Understanding Taxes Through a Short, Little Anecdote from Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography

In Philadelphia, where he had settled, Benjamin Franklin noticed that the city’s unpaved roads were becoming a nuisance. Besides the marketplace where people exchanged goods, dirt was constantly being thrown up in the air, and going all over people’s faces. Another thing was that the unpaved roads also had numerous places where quagmires (soft, wet ground) had developed, and so carriages tended to get stuck.

And so Frankie, being the proactive man that he was, decided to do something about it. First, he created fliers stating the unpleasantness of the situation, and passed them around town. After the idea had been planted in people’s minds, he went out and collected enough money to pave the roads around the marketplace (which was an important hub for business).

After the roads around the marketplace had been paved, another problem developed. Since the people and the carriages were still passing through the quagmires on the unpaved roads and then walked onto the paved roads, now the paved roads become dirty and filled with mud and dirt.

So, once again, Frankie took action. First and foremost, he found some individual who was in need of money, and struck a deal with him to clean the paved roads for a certain fixed sum. Then, he printed and passed out flyers specifying how the paved roads were becoming dirty and filled with mud themselves, and how it would be beneficial for business in the marketplace for the roads to be kept clean.

In order to keep the streets clean and nourish the businesses in the marketplace, he proposed that a yearly fee be paid which would be used to pay the cleaner. People of course agreed, and so a certain tax was thereafter created which benefited the people.

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