Front Page Titles (by Subject) 203.: CONFISCATION SCHEME OF THE TIMES EXAMINER, 5 MAY, 1833, P. 275 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II
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203.: CONFISCATION SCHEME OF THE TIMES EXAMINER, 5 MAY, 1833, P. 275 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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CONFISCATION SCHEME OF THE TIMES
For Mill’s earlier comments on property taxes, see Nos. 195 and 196. This article, responding to and quoting one in The Times, 2 May, p. 2, in response to the budget (see No. 202), is in the “Political Examiner,” headed as title. It is described in Mill’s bibliography as “An article headed ‘Confiscation Scheme of the Times’ in the Examiner of 5th May 1833” (MacMinn, p. 26). In the Somerville College set of the Examiner, it is listed as title and enclosed in square brackets (including the note).
the times is at the head of that class of brawlers for a property tax, who mean by it a tax on other people’s property, exempting their own.
The Times has resisted all former projects of confiscation; but it is now identifying itself with perhaps the most audaciously unjust scheme of confiscation yet broached: a “property tax” to be levied on landholders and public and private creditors exclusively, and falling, as may easily be shown, upon the present landholders and the present fundholders, to the exclusion even of future ones.
But we shall allow this scheme of iniquity to speak for itself.
The object which, in common with a large body of the public, we had most at heart on this late occasion, was, that Ministers themselves, in accordance with the spirit manifested throughout the great towns, the capital, and the country, should have seized the tide at flood, and proposed, not resisted, the abrogation of the obnoxious imposts, replacing them by a “property” tax. Now, with respect to this latter expedient of finance, as it has given rise to much controversy, and will be contested, we presume, during, at least, the present Session of Parliament, it seems to us most desirable to employ no terms in the designation of the tax that can be turned to the sinister end of raising artificial difficulties in the shape of causeless terror, or repugnance, or creating ambiguities susceptible of what determination artful partizans may by and by be pleased to give them, and thus unfairly disposing the minds of men to look at this great, equitable, and efficient measure as one fraught with oppression and iniquity. In one sense, and one only, a “property tax” and an “income tax” is the same thing, namely, a tax upon the income derived from every species of fixed and realized property. The question has been put forth in recent publications, as if a Property Tax must mean of necessity a tax upon landed and monied capital, however employed or circumstanced. This is not what we have ever deemed to be a true description of the tax, or an honest one, of such a tax as, in this commercial country, would ever be endured. To tax, generally, the capital engaged in active commerce, would be to fetter industry in all its branches, and to impede the progress of the merchant’s or manufacturer’s profits on their way to investment in some shape or other, under which they might be fairly made available to a tax on property. By a Property Tax, that Property Tax which, with all the casual inequalities inseparable from it, though we believe they have been much exaggerated, that the public may be discouraged from demanding it, with all these we have, nevertheless, more than once recommended, by that tax, our intention is, a per centage tax on revenue drawn from legally ascertained and secured property, whether land, buildings, or money at interest in the funds, on bond, or mortgage, in perpetuity, for a definite term, or for life. This is at once an “Income Tax,” and a “Property Tax.” But it is not a tax on profits, precarious or conjectural. It waits until the profits, whether professional or commercial, shall have been converted by investment into capital, to which they have a general tendency, as all streams have to the ocean. Nine-tenths of the outcry which was raised against the old Income Tax was because of its warfare upon the operations of commercial industry, and for what? For the sake of less than one-sixth of the produce of the tax.
(The Times of Thursday last.)
The “equitable adjustment,”1 while vindicated on the ground of the pretended change in the value of the currency, was honesty itself compared with this. The shallow attempt at fraud which lies in the words “fixed and realized property” is hardly worth the trouble of exposure. A has twenty thousand pounds with which he sets up a manufactory. B has other twenty thousand pounds which he has lent to A: B is to be taxed and A is to go free. Why, in Heaven’s name? for what useful, for what honest end? Say, if you will, that the amount of A’s property cannot be correctly estimated, or that the attempt to estimate it would be inquisitorial; (we believe that is the phrase;) these may be good reasons against laying the tax upon A; but they can be no reasons for leaving him and fastening upon B. If you will not endure to be taxed yourselves, gentlemen of the Times, that does not entitle you to tax other people who may not be so well able to evade the tax. This pretension of capital engaged in business, to be exempt from taxation because it may be taxed when it is withdrawn from business, is a pretension almost worthy of the pampered selfishness of a hereditary Legislature. A tax is to be laid on the man who has saved, in order not to “impede the progress” of the man who is saving; the man who does not save remaining untaxed. The tax is not to fall on “profits,” it is to wait until the profits are “converted by investment into capital;” capital belonging to a farmer, a manufacturer, a merchant, or a tradesman, not being, it seems, capital at all. By your good leave, gentlemen of the Times, the people of Great Britain will not allow those four denominations of persons to withdraw their necks from the burthen of taxation, throwing their portion of the public expenses upon other people. Depend upon it, whatever may be the case with the poor, the rich, at least, in the times that are coming, will be obliged to share and share alike. By their stupidity and rapacity they may succeed in weakening the security of all property; but let them rely upon this, that they will not be permitted to make scape-goats of any particular class of its possessors.
The proposers of this precious scheme cannot but be aware that being partial taxation, it is confiscation; but they probably are not aware that it would be a robbery of the present landholders and fundholders exclusively. If a tax of ten per cent. were laid upon the income from land and the funds, the price of both would, of course, fall ten per cent. immediately, and future purchasers coming in at the reduced price, would have an equivalent for the extra tax, they would bear no greater burthen than they did before. The measure, therefore, would amount simply to a seizure of one tenth of the land from the present landholders, and a cutting off one tenth of the funds from the present fundholders. It would be one of the most naked acts of spoliation recorded in history.*
[1 ]The phrase seems to have originated with William Cobbett; see the fifth measure proposed in “The Petition of the Nobility, Gentry, and Others of the County of Norfolk,” Cobbett’s Weekly Register, XLV (11 Jan., 1823), 80.
[* ]So far as the tax affected private creditors, it would fall not upon them, but upon their debtors; for the rate of interest would probably rise in proportion to the tax. If it did not, the mortgagees and all other creditors would instantly call in their debts, and either buy land or stock at the reduced prices, or become sleeping partners in some commercial or manufacturing establishment, by which process they would escape from this notable species of taxation.