Tilburg. From 1967 to 1971 he served as Undersecretary at the Ministry of Finance. In this position he was able to introduce some very important fiscal measures, for example the VAT. From 1971 to 1975 he was at the head of Bank Mees & Hope (now MeesPierson). In 1975 the University of Leyden gave him a professorship for the history of taxation which he held until 1993.

The obituaries published today do not mention any details of his publications in the field of legal history. In the Festschrift for Grapperhaus - Liberale gifte: vriendenbundel voor Grapperhaus, edited by J. Verburg, N.H. de Vries en O.I.M. Ydema (Deventer 1999) – his bibliography occupies eight pages. Using the Digital Bibliography for Dutch History one can rapidly retrieve his most important books and articles. A special characteristic of them are the very long titles reminiscent of eighteenth century books. Alva en de tiende penning (Alba and the tenth penny) (Zutphen 1982) is the exception. In this study he discusses the infamous taxation introduced in 1569 by the Duke of Alba. This action acerbated opposition against Spanish rule in the Low Countries. In fact the States of Holland had already in 1553 tried to impose the tenth penny on the possessions of William of Orange, Egmont and Horne, the richest aristocrats of these regions. In Belasting, vrijheid en eigendom (…) (Zutphen 1989) – the English version is titled Taxes, liberty and property : the role of taxation in democratization and national unity 511-1787 – he wrote about the way taxation helped the processes of state building in Europe. Grapperhaus treated regional history as well. In an article for the Jaarboek Oud-Utrecht for 1996 he discussed the meaning for fiscal history of the Utrecht Landbrief from 1375, a key document for the relations between the prince-bishops of Utrecht and the emerging States of Utrecht. Grapperhaus’ last book was about a very Dutch kind of taxation, a bicycle tax for which you had to put a copperplate on your bike: Over de loden last van het koperen fietsplaatje : de Nederlandse rijwielbelasting 1924-1941 (Deventer 2005).

No doubt Onno Ydema, now at the same chair of the history of taxation at Leyden University, will be able to give a more detailed appraisal of Grapperhaus’ work, but it seemed fitting to dedicate at short notice a few words to the memory of this remarkable lawyer, politician and legal historian.

An addendum: Grapperhaus published in 2009 two books for the International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation which appeared in one cover: Tax Tales  for the Second Millennium and Taxes through the Ages. A Pictorial History (Amsterdam 2009).