Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. II.: That some kind of Taxes and Publick Levies, may rather increase than diminish the Wealth of the Kingdom . - The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, vol. 1
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CHAP. II.: That some kind of Taxes and Publick Levies, may rather increase than diminish the Wealth of the Kingdom . - 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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That some kind of Taxes and Publick Levies, may rather increase than diminish the Wealth of the Kingdom.
What shifting of Money from hand is profitable or not.IF the Money or other Effects, levyed from the People by way of Tax, were destroyed and annihilated; then 'tis clear, that such Levies would diminish the Commonwealth: Or if the same were exported out of the Kingdom without any return at all, then the case would be also the same or worse1 : But if what is levyed as aforesaid, be only transferred from one hand to another, then we are only to consider whether the said Money or Commodities, are taken from an improving hand, and given to an ill Husband, or vice versa: As for example, suppose that Money by way of Tax, be taken from one who spendeth the same in superfluous eating and drinking; and delivered to another ‖ who employeth the same, in improving of Land, in Fishing, in working of Mines, in Manufacture, &c. It is manifest, that such Tax is an advantage to the State whereof the said different Persons are Members: Nay, if Money be taken from him, who spendeth the same as aforesaid upon eating and drinking, or any other perishing Commodity; and the same transferr'd to one that bestoweth it on Cloaths; I say, that even in this case, the Commonwealth hath some little advantage; because Cloaths do not altogether perish so soon as Meats and Drinks: But if the same be spent in Furniture of Houses, the advantage is yet a little more; if in Building of Houses, yet more; if in improving of Lands; working of Mines, Fishing, &c. yet more; but most of all, in bringing Gold and Silver into the Country: Because those things are not only not perishable, but are esteemed for Wealth at all times, and every where: Whereas other Commodities which are perishable, or whose value depends upon the Fashion; or which are contingently scarce and plentiful, are wealth, but pro hic & nunc, as shall be2 elsewhere said ‖.
In the next place if the People of any Country, who have not already a full employment, should be enjoyned or Taxed Taxing of new works a benefit to the Commonwealth. to work upon such Commodities as are Imported from abroad; I say, that such a Tax, also doth improve the Commonwealth.
Moreover, if Persons who live by begging, cheating, stealing, gaming, borrowing without intention of restoring; The taxing of Idlers. who by those ways do get from the credulous and careless, more than is sufficient for the subsistence of such Persons; I say, that although the State should have no present employment for such Persons, and consequently should be forced to bear the whole charge of their livelyhood; yet it were more for the publick profit to give all such Persons, a regular and competent allowance by Publick Tax; than to suffer them to spend extravagantly, at the only charge of careless, credulous, and good natured People: And to expose the Commonwealth to the loss of so many able Men, whose lives are taken away, for the crimes which ill Discipline doth occasion. ‖
On the contrary, If the Stocks of laborious and ingenious Men, who are not only beautifying the Country where they live by elegant Dyet, Apparrel, Furniture, Housing, pleasant Gardens, Orchards, and Publick Edifices, &c. But are also increasing the Gold, Silver, and Jewels of the Country by Trade and Arms; I say, if the Stock of these Men should be diminished by a Tax, and transferred to such as do nothing at all, but eat and drink, sing, play, and dance: nay to such as study the Metaphysicks, or other needless Speculation; or else employ themselves in any other way, which produce no material thing, or things of real use and value in the Commonwealth: In this case, the Wealth of the Publick will be diminished: Otherwise than as such exercises, are recreations and refreshments of the mind; and which being moderately used, do qualifie and dispose Men to what in it self is more considerable.
Wherefore upon the whole matter, to know whether a Tax will do good or harm: The State of the People, and their employments, must be well known; (that is to say,) what part of the People ‖ are unfit for Labour by their Infancy or Impotency; and also what part are exempt from the same, by reason of their Wealth, Function, or Dignities; or by reason of their charge and employments; otherwise than in governing, directing and preserving those, who are appointed to Labour and Arts.
2. In the next place computation must be made, what part of those who are fit for Labour and Arts as aforesaid, are able to perform the work of the Nation in its present State and Measure1 .
3. It is to be considered, whether the remainder can A judgment of what taxes are advantageous. make all or any part of those Commodities, which are Imported from abroad; which of them, and how much in particular: The remainder of which sort of People (if any be) may safely and without possible prejudice to the Commonwealth, be employed in Arts and Exercises of pleasure and ornament; the greatest whereof is the Improvement of natural knowledge.
Having thus in general illustrated this point, which I think needs no other proof but illustration; I come next to intimate that no part of Europe hath ‖ paid so much by way of Tax, and publick contribution, as Holland and Zealand for this last 100 Years; and yet no Country hath in the same time, increased their Wealth1 comparably to them: And it is manifest they have followed the general considerations above-mentioned; for they Tax Meats and Drinks most heavily of all; to restrain the excessive expence of those things, which 24 hours doth (as to the use of Man,) wholly annihilate; and they are more favourable to Commodities of greater duration.
Nor do they Tax according to what Men gain, but in extraordinary cases; but always according to what Men spend: And most of all, according to what they spend needlesly, and without prospect of return. Upon which grounds, their Customs upon Goods Imported and Exported, are generally low; as if they intended by them, only to keep an account of their Foreign Trade; and to retaliate upon It is probable that Holland and England are grown richer under taxes their Neighbour States, the prejudices done them, by their Prohibitions and Impositions.
It is further to be observed, that since the Year 1636, the Taxes and Publick ‖ Levies made in England, Scotland, and Ireland, have been prodigiously greater than at any time heretofore; and yet the said Kingdoms have increased in their Wealth and Strength, for these last Forty Years, as shall hereafter be shewn2 .
It is said that the King of France, at present doth Levy The difference of Princes Revenues. the Fifth Part of his Peoples Wealth; and yet great Ostentation is made of the Present Riches and Strength of that Kingdom. Now1 great care must be had in distinguishing between the Wealth of the People, and that of an absolute Monarch; who taketh from the People, where, when, and in what proportion he pleaseth. Moreover2 , the Subjects of two Monarchs may be equally Rich, and yet one Monarch may be double as Rich as the other; viz. If one take the tenth part of the Peoples Substance to his own dispose, and the other but the 20th. nay the Monarch of a poorer People, may appear more splendid and glorious, than that of a Richer; which perhaps may be somewhat the case of France, as hereafter shall be examined. As an instance and application of what hath been ‖ said, I conceive that in IrelandThat Ireland may be more advantageously taxed by a Pole in Flax wherein are about 1200 Thousand People, and near3 300 Thousand Smokes4 or Hearths5 ; It were more tolerable for the People, and more profitable for the King; that each Head paid 2s. worth of Flax, than that each smoke should pay 2s. in Silver; And that for the following reasons.
1. Ireland being under peopled, and Land, and Cattle being very cheap; there being every where store of Fish and Fowl; the ground yielding excellent Roots (and particularly1 that bread-like root Potatoes) and withal they being able to perform their Husbandry, with such harness and tackling, as each Man can make with his own hands; and living in such Houses as almost every Man can build2 ; and every House-wife being a Spinner and Dyer of Wool and Yarn, they can live and subsist after their present fashion, without the use of Gold or Silver Money; and can supply themselves with the necessaries above named, without labouring 2 Hours per diem: Now it hath been found, that by reason of Insolvencies arising, rather from the uselessness than want of Money ‖ among these poor People; that from 300 Thousand Hearths, which should have yielded 30 Thousand Pound per annum; not 15 Thousand Pound of Money could be Levyed: Whereas it is easily imagined, that four or five People dwelling in that Cottage, which hath but one smoke; could easily have planted a ground-plot of about 40 foot square with Flax; or the 50 part of an Acre; for so much ground will bear eight or ten Shillings worth of that Commodity; and the Rent of so much ground, in few places amounts to a penny per annum. Nor is there any skill requisite to this practice, wherewith the Country is not already familiar. Now as for a Market for the Flax; there is Imported into Holland it self, over and above what that Country produces; as much Flax, as is there sold for between Eightscore and Two Hundred Thousand Pound; and into England and Ireland is Imported as much Linnen Cloth made of Flax, and there spent, as is worth above ½ a Million of Money. As shall hereafter be shewn1 .
Wherefore having shewn, that Silver Money is useless to the poor People of ‖ Ireland; that half the Hearth Money could not be raised by reason thereof; that the People are not a fifth part employed; that the People and Land of Ireland, are competently qualified for Flax; That one Penny-worth of Land, will produce Ten Shillings2 worth of the same; and that there is Market enough and enough, for above an Hundred Thousand Pounds worth; I conceive my Proposition sufficiently proved; at least to set forwards and promote a practice, which both the present Law and Interest of the Country doth require: Especially, since if all the Flax so produced should yield nothing, yet there is nothing lost; the same time having been worse spent before. Upon the same grounds, the like Tax of 2 s. per Head, may be raised with the like advantage upon the People of England; which will amount to Six Hundred Thousand Pound per annum; to be paid in Flax, Manufactured, into all the sorts of Linnens, Threds, Tapes, and Laces; which we now receive from France, Flanders, Holland, and Germany; the value whereof doth far exceed the summ last mentioned, as hath appeared by the examination of particulars. ‖
It is observed by Clothiers, and others, who employ great Duties put upon redundant Commodities may be a harmless Tax. numbers of poor people, that when Corn is extremely plentiful3 , that the Labour of the poor is proportionably dear4 : And scarce to be had at all (so licentious are they who labour only to eat, or rather to drink.) Wherefore when so many Acres sown with Corn, as do usually produce a sufficient store for the Nation, shall produce perhaps double to what is expected or necessary; it seems not unreasonable that this common blessing of God, should be applied, to the common good of all people, represented by their Sovereign; much rather than the1 same should be abused, by the vile and brutish part of mankind, to the prejudice of the Common-Wealth: And consequently, that such surplusage of Corn, should be sent to publick Store-houses; from thence to be disposed of, to the best advantage of the Publick.
Now if the Corn spent in England, at five shillings per Bushel Wheat, and two shillings six pence Barley, be worth ten Millions Communibus annis; it follows that in years of great plenty, when the said Grains are one third part ‖ cheaper; that a vast advantage might accrue to the Common-Wealth, which now is spent in over-feeding of the People, in quantity or quality; and so indisposing them to their usual Labour.
The like may be said of Sugar, Tobacco, and Pepper; which custom hath now made necessary to all sorts of people; and which the over-planting of them, hath made unreasonably cheap: I say it is not absurd, that the Publick should be advantaged by this extraordinary plenty.
That an Excise should be laid upon Corrants2 also, is not unreasonable; not only for this, but for other reasons also
The way of the present Militia or Trained-Bands, is a Of a Tax by a grand Militia, and by two other sorts of Armies. gentle Tax upon the Country; because it is only a few days Labour in the year, of a few Men in respect of the whole; using their own goods, that is their3 own Arms. Now if there be three Millions of Males in England, there be above two hundred thousand of them, who are between the age of sixteen and thirty, unmarried persons; and who live by their ‖ Labour and Service; for of so many or thereabouts, the present Militia consists.
Now if an hundred and five4 thousand of these, were Armed, and Trayned, as Foot; and fifty thousand as Horse; (Horse being of special advantage in Islands)5 the said Forces at Land, with thirty thousand Men at Sea; would by Gods ordinary blessing, defend this Nation, being an Island, against any Force in view: But the charge of Arming, Disciplining, and Rendezvousing all these Men, twice, or thrice a year; would be a very gentle Tax, Levyed by the people themselves, and paid to themselves. Moreover if out of the said number ⅓ part were selected, of such as are more than ordinarily fit and disposed1 for War, and to be Exercised, and Rendezvoused fourteen or fifteen times per annum; the charge thereof being but a fortnights Pay in the year, would be also a very gentle Tax.
Lastly, If out of this last mentioned number, ⅓ again should be selected, making about twelve2 thousand Foot, and near3 six thousand Horse, to be Exercised, ‖ and Rendezvoused forty days in the year; I say that the charge of all these three Militias, allowing the latter six weeks Pay per annum; would not cost above one hundred and twenty thousand pound per annum; which I take to be an easie burthen, for so great a benefit.
For supplying the Navy, and Merchants with Seamen. Forasmuch as the present Navy of England requires thirty six thousand Men to Man it; and for that the English Trade of Shipping, requires about forty eight thousand Men, to manage it also; it follows, that to perform both well, there ought to be about seventy two thousand Men, (and not eighty four thousand) competently4 qualified for these Services: For want whereof we see, that it is a long while, before a Royal Navy can be manned; which till it be, is of no effectual use, but lies at charge. And we see likewise upon these occasions, that Merchants are put to great straights, and inconveniences; and do pay excessive rates for the carrying on their Trade. Now if twenty four thousand able bodyed Tradesmen, were by5 six thousand of them6per annum, brought up and fitted for Sea-Service; and for ‖ their incouragement allowed 20s. per annum for every year they had been at Sea, even when they stay at home, not exceeding 6l. for those, who have served six years or upward; it follows, that about 72000l. at the medium of 3l. per Man, would Salariate the whole number of twenty four thousand1 ; and so, forasmuch as half the Seamen, which mannage the Merchants Trade, are supposed to be always in Harbour, and are about twenty four thousand2 Men, together with the said half of the Auxilliaries last mentioned, would upon all3 emergencies, Man out the whole Royal Navy with thirty six thousand4 , and leaving to the Merchants twelve thousand of the abler Auxilliaries, to perform their business in Harbour, till others come home from Sea; and thus thirty six thousand, twenty four thousand, and twelve thousand, make the seventy two thousand above mentioned5 : I say that more than this sum of 72000l. is fruitlesly spent, and over paid by the Merchants, whensoever a great Fleet is to be fitted out. Now these whom I call Auxilliary Seamen, are such as have another Trade besides, wherewith ‖ to maintain themselves, when they are not employed at Sea; and the charge of maintaining them, though 72000l. per annum, I take to be little or nothing, for the reasons above mentioned, and consequently an easie Tax to the people, because Leavyed by, and paid to themselves.
As we propounded that Ireland should be Taxed with A Herring Tax upon Scotland. Flax, and England by Linnen, and other Manufacture of the same; I conceive that Scotland also might be Taxed as much, to be paid in Herrings, as Ireland in Flax: Now the three Taxes (viz.) of Flax, Linnen, and Herrings, and the maintainance of the triple Militia, and of the Auxilliary Seamen above-mentioned, do all five of them together, amount to one Million of mony, the raising whereof is not a Million spent, but gain unto the Common-Wealth, unless it can be made appear, that by reason of all, or any of them, the Exportation of Woollen Manufactures, Lead, and Tin, are lessened; or of such Commodities, as our own East and West India Trade do produce, forasmuch as I conceive, that the Exportation ‖ of these last mentioned Commodities, is the Touch-stone whereby the Wealth of England is tryed, and the Pulse whereby the Health of the Kingdom may be discerned.
S, ‘or worse’ inserted by Petty.
S, R, ‘as hath been.’ See p. 259–260.
G has a dash in place of ‘their Wealth.’
See ch. VI.
S, ‘Although,’ altered to ‘Now’ by Petty.
S, ‘Moreover’ inserted by Petty.
S, ‘about,’ altered to ‘near’ by Petty.
These estimates, being larger than those given in the Polit. Anat., p. 141, argue the later completion of the Polit. Arith Cf. p. 236.
The 8 August, 1662 the Irish Commons, after a long debate, unanimously agreed to abolish the court of wards and to substitute a tax of two shillings annually upon all the hearths in Ireland for ever, according to a similar tax in England. Mountmorres, Hist. of the Irish Parlt., 11. 126, 127; see 14 & 15 Charles II. c. 17, Ireland. The duty was payable by the occupier at one entire payment on the 10th January each year, and was recoverable by distress and sale of his goods. No persons were exempt except those who lived upon alms and widows who procured certificates from two justices of the peace yearly, in writing, that the houses which they inhabited were of no greater value than 8s. a year and that they did not have chattels to the value of 4£. Evasions led to the passage of 17 & 18 Charles II. c. 18, Ireland (1665), which imposed fines for the concealment of hearths and provided that houses having no fixed hearth should be charged two hearths. Until 1704 this tax was farmed by counties to the highest bidder. Howard, A Treatise of the Exchequer and Revenue of Ireland, 1. 89–91. The tax, was beyond question, exceedingly oppressive, and evasions must have been so frequent as to render the returns but an imperfect basis for calculating the population.
S, inserts ‘great plenty of that.’
The original form of S is here represented by Roman type, Petty's corrections by Italic:
The promise was not kept.
S, ‘about 10 s.’
S, ‘extream plentiful.’
The common assumption of economic theory has been precisely the reverse, viz. that wages will be low when food is plentiful. Petty's assertion, however, is confirmed by the observant author (?W. Temple, or J. Cunningham) of An Essay on Trade and Commerce (1770), pp. 14–16, and Ricardo admitted that it was true of Ireland even in his time. Letters to Malthus, 138. See also Malthus, Political Economy (1820), pp. 382–388, Cunningham, English Industry, II. 689.
S, R, ‘much less that the.’
S, ‘of their.’
S, R, 1691, ‘fifty,’ cf. errata?
S, ‘(Horse being of speciall advantage in islands)’ is inserted by Petty.
S, ‘and disposed’ inserted by Petty.
S, R, 1691, 'sixteen.’ Cf. errata?
S, R, omit ‘near.’
S, ‘& not 84000’ inserted by Petty, R, ‘about 84000 completely,’ altered to ‘about 72000 completely,’ by Petty.
G, ‘whereby.’ The 1683 ed. probably was not printed from S or R, as the words ‘were by’ are plainly written in both.
S, ‘of them’ inserted by Petty, not in R.
S, ‘of 24000’ inserted by Petty, not in R.
S, ‘men, the said halfe, together with halfe the Auxiliaryes,’ R, ‘men, together with the said [Italicized words inserted] halfe the Auxiliaries last mentioned, would upon emergencies man out the whole Royall Navy, leaving to the Merchants 12 Thousand of the abler auxiliaries to performe their business in harbour, till others come back from the Sea. I say that.’
S, ‘all’ inserted by Petty.
S, ‘with 36000’ inserted by Petty.
S, ‘And thus 36000, 24000 and twelve make up ye 72000 above mentioned’ inserted by Petty, not in R.