51 pages 1 hour read

Mark Kurlansky

Salt: A World History

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2002

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Part 2: Chapters 14-17

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 2: “The Glow of Herring and the Scent of Conquest”

Part 2, Chapter 14 Summary: “Liberté, Egalité, Tax Breaks”

Kurlansky writes that “[i]n 1875, a prominent German despot named Matthias Jakob Schleiden wrote a book, Das Salz, which contended that there was a direct correlation between salt taxes and despots” (225). He cites the French salt tax, called the gabelle, as a prime example of mistakes made by the French monarchy. The gabelle was supposed to be an equal tax on everyone, since nearly everyone used salt; however, “[t]he gabelle made a basic product expensive, for the profit of the Crown” (225). The French monarchy imposed a 1.6 percent sales tax on salt. Successive monarchs raised the salt tax when in a financial crisis, and by 1660, the salt tax was a leading source of income for the state.

In 1670, there was a law against suicide. The criminal code was revised to require that the bodies of suicides be salted and displayed publicly. Jean-Baptiste Colbert was a financial adviser to Louis XIV and considered salt to be a valuable export product: “In 1680 he revised the gabelle, codifying the inequities among regions into six unequal zones” (228). Now some of the French citizens who used the least salt were responsible for paying the majority of the state’s salt revenue.

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By Mark Kurlansky