Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. IV.: Of the several wayes of Taxe, and first, of setting a part, a proportion of the whole Territory for Publick uses, in the nature of Crown Lands; and secondly, by way of Assessement, or Land-taxe. - The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, vol. 1
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CHAP. IV.: Of the several wayes of Taxe, and first, of setting a part, a proportion of the whole Territory for Publick uses, in the nature of Crown Lands; and secondly, by way of Assessement, or Land-taxe. - Sir William Petty, The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, vol. 1 
The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, together with The Observations upon Bills of Mortality, more probably by Captain John Graunt, ed. Charles Henry Hull (Cambridge University Press, 1899), 2 vols.
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Of the several wayes of Taxe, and first, of setting a part, a proportion of the whole Territory for Publick uses, in the nature of Crown Lands; and secondly, by way of Assessement, or Land-taxe.
BUt supposing, that the several causes of Publick Charge are lessened as much as may be, and that the people be well satisfied, and contented to pay their just shares of what is needfull for their Government and Protection, as also for the Honour of their Prince and Countrey: It follows now to propose the several wayes, and expedients, how the same may be most easily, speedily, and insensibly collected. The which I shall do, by exposing the conveniencies and inconveniences of some of the principal wayes of Levyings, used of later years within the several States of Europe: unto which others of smaller and more rare use may be referred.
2. Imagine then, a number of people, planted in a Territory, who had upon Computation concluded, that two Millions of pounds per annum, is necessary to the publick charges. Or rather, who going more wisely to work, had computed a twenty fifth part of the proceed of all their Lands and Labours, were to be the Excisium† , or the part to be cut out, and laid aside for publick uses. Which proportions perhaps are fit enough to the affairs of England, but of that hereafter.
3. Now the question is, how the one or the other shall be raised. The first way we propose, is, to Excize the very Land it self in kinde; that is, to cut out of the whole twenty five Millions, which are said to be in England and Wales, as much Land in specie, as whereof the Rack-rent would be two Millions, viz. about four Millions of Acres, which is about a sixth part of the whole; making the said four Millions to be ‖ Crown Lands, and as the four Counties1 intended to be reserved in Ireland upon the forfeitures were. Or else to excize a sixth part of the rent of the whole, which is about the proportion, that the Adventurers and Souldiers in Ireland retribute to the King, as Quit Rents. Of which two wayes, the latter is manifestly the better, the King having more security, and more obliges† ; provided the trouble and charge of this universal Collection, exceed not that of the other advantage considerably.
4. This way in a new State would be good, being agreed upon, as it was in Ireland, before men had even the possession of any Land at all; wherefore whosoever buyes Land in Ireland hereafter, is no more concerned with the Quit Rents wherewith they are charged, then if the Acres were so much the fewer; or then men are, who buy Land, out of which they know Tythes are to be paid. And truly that Countrey is happy, in which by Original Accord, such a Rent is reserved, as whereby the Publick charge may be born, without contingent, sudden, superadditions, in which lies the very Ratio of the burthen of all Contributions and Exactions. For in such cases, as was said before, it is not onely the Landlord payes, but every man who eats but an Egg, or an Onion of the growth of his Lands; or who useth the help of any Artisan, which feedeth on the same.
5. But if the same were propounded in England, viz. if an aliquot part of every Landlords Rent were excinded or retrenched, then those whose Rents were settled, and determined for long times to come, would chiefly bear the burthen of such an Imposition, and others have a benefit thereby. For suppose A. and B. have each of them a parcel of Land, of equal goodness and value; suppose also that A. hath let his parcel for twenty one years at twenty pound per annum, but that B. is free; now there comes out a Taxe of a fifth part; hereupon B. will not let under 251. that his remainder may be twenty, whereas A. must be contented with sixteen neat; nevertheless the Tenants of A. will sell the proceed of their bargain at the same rate, that the Tenants of B. shall do. ‖ The effect of all this is; First, that the Kings fifth part of B. his Farm shall be greater then before. Secondly, that the Farmer to B. shall gain more then before the Taxe. Thirdly, that the Tenant or Farmer of A. shall gain as much as the King and Tenant to B. both. Fourthly, the Tax doth ultimately light upon the Landlord A. and the Consumptioners. From whence it follows, that a Land-taxe resolves into an irregular Excize upon consumptions, that those bear it most, who least complain. And lastly, that some Landlords may gain, and onely such whose Rents are predetermined shall loose; and that doubly, viz. one way by the raising1 of their revenues, and the other by exhausting† the prices of provisions upon them.
6. Another way is an Excisium out of the Rent of Houseing, which is much more uncertain then that of Land. For an House is of a double nature, viz. one, wherein it is a way and means of expence; the other, as ‘tis an Instrument and Tool of gain: for a Shop in London of less capacity and less charge in building then a fair Dining-Room in the same House unto which both do belong, shall nevertheless be of the greater value; so also shall a Dungeon, Sellar, then a pleasant Chamber; because the one is expence, the other profit. Now the way‡ Land-taxe rates housing, as of the latter nature, but the Excize, as of the former.
7. We might sometimes†† adde hereunto, that housing is sometimes disproportionately taxed to discourage Building2 , especially upon new Foundations, thereby to prevent the growth of a City3 ; suppose London, such excessive and overgrown Cities being dangerous to Monarchy, though the more secure when the supremacy is in Citizens of such places themselves, as in Venice.
8. But we say, that such checking of new Buildings signifies nothing to this purpose; forasmuch as Buildings do not encrease, until the People already have increased: but the remedy of the above mentioned dangers is to be sought in the causes of the encrease of People, the which if they can be nipt, the other work will necessarily be done.‖
But what then is the true effect of forbidding to build upon new foundations? I answer to keep and fasten the City to its old seat and ground-plot, the which encouragement for new Buildings will remove, as it comes to pass almost in all great Cities, though insensibly, and not under many years progression.
9. The reason whereof is, because men are unwilling to build new houses at the charge of pulling down their old, where both the old house it self, and the ground it stands upon do make a much dearer ground-plot for a new house, and yet far less free and convenient; wherefore men build upon new free foundations, and cobble up old houses,. until they become fundamentally irreparable, at which time they become either the dwelling of the Rascality, or in process of time return to waste and Gardens again, examples whereof are many even about London.
Now if great Cities are naturally apt to remove their Seats, I ask which way? I say, in the case of London, it must be Westward, because the Windes blowing near ¾ of the year from the West1 , the dwellings of the West end are so much the more free from the fumes, steams, and stinks of the whole Easterly Pyle; which where Seacoal is burnt is a great matter. Now if it follow from hence, that the Pallaces of the greatest men will remove Westward, it will also naturally follow, that the dwellings of others who depend upon them will creep after them. This we see in London, where the Noblemens ancient houses are now become Halls for Companies, or turned into Tenements, and all the Pallaces are gotten Westward; Insomuch, as I do not doubt but that five hundred years hence, the King's Pallace will be near Chelsey, and the old building of Whitchall converted to usaes more answerable to their quality. For to build a new Royal Pallace upon the same ground will be too great a confinement, in respect of Gardens and other magnificencies, and withall a disaccommodation in the time of the work; but it rather seems to me, that the next Palace will be built from the whole present contignation of houses at such a distance as the old Pallace1 of Westminster ‖ was from the City of London, when the Archers began to bend their bowes just without Ludgate, and when all the space between the Thames, Fleet-street, and Holborn was as Finsbury-Fields are now.
10. This digression I confess to be both impertinent to the business of Taxes, and in it self almost need;ess; for why should we trouble our selves what shall be five hundred years hence, not knowing what a day may bring forth; and since ‘tis not unlikely, but that before that time we may be all transplanted from hence into America, these Countreys being overrun with Turks, and made waste, as the Seats of the famous Eastern Empires at this day are.
11. Only I think ‘tis certain, that while ever there are people in England, the greatest cohabitation of them will be about the place which is now London, the Thames being the most commodities River of this Island, and the seat of London the most commodities part of the Thames; so much doth the means of facilitating Carriage greaten a City, which may put us in minde of employing our idle Cawseys, and Rivers nevigable: Which considerations brings me back round into my way of Taxes, from whence I digrest.
12. But before we talk too much of Rents† , we should endeavour to explain the mysterious nature of them, with reference as well to Money, the rent of which we call usury; as to that of Lands and Houses, afore-mentioned.
13. Suppose a man could with his own hands plant a certain scope of Land with Corn, that is, could Digg, or Plough, Harrow, Weed, Reap, Carry home, Thresh, and Winnow so much as the Husbandry of this Land requires; and had withal Seed wherewith to sowe the same. I say, that when this man hath subducted his seed out of the proceed of his Harvest, and also, what himself hath both eaten and given to others in exchange for Cloths, and other Natural necessaries; that the remainder of Corn is the natural and true Rent of the Land for that year; and the medium of seven years, or rather of so many years as makes up the Cycle, within which ‖ Dearths and Plenties make their revolution, doth give the ordinary Rent of the Land in Corn.
14. But a further, though collaterall question may be, how much English money this Corn or Rent is worth? I answer, so much as the money, which another single man can save, within the same time, over and above his expence, if he imployed himself wholly to produce and make it; viz. Let another man go travel into a Countrey where is Silver there Dig it, Refine it, bring it to the same place where the other man planted his Corn; Coyne it, &c. the same person, all the while of his working for Silver, gathering also food for his necessary livelihood, and procuring himself covering, &c. I say, the Silver of the one, must be esteemed of equal value with the Corn of the other: the one being perhaps twenty Ounces and the other twenty Bushels. From whence it follows, that the price of a Bushel of this Corn to be an Ounce of Silver.
15. And Forasmuch as possibly there may be more Art and Hazzard in working about the Silver, then about the Corn, yet all comes to the same pass; for let a hundred men work ten years upon Corn, and the same number of men, the same time, upon Silver; I say, that the neat proceed of the Silver is the price of the whole neat proceed of the Corn, and like parts of the one, the price of like parts of the other. Although not so many of those who wrought in Silver, learned the Art of refining and coining, or out-lived the dangers and diseases of working in the Mines. And this also is the way of pitching the true proportion, between the values of Gold and Silver, which many times is set but by popular errour, sometimes more, sometimes less, diffused in the world; which errour (by the way) is the cause of our having been pestred with too much Gold heretofore, and wanting it now1 .
16. This, I say, to be the foundation of equallizing and ballancing of values; yet in the superstructures and practices hereupon, I confess there is much variety, and intricacy; of which hereafter.
17. The world measures things by Gold and Silver, but principally the latter; for there may not be two measures, ‖ and consequently the better of many must be the onely of all; that is, by fine silver of a certain weight: but now if it be hard to measure the weight and fineness of silver, as by the different reports of the ablest Saymasters I have known it to be; and if silver granted to be of the same fineness and weight, rise and fall in its price, and be more worth at one place then another, not onely for being farther from the Mines, but for other accidents, and may be more worth at present, then a moneth or other small time hence; and if it differ in its proportion unto the several things valued by it, in several ages upon the increase and diminution thereof, we shall endeavour to examine some other natural Standards and Measures, without derogating from the excellent use of these.
18. Our Silver and Gold we call by severall names, as in England by pounds, shillings, and pence, all which may be called and understood by either of the three. But that which I would say upon this matter is, that all things ought to be valued by two natural Denominations, which is Land and Labour; that is, we ought to say, a Ship or garment is worth such a measure of Land, with such another measure of Labour; forasmuch as both Ships and Garments were the creatures of Lands and mens Labours thereupon: This being true, we should be glad to finde out a natural Par between Land and Labour, so as we might express the value by either of them alone as well or better then by both, and reduce one into the other as easily and certainly as we reduce pence into pounds. Wherefore we would be glad to finde the natural values of the Fee simple of Land, though but no better then we have done that of the usus fructus above-mentioned, which we attempt as followeth.
19. Having found the Rent or value of the usus fructus per annum, the question is, how many years purchase (as we usually say) is the Fee simple naturally worth? If we say an infinite number, then an Acre of Land would be equal in value to a thousand Acres of the same Land; which is absurd, an infinity of unites being equal to an infinity of thousands. Wherefore we must pitch upon some limited number, and that I apprehend ‖ to be the number of years, which I conceive one man of fifty years old, another of twenty eight, and another of seven years old, all being alive together may be thought to live1 ; that is to say, of a Grandfather, Father, and Childe; few men having reason to take care of more remote Posterity: for if a man be a great Grandfather, he himself is so much the nearer his end, so as there are but three in a continual line of descent usually co-existing together; and as some are Grandfathers at forty years, yet as many are not till above sixty, and sic de cæteris.
20. Wherefore I pitch the number of years purchase, that any Land is naturally worth, to be the ordinary extent of three such persons their lives. Now in England we esteem three lives equal to one and twenty years, and consequently the value of Land, to be about the same number of years purchase Possibly if they thought themselves mistaken in the one, (as the observator on the Bills of Mortality thinks they are2 ) they would alter in the other, unless the consideration of the force of popular errour and dependance of things already concatenated, did hinder them.
21. This I esteem to be the number of years purchase where Titles are good, and where there is a moral certainty of enjoying the purchase. But in other Countreys Lands are worth nearer thirty years purchase, by reason of the better Titles, more people, and perhaps truer opinion of the value and duration of three lives.
22. And in some places, Lands are worth yet more years purchase by reason of some special honour, pleasures, priviledge or jurisdiction annexed unto them.
23. On the other hand, Lands are worth fewer years purchase (as in Ireland) for the following reasons, which I have here set down, as unto the like whereof the cause of the like cheapness in anyother place may be imputed.
First, In Ireland, by reason of the frequent Rebellions, (in which if you are conquered, all is lost; or if you conquer, yet you are subject to swarms of thieves and robbers) and the envy which precedent missions of English have against the ‖ subsequent perpetuity it self is but forty years long, as within which time some ugly disturbance hath hitherto happened almost ever since the first coming of the English thither.
24. 2. The Claims upon Claims which each hath to the others Estates, and the facility of making good any pretence whatsoever by the favour of some one or other of the many Governours and Ministers which within forty years shall be in power there; as also by the frequency of false testimonies, and abuse of solemn Oaths.
25. 3. The paucity of Inhabitants, there being not above the ⅕th part so many as the Territory would maintain, and of those but a small part do work at all, and yet a smaller work so much as in other Countreys.
26. 4. That a great part of the Estates, both real and personal in Ireland, are owned by Absentees, and such as draw over the profits raised out of Ireland refunding nothing; so as Ireland exporting more then it imports doth yet grow poorer to a paradox.
27. 5. The difficulty of executing justice, so many of those in power being themselves protected by Offices, and protecting others. Moreover, the number of criminous and indebted persons being great, they favour their like in Juries, Offices, and wheresoever they can: Besides, the Countrey is seldom† enough to give due encouragement to profound Judges and Lawyers, which makes judgements very casual; ignorant men being more bold to be apt and arbitrary, then such as understand the dangers of it. But all this with‡ a little care in due season might remedy, so as to bring Ireland in a few years to the same level of values with other places; but of this also elsewhere more at large, for in the next place we shall come to Usury. ‖
[†]The counties of Dublin, Kildare, Carlow, and Cork,
read [Excisum] not [Excisium]
[†]read [obligees] not [obliges]
Perhaps “by the not raising” was intended.
[†]read [enhansing] not [exhausting]
[‡]between [way and Land-Tax] interline [of a]
Act of 1656, c. 24, Scobell, H. 484; An Act for preventing the Multiplicity of Buildings in and about the suburbs of London. Cunningham, Engl. Industry, 11. 174.
A more intelhgible punctuation would be: ‘of a City, suppose London; such excessive and overgrown cities.’
Evelyn had proposed that all works using sea-coal be removed by Act of Parliament to a point on the Thames five or six miles below London, because at any less interval they would not only prodigiously infect his Majesty's royal seat but during our nine months Etesians (for so we may justly name our tedious Western-winds) utterly darken and confound one of the most princely and magnificent prospects that the world has to show. Fumifugium (1661), 16.
1679 ed., “whole Pallace.”
[†]between [Rents and we] interline [in order to Taxes]
In 1661, the exportation of gold continuing in spite of the proclamation of 10th June directed against it, the King and council took expert advice and raised the value of gold coin. 20 Nov., 1661, a further remedy was attempted by a proclamation forbidding the gilding of coaches. Ruding, Annals, II. 4.
Cf. Wieser, Natural Value, 159–160.
Graunt does not discuss the point directly, Observations, ch. XI.
[†]between [seldom and enough] interline [rich]