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[CHAPTER IV.]: OF TAXES. - Dugald Stewart, Lectures on Political Economy, vol. 2 
Lectures on Political Economy. Now first published. Vol. II. To which is Prefixed, Part Third of the Outlines of Moral Philosophy, edited by Sir William Hamilton (Edinburgh, Thomas Constable, 1856).
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OF TAXES IN GENERAL.—INTRODUCTORY.]
It is evident that, in every political community, there are a variety of expenses which must be necessarily incurred by the sovereign for the public service. It is sufficient to mention the support of the Sovereign Dignity,—the Religious Establishment,—the Administration of Justice,—the National Defence,—besides Public Works, such as roads, ports, bridges, &c. These different objects of public expense (but, in a more especial manner, the exigencies of War) imply the necessity of a Public Revenue, to be at the disposal of the Sovereign, or of the Commonwealth. Something of this kind, therefore, may be considered as a necessary consequence of the Political Union; and the only difference among states, in this branch of their economy, consists, in the different sources from which the Public Revenue is drawn.
Among the nations of antiquity, the common practice appears to have been, to make provision for hostilities by hoarding up treasures during the intervals of peace which they enjoyed. Some good observations on this point of their policy may be found in the beginning of Mr. Hume’s Essay on Public Credit.1 It is unnecessary to prosecute the subject here, as their example has not been copied by any of the great European princes since the death of Henry IV. of France, with the exception of some of the last sovereigns in Prussia. Frederick William, at his death in 1740, is said to have left seven millions sterling in his treasury; and his son, Frederick the Great, (as we are assured by the Baron de Hertzberg,) accumulated twice the most considerable treasure that any prince ever possessed.1 It is, however, only by a very singular combination of circumstances that such a parsimonious spirit can exist for a length of time in a great monarchy in the present state of European manners. Nor is the case very different in our modern republics, of which many are in debt, and none are supposed to have amassed anything that deserves the name of a treasure but the Canton of Berne.
In great and civilized states, too, the progress of luxury and expense renders public stock and public lands altogether inadequate resources for supplying the necessary demands of Government. With respect to the former, a sufficient objection arises from the unstable and perishable nature of stock and credit, in consequence of which they cannot be trusted to with safety as the principal funds of a sure, steady, and permanent revenue; and as to the latter, it is asserted by Mr. Smith,* that “in the present state of the greater part of the civilized monarchies of Europe, the rent of all the lands in the country, managed as they probably would be if they all belonged to one proprietor, would scarce amount to the ordinary revenue which they levy upon the people even in peaceable times.”2
It follows from these observations, that in the present state of the great nations of Europe the greater part of the expenses of Government must be defrayed by taxes of one kind or another; or, in other words, by the contribution of private revenue for public purposes. As the sum which the state raises in this manner is the price of the protection which Government affords to the subject, there can be no limitation to the extent of what may be equitably levied, provided the value of the protection afforded is adequate to the amount of the contribution collected.
It is, however, the most important duty of a statesman to draw from the subject the necessary supply, in the manner the fairest and the least oppressive,—a task of which the difficulty appears to increase with the extent of the sum to be raised. To devise the most effectual means of accomplishing this end is the great object of the art of finance,—a branch of Political Economy which has long employed the speculations of the ablest and most enlightened men in Europe, without, however, as yet leading to any systematical result in which all parties are agreed. In England, more particularly, and in France, this science has exercised the ingenuity both of speculative and practical politicians in a singular degree, in consequence of the immense revenue which the magnitude of the public debts rendered absolutely necessary. These debts were indeed contracted, in the first instance, with a view to relieve the subject from oppressive impositions; but it is manifest that the relief which was thus procured to the existing generation was purchased by transferring the load to their posterity with an accumulated weight. It may be worth while to state, in a few words, (before entering on the subject of Taxation,) by what gradual steps the Funding System arose, as it may now be justly considered as the principal cause of the heavy burdens to which we are subjected.
The origin of Public Funds is to be traced from the peculiar manners and circumstances of modern Europe. In former times, princes had often borrowed money to supply their exigencies, and sometimes mortgaged their territories in security; but these loans were generally extorted, and their payment always precarious; for it depended on the good faith and success of the borrower, and never became a regular burden on posterity.
Since the invention of gunpowder and the progress of commerce, the military art has become a distinct employment in the hands of mercenaries; the apparatus of war is attended with more expense; and the decision of national quarrels has often been determined by command of money rather than by national bravery. Ambitious princes have therefore borrowed money, in order to carry on their projects with more vigour; weaker states have been compelled, in self-defence, to apply to the same resource; the wealth introduced by commerce has afforded the means; the regularity of administration, established in consequence of the progress of civilisation, has increased the confidence of individuals in the public security; the complicated system of modern policy has extended the scenes of war, and prolonged their duration; and the colonies established by mercantile nations have rendered them vulnerable in more points, and increased the expense of defending them.
When a greater sum has been required for the annual expense than could easily be supplied by annual taxes, the Government have proposed terms to their own subjects, or foreigners, for obtaining an advance of money, by mortgaging the revenue of future years for their indemnification. The sums which have been thus lent to Government, and which constitute the national debt, form what are called the Public Funds. The practice was introduced by the Venetians and the Genoese in the sixteenth century, and has been adopted since by most of the nations of Europe.”1
It is justly observed by Mr. Smith, that “the same commercial state of society which, by the operation of moral causes, brings Government into the necessity of borrowing, produces in the subjects both an ability and an inclination to lend.”* Merchants have at all times a proportion of their capital, and of the average returns of trade within their reach. Their natural confidence in the state where their property is lodged, leads them (particularly under free governments) to trust to the public faith, or if they should apprehend any unusual risk, the alarm will only have the effect of enhancing their demands in settling the terms of their bargain. As the debts, however, contracted by Government with the public creditors, differ from those between individuals in one important particular, that, in the former the lender is not at liberty to reclaim his principal, it is reasonable that the obligation from Government be of such a nature as to make the debt transferable to any other person who may be inclined to purchase it. The regular payment of the interest on the Government Funds, and the number of persons in this country who prefer the interest they afford to the hazardous profits of trade, secure continual demands for those shares in them which are brought to market. The facility also, and trifling expense with which transfers are made in these funds, are inducements to prefer vesting money in them to laying it out on mortgages or other private security, which, though probably yielding a greater interest, is frequently attended with trouble and uncertainty.1 By these constant transferences, the confidence reposed in the State is maintained and augmented; the funds are converted into a mighty engine for the circulation of capital; an immense field is opened for mercantile speculation in transactions with Government, and it becomes an object of interest and competition to advance money to the public. The consequence is such as might be expected; the readiness to lend increases the disposition to borrow, and the facility of getting money lessens the anxiety to save. Hence the rapid progress of the enormous debts which at present oppress all the great nations of Europe.
“The progress of these debts,” as Mr. Smith has remarked, “has been everywhere pretty uniform. Nations, like private men, have generally begun to borrow upon what may be called personal credit, without assigning or mortgaging any particular fund for the payment of the debt; and when this resource has failed them, they have proceeded to borrow upon assignments or mortgages of particular funds.”*
The establishment of the funds was introduced into Britain at the time of the Revolution, and has since been gradually enlarged, and carried to an amazing extent. In the reign of King William, and during a great part of that of Queen Anne, the greater portion of the new taxes were imposed but for a short period of time, (for four, five, six, or seven years only,) and a great part of the grants of every year consisted in loans upon anticipations of the produce of those taxes. The produce being frequently insufficient for paying within the limited term the principal and interest of the money borrowed, deficiencies arose, to make good which it became necessary to prolong the term. The continued operation of the same causes led Government to go on in this business of anticipation by mortgaging taxes for farther loans and longer periods, till they at length made the assignments perpetual in a great proportion of cases, or in other words converted taxes into a fund for the payment of perpetual annuities. In this manner, the greater part of the taxes which before had been anticipated only for a short term of years, were rendered perpetual, for the purpose of paying, not the capital, but the interest only, of the money which had been borrowed upon them by different successive anticipations. The obvious effect of this practice is to put off the liberation of the public revenue from a fixed period to an indefinite one. As a greater sum, however, can, in all cases, be raised by this plan of perpetual funding, than by the old method of anticipations, the former has, in the great exigencies of the state, been universally preferred to the latter. “To relieve the present exigency,” says Mr. Smith, “is always the object which principally interests those immediately concerned in the administration of public affairs. The future liberation of the public revenue they leave to the care of posterity.”*
This mode of raising money by anticipations and by funding, is the least disagreeable of any to the people, because large sums are obtained for small annual taxes; and even when these annual taxes are multiplied, the expenditure of the sums raised upon them furnishes occupations which benefit a large proportion of the community. Nor is it a consideration of trifling moment, that this expenditure is frequently a source of great and interesting events which amuse the imaginations of men, even when the events on the whole are unfavourable to their interests. The contingencies of a great war have, in this respect, not unaptly been compared to the “caparisons and bells, which, by their show and jingle, induce a poor animal to jog on under his load, with cheerfulness.”1
According to some writers, the introduction of this system by King William, was the effect of political foresight, in order to secure the attachment of individuals to Government, from the dependence of their property on its support and security; by others, it has been ascribed to a disposition in Ministers to multiply places, and to gain patronage; by a third description of politicians, (with still greater absurdity,) to the view of increasing the capital property of the kingdom. From the remarks which have been made, it appears plainly to have been the natural offspring of the circumstances in which the country was placed, and which, in proportion as they have existed in the other states of Europe, have been followed by similar consequences.
At the death of King William, our public debt was about fourteen millions sterling. At the death of Queen Anne, it amounted to fifty millions.2 In the year 1797, (according to a report of a Committee of Parliament,) the funded debt amounted to £380,672,945.3
Our present war expenditure exceeds £30,000,000, and our permanent taxes amount to upwards of £20,000,000.4
I have entered into this detail concerning the Funding System, in order to convey a general idea of the causes which have produced such a weight and complication of taxes in some of the greater states of modern Europe; and which have of consequence rendered the principles of taxation one of the most important in the science of Political Economy. What are the effects of such enormous burdens on the industry, the population, and the general industry of a country, is a question of very difficult discussion, to which different and opposite answers have been given by some of our most eminent writers.
In the very general sketches to which I am obliged to confine myself at present, it is impossible for me to attempt an examination of their arguments; and therefore I shall content myself (without expressing any opinion of my own) with pointing out this inquiry as one of the most interesting which this branch of Political Economy presents to the curiosity of a subject of Great Britain.
The most ingenious and best informed writer who has hitherto appeared as an advocate for the policy of our national debt, is Mr. Pinto, a Portuguese Jew, of whom I had occasion formerly to make mention. [Pol. Econ. Vol. I. pluries.* ] His Essay on Circulation and Credit is said, by Sir Francis D’Ivernois, to “be the first work in which the true theory of National Debts was unfolded; and to contain,” in his opinion, “a greater variety, both of luminous views and of practical truths, than all the writings of the French Economists put together.” The utility of the National Debt is also contended for, though on different and much less plausible principles, by the late Soame Jenyns; and by Mr. Edward King, in a pamphlet, (published in 1793,) entitled Considerations on the Utility of the National Debt.1 Sir F. D’Ivernois, in some of his late publications, takes nearly the same ground with Mr. Pinto.
The arguments on the other side may be found in Mr. Hume and Mr. Smith. The latter has suggested various observations which are particularly directed against the theory of Pinto.† The former treats his antagonists with still less ceremony, comparing their apologies for the national debt to “the panegyrics that were pronounced at Rome, as trials of wit, on Folly and Fevers, on Busiris and Nero.”*
Among the various ingenious remarks which Mr. Hume has made on this subject, there is one very unaccountable observation in the earlier editions of his Political Discourses. “There is a word,” says he, “which is here in the mouth of everybody, and which has also, I find, got abroad, and is much employed by foreign writers in imitation of the English, and that is Circulation. This word serves as an account of everything; and though I confess that I have sought for its meaning in the present subject ever since I was a schoolboy, I have never yet been able to discover it. What possible advantage is there which the nation can reap by the easy transference of stock from hand to hand? Or is there anything parallel to be drawn from the circulation of other commodities, to that of chequer notes and India bonds?”†
This observation is the more extraordinary, that in the next paragraph a very satisfactory answer is given to the foregoing questions. “Public securities are with us become a kind of money, and pass as readily at the current price as gold or silver. Wherever any profitable undertaking offers itself, how expensive soever, there are never wanting hands enough to embrace it; nor need a trader, who has sums in the public stocks, fear to launch out in the most extensive trade, since he is possessed of funds which will answer the most sudden demand that can be made upon him. No merchant thinks it necessary to keep by him any considerable cash. Bank stock, or India bonds, especially the latter, serve all the same purposes; because he can dispose of them, or pledge them to a banker in a quarter of an hour; and at the same time, they are not idle even when in his escritoire, but bring him in a constant revenue. In short, our national debts furnish merchants with a species of money that is continually multiplying in their hands, and produces sure gain, besides the profits of their commerce. This must enable them to trade on less profit. The small profit of the merchant renders the commodity cheaper, causes a greater consumption, quickens the labour of the common people, and helps to spread arts and industry throughout the whole society.”*
There is reason to believe that Mr. Hume came, in the progress of his speculations, to be aware of this inconsistency; as Mr. Pinto assures us, that when he saw Mr. Hume at Paris, the latter expressed “great satisfaction with the Essay on Public Credit;” and he adds, “I flatter myself he will one day correct some of his ideas on this subject.” One thing is certain, that in the last edition of Mr. Hume’s Discourse, he has suppressed entirely the passage already quoted about the obscurity of the word circulation as it respects public credit.
Of the general question which has divided the opinion of these authors, a question so difficult in itself, and which comes home so directly to the most momentous interests of this country, it never was my intention to treat in a course of academical lectures. But I could have wished to have had it in my power to give a general outline of the speculations of our most eminent practical politicians on a subject less delicate, and at the same time more immediately useful; the means of raising those supplies (which are rendered indispensable by our actual circumstances) in a way the least unjust to individuals, and the least calculated to obstruct the national opulence and improvement. Even in considering this article, it was not my design to deviate from the common track of speculation, but to confine myself to a statement of those principles which have had the chief influence of late on the policy of Great Britain. In a field where the most splendid talents have been so often employed, some important conclusions could not fail to reward a diligent survey; and at any rate an acquaintance with prevalent ideas forms a necessary branch of information, whatever judgment we may find reason to pronounce on their solidity. The whole of this subject, however, I must omit at present, as I am anxious to proceed at our next meeting to that article of Political Economy which relates to the poor. What remains of this lecture, I shall employ in some remarks on taxes which affect the rent of land; a branch of the general speculation which I select in preference to others, not only as it occupies the first place in Mr. Smith’s arrangement, but as it will furnish me with an opportunity of mentioning a few particulars concerning the origin of that project of a territorial tax, which is commonly ascribed to the French Economists.
In entering on the subject of Taxation, Mr. Smith states four maxims as general and fundamental principles by which the comparative advantages and disadvantages of particular taxes may be estimated. Their evidence appear to him to be such, as to supersede the necessity of any illustration.
“1. The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the Government as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities. . . . In the observation or neglect of this maxim consists what is called the equality or inequality of taxation. . . .
“2. The tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be certain, and not arbitrary. The time of payment, the manner of payment, the quantity to be paid, ought all to be clear and plain to the contributor, and to every other person. Where it is otherwise, every person subject to the tax is put more or less in the power of the tax-gatherer, who can either aggravate the tax upon any obnoxious contributor, or extort, by the terror of such aggravation, some present or perquisite to himself. . . .
“3. Every tax ought to be levied at the time, or in the manner in which it is most likely to be convenient for the contributor to pay it. . . .
“4. Every tax ought to be so contrived as to take out of the pockets of the people as little as possible over and above what goes into the treasury of the state.”*
Of these maxims, the last three are expressed with sufficient precision, and may be safely assumed as self-evident truths. The first (which relates to what Mr. Smith calls the equality of taxation) is stated in terms so vague and ambiguous, that it is hardly possible to make any use of it as a principle of reasoning. This is the more remarkable, that it is to be found in almost every writer who has treated of Political Economy. If, indeed, by the equality of taxation, it is meant merely that taxes ought to be imposed in as equitable a manner as possible, for the whole community, without partiality or prejudice to particular individuals, or to particular classes of men, it may well be regarded as a principle whose evidence sufficiently recommends it, without the aid of any comment; and it is in this sense alone that I would be understood to employ the phrase, if at any time it should occur in the course of our future reasonings. It is curious, however, that while all writers agree in stating the maxim as a self-evident truth, hardly any two agree in giving the same interpretation to the word ability; and the greater part ascribe to it meanings that involve very problematical propositions. Mr. Smith, for example, after stating the maxim, adds the following explanation:—“That is, the subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the Government, as nearly as possible in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.”* Mr. Young, on the other hand, in commenting on the very same maxim, remarks, that “by ability must not be understood either capital or income, but that superlucration, as Davenant called it, which melts in consumption. Suppose, (for example,) a manufacturer makes a profit of £2000 a year, living upon £500, and annually investing £1500 in his business, it is sufficiently obvious, upon just principles, that the state cannot lay the £1500 under contribution by taxes. The £500 is the only income exposed. But when the manufacturer dies, and his son turns gentleman, the whole income is made to contribute. . . . In like manner, if a landlord farm his own estate, and expend the income in improvements, living on but a small portion of the profit, it is sufficiently clear that taxes ought not to affect one shilling of his expenditure on his land; they can reach with propriety the expenses of his living only; if they touch any other part of his expenditure, they deprive him of those tools that are working the business of the state. The proposition, therefore, that a man should pay according to his ability, must be understood in a restrained sense.”1
Sir James Steuart lays it down as a general principle, that “according to equity and justice, all impositions whatsoever ought to fall equally and proportionally on every one according to his superfluity;”* that is, (as he explains himself afterwards,) according to the income that remains to him after the necessary expense of subsistence. “Whatever a people consumes,” he observes, “beyond the necessary, I consider as a superfluity which may be laid under taxation.”† And in another passage, “nothing can be the object of taxation, except what is over and above the physical necessary of every one.”‡
I have mentioned these different interpretations of Mr. Smith’s first maxim, not with a view of deciding in favour of any one of them in preference to the others, but to express my dissent from all of them, when stated in the form of self-evident propositions. The maxim, indeed, as first announced by Mr. Smith, has the appearance of an axiom; and in the very general sense in which I have explained it, nobody can dispute its claim to this appellation; but, according to the meanings annexed to it both by this writer and the others just now quoted, it is made a pretext for prejudging, without any examination, one of the nicest questions which are connected with the theory of taxation. It is very rarely indeed, that in morals or in politics, we can follow with safety the mathematical mode of reasoning synthetically from general principles. Few maxims are to be found which are perfectly indisputable when proposed in an abstract form; and even when such occur, there is a danger (as in the present instance) of their being differently understood by different individuals, according to their pre-conceived theories, so as to give a false shew of demonstrative evidence to reasonings which lead to widely different conclusions.
To these maxims of Mr. Smith, the following one may be added as a principle equally general in its application,—
5. No tax should be imposed in such a manner as to drain the source from which it is derived;1 or, (as Sir James Steuart expresses it,) “Taxes ought to affect the fruits and not the fund.”* Impositions, which necessarily imply a diminution of any capital, cannot properly be ranged under the head of taxes, inasmuch as every payment diminishes necessarily the productiveness of the tax in future. In fact, every such contribution realizes the fable of the boy who killed the goose with the golden eggs. “Thus,” says the last mentioned writer, “when the Dutch contributed, not many years ago, the hundredth part of their property to the service of the state, I cannot properly consider that in the light of a tax; it was indeed a most public spirited contribution, and did more honour to that people, from the fidelity with which it was made, than anything of the kind ever boasted of by a modern society.”†
In the examination of particular taxes, Mr. Smith arranges his observations under four heads,‡ suggested to him by the Analysis given in another part of his work, of the sources of private revenue. As the revenue of individuals arises ultimately from three different sources, rent, profit, and wages, every tax must finally be paid from some one or other of these, or from all of them indifferently. Accordingly, he treats (1.) Of those taxes which it is intended should fall upon rent; (2.) Of those which it is intended should fall upon profit; (3.) Of those which it is intended should fall upon wages; and (4.) Of those which it is intended should fall indifferently upon all those three different sources of private revenue. In the further prosecution of the subject, I shall follow the same arrangement, beginning (according to Mr. Smith’s order) with the consideration of taxes upon rent.
TAXES UPON LAND.*
Taxes upon the Rent of Land.
A tax upon the rent of land may be imposed in two different ways:—i. It may be imposed according to a certain Rule or Canon, which, being once fixed, is understood not to be liable to subsequent alterations; or, ii. It may be proportioned to the actual rent, rising or falling, according to the progressive or declining state of the land in point of cultivation. [Of these in their order.]
[i.]— The Land Tax in England is of the former description. The original of this tax is traced by Sir William Blackstone to the period when military tenures were introduced, when every tenant of a knight’s fee was bound, if called upon, to attend the king, in his array, for forty days in every year. But this personal attendance growing troublesome in many respects, the tenants found means of compounding for it, by first sending others in their stead, and, in process of time, by making a pecuniary satisfaction to the crown as an equivalent. This pecuniary satisfaction at last came to be levied by assessments, at so much for every knight’s fee, under the name of scutage, which appears to have been levied for the first time in the 5th year of Henry II., on account of his expedition to Toulouse, and were then, probably, mere arbitrary compositions, as the king and the subject could agree. But this precedent being afterwards abused into a means of oppression, it became a matter of national complaint; and King John was obliged to promise, in his Magna Charta, that no scutage should be imposed without the consent of the Common Council of the realm.
Of the same nature with scutages upon knights’ fees, were the assessments of hydage upon all other lands, and of tallage upon cities or burghs. But they all gradually fell into disuse upon the introduction of subsidies about the time of King Richard II. and King Henry IV. These were a tax, not immediately imposed upon property, but upon persons in respect of their reputed estates, after the nominal rate of four shillings in the pound for lands, and two shillings and eightpence for goods, and for those of aliens in a double proportion. But this assessment was also made according to an ancient valuation, in which the computation was so very moderate, and the rental of the kingdom was supposed to be so extremely low, that one subsidy of this sort did not, according to Sir Edward Coke, amount to more than £70,000, whereas a modern land-tax, at the same rate, produces two millions. It was anciently the rule never to grant more than one subsidy and two fifteenths1 at a time; but this rule was broken through, for the first time, on a very pressing occasion,—the Spanish invasion in 1588, when the Parliament gave Queen Elizabeth two subsidies and four fifteenths. Afterwards, as money sunk in value, more subsidies were given; and we have an instance, in the first parliament of 1640, of the king’s desiring twelve subsidies of the Commons, to be raised in three years,—a proposal which excited much alarm at the time, although the total amount of the sum to be thus levied, (according to Blackstone’s calculation,) is less than what is now raised in one year by a land-tax of two shillings in the pound.
The subsidy was usually raised by Commissioners appointed by the Crown, or the Great Officers of State; and, therefore, in the beginning of the civil wars between Charles I. and his Parliament, the latter having no other sufficient revenue to support themselves and their measures, introduced the practice of laying weekly and monthly assessments of a specific sum upon the several counties of the kingdom, to be levied by a pound rate on lands and personal estates; which were occasionally continued during the whole usurpation, sometimes at the rate of £120,000 a month, sometimes at inferior rates. After the Restoration, the ancient method of granting subsidies, instead of such monthly assessments, was twice, and twice only, renewed, viz., in 1663 and in 1670, (when £800,000 was raised by way of subsidy,) which was the last time of raising supplies in that manner. For the monthly assessments being now established by custom, being raised by Commissioners named by Parliament, and producing a more certain revenue; from that time forwards we hear no more of subsidies, but occasional assessments were granted as the national emergencies required.
These periodical assessments, the subsidies which preceded them, and the more ancient scutage, hydage, and talliage, were, to all intents and purposes, a land-tax; and the assessments were sometimes expressly called so. The idea, therefore, of taxing landed property was by no means a novelty, (as some have supposed,) introduced in the reign of William III.; all that was then done was to extend the principle, by introducing a new plan for levying the tax, agreeably to a new assessment or valuation of estates throughout the kingdom. This valuation was made in 1692, and it is according to that, Parliament at present renews the grant of the land-tax, and orders it to be collected. It is observed by Mr. Christian, in his Notes on Blackstone, that even the plan and arrangements for levying this tax (as specified in the 4th of William and Mary) are, in all the most important particulars, copied from the Act of Charles II., already referred to, (22 and 23 Car. II., passed in 1670,) in which the mode of collecting the land-tax differs totally from the former subsidy assessment, and appears to have been suggested by an Act passed in the time of the Commonwealth, (1656,) for an assessment to raise £60,000 a month.
Before proceeding farther, it is proper for me to remark, that what is called the Land-tax in England, does not affect merely landed property, but all personal estates, except property in the public funds, and stock upon land, supposed necessary for agriculture. With these exceptions, all personal estates are charged in the same proportion as land-rents. In this respect, the land-tax, as it is levied at present, agrees with the subsidies and other taxes already referred to. “Indeed,” as Sir James Steuart observes, “there is no vestige in the History of England of any tax imposed singly on land. The subsidies, monthly assessments, and pound-rates in the different stages of the monarchy, have all been mixed duties, composed of a charge upon the lands, upon the money and personal estates of the subject, and frequently including a poll-tax, where men of different ranks were differently charged.”*
According to the valuation made in 1692, a supply of £500,000 was equal to one shilling in the pound of the value of the estates given in. Since that period it has continued an annual charge on the subject;—in general, at four shillings in the pound, sometimes at three, sometimes at two; twice at one (viz., in the years 1732, 1733,) but without any total intermission. The method of raising it is, by charging a particular sum upon each county, according to the valuation given in, in 1692; and this sum is assessed and raised upon individuals, (their personal estates as well as real, being liable to the tax,) by Commissioners appointed in the Act, being the principal landholders of the county, and their officers.
It is commonly understood that the valuation according to which the different counties and parishes were assessed to the land-tax by the 4th of William and Mary, was very unequal at its first establishment, in consequence of the liberality or fraud of the owners and assessors in their representations of the value, produced by their attachment or aversion to the new government. In this respect, therefore, the English land-tax was even from the beginning reprehensible upon the general principle stated by Mr. Smith, as the first of his fundamental maxims.
Besides this inequality, however, another disproportion in the general assessment has been occasioned by the unequal cultivation of the different counties of England since the close of last century, and such has been the effect of these two causes combined, that while some estates pay four shillings, others pay fourpence, or even less, by the same rule of proportion. A late writer asserts, upon good information, that a gentleman possessing an estate of £5000 a year, in one of the northern counties of England, pays in land-tax, at four shillings in the pound, only £75.1 To an inequality of the same kind, every land-tax must necessarily become liable in process of time, which is imposed according to a certain invariable canon, however equitably that canon may have been adjusted at the time it was established.
This defect, in point of equality is, in the opinion of Mr. Smith, the only one which can be objected to the English land-tax:—“It is perfectly agreeable,” he observes, “to all the other general principles which ought to regulate taxation;” and, more particularly, he adds, “it possesses the recommendation of perfect certainty.”*
In opposition, however, to this unqualified encomium, something may be objected; and, in fact, a very able writer, Sir J. Steuart, has fixed on this very circumstance of certainty as one in which the English land-tax is remarkably defective. “The sums imposed,” says he, “at so many shillings in the pound upon every district in the kingdom, whether cities, towns, universities, or open country, &c., are not distributed according to any rule of proportion upon the property of individuals; but this operation is left to assessors. . . . By the original distribution, indeed, it appears what every city, county, university, &c., is to pay according as the tax is imposed at one, two, three, or four shillings in the pound. Still, however, such a regulation nowise prevents the inconveniences which attend this tax, because the burden of it does not consist in the total amount so much as in the particular distribution upon the inhabitants in every subdivision.
“Suppose, for example, the proportion of the general sum for a particular district to be £10,000 at four shillings in the pound, how is this to be levied as the law stands? Instead of books of valuation, which shew at least the proportion of every man’s property, if not the real value of it, assessors are constantly called in, who examine the rents of all the lands according to the last leases of them. If they have been improved and let at a higher rent than formerly, the proportion of the tax is augmented. If they have not been let, but remain in the possession of him who improved them, the tax is not augmented. If the tax be found to fall too heavy upon the lands and houses, then personal estates are made to contribute, as is the case in London. All questions or disputes about the repartition of the tax, are determined, without appeal to the courts of law, by the commissioners appointed for laying on the tax; as in France, (under the old Government,) they were determined by the Intendant.”* And, indeed, without this regulation (as Sir James Steuart himself acknowledges) all would run into confusion.
In proof of this opinion he observes, that “any proprietor of lands is entitled, from the words of the Statute, to insist that the whole personal estates of those of the district shall enter into computation of the total value upon which the sum imposed is to be assessed. Were such questions,” he continues, “to come before a court of law, where the judges are obliged to determine almost according to the letter of it, no land-tax could possibly be levied in this kingdom. But manners, not laws, govern mankind. The spirit of the English nation is such as to be incompatible with anything that savours of oppression: hence the few complaints against the assessors, or those who judge between parties. And as the Land-tax is levied without any complaints, except as to the total amount, while that remains the case, the fewer innovations that are made on it the better.”†
In other respects, the English land-tax possesses important advantages.—1. The time of payment for the tax being the same as that for the rent, is as convenient as it can be to the landlord, who is plainly, in all cases, the contributor; the tenant only advancing the tax, and being entitled to deduct it in the payment of the rent.—2. This tax is levied by a much smaller number of officers than any other which affords nearly the same revenue.—3. As the tax does not rise in proportion to the rise of the rent, the sovereign does not share in the profits of the landlord’s improvements, and, therefore, does not operate (like a variable land-tax) “as a bounty on bad husbandry, and a penal law against improvement.”1
Notwithstanding, however, these considerations, which so strongly recommend this species of taxation, it is justly remarked by Mr. Smith,* that the advantage which the landlord has derived from the invariable constancy by which the lands are rated to the land-tax, has been principally owing to circumstances altogether extraneous to the nature of the tax, and which, if they had happened accidentally to be different, might have rendered this invariable constancy a source of much inconveniency, either to the contributors or to the commonwealth. 1. Since the time when this valuation was first established, the rents of almost all the estates of Great Britain have been continually rising, and scarce any of them have fallen. The landlords, therefore, have gained the difference between the tax which they would have paid, according to the present rent of their estates, and that which they actually pay. Had rents been gradually falling, the landlords would have lost this difference, and the sovereign would have gained it.—2. Since the establishment of this valuation, the value of silver has been pretty uniform, and there has been no alteration in the standard of the coin. And, therefore, (as it is in money that the valuation of the land is expressed, and also that the tax is payable,) things have remained nearly (at least as far as money is concerned,) in their original estate, both for sovereign and subject. Had silver risen, it would have proved very oppressive to the landlord: had it fallen, it would have reduced the revenue of the sovereign. Had any considerable alteration been made in the standard of the money, it would have hurt the revenue either of the one or of the other. “In the course of ages, however,” adds Mr. Smith, “such circumstances must, at some time or other, happen, and a constitution intended to be permanent, ought to be convenient, not in certain circumstances only, but in all circumstances; or, in other words, ought to be suited, not to those circumstances which are accidental, but to such as are necessary, and, therefore, always the same.”*
In what has been hitherto said on the subject of the land-tax, I have taken no notice of Scotland, as the greater part of the general principles which have been stated are equally applicable to both parts of the island. Some important differences, however, exist both in the proportions and in the mode in which the two kingdoms contribute to this branch of revenue; and of these it may be satisfactory to give some account before concluding the present article.
In the history of England, there is no vestige, since Doomsday Book, of any regular valuation being made of all the lands of the kingdom. But in Scotland, this operation has been carried into execution (with what accuracy it is not possible now to determine) in various instances, partly for regulating the proportion of public subsidies, and partly for ascertaining the amount of non-entry and relief-duties payable to the superior.
The first general valuation is commonly supposed to have taken place towards the end of the 13th century, in the time of Alexander III.; but it has been rendered extremely probable by Lord Hailes and by Dr. Gilbert Stuart, that long before this time similar attempts had been made and accomplished.1 Our lawyers, however, always refer to this period as the farthest limit to which our inquiries on this point can be carried with any certainty, distinguishing the valuation which was then made, by the title of the Old Extent.
A revaluation of lands, it is conjectured, was made when a tax was to be imposed for the ransom of David II.; and there is indisputable evidence of a valuation in the times of James I.1 In consequence, however, of the progress of agriculture, and perhaps also of the heightening of the nominal value of our money, these valuations were considered as too low a standard for the superior’s casualties; and, accordingly, in the reign of James III., it was ordained, that in all Services of Heirs, the jury should express in their inquiry or retour, not only the old extent of the lands of a deceased proprietor, but their exact value at the period of the investiture of the heir; (quantum nunc valent.) This transaction was deemed equivalent to a valuation; and it obtained the appellation of the New Extent.
Whilst, however, the New Extent became the measure of assessment in adjusting the feudal casualties due by vassals to their superiors, the Old Extent continued the rule for levying public subsidies, till the usurpation of Cromwell. By two Acts of his Parliament, held at Westminster in 1656, imposing taxations on Scotland, the rates laid upon the counties are precisely fixed; and by the Act of the Convention of Estates 1667, the subsidy then granted was levied on the several counties, nearly in the same proportions that were fixed by Cromwell in 1656; the sums to which each county was subjected being subdivided among the individual landholders in that county, according to the valuations already settled, or that should be settled by the commissioners appointed to carry that Act into execution. For a few years after the Restoration, the land-tax had been levied according to the Old Extent; but since 1667, when Cromwell’s valuations were adopted, they have continued to furnish the rules according to which the land-tax, and most of the other public burdens, have been levied.2 The rent fixed by these valuations is commonly called the valued rent, and is always stated in Scotch money.
In adjusting the proportional burdens of the two kingdoms at the time of the Union, the relative rates at which they were to contribute to the land-tax, were for ever ascertained as a fundamental article, in the following terms:—
Art. ix.—“That whenever the sum of one million, nine hundred, ninety-seven thousand, seven hundred and sixty pounds, eight shillings and fourpence halfpenny,”—a sum which we may state, in round numbers, at two millions,—“shall be enacted by the Parliament of Great Britain to be raised in that part of the United Kingdom called England, on land and other things usually charged in Acts of Parliament there, for granting an aid to the Crown by a land-tax, that part of the United Kingdom now called Scotland, shall be charged by the same Act with a sum of forty-eight thousand pounds, free of all charges, as the quota of Scotland to such a tax, and so proportionably for any greater or lesser sum raised in England by any tax on land, and other things usually charged together with the land: And that such quota for Scotland, in the cases aforesaid, be raised and collected in the same manner as the Cess now is in Scotland; but subject to such regulations, in the manner of collecting, as shall be made by the Parliament of Great Britain.”*
So much with respect to land-taxes, imposed like that of Great Britain, according to an invariable canon.
[ii.]—I now proceed to the consideration of land-taxes which vary with the variations of the rent,—that is, which rise and fall according to the improvement or decline of cultivation. The example of such a tax occurs in the Venetian territory, where all the arable lands which are let upon lease to farmers are taxed at a tenth of the rent. The leases are recorded in a public register, which is kept by the officers of revenue in each province or district. When the proprietor cultivates his own lands, they are valued according to an equitable estimation, and he is allowed a deduction of one-fifth of the tax; so that, for such lands he pays only eight instead of ten per cent. of the supposed rents.
There can be no doubt that a land-tax of this kind is more equal than the land-tax of England; and if it should be somewhat inferior to it in point of certainty, and in the cheapness of levying it, these disadvantages might, in a great measure, be obviated by a proper system of administration. Frauds against the revenue might be easily prevented, by obliging the landlord and tenant jointly to record their lease in a public register, and by enacting proper penalties against concealment or misrepresentations. The principal objection seems to be, that such regulations might have the effect of preventing leases, and thereby diminishing that independence of the cultivators on which the improvement of agriculture chiefly depends.1
In establishing such a system of administration, it has been apprehended farther, that various regulations might be devised which would serve to introduce into the common management of land, a policy calculated to advance the general improvement of the country, and to correct the injudicious practices which individuals are apt to adopt, from mistaken views with respect to their own interest or that of the public.
Some landlords, (for example,) particularly such as are of a spendthrift disposition, instead of raising the rent, take a fine for the renewal of the lease,—“a practice,” as Mr. Smith remarks, “in most cases hurtful to the landlord, frequently hurtful to the tenant, and always hurtful to the community.”* By rendering the tax upon such fines a good deal heavier than upon the ordinary rent, this pernicious practice might be discouraged, to the advantage of all the various parties concerned. Various other regulations of a similar tendency are suggested by Mr. Smith, as easy to be grafted upon such a scheme of taxation, and as affording of consequence so many additional arguments in its favour. Into this detail it is unnecessary for me to enter.
The great objection to a variable land-tax of this kind, is the discouragement which it might give to agricultural improvements. The landlord would certainly be less disposed to improve, when the sovereign, who contributed nothing to the expense, was to share in the profit of his exertions. “There is no man,” says Mr. Young, “who has been attentive to the progress of husbandry in this kingdom, but what must be sensible that, if our present land-tax of a nominal four shillings in the pound was a variable one depending on the rent, our agriculture would suffer considerably. The grand encouragement it meets with now, is the stability of the land-tax. If a landlord takes or buys a farm worth only fifty pounds a year, and by improvement makes it worth five hundred pounds a year, he has no increase of tax; will any person of common sense affirm, that a contrary system, a system which divides his profits with him the moment he makes them, which bears on him in direct proportion to his spirit and his merit, will they assert that such a system is beneficial to husbandry?”
Mr. Smith, while he acknowledges the force of this objection, suggests a method by which he apprehends that it might be obviated. For this purpose, he proposes that “the landlord should be allowed, before he began his improvement, to ascertain in conjunction with the officers of revenue, the actual value of his lands, according to the equitable arbitration of a certain number of landlords and farmers in the neighbourhood equally chosen by both parties; and that he should be rated according to this valuation for such a number of years as might be fully sufficient for his complete indemnification.”*
On the other hand, he remarks, as a very weighty argument in favour of the tax, that “in all the variations of the state of the society, in the improvement and in the declension of agriculture; in all the variations in the value of silver, and in all those of the standard of the coin, a tax of this kind would, of its own accord, and without any attention of Government, readily suit itself to the actual situation of things, and would be equally just and equitable in all those different changes. It would, therefore, be much more proper to be established as a perpetual and unalterable rule, than any tax which was always to be levied according to a particular valuation.”†
These and some other apprehended advantages connected with such a species of land-tax as has been now under consideration, added to a very ingenious metaphysical speculation concerning the funds from which all taxes are ultimately paid, have led a celebrated sect of philosophers in France, (commonly known by the title of the Economists,) to propose it as a substitute for all the other taxes which have been devised by the financiers of modern Europe. As the produce of the earth is the only real source of wealth, so (according to these writers) it ought to be the only subject of taxation. This opinion they support by attempting to shew, that whether taxes are imposed on commodities, or on the profits of the industrious, they must ultimately fall on the proprietors of land; and, of consequence, that they would be less burdensome if imposed directly, than when they come to be thus circuitously paid. (Lauderdale.) Excises, for example, and other taxes on consumption, are blended by every artisan and tradesman with the price of his work, which prices, accumulating as they advance, render everything dearer except to people in trade who draw back the accumulation, so that the landed interest not being in trade, receives the weight at last with the progressive profits of the whole train.1
This scheme of supplanting all other public burdens by means of a territorial tax, is illustrated and defended with great ingenuity by Quesnai, by the Marquis of Mirabeau, by Dupont, and others, and was sanctioned by the approbation of one of the most enlightened statesmen of modern times, M. Turgot. On the other hand, it has been combated with great zeal by Necker and other writers in France, by Mr. Pinto, and by a long list of very eminent politicians in this country, particularly by Mr. Hume, Sir James Steuart, and Mr. Smith. Mr. Arthur Young, too, has treated it with peculiar severity on various occasions, and has examined the arguments in its favour at some length, but in a very loose and superficial manner, in his Treatise entitled Political Arithmetic.
As I propose afterwards to consider, with some attention, this question concerning a Territorial Tax, (a question which forms a very conspicuous article in the agricultural system of Political Economy,) I shall not at present attempt any statement of the reasonings which have been offered for, or against it. I shall only remark, that the first idea of it was borrowed from this country, where it has been repeatedly suggested by authors of reputation, although it had been almost forgotten as an exploded chimera, when it was revived by the Economists of France.
The following passage from Mr. Locke’s [First] Considerations of the Lowering of Interest, and Raising the Value of Money, is so exactly conformable to the principles of Quesnai, that there can be little doubt it suggested the first notion of that part of the Economical system which relates to taxation.
“Taxes, however contrived, and out of whose hand soever immediately taken, do, in a country where their great fund is in land, for the most part, terminate upon land. Whatsoever the people is chiefly maintained by, that the Government supports itself on: nay, perhaps it will be found, that those taxes which seem least to affect land, will most surely of all others, fall the rents. This would deserve to be well considered in the raising of taxes, lest the neglect of it bring upon the country gentleman an evil which he will be sure quickly to feel, but not be able very quickly to remedy; for rents once fallen, are not easily raised again. A tax raised on the land seems hard to the landholder, because it is so much money going visibly out of his pocket, and therefore, as an ease to himself, the landholder is always forward to lay it on commodities. But if he will thoroughly consider it, and examine the effects, he will find he buys this seeming ease at a very dear rate: and though he pays not this tax immediately out of his own purse, yet his purse will find it by a greater want of money there at the end of the year than that comes to, with the lessening of his rents to boot, which is a settled and lasting evil, that will stick upon him beyond the present payment. . . .
“It is in vain in a country, whose great fund is land, to hope to lay the charge of the Government on anything else; there at last it will terminate. The merchant, do what you can, will not bear it; the labourer cannot; and therefore the landholder must. And whether he were best do it, by laying it directly where it will at last settle, or by letting it come to him by the sinking of his rents, which when they are once fallen, every one knows are not easily raised again, let him consider.”
The same opinions are held by Jacob Vanderlint, in his Essay to make Money Plentiful;1 and by Mr. Asgill in his Assertions Proved, in order to Create another Species of Money than Gold or Silver. Of this last writer, who seems to have been a man of very eccentric genius, some account is given in the Biographia Britannica. He wrote about the end of the last, and beginning of the present century.
Before I conclude this article, I shall take notice very briefly of some of those valuations or surveys which different states have attempted of their territories, with the view of carrying land-taxes into execution in the most accurate and equitable manner. The object, indeed, which they aimed at, might have been accomplished much more simply and effectually by an expedient formerly suggested, (a Register of Leases, [supra, p. 235.]) But the labour cannot in all cases be considered as lost; inasmuch as it has furnished some important documents with respect to various objects of statistical research, concerning which historians are in general silent.
Of Doomsday-Book, in particular, (which Mr. Smith considers as the result of a very accurate survey of this kind,* ) Mr. Hume has observed, that “it may be justly regarded as the most valuable monument of antiquity possessed by any nation.”† This book contains an account of all the lands in England, (except the four northern counties, Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmoreland, Durham, and part of Lancashire, which Mr. Hume supposes to have been omitted in this survey, “because of their wild uncultivated state;”)‡ their extent in each district; their proprietors, tenures, value; the quantity of meadow, pasture, wood, and arable land which they contained; and in some counties the number of tenants, cottagers, and slaves of all denominations who lived upon them. William the Conqueror, in whose reign the survey was made, appointed commissioners to carry it into execution. They entered every particular in their register by the verdict of juries; and, after a labour of six years, brought him an exact account of all the landed property of his kingdom. The motive for the undertaking, as assigned by several ancient records and histories, was that every man should be satisfied with his own right, and not usurp with impunity what belonged to another; but (as I have already hinted) other views probably conspired to suggest the idea; for in the latter end of the very year when the survey was finished, the king was attended by all his nobility at Sarum, where all the principal landholders submitted their lands to the yoke of military tenure, became the king’s vassals, and did homage and fealty to his person. And although this idea, that the king is the universal lord and original proprietor of all the lands in the kingdom, is, as Blackstone remarks, “a mere fiction, yet the Norman interpreters gave a very different construction to this proceeding, and thereupon took a handle to introduce not only the rigorous doctrines which prevailed in the Duchy of Normandy, but also such fruits and dependencies, such hardships and services, as were never known to other nations.”1 King Alfred, about the year 900, composed a book of like nature, of which this was in some measure a copy.2
That false returns were made by the commissioners in some instances, in spite of all the precautions taken by the Conqueror, is now universally admitted. Notwithstanding, however, this circumstance, the authority of Doomsday-Book, in point of tenure, has never been permitted to be called in question; for instance, when it has been necessary to distinguish whether lands held in ancient Demesne, or in what other manner, recourse has always been had to Doomsday-Book exclusively, to determine the doubt. “The tallages,” says Madox, “formerly assessed upon the king’s tenants in ancient demesne, were usually greater than the tallages upon persons in the counties at large; and, therefore, when persons were wrongfully tallaged with those in ancient demesne, it was usual for them to petition the Crown to be tallaged with the community of the county at large. Upon this, the King’s writ, issued to the Barons of the Exchequer, to acquit the party aggrieved of such tallage, in case, upon search of Doomsday-Book, the Barons found the lands were not in ancient demesne.”1 I mention this fact, because, according to our best antiquaries, it was the definitive authority of this book that suggested its name,—its decisions, like those at the Day of Judgment, [of Doom,] admitting of no appeal. Stowe, indeed, gives a different account of its appellation, deriving it from a corruption of Domus Dei-Book,—a title which he supposes it to have acquired from its being formerly deposited in the king’s treasury, in a place of the church of Westminster called Domus Dei. The former etymology, however, is generally considered as the more probable of the two.
This great national record was kept, till a few years ago, under three different locks and keys,—one in the custody of the treasurer, and the others of the two chamberlains of the Exchequer. It is now deposited in the Chapter-House at Westminster, where it may be consulted, on paying a trifling fee to the proper officers.2
It is not easily conceivable for what reason the Economists of France should have added to the other strong objections to which their project is liable, the difficulty of periodical surveys similar to that which has been now described, when, it would appear, that the same purpose might be answered, in all essential respects, by a registration of leases. In general, they seem to consider a Cadastre of the whole kingdom as a step essentially necessary for an equitable imposition of their territorial-tax; and, accordingly, it is demanded of the States-General in many of the Cahiers at the commencement of the late Revolution. The enormous expense of such an operation has not been always sufficiently attended to, although we are in possession of some authentic documents to assist us in forming an estimate. The Cadastre of Limousin (we are assured) cost £113,355, at which rate it is computed that a similar one for the whole kingdom would amount to £3,628,800. A very intelligent writer (M. Meunier1 ) asserts, that it would furnish employment to upwards of 3000 engineers during eighteen years; and yet M. le Trosne, in explaining the Economical system, proposes that this operation should be repeated every nine years.2 “There is no country,” says he, “where it is not necessary to make an inventory of all the territory in the most complete detail,—to register every portion of land,—to be acquainted with the changes it undergoes,—to value the revenue it yields, and where (if it is proposed to establish, for perpetuity, an equal and proportional tax) it is not indispensable, to ascertain, from time to time, the fluctuations to which this revenue is liable.”3 He afterwards explains himself more precisely, by asserting the absolute necessity of having a new valuation every nine years; and finds fault with the King of Sardinia’s Cadastre, because the valuation has never been renewed.
The survey and valuation of Bohemia, which was perfected soon after the peace 1748, is said to have been the work of more than a hundred years. The survey of the Duchy of Milan, which was begun in the time of Charles VI., was not perfected till after 1760. It is esteemed one of the most accurate that has ever been made.
A continual and painful attention, on the part of Government, to all the variations in the state and produce of every different farm in a large territory, is (as Mr. Smith observes)* a thing so unsuitable to the nature of government, that it is not likely to be of long continuance in any country; and if it were continued, it would probably, in the long run, occasion much more trouble and vexation than it can possibly bring relief to the contributors. An attention of this kind, however, is actually exerted by the Government of Prussia, of Bohemia, of Sardinia, and of the Duchy of Milan.
Taxes which are proportioned, not to the Rent, but to the Produce of Land.
The land-taxes, which have been hitherto under consideration, though very different in their nature, and proceeding on very different principles, yet agree in one important particular, that they are understood to bear a certain fixed proportion, either to what now is, or to what was at some former period, the actual rent of the land. On the latter supposition, they are liable to no variation, but continue for ever to be levied according to an established rule. On the former supposition, variations in the tax must necessarily arise from the changes which may take place from time to time in the cultivation of the country; but as these variations are confined to the periods when the leases are renewed, the occasions of irritation will occur but seldom, and will not present a source of constant or of habitual grievance to the body of the people.
I now proceed to make a few remarks on land-taxes of a different description,—taxes which are not understood to bear any fixed proportion to the rent, but which vary from year to year according to the accidental produce. The Church Tithe, as it is levied in England and in the other parts of Europe where the hierarchy exists, affords an example of this mode of taxation.
It is perfectly evident with respect to all taxes upon the fruits of the earth, that, although they may be paid, in the first instance, by the farmer, they are finally paid by the landlord; the farmer always computing the average value of all the taxes before he agrees with the landlord for the rent. They are, therefore, in fact, taxes upon rent, but falling upon it (as will immediately appear) in a very irregular and arbitrary manner.
As the qualities of lands are, in all countries, extremely different in different situations, it follows manifestly, that the produce alone can never furnish a standard for estimating equitably the rent which the cultivator is able to pay,—inasmuch as the produce bears no determinate proportion to the expense of raising it. Some lands are proper for bearing rich crops of grain; others are comparatively sterile; some produce pasture, others forest; the revenue of some consists in wine, in mines, and in various other productions, which cost, some more, some less expense, to cultivate. One field of corn cannot pay the proprietor above one-fourth of the grain it produces; another cannot pay above one-fifth; a third may pay with ease one-third; the fields about Padua (according to Sir James Steuart)* pay one-half; grass fields pay still more; and rich hay fields will pay in some places two-thirds, and even three-fourths. How, then, is it possible there should be any equality in a tax which carries off, indiscriminately, a certain portion of the fruits? Yet such is the operation of the tithe, which takes, without distinction, a tenth of the produce, in which is comprehended the tithe of all the industry and expense bestowed in bringing it forward.
The tithe is also a great discouragement both to the improvements of the landlord, and to the cultivation of the farmer; neither of whom can be supposed to possess that spirit of enterprise which would naturally be inspired by the prospect of enjoying, undiminished, the ameliorations resulting from their advances and their industry. The idea of sharing these profits with the Church which advances nothing, contributes to render this tax more peculiarly vexatious.
In stating these general principles, I would by no means be understood to join in the illiberal abuse which has been so often bestowed on the clergy, all over Europe, for their supposed rapacity, in exacting what the laws of their respective countries have destined for the support of the ecclesiastical establishment. To an unfortunate class, in particular, of this order, (I mean the late clergy of France,) it is but justice to acknowledge the moderation and liberality they, in general, displayed in collecting their revenues. “Though the ecclesiastical tenth,” says Arthur Young, “was levied in France more severely than usual in Italy, yet was it never exacted with such greediness as is at present the disgrace of England. When taken in kind, no such thing was known, in any part of France where I made inquiries, as a tenth; it was always a twelfth, or a thirteenth, or even a twentieth of the produce. And in no part of the kingdom did a new article of culture pay anything: thus, turnips, cabbages, clover, chicorée, potatoes, &c. &c., paid nothing. In many parts meadows were exempted; silk-worms everywhere. Olives in some places paid; in more they did not. On cows and on wool nothing was levied. On lambs, from the twelfth to the twenty-first. Such mildness,” he adds, “in the levy of the odious tax, is absolutely unknown in England.”1 Even in this last country, however, the charge against the clergy has been carried much too far. A very candid and well-informed writer (Mr. Baron Maseres) assures us, that “lay impropriators are generally much more inclined to exact high rents for the tithes that are due to them, than the parochial clergy, notwithstamding the obloquy too often thrown upon the latter, on account of the avaricious conduct of a very small number of them. The person,” continues the same author, “who, a year or two ago, insisted upon receiving his full tithe from a piece of ground near Farnham in Surrey, that had been converted into a hop-ground, at great expense, (in consequence of which a Bill was brought into the House of Commons, but not carried,) was not a clergyman, but a lay-impropriator, and a very rich man, who had made a large fortune in the East Indies.”2
In reprobating the tithe, therefore, as a pernicious mode of taxation, I rest nothing on the defects which some have ascribed to the ecclesiastical character, but entirely on those consequences which are inseparable from such a burden, by whatever description of persons we may suppose it to be levied.
It is remarkable, that notwithstanding these consequences of which Europe has so long had experience, and which are too obvious to require particular illustration, advocates have been found for this very plan of taxing the produce of land, as the most expedient system according to which land-taxes can be imposed. A proposal of this sort was made to the French Government in 1699, by the celebrated Maréchal de Vauban, who wished to abolish the Taille, (as it was paid under the old establishment,) together with the capitation, industrie, and all the other taxes committed to the management of the intendants; and to establish, in their stead, what he called a royal tenth, (dîme royale;) meaning by this term, a proportion of all the fruits of the earth, similar to what is established in favour of the clergy. This he proposed to lay on, according to the exigencies of the State, from one-twentieth part to one-tenth, upon every article of the gross produce of the land over all France. The circumstances which suggested this project, (the greater part of which arose from the peculiar system of taxation in his own country,) and also the insurmountable obstacles to its execution, are fully stated by Sir James Steuart.*
In many parts of Asia, the state is principally supported by a land-tax proportioned to the produce. In China, it consists in a tenth part, but this tenth is so very moderately estimated in many provinces, as not to exceed a thirtieth. The land-tax which used to be paid to the Mahometan Government of Bengal, before that country fell into the hands of the English East-India Company, is said to have amounted to about a fifth part of the produce; and the same proportion is mentioned in the accounts given of the land-tax in Ancient Egypt.
In consequence of this system of taxation, it is pretended, that in Asia, the Sovereign is interested in the improvement and cultivation of land, and it is not impossible that it may have this effect in some degree, by leading him to extend the market as far as he can, by means of roads and navigable canals. But the tithe of the Church is divided into such small portions, that no one of the proprietors can have any interest analogous to this, and therefore its necessary inconveniences are not redeemed by any such indirect advantage.
Taxes upon the produce of land may be levied either in kind, or, according to a certain valuation, in money. The former mode may be advantageous to the parson of a parish who can oversee, with his own eyes, the collection of what is due to him; but would be necessarily attended with loss to a Sovereign, from the depredations of his tax-gatherers.
A tax upon the produce of land which is levied in money, may be levied according to a valuation which varies with the market price; or, according to some fixed valuation, (a bushel of wheat, for example, being always valued at one and the same money price, whatever the state of the market may be.) The produce of a tax levied in the former way, will vary only according to the variations of the real produce of the land. That levied in the latter way, will vary, not only according to the variations in the produce, but according to the value of the precious metals, and the standard of the coin.
When a certain sum of money is to be paid in full compensation for all tax on produce, the tax becomes, like the land-tax of England. Such is the modus taken in lieu of tithes in many parishes; and which, as it neither rises nor falls with the rent of land, has no tendency either to encourage or discourage improvement.1
TAXES UPON THE RENT OF HOUSES.
Another species of rent yet remains to be considered as an object of taxation; I mean the rent of houses. This differs from a land-rent in one essential circumstauce: that the former is drawn from an unproductive, the latter from a productive subject; and, of consequence, the rent which is paid for the use of a house, must be derived from some other source of revenue. In so far, therefore, as a tax upon house-rent falls on the inhabitants, it is one of those taxes which must fall indiscriminately upon all the three sources of revenue formerly mentioned, and is properly to be classed with the taxes imposed on consumable commodities.
In treating of these, it will appear afterwards, that the general principle which has served to recommend them to modern statesmen is, that they afford the most practicable mode of taxing revenue, which it is scarcely possible to tax proportionably by any direct imposition. The revenue, it is supposed, will in most cases be nearly in proportion to the expense; and the expense is measured by the consumable commodities on which it is laid out. This general principle applies with peculiar force to the subject now under consideration, as there is scarcely any one article of consumption which may be assumed with so great confidence, as a scale for estimating the whole expenditure of an individual. A proportional tax on it might (in Mr. Smith’s opinion) produce a more considerable revenue than has been hitherto drawn from it in any part of Europe.*
Ground-rents (although they have hitherto not been subjected in any country of Europe to a separate tax) are a still more proper object of taxation than the rent of houses. Such a tax would fall altogether upon the owner of the ground-rent, (who may always be presumed to be actuated by the spirit of monopoly,) and would have no effect to raise the rent of houses, the inhabitants of which, even although they should advance the tax in the first instance, would indemnify themselves by the fall in the ground-rents which the tax would necessarily occasion.
Another consideration strongly recommends this species of revenue as a fit object of taxation, that it is enjoyed without any attention exerted on the part of the owner, and depends almost entirely on local causes connected with the general administration of the country. In this respect, it is distinguished from the ordinary rent of land, which depends, partly at least, on the good or bad management of the landlord.
TAXES UPON PROFIT, OR UPON THE REVENUE ARISING FROM STOCK.
Taxes upon Profit in General.]
The revenue arising from Stock divides itself into two parts; (1.) that which pays interest to the owner of the stock; and, (2.) that which is over and above what is necessary for paying the interest.
Of these two parts of Profit the latter is evidently a subject not taxable directly. It is a compensation for the risk and trouble of employing the stock, and which, if the employer did not receive, he would discontinue the employment. If he was taxed directly in proportion to the whole profit, he must either raise the rate of profit, or pay less interest. In the former case, the tax would be finally paid by the landlord or by the consumer, according as the Stock was employed in farming or in mercantile speculations. In the latter case, the tax would fall on the interest of money.
At first view, the interest of money would seem to be a subject as fit for direct taxation as the rent of land; but two circumstances create a wide distinction between them:—(1.) The quantity and value of the land which any man possesses can never be a secret, whereas the whole amount of his capital can scarce ever be exactly ascertained, and, if it could, would be found liable to continual variations.—(2.) Land is a subject which cannot be removed, whereas Stock easily may. A tax, therefore, which tended to drive away stock from any country, would tend to dry up every source of revenue. The profits of stock, the rent of land, and the wages of labour would be diminished by the removal. Hence, the loose manner in which stock is estimated by those nations, who have attempted to tax the revenue arising from it. In England, for example, if the greater part of the lands are not rated to the land-tax at half their actual value, the greater part of the stock is scarce rated at the fiftieth part of its actual value. Nor, indeed, is it possible that such a tax can be levied according to any estimate approaching to the truth, without so severe an inquisition into the circumstances of individuals, as would be inconsistent with the manner and spirit of a mercantile country.
Taxes upon the Profit of Particular Employments.
The taxes on Profit, which we have been now considering, are supposed to be levied on it merely as arising from Stock, without any regard to the manner in which it is employed; besides these, however, it has been the policy of some countries to impose extraordinary taxes on the profits which particular employments of stock produce; sometimes on the profits derived from particular branches of trade, and sometimes on those arising from agriculture. Of the former kind are, in England, the tax upon hawkers and pedlars, that upon hackney-coaches and chairs, and that which the keepers of ale-houses pay for a license to retail ale and spirituous liquors.
A tax upon the profits of stock must always fall finally upon the consumers, and if it is proportioned to the trade of the dealer, occasions no oppression to him. When it is not so proportioned, but is the same upon all dealers, though, in this case, too, it is finally paid by the consumer, yet it favours the great, and occasions some oppression to the small dealer.
The tax known under the old French Government by the title of the Personal Taille, affords the most remarkable instance that has occurred in modern Europe, of a tax upon the profits of stock employed in agriculture.
During the disorderly period when the Feudal Government subsisted in vigour, the great weight of taxation fell on those whose weakness left them at the mercy of the sovereign. Hence the taxes which, in some countries, were confined to lands held in property by an ignoble tenure, and which, in others, were laid on the supposed profits of all those who farmed lands belonging to other people, whatever might be the tenure by which the proprietors held them. In the former case, the taille was said to be real, in the latter to be personal. Examples of both were to be found under the monarchy of France, and they are both liable to strong objections, although, of the two, the latter is by far the most unjust and oppressive.
When a tax is imposed on the profits of stock in a particular branch of trade, the traders are careful that the tax should fall on the consumer. But when a tax is imposed on the profits of stock employed in agriculture, it must fall finally upon the landlord. The more the farmer is obliged to pay in the way of tax, the less he can afford to pay in the way of rent. Although, therefore, a tax of this kind, imposed during the currency of a lease, may distress or even ruin the farmer, it must always fall upon the landlord when the lease is renewed.
In countries where the personal taille takes place, the farmer is commonly assessed in proportion to the stock which he appears to employ in cultivation. He therefore cultivates with the most wretched instruments of husbandry that he can,—a mistaken policy, no doubt, on his part, in many instances, but resulting naturally from the circumstances in which he is placed. The consequence is, that cultivation is discouraged, to the prejudice, more or less, of the husbandman himself, of the landlord, and of the public.
For an examination of the other classes of taxes formerly mentioned, I must content myself with referring to Mr. Smith.* In the prosecution of the subject, my plan was to state the results of the speculations of those writers whose opinions have had, of late years, the greatest practical influence on the financial operations of this country. But this is a subject far too extensive for me to undertake at present.
In the course of the foregoing review of different taxes, I have stated the most important results of the speculations of those writers whose opinions have had, of late years, the greatest practical influence on the financial operations of this country. From what has been said, it would appear that taxes on consumption are recommended by very peculiar and weighty advantages:—1. Money1 is thus drawn into the Exchequer out of the pocket of the subject without his perceiving it, the tax being blended with the price of the commodity. 2. Taxes on consumption are, in some measure, voluntary, as a man may choose how far he will use the commodity which is taxed. 3. Every extension of this species of tax has a tendency (at least within certain limits) to create a new ability in the subject to defray it; for when a tax is laid upon goods consumed by the mass of the people, it more frequently happens that the poor increase their industry so as to add to the wealth of the country, and create a fund for defraying the tax, than that they retrench their living to their own and the public detriment, or raise their wages, so as to make the burden fall upon the rich. It has been further urged in favour of this description of taxes, that they have the exclusive merit of rectifying their own excesses,—inasmuch as, when pushed to an extreme, they encourage smuggling, and produce a deficiency in the revenue.2
Among the most zealous advocates for taxes on consumption are Necker, the Marquis de Casaux, and Mr. Young. The last two writers go so far as to assert, that they should be substituted instead of the land-taxes of France and of England.3
On the other hand, it cannot be denied, that taxes of this nature are liable to strong objections, on account,—1. Of the extreme expense of collecting them;—2. Of the severe restraints on trade as well as liberty, which the collection of them renders necessary;—and 3. On account of their tendency to hurt foreign trade by enhancing the price of commodities. In this country, in particular, where this system has been already carried to a very great extent, it seems now to be generally admitted, that it cannot be trusted to as a means of supplying so large a revenue as is required, when we attempt to raise a war supply without borrowing. In a country, when a small and moderate revenue is to be collected from a people in a state of increasing prosperity, the objections just now mentioned may be more easily obviated.
In order to levy so immense a sum as the exigencies of Government now require, recourse must be had to taxes affecting directly the fortunes of the contributors. But how such a tax is to be imposed is a different question,—and a question of very difficult solution. The consideration of it, it would be obviously improper for me to introduce in this place. A late writer (and one, too, whose political views are understood to be extremely favourable to the existing Administration of Great Britain) has employed his ingenuity in an attempt to revive the project of a territorial tax on the plan of the French Economists. But on this idea, which is not very likely to attract much attention in this country, it would be superfluous for me to enlarge at present, more particularly, as I propose to examine afterwards, at some length, the arguments which have been offered both for and against it.
I shall also pass over, without examination, another project of taxation, which has been lately carried into effect in Great Britain,—I mean the tax upon income, as I am always unwilling to touch upon any questions which are conected with the political discussions of the times. The arguments, besides, which have been alleged on both sides, cannot fail to be fresh in the recollection of all my hearers.
Two other projects, which are not so generally known, deserve to be mentioned, on account of the ingenuity and ability with which they have been recommended to the notice of the public. The first (which was published in 1795) is explained in a Pamphlet by Mr. Bentham, entitled Supply without Burthen, or Escheat vice Taxation, &c. The other is of a very late date, (having appeared in the course of the present year,) and has for its object to “impose a tax in perpetuity on all property, entailed or unentailed, settled or unsettled, the enjoyment of which passes by succession,” [its title being, Hints towards an Improved System of Taxation, &c. 1799.]
[OF THE POOR—THEIR MAINTENANCE.]
(Interpolation from Notes.)—Having been employed, for some time past, in tracing the sources of national opulence, our attention is naturally directed, in the next place, to that unfortunate class of men, who, in consequence either of the imperfections of our social institutions, or of the evils necessarily connected with the present constitution of humanity, are left dependent on the bounty of their fellow-citizens. The subject is sufficiently interesting in itself, considered in relation merely to the order of men who are its immediate objects; but it will be found, on examination, to be still more interesting when considered in connexion with the general system of Political Economy. In treating of this subject, I shall begin first with a short historical sketch of the origin and progress of the Poor-laws in both parts of the island, and shall afterwards proceed to some inquiries and speculations of a more general nature.
[1 ] [Essays, Vol. I.]—See Filangieri, [Riflessioni Politiche, &c.] Vol. II. p. 372.
[1 ] Guthrie’s Grammar, p. 471. Hertzberg’s Two Discourses, &c. p. 3; p. 37 of the original. The translation is printed for Dilly, 1786.
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 250, tenth edition.]
[2 ] Filangieri, [Ibid.] Vol. II. p. 318.
[1 ] Hamilton, [Introduction, &c.,] pp. 548, 549. With respect to the particular use of the word Fund, (which in its common acceptation means a sum of money appropriated for any particular purpose,) it may be proper to observe, that according to strict analogy it ought to be applied to the Taxes or Revenues upon which the interest of the public debts is secured. The former definition, however, (which applies it to the capitals or debts upon which the interest is payable,) has been long sanctioned by universal custom.—Fairman, On the Stocks.
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. iii.; Vol. III. p. 400, tenth edition.]
[1 ] Fairman, On the Stocks.
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. iii.; Vol. III. p. 402, tenth edition.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. 409.]
[1 ] Eden’s Letters, p. 86.
[2 ] The war of 1739 increased it to more than 78 millions. Before the breaking out of the war of 1755, it was reduced to little more than 72¼ millions. But at the conclusion of the peace in 1763, the funded debt amounted to more than 122½ millions, and in 1764, the whole debt was 139½ millions; and by the American war, it was increased to upwards of 230 millions.—Smith, [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. iii.; Vol. III. p. 421, seq., tenth edition.]
[3 ] Eden, [l. c.] p. 92; Hamilton, [l. c.] p. 552.
[4 ] Lauderdale’s last Pamphlet. During the American war the expenditure never exceeded £20,000,[000,] and the permanent taxes never exceeded £10,000,000.—Ibid. Permanent Taxes in 1783, £10,194,259; in 1798, £21,049,945.—Rose’s Pamphlet.
[* ] [For articulate references, see Index.]
[1 ] Printed for T. Payne, Mews Gate, [London.]
[† ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. c. iii.; Vol. III. p. 424, seq., tenth edition.]
[* ] [Essays, Vol. I. Of Public Credit.]
[† ] [Ibid., old editions.]
[* ] [Ibid.]
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. pp. 255-257, tenth edition.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. 255.]
[1 ] [Political Arithmetic?] pp. 521, 522.
[* ] [Political Œconomy, Book V. chap. xii.; Works, Vol. IV. p. 298.]
[† ] [Ibid. p. 317.]
[‡ ] [Ibid. p. 314.]
[1 ] Ferguson, [Principles of Moral and Political Science, Part II. chap. vi. sect. 5;] Vol. II. p. 436.
[* ] [Political Œconomy, Book V. chap. i.; Works, Vol. IV. p. 175.]
[† ] [Ibid. pp. 175, 176.]
[‡ ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 259, seq., tenth edition.]
[* ] [It has been found requisite to modify the distribution of Mr. Smith and Mr. Stewart, stated in the last preceding page. The word “Land” is here substituted for the word “Rent.”]
[1 ] Tenths and fifteenths were temporary aids, issuing out of personal property, and granted to the king by parliament. They were formerly the real tenth or fifteenth part of all the movables belonging to the subject. Tenths are said to have been first granted under Henry II.; but, afterwards, fifteenths were more usually granted than tenths. Originally the amount of these taxes was uncertain, being levied by assessments, new made at every fresh grant of the Commons; but it was at length reduced to a certainty in the 8th year of Edward III., when, by virtue of the King’s Commission, new taxations were made of every township, borough, and city in the kingdom, and recorded in the Exchequer, which rate was, at the time, the fifteenth part of the value of every township, the whole amounting to about £29,000. And, therefore, it still kept up the name of a fifteenth, when, by the alteration of the value of money, and the increase of personal property, things came to be in a very different situation. So that, when of later years the Commons granted the king a fifteenth, every parish in England immediately knew their proportion of it; that is, the same identical sum that was assessed by the same aid in the 8th of Edward III., and then raised it by a rate among themselves, and returned it into the Royal Exchequer.—Blackstone, Commentaries, Vol. I. p. 308.
[* ] [Political Œconomy, Book V. chap. xi., footnote; Works, Vol. IV. p. 280.]
[1 ] Gray’s Pamphlet. Becket, 1797, p. 104.
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 260, tenth edition.]
[* ] [Political Œconomy, Book V. chap. xi.; Works, Vol. IV. pp. 279-282.]
[† ] [Ibid. p. 282.]
[1 ] Eden’s Letters, p. 102.
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 261, seq., tenth edition.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. 262.]
[1 ] Hailes’ Annals of Scotland, Vol. I. p. 184.—Stuart’s Public Law, &c., pp. 67, 202.—(Consult on this subject Boyd’s Justice of Peace.)
[1 ] G. Stuart, [Observations concerning the Public Law of Scotland, &c.,] p. 68.
[2 ] Stuart, [l. c.]—Erskine, pp. 155, 156; [Institutes, Book II. Title v. sect. 35.]
[* ] [Treaty of Union, &c., 1706, Scots Acts.]
[1 ] Young’s France, p. 522.
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 264, tenth edition.]
[* ] [Ibid. p. 268.]
[† ] [Ibid. p. 269, seq.]
[1 ] Young’s Political Arithmetic, p. 211.
[1 ] Published in 1734.
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 270, tenth edition.]
[† ] [History of England, Chap. IV., William the Conqueror.]
[‡ ] [Ibid.]
[1 ]Comm. Vol. II. p. 51.
[2 ] Gross’s Antiquities, Vol. I. Preface, p. 78.
[1 ] Quoted by Grose, [ut supra,] p. 81.
[2 ] Grose, [Ibid.] p. 82. For some details with respect to other valuations in different countries of modern Europe, see Smith, Vol. III. p. 222; [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 270, seq., tenth edition.]
[1 ]Essai d’un Méthode Générale à étendre les Connaissances des Voyageurs.
[2 ] Young’s France, p. 522.
[3 ] Le Trosne, Ad. Prov. Tom. I. pref. p. xiv. (quoted by Young, [ut supra,] p. 530.
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 272, tenth edition.]
[* ] [Political Œconomy, Book V. chap. xi.; Works, Vol. IV., p. 285, seq.]
[1 ]Travels in France, p. 537.
[2 ] See a Pamphlet, entitled The Moderate Reformer, by a Friend to the Church of England, (White, 1794)
[* ] [Political Œconomy, Book V. chap. xi.; Works, Vol. IV. pp. 283-298.]
[1 ] See what Smith says of the tithes in Bengal,—[Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. i.; Vol. II. p. 279, tenth edition,]—and Francis’s observation quoted in Boyd’s Justice of Peace.
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. ii.; Vol. III. p. 285, tenth edition.]
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. iii.; Vol. III. pp. 311-394, tenth edition.]
[1 ] Lauderdale’s Pamphlet; Young’s France.
[2 ] See some further considerations on the same side of the question in Young’s France, p. 523.
[3 ] Young, p. 530.