The only certainties are death and taxes

"It's not slab, it's variable", that was my helpful phrase for Autumn Statement day, as we struggled to work out what the chancellor had done to Stamp Duty.

The old system was simple, but threw up a problem. Huge spikes of house sales at £250,000 and £500,000 - just below the threshold of a higher rate stamp duty. The treasury's graph illustrates it well:

The graph on the next page also shows clearly what has changed:

The government has clearly picked the best examples of savings - £4,500 at £250,001 - but whoever put a house out at that price under the old system?

I was reminded of the window tax in the 1700s, which led to people bricking up windows to avoid it and the eventual repeal when it became a health hazard.

And there are plenty of other examples, from salt and hats, to wallpaper, taxed in Britain from 1712 and creatively avoided by people using hand drawn stencils.

Coming up to date, in 2005 Tennessee brought in a tax on illegal drug dealing. They were asked to pay anonymously, of course.

And Ireland has introduced a tax on cow flatulence as it tries to prevent damage to the ozone layer - $18 a cow.

At least George Osborne avoided the excesses of Peter the Great, who taxed beards in an attempt to persuade Russian men to become more Western in appearance.