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CHAPTER V: Of Some Other Taxes - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume III - Principles of Political Economy Part II 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume III - The Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy (Books III-V and Appendices), ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by V.W. Bladen (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965).
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Of Some Other Taxes
§ 1. [Taxes on contracts] Besides direct taxes on income, and taxes on consumption, the financial systems of most countries comprise a variety of miscellaneous imposts, not strictly included in either class. The modern European systems retain many such taxes, though in much less number and variety than those semi-barbarous governments which European influence has not yet reached. In some of these, scarcely any incident of life has escaped being made an excuse for some fiscal exaction; hardly any act, not belonging to daily routine, can be performed by any one, without obtaining leave from some agent of government, which is only granted in consideration of a payment: especially when the act requires the aid or the peculiar guarantee of a public authority. In the present treatise we may confine our attention to such taxes as lately existed, or still exist, in countries usually classed as civilized.
In almost all nations a considerable revenue is drawn from taxes on contracts. These are imposed in various forms. One expedient is that of taxing the legal instrument which serves as evidence of the contract, and which is commonly the only evidence legally admissible. In England, scarcely any contract is binding unless executed on stamped paper, which has paid a tax to government; and auntil very lately, when the contract related to property the tax was proportionally much heavier on the smaller than on the larger transactions; which is still true of some of those taxesa . There are also stamp-duties on the legal instruments which are evidence of the fulfilment of contracts; such as acknowledgments of receipt, and deeds of release. Taxes on contracts are not always levied by means of stamps. The duty on sales by auction, abrogated by Sir Robert Peel, was an instance in point. The taxes on transfers of landed property, in France, are another: in England bthereb are stamp-duties. In some countries, contracts of many kinds are not valid unless registered, and their registration is made an occasion for a tax.
Of taxes on contracts, the most important are those on the transfer of property; chiefly on purchases and sales. Taxes on the sale of consumable commodities are simply taxes on those commodities. If they affect only some particular commodities, they raise the prices of those commodities, and are paid by the consumer. If the attempt were made to tax all purchases and sales, which, however absurd, was for centuries the law of Spain, the tax, if it could be enforced, would be equivalent to a tax on all commodities, and would not affect prices: if levied from the sellers, it would be a tax on profits, if from the buyers, a tax on consumption; and neither class could throw the burthen upon the other. If confined to some one mode of sale, as for example by auction, it discourages recourse to that mode, and if of any material amount, prevents it from being adopted at all, unless in a case of emergency; in which case as the seller is under a necessity to sell, but the buyer under no necessity to buy, the tax falls on the seller; and this was the strongest of the objections to the auction duty: it almost always fell on a necessitous person, and in the c crisis of his necessities.
Taxes on the purchase and sale of land are, in most countries, liable to the same objection. Landed property in old countries is seldom parted with, except from reduced circumstances, or some urgent need: the seller, therefore, must take what he can get, while the buyer, whose object is an investment, makes his calculations on the interest which he can obtain for his money in other ways, and will not buy if he is charged with a government tax on the transaction.* It has indeed been objected, that this argument would not apply if all modes of permanent investment, such as the purchase of government securities, shares in joint-stock companies, mortgages, and the like, were subject to the same tax. But even then, if paid by the buyer, it would be equivalent to a tax on interest: if sufficiently heavy to be of any importance, it would disturb the established relation between interest and profit; and the disturbance would redress itself by a rise in the rate of interest, and a fall of the price of land and of all securities. It appears to me, therefore, that the seller is the person by whom such taxes, unless under peculiar circumstances, will dgenerallyd be borne.
All taxes must be condemned which throw obstacles in the way of the sale of land, or other instruments of production. Such sales tend naturally to render the property more productive. The seller, whether moved by necessity or choice, is probably some one who is either without the means, or without the capacity, to make the most advantageous use of the property for productive purposes; while the buyer, on the other hand, is at any rate not needy, and is efrequentlye both inclined and able to improve the property, since, as it is worth more to such a person than to any other, he is likely to offer the highest price for it. All taxes, therefore, and all difficulties and expenses, annexed to such contracts, are decidedly detrimental; especially in the case of land, the source of subsistence, and the original foundation of all wealth, on the improvement of which, therefore, so much depends. Too great facilities cannot be given to enable land to pass into the hands, and assume the modes of aggregation or division, most conducive to its productiveness. If landed properties are too large, alienation should be free, in order that they may be subdivided; if too small, in order that they may be united. All taxes on the transfer of landed property should be abolished; but, as the landlords have no claim to be relieved from any reservation which the state has hitherto made in its own favour from the amount of their rent, an annual impost equivalent to the average produce of these taxes should be distributed over the land generally, in the form of a land-tax.f
Some of the taxes on contracts are very pernicious, imposing a virtual penalty upon transactions which it ought to be the policy of the legislator to encourage. Of this sort is the stamp-duty on leases, which in a country of large properties are an essential condition of good agriculture; and the gtaxesg on insurances, a direct discouragement to prudence and forethought.h
§ 2. [Taxes on communication] Nearly allied to the taxes on contracts are those on communication. The principal of these is the postage tax; to which may be added ataxesa on advertisements, and b on newspapers, which are taxes on the communication of information.
The common mode of levying a tax on the conveyance of letters, is by making the government the sole authorized carrier of them, and demanding a monopoly price. When this price is so moderate as it is in this country under the uniform penny postage, scarcely if at all exceeding what would be charged under the freest competition by any private company, it can hardly be considered as taxation, but rather as the profits of a business; whatever excess there is above the ordinary profits of stock being a fair result of the saving of expense, caused by having only one establishment and one set of arrangements for the whole country, instead of many competing ones. The business, too, being one which both can and ought to be conducted on fixed rules, is one of the c few businesses which it is not unsuitable to a government to conduct. The post office, therefore, is at present one of the best of the sources from which this country derives its revenue. But a postage much exceeding what would be paid for the same service in a system of freedom, is not a desirable tax. Its chief weight falls on letters of business, and increases the expense of mercantile relations between distant places. It is like an attempt to raise a large revenue by heavy tolls: it obstructs all operations by which goods are conveyed from place to place, and discourages the production of commodities in one place for consumption in another; which is not only in itself one of the greatest sources of economy of labour, but is a necessary condition of almost all improvements in production, and one of the strongest stimulants to industryd, and promoters of civilizationd .
eThee tax on advertisements fwasf not free from the same objection, since in whatever degree advertisements are useful to business, by facilitating the coming together of the dealer or producer and the consumer, in that same degree, if the tax be high enough to be a serious discouragement to advertising, it prolongs the period during which goods remain unsold, and capital locked up in idleness.g
A tax on newspapers is objectionable, not so much where it does fall as where it does not, that is, where it prevents newspapers from being used. To the generality of those who h buy them, newspapers are a luxury which they can as well afford to pay for as any other indulgence, and which is as unexceptionable a source of revenue. But to that large part of the community who have been taught to read, but have received little other intellectual education, newspapers are the source of nearly all the general information which they possess, and of nearly all their acquaintance with the ideas and topics current among mankind; and an interest is more easily excited in newspapers, than in books or other more recondite sources of instruction. Newspapers icontribute so little, in a direct way toi the origination of useful ideas, that many persons undervalue the importance of their office in disseminating jthem. They correct many prejudices and superstitions, and keep up aj habit of discussion, and interest in public concerns, the absence of which is a great cause of the stagnation of mind usually found in the lower and middle, if not in all, ranks, of those countries where newspapers of an important or interesting character do not exist. There ought to be no taxes k(as in this country there now are not)k which render this great diffuser of linformationl , of mental excitement, and mental exercise, less accessible to that portion of the public which most needs to be carried m into a region of ideas and interests beyond its own limited horizon.
§ 3. [Law Taxes] In the enumeration of bad taxes, a conspicuous place must be assigned to law taxes; which extract a revenue for the state from the various operations involved in an application to the tribunals. Like all needless expenses attached to law proceedings, they are a tax on redress, and therefore a premium on injury. Although such taxes have been abolished in this country as a general source of revenue, they still exist in the form of fees of court, for defraying the expense of the courts of justice; under the idea, apparently, that those may fairly be required to bear the expenses of the administration of justice, who reap the benefit of it. The fallacy of this doctrine was powerfully exposed by Bentham. As he remarked, those who are under the necessity of going to law, are those who benefit least, not most, by the law and its administration. To them the protection which the law affords has not been complete, since they have been obliged to resort to a court of justice to ascertain their rights, or maintain those rights against infringement: while the remainder of the public have enjoyed the immunity from injury conferred by the law and the tribunals, without the inconvenience of an appeal to them.
§ 4. [Modes of taxation for local purposes] Besides the general taxes of the State, there are in all or most countries local taxes, to defray any expenses of a public nature which it is thought best to place under the control or management of a local authority. Some of these expenses are incurred for purposes in which the particular locality is solely or chiefly interested; as the paving, cleansing, and lighting of the streets; or the making and repairing of roads and bridges, which may be important to people from any part of the country, but only in so far as they, or goods ain which they have an interesta , pass along the roads or over the bridges. In other cases again, the expenses are of a kind as nationally important as any others, but are defrayed locally because supposed more likely to be well administered by local bodies; as, in England, the relief of the poor, and the support of gaols, and in some other countries, of schools. To decide for what public objects local superintendence is best suited, and what are those which should be kept immediately under the central government, or under a mixed system of local management and central superintendence, is a question not of political economy, but of administration. It is an important principle, however, that taxes imposed by a local authority, being less amenable to publicity and discussion than the acts of the government, should always be special—laid on for some definite service, and not exceeding the expense actually incurred in rendering the service. Thus limited, it is desirable, whenever practicable, that the burthen should fall on those to whom the service is rendered; that the expense, for instance, of roads and bridges, should be defrayed by a toll on passengers and goods conveyed by them, thus dividing the cost between those who use them for pleasure or convenience, and the consumers of the goods which they enable to be brought to and from the market at a diminished expense. When, however, the tolls have repaid with interest the whole of the expenditure, the road or bridge should be thrown open free of toll, that it may be used also by those to whom, unless open gratuitously, it would be valueless; provision being made for repairs either from the funds of the state, or by a rate levied on the localities which reap the principal benefit.
In England, almost all local taxes are direct, (the coal duty of the City of London, and a few similar imposts, being the chief exceptions,) though the greatest part of the taxation for general purposes is indirect. On the contrary, in France, Austria, and other countries where direct taxation is much more largely employed by the state, the local expenses of towns are principally defrayed by taxes levied on commodities when entering them. These indirect taxes are much more objectionable in towns than on the frontier, because the things which the country supplies to the towns are chiefly the necessaries of life and the materials of manufacture, while, of what a country imports from foreign countries, the greater part usually consists of luxuries. An octroi cannot produce a large revenue, without pressing severely upon the labouring classes of the towns; unless their wages rise proportionally, in which case the tax falls in a great measure on the consumers of town produce, whether residing in town or country, since capital will not remain in the towns if its profits fall bbelowb their ordinary proportion as compared with the rural districts.
[a-a]48, 49 when the contract relates to property the tax rises, though in an irregular manner, with the pecuniary value of the property
[b-b]48, 49, 52, 57, 62, 65 these [printer’s error?]
[c]48, 49, 52 very
[* ] The statement in the text requires modification in the case of countries where the land is owned in small portions. These, being neither a badge of importance, nor in general an object of local attachment, are readily parted with at a small advance on their original cost, with the intention of buying elsewhere; and the desire of acquiring land even on disadvantageous terms is so great, as to be little checked by even a high rate of taxation.
[d-d]48, 49, 52, 57, 62 always
[e-e]48, 49 probably a person
[f]48, 49 [footnote:] *In our own country, the taxes on contracts are the more objectionable, because, with that tendency to spare the rich which pervades our financial system, they are proportionally much heavier on the smaller transactions. Many stamp duties do not profess to be ad valorem, but are fixed charges, whether the amount of the transaction be great or small. With respect to those which do pretend to be ad valorem; “of the stamps on conveyances, the lowest, which attaches where the purchase money does not amount to 20l., is 10s.; where the purchase money amounts to 20l. and not to 50l., 1l.; where 50l., and not amounting to 150l., 1l. 10s.; and there are twenty-three other enumerated stamps, rising in amount by unequal steps, the highest being 1000l., where the purchase money is 100,000l., beyond which, however high the purchase money may rise, the tax does not increase. . . . In the case of a 20l. purchase of freehold, the duty is 2l., or 10 per cent on the value; while on the 200,000l. or 300,000l. purchase (as on all conveyances of 150l. and upwards), the stamp is only 1l. 15s., a fraction of the value too inconsiderable to deserve notice. It often happens also in conveyances of properties of small amount, that besides this conveyance, other deeds are required, as assignments or surrenders of terms, and covenants for the production of title deeds: and the stamps on these deeds are the same whether the purchase is 20l. or 20,000l.” In the stamp duties on bonds and mortgages, the inequality is still more glaring; the rate ad valorem being “eighty times as great on the security for 50l. as on that for 100,000l.” —M’Culloch on Taxation, [McCulloch, John R. A Treatise on the Principles and Practical Influence of Taxation and the Funding System. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1845,] pp. 277-80. And in another place, “The stamp duties in their present form wholly want that compensating quality which has often been ascribed to them (and with which they might be endowed) of giving increased security to transactions. On the contrary, one would think they had been intended to serve as decoys with which to entrap parties, and force them into the courts. The difficulty which they create of determining what is and what is not a proper stamp, is itself a most prolific source of uncertainty, and consequently of litigation and expense.” (p. 276[-7].) We may well add, with the same writer, (p. 281) “it will be curious to see how long the present system will be permitted to continue.”
[g-g]48, 49, 52, 57, 62, 65 tax
[h]48, 49, 52, 62 In the case of fire insurances, the tax is exactly double the amount of the premium of insurance on common risks; so that the person insuring is obliged by the government to pay for the insurance just three times the value of the risk. If this tax existed in France, we should not see, as we do in some of her provinces, the plate of an insurance company on almost every cottage or hovel. This, indeed, must be ascribed to the provident and calculating habits produced by the dissemination of property through the labouring class: but a tax of so extravagant an amount would be a heavy drag upon any habits of providence.] 65 as 48 . . . the tax was until lately in all cases, and still is in most cases, exactly . . . as 48
[a-a]48, 49, 52 the tax
[b]48, 49, 52 that
[c]48, 49 very
[d-d]+52, 57, 62, 65, 71
[e-e]48, 49, 52, 57, 62, 65 A
[f-f]48, 49, 52, 57, 62, 65 is
[g]48, 49 In this country the amount of the duty is moderate, and the abuse of advertising, which is quite as conspicuous as the use, renders the abolition of the tax, though right in principle, a matter of less urgency than it might otherwise be deemed.
[h]48, 49, 52, 57 now
[i-i]48, 49 do so little, and generally attempt so little, in
[j-j]48, 49 those ideas; in correcting many prejudices and superstitions, and keeping up that
[l-l]48, 49 ideas
[m]48, 49 , as it were, out of itself,
[a-a]48, 49 belonging to them
[b-b]48, 49 beyond