How to tackle the distortionary effect of taxation

Taxation generally has nasty side-effects, because when you tax something people tend to do/produce/buy less of it. These tax-induced changes in bahaviour not only lead to inefficiency, but they also cause the resulting tax yield to be lower compared to what it would have been with no change in behaviour. Modern governments tend to treat these tax-induced behavioural changes as fair-play, but the pioneers would apparently have none of it:

During the various reins of the Egyptian Pharaohs tax collectors were known as scribes. During one period the scribes imposed a tax on cooking oil. To insure that citizens were not avoiding the cooking oil tax scribes would audit households to insure that appropriate amounts of cooking oil were consumed and that citizens were not using leavings generated by other cooking processes as a substitute for the taxed oil.

From the not-very-reliable-looking Tax World website.