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Charles F. Bastable, Public Finance [1892]

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Charles F. Bastable, Public Finance. Third Edition, Revised and Enlarged (London: Macmillan, 1903).

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About this Title:

One of the first textbooks ever written on the subject, and still eminently readable, with clear organization, definitions and explanations. The taxation of income, capital, imports, consumption goods, etc., and the effects on wages, rents, profits, production, and consumption are major topics, along with the government’s budget constraints.

Another copy of this book can be found in HTML format at our sister website Econlib.

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The text is in the public domain.

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Table of Contents:

Edition: current; Page: [i]
Edition: current; Page: [ii]

MACMILLAN AND CO., limited london • bombay • calcutta • madras melbourne




Edition: current; Page: [iii]

Finance is not mere arithmetic; finance is a great policy. Without sound finance no sound government is possible; without sound government no sound finance is possible.

Edition: current; Page: [iv]


First Edition, 1892. Second Edition, 1895. Third Edition, 1903. Reprinted 1907, 1908, 1909, January and April 1910, 1911, 1913, 1917, 1922, 1927, 1932.

printed in great britain

Edition: current; Page: [v]


In preparing this edition (which has been seriously delayed owing to pressure of other work) it has been my aim, while preserving the general character of the book, to give due place to the various recent contributions to financial theory and to the latest developments of fiscal policy in the leading countries of the world.

Thus, the discussions on the classification of public expenditure, the theory of minimum sacrifice as the principle for distribution of the public burdens, the controversies as to the division of taxation between countries with a common revenue system, as well as those on the rue principles of local taxation, have been noticed. So have the latest theories on the ever-recurring question of incidence. But though we must gladly recognise the increased interest that the revival of economic inquiry has attracted to the more abstract side of financial theory, it is yet essential to remember that the new matter is small in proportion to the body of pre-existing doctrine. There has been no fundamental change, but only that expansion which is characteristic of all scientific study. Hence the space allotted to the topics mentioned above has been rigidly restricted and their relation to the general system made as obvious as possible.

Edition: current; Page: [vi]

The movements of financial policy have been similarly treated. The new French inheritance taxes, the reform of direct taxation in Austria, the temporary duties in the United States for the purposes of the Spanish war, as well as the improvements which the same event has produced in Spanish finance, all these have found their natural place in the descriptive and historical notices of the several taxes. The most remarkable, and to English readers the most serious, of these practical developments has been the alteration in the direction of English financial policy brought about by the occasion of the South African war, but really due to a deeper cause, viz. the desire to secure what is described as a broader basis for taxation. Under the influence of this idea, urged by an influential section of public opinion and obtaining additional support from the protectionist party, the customs tariff has been first extended in the form of a revenue duty on sugar, accompanied by a return to the primitive policy of an export duty on coal, and followed by a trivial, but so far protective, tax on corn. These measures, when considered, as they should be, in connexion with the legislation on matters of economic policy of the past seven years, indicate a disposition on the part of the predominant political party to depart from the financial principles which have prevailed since 1860. This attempt, whatever be its fate, is one of great interest to the scientific student of finance. The success that has attended the financial measures of Peel and Gladstone, and the remarkable contrast between the position of Great Britain and that of other European states in respect to economic and financial conditions, suggest the belief that experiments such as the coal and corn duties are undesirable, while any great extension of the policy would be hazardous in the extreme.

But whether the general basis of the established English revenue system be retained or abandoned, it is beyond doubt that the growth of expenditure presents a grave Edition: current; Page: [vii]problem for the future. In spite of warnings from responsible members of both parties, there has been an automatic increase in outlay that necessarily involves a heavier tax burden. No readjustment of taxes can give an escape from this result. The income of the citizen may, indeed, be attached directly, or by a series of indirect charges. The adoption of the latter method will not, however, reduce the amount of pressure; in some respects it will decidedly aggravate it. Prudent selection of the forms of taxation may afford some relief, just as mistaken choice will add to the loss, but speaking broadly, Ricardo's emphatic statement holds good that “the great evil of taxation is to be found not so much in any selection of its objects as in the general amount of its effects taken collectively” (Works, p. 88). It may be reasonably held that the future progress of Great Britain and of the British Empire will depend largely on the course that financial policy takes.

Of almost equal importance is the problem—or series of problems—presented by local finance. Expenditure and debt are both on the advance in the municipalities of the United Kingdom, and, if unchecked, will compel the adoption of new kinds of taxation or an appropriation of fresh fields of industry for municipal enterprise. In this case also there is need for that care and prudence which takes remote as well as immediate results into account and makes adequate allowance for risk. A full exhibition of national and local expenditure along with the corresponding debt figures does not produce a reassuring effect, especially when we consider the new claims that are from time to time arising. Firm financial administration and a wise economy of the public resources seem to be urgently needed in order to preserve the high reputation that British policy has won for itself. The great difficulty that has to be overcome is not the weakness of ministers, but negligence and want of knowledge on the part of the mass of the Edition: current; Page: [viii]community. A better informed and more reasonable public opinion is an essential pre-requisite of financial as of all other reforms in the modern State.

Trinity College, Dublin
Edition: current; Page: [ix]


Though no substantial change has been made in any point of doctrine or arrangement, the facts and figures have been thoroughly revised and brought up to date. Many important financial measures have been adopted during the last three years, and have required some notice. It is indeed, neither possible nor desirable, in a work primarily devoted to the statement of principles, to include all the transitory phases of legislative action; but the alterations recently carried out in the United Kingdom and Prussia are instructive examples of the direction of modern financial policy…. They have accordingly been described in their proper connection, and in consequence of the scientific and practical interest of the subject a chapter dealing with “death duties” has been added. A more theoretical addition is the new chapter on the “maxims of taxation,” which replaces the historical appendix in the first edition.

It is satisfactory to note that there has been a distinct revival of interest in respect to financial questions, as shown by the recent contributions to the literature of the subject, the more important of which have been duly referred to. It may without rashness be conjectured that the chief points of controversy in the immediate future will refer to local rather than to imperial finance, a statement which is applicable to France and the United States as well as our own Edition: current; Page: [x] country. The due adjustment of the two complementary systems of central and local finance will call for the efforts of skilled statesmanship guided by sound principles.

The criticisms and suggestions made by numerous reviewers and correspondents have been carefully considered, and, I hope, properly used. Among published criticisms I feel specially indebted to those by Professors Cohn, Seligman, and Farnam. Of those made privately I would particularly mention the valuable remarks by Professor Foxwell, Mr. E. Cannan, and Mr. C. S. Devas.

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The subject of Public Finance, as distinct from that of Political Economy, has not of late years attracted much attention in Great Britain. The very excellence of English financial institutions and management has contributed to this result by making the need of theoretic study as a basis for practical reforms less pressing. Though our financial literature is not quite so poor as some critics imagine, it must be allowed to be deficient in works dealing with the subject as a whole. Since the well-known book of McCulloch—first published in 1845 and now out of print—there has been no manual available for the student.

Such a want is specially felt in the work of teaching. A lecturer who desires to deal with financial questions has no text-book—like those at the service of his French, German, and Italian colleagues—to use as the groundwork of his instruction, and is therefore compelled to make constant reference to foreign treatises not readily accessible to, or easily read by, his class.

In the present work I have sought to temporarily supply this need by going over the whole field of Public Finance and presenting the results in a systematic form, so that a student may at least obtain a general knowledge of the leading facts and present position of this branch of Edition: current; Page: [xii]political science. The selection of topics and the space assigned to each have been determined under the influence of this guiding idea.

In dealing with financial statistics—which have been kept within the narrowest possible limits—I have in most cases rounded the figures in order to fasten attention on the really important facts expressed by them. For the same reason in the conversion of foreign money into English I have been satisfied with the approximate equation of £1 = $5 = 25 francs or lire = 20 marks. The fluctuations of the rupee, the Austrian florin, and the rouble have generally made their conversion undesirable, but I have sometimes taken them at their exchange value. Finally, I should explain that the references are, unless where otherwise stated, to the volume and page of the particular author.

Edition: current; Page: [xiii]



      §§ 1, 2. Nature and scope of Public Finance. § 3. Its relation to economics. § 4. To history and statistics. § 5. Its appropriate method ; must combine induction and deduction. § 6. Outline of present work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 1–15


      § 1. Need for studying the development or financial theory. § 2. Reasons for its absence in ancient times. § 3. And in the Middle Ages. City finance. § 4. Its commencement. Bodin. § 5 The German Cameralists. Vauban, Montesquieu, Hume. § 6. The Physiocrats : their influence. § 7. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations; its position and merits. § 8. His English successors. Modern French writers. § 9. The German followers of Adam Smith. Later financial theories in Germany. § 10. Financial writers in Italy. § 11. Other countries—Holland, Spain, & c. § 12. Recent English works on Finance. § 13. Financial theories in America . . pp. 16–37

  • BOOK I



      state economy. general considerations

      § 1. Expenditure necessary in all economies. § 2. Special features of public economy. § 3. Classification of public wants by J. S. Mill Edition: current; Page: [xiv]and Roscher. § 4. Theories of State functions. Paternal government. Laissez faire. Adam Smith's statement. J. S. Milh Modern position. § 5. The development of State functions in the several social stages. § 6. Permanence of certain wants. § 7. Commodities and services both required . . . . . . . . . . pp. 41–57


      the cost of defence

      § 1. Increase of expenditure for this object. § 2. Partly in preparation, partly for actual warfare. §§ 3, 4. Development of the military organisation. Its dependence oneconomic conditions. § 5. Volunteer service. § 6. Cost of navies. § 7. Growing cost of war matériel, possible alleviations. § 8. Cost of warfare. § 9. Summary. Note . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 58–73


      justice and security

      § 1. Importance of the function, itsextent. § 2. Its development. The fee theory. §§ 3, 4. Compulsory and voluntary services. § 5. Police expenditure. § 6. The prison system . . . . . . . . pp. 74–81


      administrative supervision. poor-relief

      § 1. Decay of state regulation; its revival. § 2. Reasons for this new growth. § 3. Tests of its expediency. § 4 The problem of poorrelief. Conflicting arguments. § 5. Practical result. § 6. Other modes of assistance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 82–91


      education. religion

      § 1. The Statein relation to education. § 2. Primary education. § 3. Secondary education. § 4. University education. 5. Technical education. § 6. Other means of culture. § 7. Voluntary aid. § 8. Religious endowments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 92–100

    • Edition: current; Page: [xv]


      expenditure on industry and commerce. constitutional and diplomatic expenditure

      § 1. All expenditure partly for economic ends. § 2. Action of the State to encourage industry generally. § 3. Assistance to special branches of industry and commerce. § 4. Over-expenditure for this purpose rare. §§ 5, 6. Maintenance of the Government. § 7. Cost of public debt and revenue collection . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 101–109


      central and local expenditure

      § 1. Real unity of general and local government. § 2. Differences in local government the result of historical conditions. § 3. But yet conform to general principles. § 4. Opposing tendencies. § 5. Greater complexity of local government in modern times. Its causes. § 6. Division of financial duties between the State and local bodies. § 7. Application to the several heads of expenditure. § 8. Some special cases. § 9. Central control expedient. Note.–Confederate and Colonial finance . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 110–129


      some general questions of expenditure

      § 1. Ordinary and extraordinary expenditure. Various uses of these terms. § 2. Productive and unproductive expenditure. §§ 3, 4. Relation of public to national revenue. Proper limit of the former. § 5. Growth of expenditure in modern times. Its causes. § 6. Influence of public expenditure on the national economy. Appendix. On the classification and guiding maxims of public expenditure pp. 130–149



    the economic or quasi-private receipts


      the forms and classification of public revenues

      § 1. Expenditure and revenue correlative. § 2. Complexity of the forms of revenue. Attempted classifications. § 3. Criticisms. § 4. The Edition: current; Page: [xvi]true arrangement. § 5. Divisions of the economic revenue. Note on classification . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 153–168


      the state domain. lands and forests

      § I. The origin of the domain. §§ 2, 3. Its present position in the several countries of the world. § 4. Land nationalisation. § 5. Arguments for and against the retention of public lands. § 6. Methods of management. § 7. Increase of public lands undesirable. § 8. Exception in the case of forests. § 9. The actual position of public forests. § Io. Division of management between central and local governments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 169–190


      the industrial domain

      § 1. Contrast between agricultural and industrial domain. § 2. State mines. § 3. State manufacture of fine products and for its own use. § 4. Monopoly of manufacture for taxation. §§ 5, 6. Municipal industries. Water-supply, lighting, drainage. § 7. The Post Office, its history and present position. § 8. It is a combination of several distinct industries. § 9. Its financial bearings. § 10. State telegraphs. § 11. Roads and canals. § 12. Treatment of railways. § 13. French railway policy. § 14. German state railways. § 15. Other European railways. § 16. Railway policy of non-European countries. § 17. Objections tothe system of state railways. § 18. Municipal tramways. § 19. The management of state railways. § 20. Treatment of state employees. § 21. Financial importance of the industrial domain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 191–231


      the state as capitalist. administrative revenue

      § 1. Decline ofstatetrading. § 2. State banks. § 3. Public lotteries. § 4. The State as lender. § 5. Fixed charges on land. § 6. Dues. § 7. The fee system. § 8. Juridical fees. § 9. Administrative and miscellaneous fees. § 10. tteterogeneous character of the revenue from fees . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 232–245

    • Edition: current; Page: [xvii]


      state property. general considerations on quasi-private revenue

      § 1. Growth of public property that does not yield revenue. § 2. Contrast between economic and tax receipts. § 3. Division of the former between central and local government. § 4. Difficulty of laying down general rules on the subject. § 5. Proportion of economic receipts to total revenue. Distribution between net and gross revenue. § 6. Proportion in England, Germany, and India. § 7. Inferior position of economic revenue . . . . . . . pp. 246–257


    PUBLIC REVENUE (continued)

    the principles of taxation


      definition and classification of taxation

      § 1. Prominence of taxation in finance. § 2. Need of definitions. § 3. Definition of taxation. §§ 4, 5. Other definitions ; errors in this connexion. § 6. Etymological meaning of terms. § 7. ‘Subject’ and ‘source’ of taxation. § 8. Use of terms, ‘direct’ and ‘indirect,’ ‘real’ and ‘personal,’ ‘rated’ and ‘apportioned.’ § 9. Economic classification of taxes. § 10. Empirical classification. § 11. Points of connexion between the two systems. Suggested grouping. § 12. Recapitulation . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 251‘280


      the general features of taxation

      § 1. Study of the broader features of taxation essential. § 2. Taxation means a deduction of wealth and therefore is an evil; fallacies on this head. § 3. Taxation hardly ever increases production. § 4. It is often uneconomical. § 5. Income the normal source of taxation, but wealth must also contribute. § 6. Theory of net produce ; Physioeratic view. § 7. Later German theories § 8. Importance of the preceding discussions. Case of Ireland . . . . . . pp. 281–295

    • Edition: current; Page: [xviii]


      the distribution of taxation

      § 1. Distribution an ethical question, but involves economic considerations. § 2. The theory of payment for state service ; its error. § 3. Equal payment by all. Ability as a measure of taxation. § 4. Sacrifice as the measure. Equal sacrifice and least sacrifice. § 5. Proportional taxation advocated by the classical economists. § 6. Progressive taxation; reasons for its popularity. § 7. Objections to its use. § 8. Arguments in its support. § 9. The results of experience. § 10. Degressive taxation. § 11. Exemption of the minimum of subsistence. § 12. Treatment of (a) temporary incomes, (b) savings. § 13. Summary of preceding sections. § 14. Taxation of speculation and unearned increment. § 15. Distribution of taxation between countries united under a common government. § 16. International double taxation. § 17. Polkicosocial view. § 18. Theory that distribution is not concerned with justice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 296–337


      the tax system. its forms

      § 1. Single and multiple taxation. § 2. Proposals of Vauban and Decker [?]. § 3. The Impôt unique of the Physiocrats. § 4. Objections to the single tax. § 5. Evils of multiple taxation. § 6. Variety in taxation desirable. § 7. Meanings of direct and indirect taxation. § 8. Merits and defects of direct taxation. § 9. Those of indirect taxation. § 10. Other taxes. § 11. Combination of the three classes desirable. § 12. And likely to continue . . pp. 338–359


      the shifting and incidence of taxation

      § 1. Importance of the question § 2. Development of the economic theory of incidence ; the Physiocrats, Adam Smith, Ricardo, J. S. Mill. § 3. Criticism of this theory. § 4. The diffusion theory of taxation; its supporters ; its defects. § 5. The incidence of taxes on commodities. § 6. The incidence of taxes on rent and the shifting of taxation to rent. § 7. Taxes on capital and employer's gain ; their varied incidence. § 8. Taxes on wages not always shifted. § 9. Complicated nature of shifting . . . . . . . pp. 360–388

    • Edition: current; Page: [xix]


      the principles of local taxation

      § 1. Reasons for separating local from general taxation. § 2. The history of local institutions helps to determine their revenue. § 3. Taxes which should belong to the central government. § 4. Those suitable for local governments. § 5. Just distribution in local taxation. § 6. Special assessments. § 7. Relations between general and local finance. § 8. The amount of liberty to be granted to local bodies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 389–410


      the canons of taxation

      § 1. Advantage of general rules. § 2. Their slow development; earlier attempts. § 3. Adam Smith's maxims; criticisms thereon; their true position. § 4. Additional canons. Sismondi's four rules; their character. Garnier, Held, Wagner. § 5. Suggested canons, (a) productiveness, (b) economy, (c) just distribution, (d) elasticity, (e) certainty, (f) convenience. § 6. Their character and general agreement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 411–421


    PUBLIC REVENUE (concluded)

    the several kinds of taxes


      taxes on land

      § 1. Antiquity of land taxes. § 2. Their development. § 3. Cadastral surveys. § 4. English taxation of land. § 5. The Impôt foncier in France. § 6. Land taxes in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and Greece. § 7. Land taxation in Germany, Austria, and the United States. § 8. General features of land taxation. § 9. Its incidence. The Amortisation theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 425–442

    • Edition: current; Page: [xx]


      taxes on capital and business

      § 1. Development of taxes on buildings. § 2. In England. § 3. House and building taxes in other countries. § 4. Further considerations. § 5. Incidence of taxes on buildings. § 6. Taxation of floating capital. § 7. Profits more readily dealt with. § 8 Taxation of profits in England. § 9. The Patente in France. § 10. Taxation of profits in Italy, Germany, and Austria. § 11. The corporation tax in the United States. § 12. Characteristics of Continental taxation of profits. § 13. The incidence of taxes on business profits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 443–464


      personal and wages taxes

      § 1. Origin of poll taxes. § 2. English and Continental examples. § 3. Decline of poll and wages taxes; their unfairness . . . pp. 465–468


      taxes on property and income

      § 1. The older property tax; its defects. § 2. Its survival in Switzer. land; peculiarities of the system. § 3. The property tax in the United States; its defects. § 4. New property taxes in Prussia and Holland. § 5. Beginnings of the income-tax. § 6. The English income-tax. § 7. The income-tax in Italy. § 8. In the German States, Austria, and Switzerland. § 9. Proposed incometaxes in the United States and France. § 10. General considerations on the income-tax. § 11. Its incidence . . . . . . . pp. 469–494


      taxes on consumption : their classification : direct consumption taxes

      § 1. Secondary or consumption taxes. § 2. Their classification. § 3. Origin and decline of direct taxes on consumption. § 4. English taxes of this class. § 5. These taxes in other countries. § 6. Best reserved for local purposes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 495–503

    • Edition: current; Page: [xxi]


      internal taxes on commodities

      § 1. Importance of excise taxes ; their development. §§ 2, 3. Problems of excise taxation. § 4. It must be suited to the particular country. § 5. Ifistory and present position of the British Excise. § 6. History of the French indirect taxes. § 7. The existing French system: its principal features, its defects. § 8. Italian taxation of commodities. § 9. History of the German Excises; small return under the present system. § 10. Internal taxation in Austria and Russia. § 11. In the United States and India. § 12. General features of modern internal taxation. § 13. The history of Octrois. § 14. Their present use. § 15 . Criticism of the Octroi system. § 16. Incidence of excise duties . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 504–550


      customs duties

      § 1. The early forms of customs taxation. Its gradual development. § 2. Customs to be considered in connexion with the Excise. § 3. The English customs system, its history and chief features. § 4. French customs duties ; their financial defects. § 5. Customs duties in Italy, Germany, and other countries. § 6. Intrusion of political motives into the customs system. Prominence of import duties. § 7. The incidence of customs duties. Complicated nature of the problem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 551–573


      taxes on communications and acts

      § 1. Different elements that contributed to the establishment of taxes on circulation. § 2. Taxes on communication and transport. § 3. Stamps as a form of taxation. § 4. Taxation on acts and trans. actions. § 5. Stamp and registration duties in England, France, Italy, and Germany. § 6. Incidence of taxes on acts . . . pp. 574–589


      taxes on successions

      § 1. Peculiar features of taxes on successions ; their origin. § 2. Defects of succession taxes. § 3. Place of these taxes in a fiscal system. § 4. Graduation and progression. § 5. History of the English Edition: current; Page: [xxii]death duties. § 6. Changes by the Finance Act, 1894 ; its leading provisions. § 7. Productiveness of the death duties. § 8. Inheritance taxes in France. § 9. In Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Australasia. § 10. State and federal inheritance taxes in the United States. § 11. The incidence of taxes on successions . . . . pp. 590–608

  • BOOK V



      introductory. state treasures

      § 1. Impossibility of keeping complete equality between expenditure and receipts. § 2. Ancient and mediaeval state treasures. § 3. Reasons for state hoarding. The present German reserve. Objections to the system of keeping a reserve. § 4. Public debts more important at present . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 611–618


      public indebtedness. its modern development

      § 1. No state borrowing in classical times. § 2. Medimval state borrowing. § 3. Causes of modern public debts. § 4. Their rapid growth. § 5. Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 619–628


      the history of the english debt

      § 1. Commencement of the debt at the Revolution ; its early progress (1692–1740). § 2. Chief features in that period. § 3. The second period (174o-1792). § 4. The English debt during the French war (1793–1815). § 5. (1815–55). tIistory of the debt. The Crimean War. § 6. Reduotion of debt by redemption and conversion, I855–99. § 7- Loans for the South African War. § 8. The continued existence of the debt due to war and to weak financial policy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 629–542


      history of the french debt. indebtedness in other countries

      § 1. Borrowing under the Ancien Régime. § 2. The formation of the present debt (1793–1870). § 3. The Franco-German war. The actual position. § 4. Public debts in Italy and Germany. § 5. Edition: current; Page: [xxiii]The history and present position of the United States debt. § 6. Debts of Austria, Russia, and the English colonies . . . . pp. 643–657


      the theory of public credit and public debts

      § 1. Public credit is one species of credit in general, and governed by the principles applicable to all credit. § 2. Peculiar features of public credit. § 3. Early theoriesas to advantages of public debts. § 4. The views of Montesquieu, Hume, and Adam Smith. Truth and error in their position. § 5. The theory of Chalmers and J. S. Mill. § 6. German doctrines : C. Dietzel's theory of reproductive borrowing. § 7. Criticism of Chalmers. § 8. Of the theory of reproductive borrowing. § 9. Thereal effect of borrowing. Taxation and borrowing contrasted. § 10. Borrowing sometimes desirable. General rules. § 11. Foreign loans. § 12. Modes of estimating the pressure of public debt . . . . . . . . . . pp. 658–684


      the forms of public debts

      § 1. Forced, patriotic, and business loans. § 2. Temporary and perpetual debts. Advantage of the latter. § 3. Variety desirable. § 4. Methods of contracting loans. § 5. Loans should not be contracted under par. § 6. Floating debt: its treatment. § 7. Inconvertible paper . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 685–697


      the redemption and conversion of debt

      § 1. Redemption of debt desirable. § 2. Conditions to be considered in this process. § 3. All payment must be out of surplus revenue. The Sinking Fund : its error. § 4. Necessity of debt reduction. § 5. Conversion as a mode of relief. § 6. Redemption by a single contribution from property. § 7. Automatic reduction of debt. § 8. Is i there any distinction between home and foreign loans in respect to redemption ? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 698–711


      local indebtedness

      § 1. Danger in the increase of local debt. § 2. Instances of increase in England and abroad. § 3. Causes of this increase, § 4. Local borrowing often justifiable. § 5. Forms of local loans. § 6. Repayment also necessary in their case. §7. Provincial and county borrowing. § 8. Necessity for central control over local borrowing pp. 712–722

  • Edition: current; Page: [xxiv]




      introductory. historical development

      § 1. Administration and control a necessary part of financial science. § 2. Gradual development of financial regulation. Classical and mediaeval periods. § 3. Regulation under absolute monarchy. § 4. Constitutional system of English origin. § 5. Its extension to other countries. § 6. Modern financial systems admit of general treatment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 725–733


      the budget: its preparation. the collection of revenue

      § 1. Meaning of the term ‘Budget.’ § 2. Preliminary estimates necessary. § 3. Period, form, and matter of the Budget. Should it be ‘gross’ or ‘net’ ? § 4. Unity of the Budget. Should it deal with cash or transactions ? Modes of estimating income and outlay. § 5. The collection of taxation. Farming of taxes. Apportionment. Direct state levy. Rules respecting it. § 6. Dealing with the funds received . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 734–745


      the vote of the budget. its control and audit

      § 1. Summary of budgetary rules. § 2. Method of examining the Budget. Right of proposing expenditure. § 3. Relative powers of the two chambers. Specialisation of votes. § 4. Di_culty of adjusting income to outlay. Supplemental votes. Fixed expendi. ture and taxation. § 5. Comparison of English and French methods. § 6. Checks over issues. Their development in England, France, and Italy. § 7. Methods of audit. The English appropriation audit. The United States system. French Cour des CompLes. Other countries. § 8. Importance of sound public opinion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 746–761


      administration and control in local finance

      § 1. Surbordinate position of local bodies. § 2. Historical development of control. § 3. Preparation of local budgets. § 4. Voting of local budgets. § 5. Necessity for external audit and control. § 6. Political control. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . pp. 762–769

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General Introduction


§ 1. In any society that has passed beyond the lowest stage of social development, some form of governmental organisation is found to be an essential feature. The various activities or functions of this controlling body furnish the material for what are known as the ‘Political Sciences’ (Staatswissenschaften). Every governing body or ‘State’ requires for the due discharge of its functions repeated supplies of commodities and personal services, which it has to apply to the accomplishment of whatever ends it may regard as desirable. The processes involved in obtaining and using these supplies naturally vary much in the several stages of social advance: they are comparatively simple and direct in a primitive community, while in a modern industrial society they present a high degree of complication, and are carried out by elaborate regulations. For all States, however—whether rude or highly developed—some provisions of the kind are necessary, and therefore the supply and application of state resources constitute the subject-matter of a study which is best entitled in English, Public Finance.1

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The importance of the subject hardly requires much insistence. The collection of funds for state purposes and the use of the resources so obtained are such vital parts of the political organisation, that they are almost certain to receive attention from all who are interested in political and social inquiries. But, if demanded, abundant evidence is at hand. The citizen of any civilised country need only reflect for a few minutes in order to satisfy himself of the number and importance of the actions of the state on its financial side. His letters are carried by a state agency which claims a monopoly, and in some instances realises a large profit for the general revenue. The commodities that supply his table are in many cases taxed to create a fund for the payment of public services. Either his income or property or some of their elements is sure to be subjected to a charge of greater or less amount, and several of the most ordinary avocations are only open to him on obtaining a costly licence for permission to engage in them. Nor do the claims of the State cease here. In addition to the central body, the local authorities have to be considered. If the person of our supposition be the inhabitant of a town, his house may be lighted by public agency, while it is highly probable that for one of the first necessaries of life—water—he is dependent on his municipality. There is little need for further working out of details. The way in which the purely financial agencies of the State—and still more those which have some connexion with finance—affect the members of the society in their everyday existence, is being ever illustrated afresh by the ordinary course of social life.

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The importance of a subject is of itself a strong plea for its scientific study, but in the present case more special arguments may be urged. There is in finance, as in all matters depending in some degree on human will, the possibility of choosing between different courses, some of which are likely to prove better than others; and for the formation of a correct judgment as to the relative merits of the lines of action open to the State, careful examination of the conditions affecting the phenomena is indispensable. Such examination is, however, only possible by scientific study, or rather it is that study. More particularly is this true at present in consequence of the great expansion of the functions of the State, which is partly due to—and which in turn increases—the complicated structure of modern societies. The effects of state action in a primitive community are far more easily followed; the forms both of revenue and expenditure are reducible to a few simple kinds, directed by rude or partially developed agencies. The modern State, even when it allows an amount of individual liberty unknown in any former period, is obliged to employ complicated machinery for the regulation and management of its outlay and receipts. The results, moreover, are not so readily perceived; numerous interests and classes are affected by any change in the course of public expenditure or by readjustments of taxation. The many indirect results of financial processes must be considered before we can either understand their operation or fairly judge their merits; but to trace the action of economic forces in their effects on the highly developed systems of modern industrial societies is a task of considerable difficulty, not to be accomplished without the aid of general principles and careful reference to former experience. The case for a scientific study of finance is so strong that it does not require much vindication, and the value of critical investigations has been already proved by the results obtained.

§ 2. The scope of our subject has now been indicated Edition: current; Page: [4] in a general way, but for clearness of thought and in consequence of the differing views of many writers of authority we must determine it more precisely. State expenditure and state revenue at once occur to the mind as the two great heads of inquiry, standing opposed to each other as Production and Consumption, or Supply and Demand do in economic science. Closer examination shows that this simple grouping does not exhaust the field of investigation. Problems of revenue and of expenditure are, indeed, the most important. Adam Smith, who was, at least for England, the founder of the scientific study of public finance, as of political economy in general, devoted separate chapters of his Fifth Book to ‘The Expenses of the Sovereign’ and ‘The Revenues of the Sovereign’; but by the nature of the subject he found himself forced to add a third section, in which the relation between expenditure and receipts is examined. He knew that many ancient and mediæval sovereigns had accumulated treasures; it was apparent that most modern governments had heaped up debts—a process that has been carried much further since his day; and it followed that an inquiry into the balance between state incomings and outgoings was an essential, as well as difficult, part of public finance.

Nor is this the only addition. The phenomena to be dealt with do not admit of being conveniently grouped under Adam Smith's three heads. This difficulty is at once felt on calling to mind that the expenditure and revenue under consideration are state expenditure and state revenue. We must examine, not merely the processes, but also the mechanism by which those processes are carried on. For the collection and application of wealth by the State legislative and administrative action is needed. The right of voting supplies and supervising expenditure—‘the power of the purse’—is one of the leading privileges of a representative body; it is also the most effectual safeguard of constitutional rights. Methods of administrative Edition: current; Page: [5] control seriously affect the working of the national finances, and are deserving of attentive study. No financial treatise can be complete unless it considers the problems of ‘the budget’ and ‘financial administration’ (Finanzverwaltung), and such has in late years been the almost invariable practice.1

In one respect the scope of public finance has been curtailed by some of its ablest expounders. French writers, more especially M. P. Leroy-Beaulieu, have refused to regard the problems of public expenditure as a part of their subject. The reason for this limitation is said to be the difficulty of scientifically determining the proper amount of state outlay, as that must depend on the functions assigned to the State. ‘This kind of inquiry,’ says M. Leroy-Beaulieu, ‘does not in my opinion belong to the science of finance..... A State has wants: it does not belong to us at present to know what they are, and what they ought to be, but how it is possible to satisfy them in the amplest manner with the least loss and sacrifice to individuals. If you engage a builder to build you a house, it is not his business to inquire if the building is too large for your income or your social position; what does concern him is to build the house in question with the utmost possible solidity, convenience and beauty, at the lowest cost to the owner. In like manner, a writer on finance can sincerely lament that States spend too much; but his real task lies in showing how a State can obtain supplies, while treating the interests of individuals with due tenderness and respecting justice.’2 English writers have gone further in this direction, and, by disregarding all forms of State revenue except that derived from taxation, have replaced the Edition: current; Page: [6] broader treatment of Adam Smith and the Germans by treatises on ‘Taxation’ and ‘Public Debts.’1

It nevertheless seems clear that the question of expenditure is just as much a financial problem as that of revenue. Neither in theory nor in practice is it advisable to separate them completely. The greatest finance ministers have made their reputations as much by judicious control of outlay as by wise reforms in respect to revenue,2 while for theoretical discussion the principles and facts of expenditure are of considerable interest. M. Leroy-Beaulieu's suggested parallel of the builder is not in point, since the practical statesman is the only person to whom the illustration would apply, and he evidently does not act in conformity with it; the scientific student is only limited in his inquiries by the nature of the material that he is investigating. One admission may indeed be made. Questions of expenditure do not allow of quite as precise treatment as those referring to taxation, some parts of the latter subject permitting the use of lengthened deductions. This test of fitness for exact investigation would, however, exclude other large parts of the subject—e.g. ‘the public domain’—which are nevertheless discussed by all recent writers, M. Leroy-Beaulieu included. For a complete inquiry into the theory of finance some consideration of the conditions governing State outlay is indispensable—e.g. the increase of military expenditure in European States, its causes and limits, cannot be left wholly unnoticed by any thorough student of public finance. Such an inquiry is more especially needed owing to the fact Edition: current; Page: [7] that expenditure and revenue are connected. Public outlay is not something unchangeable and determined, to be met ‘with the least loss and sacrifice to individuals.’ Expenditure that would be legitimate in a lightly taxed State would be blameworthy in one that is heavily taxed. The aim of the statesman is not simply to distribute loss and reduce it to a minimum; it is rather to procure the maximum of advantage to the community, and to so balance expenditure and revenue as to attain that result.

The principal difficulty in the scientific examination of public expenditure is found when attempting to limit the mode of treatment. Some writers enter into discussions as to the legitimacy of certain state functions, and their relative urgency. Others simply state the forms and facts of public outlay, leaving further inquiry to the political theorist. In the present work, in accordance with the precedent set by Adam Smith, the several items of expenditure will be treated on a positive basis, and at the same time the considerations naturally arising from their existence, and the financial questions that they suggest will be noticed, though no complete examination of state functions will be attempted. Whatever theoretical questions may be raised, such seems to be the course that convenience suggests, and is one to which the subject naturally lends itself. Our object is to elucidate the principles of public finance; and the admission or exclusion of any special topic, as well as the extent of treatment in each case, must be determined solely by reference to that end.1

§ 3. Theoretical writers on finance, especially in Germany, have very fully considered the relations of their subject to cognate branches of knowledge, i.e. to the various social and political sciences, and have in particular laid stress on Edition: current; Page: [8] the ties that bind it to economics.1 In its origin financial science was a product of economic study. It appears either as a special section, or as the main subject of the older treatises of Political Economy, ‘when considered as a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator,’ to quote Adam Smith's phrase. In another aspect it may be regarded as belonging to administration, and as such formed a large part of the ‘Chamber Science’ (Cameralwissenschaft) which was in Germany the precursor of scientific economics. The undue limitation of the scope of finance by English writers has led to its inclusion under the title of ‘taxation’ in the various systematic expositions of political economy,2 and the more enlarged view taken by German writers has not prevented a similar result in that country, for since the time of K. H. Rau, political economy has been regarded as comprising, in addition to the general theory, the economics of special industries, economic legislation and administration, as well as public finance.3 This apparent absorption of finance in economics is really the result of a peculiar conception. If the latter science be limited, in the manner usual in England and France, to an investigation of the laws governing the phenomena of wealth, it is beyond dispute that public finance cannot form a part of it, as political and fiscal conditions have to be recognised to an extent impossible in a pure science of wealth. Moreover, practical considerations have to be weighed in every department of finance. That political economy in the most extended use of the term may fitly include finance is indeed true, but then it would appear that this wider political economy is nothing more than a common name for the various Edition: current; Page: [9] social and political sciences; it is in fact a rudimentary Sociology and Art of Politics combined.1

Though the problems of finance are really suited for treatment in a separate form, it does not follow that their relation to economics should be disregarded. On the contrary there is a close connexion, or rather series of connexions, between the two studies. State outlay is a part of the consumption of the society of which the State is the regulating organ, and for a knowledge of the conditions that govern it we must have a theory of the consumption of wealth in general. Unhappily, questions relating to consumption have been too much neglected by economists, and thus there is no complete theory available for application to financial problems. Still, the leading truths on the matter are suggested in modern economic theories, and may be developed by their aid. The management of state property, again, requires a reference to various economic doctrines, and more especially the industrial enterprises carried on under a public monopoly illustrate and are explained by the general theory of monopolies. It is, however, when we reach taxation that the aid of economics becomes most valuable. The merits of the general system of taxation, as also those of each special tax, have to be tested by the aid of economic principles. The important problem of justice in taxation is indeed an ethical one, but until its economic effects are known it is impossible to say whether any given form of taxation is just or the reverse. All the intricate points respecting the incidence of taxation can be handled successfully only by applying a sound theory of the distribution of wealth, and the effect of taxation on accumulation makes it necessary to constantly bear in mind the conditions of effective production. In another department of finance, the nature Edition: current; Page: [10] and effect of public loans can be best explained by the economic theory of credit, and such is the course usually adopted. An acquaintance with economic science is, it may be said, an indispensable part of the equipment of the student of finance.

§ 4. Close as is the relation between economics and finance, it is by no means exclusively to the former science that we have to look for aid when developing the latter. In a subject so inseparable from the State, it is in many cases necessary to recognise the action of political and administrative conditions. Financial problems are often the occasions on which constitutional issues are raised, and, as noticed above, they may make a line of conduct desirable, that from the purely economic point of view would be very objectionable. The same statement holds good of administration.1 The whole system of finance must be kept in conformity with the general mode of managing the affairs of the State. This is, in fact, involved in the position that public finance belongs to the domain of political science.

The science of finance has another important auxiliary in history, which illustrates, verifies, and in some instances affords data for its principles. The material of financial study is not confined to that afforded by modern societies, and even for a true knowledge of actual conditions it is often necessary to be acquainted with their growth. No pure a priori system of finance can be successfully established. Each country has special features arising from its previous history and the sentiments of its people—in great part the product of historical forces. The most violent revolution cannot really break this connexion with the past.1 As a consequence, a system admirably suited Edition: current; Page: [11] for one country, may be quite unfitted for another. A comparison of the systems of the United Kingdom and of India shows at a glance extraordinary differences, and yet in each case the attainment of solid results. These obvious truths, however, suggest the need of a caution. The necessary varieties of financial practice do not show that general principles are unattainable, though they tend to render their application more difficult. The conclusions of financial theory ought to underlie all the special systems and regulations, but they require to be applied with most careful regard to the circumstances of time and place, and, above all, to the sentiments and habits of the people. Any form of expenditure or taxation that is peculiarly obnoxious has, by that fact alone, a strong presumption raised against it, to be rebutted only by very weighty reasons on the other side.

As history throws light on the evolution of finance, and enables us to confirm or to limit our general propositions by the evidence derived from previous times, so does statistics give us a firmer position in dealing with the present. Without correct information as to state revenue and expenditure, financial policy is little better than guesswork. In order to comprehend the effects of taxation it is indispensable to have full statistics as to the distribution of wealth among classes and among localities. Such materials as those collected by census agencies and statistical departments are necessary elements in any financial calculations, and their absence, of itself, suffices to explain the late origin of financial science. In no respect is modern administration so superior to that of ancient and mediæval times, as in the improved data on which it bases its estimates and makes its practical suggestions.

§ 5. From an examination of the various sciences that may assist the study of finance, we pass by a natural transition to the proper method of inquiry. In regard to Edition: current; Page: [12] all the social sciences, and notably to economics, this question has been vigorously discussed, even to the neglect of the positive matter of research. The principles of scientific inquiry and the appropriate method of investigation belong in reality rather to logic than to the special sciences; though the processes employed in discovery can only be adequately appreciated by those who are conversant with the particular branch in which they are used. At all events, it is clear that the disputes as to method have in many cases arisen from misapprehension as to the exact position of each of the contending parties. Protracted controversy has, however, finally led, if not to complete agreement, at least to a recognition of the common ground occupied by the disputants, and also, it may be said, to a belief that the whole question is, as has often been remarked, one of ‘emphasis.’ A difference in view is, in many cases, the result of personal tastes; one writer places much weight on a particular method, another on a different and apparently opposed one, though both, if interrogated, would probably allow that each form of inquiry was valid within limits, the exact fixing of which would be the only point in dispute.1

The principal ground of debate was for a long period as to the claims of the ‘inductive’ and the ‘deductive’ methods to be regarded as the sole legitimate process of investigation. To that question it may be confidently replied that both are in particular cases valid and indeed indispensable. Without ‘induction’ in the wider sense of the term2 no materials for study would be available: mere Edition: current; Page: [13] observation without arrangement and generalisation is evidently worthless for scientific use. The particular form of induction which proceeds by comparison is frequently serviceable. The simple juxtaposition of two financial systems will sometimes throw a great deal of light on the conditions governing each. In this process history, as we saw in the preceding section, plays a great part, and it is thus quite correct to maintain that the science of finance is in one of its aspects ‘inductive,’ ‘comparative,’ and ‘historical.’

But this, though the truth, is not the whole truth. The generalisations of economics and the permanent facts of human nature enable us to draw important conclusions as to the effects of certain forces in their bearing on finance. The whole theory of the shifting and incidence of taxation is and must be ‘deductive,’ i.e. it must be developed from simple conditions by logical trains of reasoning. Deduction, too, is needed in order to ascertain the effects of public indebtedness as well as to trace the ultimate results of public expenditure. It must be remembered that in all these cases verification by appeal to facts is required, but the process of verification is admittedly one of the component parts of the deductive method. On the whole, the study of finance will force on us the conclusion that ‘induction’ and ‘deduction’ are not so much opposed, as complementary, methods, each remedying and making good the weakness of the other.

The preceding argument holds, to some extent, of even the most extreme forms of the two methods. Thus, some—as Macaulay—have maintained that experiment is the really fruitful form of social inquiry. Now, though it is evident that, strictly speaking, experiment is impossible in respect to any part of social life, since we cannot bring about that isolation of a particular phenomenon without which no experiment can be conclusive, it yet seems true that a modified form of experiment may give a probable Edition: current; Page: [14] result that will, in some cases, prove of great practical use. Thus in finance, each change of taxation may be regarded as an experiment in the popular sense; if, to take an instance, it appeared that a reduction in the rates of taxation on commodities so stimulated consumption that the loss in revenue through the reduction was made up by the increase in the quantities used, it might fairly be said that the policy of reducing duties was experimentally justified, notwithstanding that the logical conditions for experiment were absent. We must, however, notice that a result of this kind cannot safely be extended to fresh cases unless it is supported by more general considerations.1

The advocates of the mathematical method stand at the other extreme. There is, at first sight, something absurd in suggesting so exact a mode of inquiry in a subject where very many complications exist, and where each fact is dependent on a number of circumstances, but in those parts of finance in which deduction is the best instrument of research it may prove convenient to arrange the steps of reasoning in a mathematical form; the problem will perhaps be thereby more easily solved, or its exposition more readily followed.2 Where the conditions can be sufficiently simplified, and where it is important to develop the quantitative results, this procedure is probably advisable.3 It is, however, at best confined to a very limited area, and needs to have its conclusions tested by the best Edition: current; Page: [15] statistical results available. The more concrete problems of finance are entirely unamenable to this rigid and precise method of treatment.

§ 6. Having thus briefly considered the questions preliminary to the study of public finance, it only remains to give an outline of the course of our further inquiries. After a very concise account of the historical development of financial science (Introduction, Chapter II.) we shall take up the subject of public expenditure and its principal problems (Book I.). Next in order of treatment will come the public revenues, and first what may be described as the economic and industrial receipts of the State and their subdivisions (Book II.). The examination of these more primitive forms of revenue will lead up to the discussion of taxation. Owing to the great extent and complexity of this topic it will be expedient to devote a separate book to the general problems of taxation (Book III.), reserving the study of the several taxes for distinct treatment in Book IV. The questions relating to revenue having been thus disposed of, Book V. will deal with the balance of expenditure and receipts, or, in other words, with public treasures and public debts; while the mechanism, administration, and control of the financial system will form the subject of a final book (Book VI.).

In order to emphasise the close connexion that exists between general and local finance, the matter usually collected under the latter head has been distributed among the different divisions of the work. Thus local expenditure is examined in Book I., local economic revenue in Book II., the principles of local taxation in Book III., and in like manner the tax forms, the indebtedness, and the financial mechanism of subordinate political bodies are discussed in the books dealing with those parts of public finance.

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§ 1. Some conception of the gradual formation of the modern theory of finance, and of the steps by which it has assumed its present shape, will enable the student to form clearer ideas as to its relation to other branches of social inquiry, and the real meaning of those parts of earlier systems which at present seem to have little or no justification. It is only by tracing the history of speculative thought on the various problems of public finance that we can fully understand the way in which errors have been gradually eliminated, and incomplete doctrines have been so expanded as to embrace a larger portion of truth.

There is a more special reason for this preliminary historical inquiry in regard to social and political sciences. The particular stage of social development peculiarly affects such studies; their cultivators are not merely like those of all sciences influenced by the knowledge and ideas of their age, but the very phenomena to be interpreted are themselves produced by, and dependent on, the condition of society. It is this feature which alone can fully explain the absence of financial theory at periods of apparently high civilisation and culture.

Our historical inquiry has at present to be limited to what is known as the ‘external’ history of the science of finance, i.e. to an outline of its general aspect and leading representatives at each stage of its growth. Its ‘internal’ history, which considers the origin and growth of the Edition: current; Page: [17] separate doctrines of finance, will be more fitly treated in the systematic sections of the work.

§ 2. In classical antiquity, though the need of revenue was often a pressing one, and though at least under the Roman Empire financial administration was elaborately organised,1 there is no appearance of a scientific treatment of financial problems. The nearest approach to discussion of such questions is found in the little work on the Athenian Revenues, formerly attributed to Xenophon, and modern research has succeeded in collecting stray passages from classical authors that incidentally deal with financial questions.2 There is no great difficulty in accounting for this neglect. The causes which prevented the development of economics equally hindered that of finance. The whole constitution of the societies of Greece and Rome was based on conceptions directly opposed to those under which our modern doctrines have been formed. With them the State was placed above and before the individual, who was bound to sacrifice himself unreservedly for his country. To persons holding such a belief the question of just taxation would appear to be of trifling importance. That one man was asked for 20 per cent. of his income, while another escaped with a payment of 10 per cent., would not concern those who regarded all revenue as due in case of need to the State. The views of these ancient societies in respect to public expenditure and credit were vitiated by the same notion of State omnipotence.3 The whole organisation of classical Edition: current; Page: [18] society tended to confirm this belief; both in Greece and Rome, war, and its product slavery, were regarded not simply as permissible, but as praiseworthy. Free industry was consequently placed at a disadvantage, and the retardation of economic development which inevitably resulted did not allow of the existence of those institutions through whose agency public revenue and credit can alone be successfully promoted. It requires some knowledge of economic forces to see that State finances depend ultimately on the production of wealth by individuals, and that without security, and a just division of public burdens, it is impossible to expect the continuous growth of the source from which all income, public and private, comes, viz. the effective application of labour, natural agents, capital and invention to the task of production. The history of the fall of the Roman Empire is but one long illustration of the danger of neglecting a proposition so obvious to any modern.1

§ 3. The mediæval period shows quite as little trace of financial theory, while the actual organisation of administrative agencies is much inferior to that of the later Roman Empire. On its financial side the so-called feudal system exhibited a surrender of the public claims in favour of the principal lords. Some parts of the Roman arrangements survived, but they were gradually transformed until the sovereign at last had to depend on his own property for support, with whatever supplement might be derived from the fees that he obtained. It necessarily followed that—even were the intellectual conditions favourable—no developed financial theory was possible. The administration of the royal income forced the officials of the feudal Edition: current; Page: [19] State to attend to the details of financial procedure, but of theory or even precise knowledge there is no appearance.1 The first traces of a revival of method in practical finance are found in the German and Italian cities, which in many respects were free from external control. It is in them, too, that we find the first attempts at theoretic discussion, which, indeed, were the natural outcome of their greater economic activity. Specially noteworthy are the Florentine controversies respecting progressive taxation with their partial anticipation of modern views.2

§ 4. The dissolution of the Middle Age economy both in state and private life, and its replacement by the modern system, mark the time at which finance as a theoretic study first became possible. The political writings of the preceding period were under theological influence, and even those of the fifteenth and the opening of the sixteenth century, more especially those of Macchiavelli and Sir Thomas More, were limited by their dependence on the ideas of classical writers. But the firmer organisation of the centralised monarchies of France, Spain, and England, the development of money dealings, and the revolution in economic relations produced by the supplies of the precious metals from the New World, presented to reflective minds a series of problems which could not be solved without the aid of wider conceptions; and accordingly we find that the latter part of the sixteenth century exhibits a new development of social and political inquiry. The most prominent representative of this movement is the French writer Bodin (1530–1596), whose Republic appeared in French in 1576 and in a more complete form in Latin in 1586. Apart Edition: current; Page: [20] from its general treatment of political science, the second chapter of the sixth book of the work contains an examination of the various forms of the public revenue; they are grouped under seven heads, the most important being (1) the public domain, (2) import and export duties, and (3) direct taxation. In accordance with the ideas of the mercantile system, Bodin approved of customs both on imports and exports, but he distinguished between ‘raw materials,’ and ‘manufactured articles,’ advocating high export dues on the former, and high import ones on the latter. Direct taxes should, he thought, be resorted to only in case of necessity, and then should be proportioned to ‘faculty.’ Taxes on luxury he regarded with special approval. He condemned the many exemptions from direct taxation which existed in the France of his time, and advised a census to enable charges to be proportioned to property. His influence can be traced in the German financial writers of the next century.1

§ 5. The predominance of the set of conceptions usually described as ‘Mercantilism’ is the principal condition affecting the growth of finance in the seventeenth century. Political economy came into existence as a collection of practical rules for the guidance of statesmen.2 In this aspect it is described by Adam Smith, who states that it ‘proposes two distinct objects; first to supply a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people.... and secondly to supply the State or Commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public service.’3 The latter or financial aim was particularly developed in Germany. Not to dwell on the writers on ‘the Treasury’ and ‘on Taxes’ in the seventeenth century, who show some advance on the Edition: current; Page: [21] views of Bodin,1 there was the ‘Chamber Science’ of the eighteenth century, which presented its highest form in the works of Justi and Sonnenfels. The former writer discussed financial questions both in his Staatswissenschaft (1755) and his Finanzwesen (1766). He held that taxation should be proportioned to property, and is credited with the creation of a theory of the so-called Regalia, but his real service seems to have been the placing in systematic order the views prevalent in his day on the various parts of public finance, and giving such matters a prominent place in an exposition of political science.2

In France financial topics received a different treatment. The organisation of the absolute monarchy, the wars which accompanied it, and the elaborate and many-sided commercial policy of Colbert's administration (1661–1683) brought about a state of things that effectively marked out the line of thought on such problems. The extraordinary brilliancy and apparent prosperity of the State contrasted so forcibly with the extreme misery of the people as to give reason for believing, either that the distribution of taxation was unjust, or that its amount was excessive. The French people, in fact, suffered from both these evils, and it was in the advocacy of a reformed tax-system that the first efforts of the dissentients from the prevailing mercantile doctrine were made. Vauban's Dîme Royale (1707) presents a melancholy picture of the condition of France, and suggests the reform of taxation by abolishing most of the existing taxes and their replacement by his proposed ‘royal tithe’—a single direct tax of 10 per cent. on all classes. Here we notice a complete departure from Edition: current; Page: [22] the more superficial view of the earlier writers, who especially approved of taxes on commodities as encouraging industry, and a clearer appreciation of the real pressure of taxation. Boisguillebert, both in his Détail de la France (1697) and his Factum de la France (1707), maintained somewhat similar views, more particularly as to the superiority of direct taxation. Both may be regarded as precursors of the advocates of the direct single tax in the eighteenth century. In a different part of finance, and at a later time, Montesquieu contributed some additions to the received views. The 13th book of the Spirit of Laws (1748) is devoted to an examination of the political side of taxation and to a criticism of several existing taxes. He is strongly in favour of progressive taxation, influenced probably, as M. Sorel has remarked,1 by the practice of the Athenians. It is, however, in showing the relation of the financial system to the political constitution of each country that Montesquieu is at his best; his views were evidently formed from his study of the English Constitution, which provided more efficient safeguards for the interests of the subjects than were to be found in any continental State.2 In other respects the study of financial problems had not claimed much attention in England. The pamphlet literature of the seventeenth century had handled certain special points, but the pressure of taxation was not such as to lead men to look for remedies against its evils. The rise of statistics under the name of ‘political arithmetic’ gave an impetus to the examination of the facts of finance, especially in the numerous works of Sir W. Petty, who, in company with Locke, considered the question of incidence in taxation. The question of public credit was discussed by Davenant and the proposals of Decker and Vanderlint for the establishment of a single tax are worthy of note as marking the Edition: current; Page: [23] tendency of thought.1 Two of Hume's Political Essays (1752) are devoted to ‘Taxes’ and ‘Public Credit.’ They show traces of the teaching of Montesquieu on the political effects of financial regulations, but also a far greater knowledge of the economical influence of taxation and credit. The Physiocratic doctrine of the incidence of taxation was rejected by Hume, as was also the popular view that national debts were beneficial. A few years later than Hume's Essays appeared the Principles of Political Economy of Sir James Steuart (1767), embodying the teaching of the English mercantilists in a systematic form. The destruction of the system which it advocated prevented the work acquiring any influence or even general reputation, though some of its discussions of finance are interesting and suggestive.2

§ 6. The changes in the tone of thought on economic questions and the position of society facilitated the establishment of the first scientific school of social philosophy—the famous group or ‘sect’ of ‘Économistes.’ Most of their views are to be found in germ in earlier writers, but they have the merit of presenting them in a definite form. It concerns us particularly to notice that one of their cardinal doctrines—the ‘impôt unique’—was a financial one, and that financial questions occupied a great deal of their attention. However widely modern writers on finance may differ from the Physiocratic conclusions, they must at least allow that their selection of problems was a good one. With very defective information the ‘Économistes’ sought to determine the question of justice in taxation—its real as opposed to its apparent incidence, and its effects on the growth of national wealth; their analysis of the sources of revenue and of the extent to which each could contribute Edition: current; Page: [24] to the public requirements, though not correctly worked out, yet indicated a fruitful line of research for later inquirers. The founder of the school—Quesnay—has discussed taxation in his Second Problème Économique, and several of his Maximes refer to finance. The elder Mirabeau, one of his most ardent disciples, published a treatise on ‘taxation,’ and all the members of the group adopted the belief in the superiority of direct taxation on the net product of land, though admitting the temporary use of other taxes.1 By far the most illustrious member of the school—though in some particulars he dissented from their doctrines—was the statesman and philosopher Turgot (1727–1781), who in his numerous papers on questions of finance has shown an amount of practical insight combined with theoretic power that his successors have rarely equalled.2

The influence of the Physiocrats on financial practice was slight, but it appears that the Constituent Assembly (1789–1791), under the guidance of Du Pont de Nemours, sought to realise in part their idea of a tax on the ‘net product’ from land. Their action on the progress of speculation has been much more powerful; the form of many financial problems in modern times can be traced back to their teaching, and their leading conceptions have affected the Wealth of Nations.3

§ 7. The great reputation and the permanent merits of Edition: current; Page: [25] Adam Smith's economic and financial work have led to a perhaps undue depreciation of the services rendered by his predecessors, but it is hardly questionable that in finance, as in economics, the Wealth of Nations was far superior to any earlier work, and its superiority in each case was due to the same qualities. The fifth book—which considers ‘the expenses and revenue of the Sovereign’ shows comprehensiveness of view, felicity of illustration, and thorough understanding of the practical aspects of financial problems, while the looseness of arrangement, which has been so often censured, is less evident here than in the earlier parts of the work. It is quite possible for critics, irritated by the lavish praise bestowed on Adam Smith by the less intelligent of his followers, to show that most of his views have been set forth by others at an earlier time; the Physiocrats may have had a firmer grasp of the narrower premises from which they reasoned; the technical side of finance may have been more exhaustively handled by the trained officials of the German States; but the establishment of any or of all these propositions does not invalidate Adam Smith's claim to be the greatest of theorists on finance.1 Not only does he stand in the centre of financial development, summing up and co-ordinating the work of the preceding century in its various lines, and determining the future course of scientific thought: he further contributed an important element to the science of finance in his recognition of its close connexion with the theory of economics. It was by bringing out clearly that the solution of such questions as the incidence of taxation depended on the economic theory of the distribution of wealth2 that he affected the progress of the science. Moreover, it was a renovated political economy which he applied as a solvent for some of the most difficult of financial problems. His assaults on the mercantile system effectually deprived it of any claim to be the accredited economic doctrine of European Edition: current; Page: [26] thought, and replaced it by a more accurate body of principles influenced by far different views. The State appeared as but one among the several claimants on the national revenue, which was the product of individual energy and prudence, not of the paternal wisdom of statesmen. This alteration of aim at once limited and rendered definite the province of finance; instead of the constant regulation and encouragement which Colbert deemed necessary for national prosperity, the problem was narrowed down to maintaining the natural conditions of society, and applying state revenue to that comparatively simple object. Questions of finance came thus to occupy a larger share of attention than could be bestowed on them when industry, art and morals were also subjects for the sovereign's constant watchfulness and care. It may have been, as many German writers have argued,1 that this doctrine bears the marks of exaggeration usual in all reactions, though their view of the case is not completely established; but when a comparison is made of the work of those who came under Adam Smith's influence with the systems that preceded the appearance of his treatise, we can say that any possible loss through ‘radical’ or ‘doctrinaire dogmatism’ is far outweighed by the removal of perplexing fallacies and the establishment in their place of broader and more philosophical principles. Finally, the value of each part of the Wealth of Nations is so bound up with that of the substance it contains that it is only in studying the actual doctrines of finance that we can form a satisfactory judgment on its position.

§ 8. The Wealth of Nations was speedily translated into the leading European languages, and exercised a powerful effect on the development of financial doctrine; but the nature of its influence varied with the condition of the different countries in which it was studied. In England, where its action on practice, at first great, was retarded by Edition: current; Page: [27] the outbreak of the French Revolution and the unreasoning conservatism which the excesses of the Jacobins confirmed in the minds of the ruling classes,1 the principal stimulus to speculative thought was found in his analysis of the operation of taxation on national wealth. This part of his work was further developed in Ricardo's Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, where it naturally found a place as an application of the revised theory of distribution in a peculiarly rigorous and abstract manner.2 This tendency to abstraction led to a division of the treatment of financial questions that proved very unfortunate for the progress of the science. Writers on political economy contented themselves with general and rather vague discussions as to the influence of taxes, while the facts of the existing system were criticised or defended in numerous pamphlets of ephemeral interest. Even works of greater merit, such as Parnell's Financial Reform (1830) and Sayer's Income Tax (1833), suffered by the separation. The nearest approach to a combination of the different aspects of finance was made by McCulloch in his work on Taxation and the Funding System (1845, 3rd ed. 1863), in which the defects are more apparent to modern readers than the merits which at the time it undoubtedly possessed.

French economists and financial theorists were more impressed by the negative side of Adam Smith's teaching, a tendency that was much strengthened by the works of J. B. Say—Traité d'Économie Politique (1803), and Cours Complet (1828)—who was disposed to undervalue the Edition: current; Page: [28] services of the State even in the discharge of its necessary functions. The very complicated financial system of France has, however, led to its study from the administrative point of view, and special financial questions have received much more attention from French than from English economists. There are numerous treatises on ‘Taxation’ and ‘Public Revenue,’ marked by a general disposition to lay stress on the principles of natural right and justice as against economic expediency. Most French writers also exhibit a strong dislike to any financial measures believed to savour of socialism, e.g. progressive taxation, or even an income-tax. With rare exceptions—such as the work of Canard already mentioned, and the remarkable studies of Cournot—they show little taste for deductive reasoning or for the discussion of questions like that of the incidence of taxation which needs its use. On the other hand, they are prolific in historical and statistical works such as those of Vuitry, Clamageran, Stourm, De Parieu, Vignes, Audriffret, and Gomel; the great Dictionnaire des Finances (2 vols., 1894), issued under M. Leon Say's superintendence, is a storehouse of materials on French financial administration. In the convenient work of Garnier, Traité des Finances (4me éd. 1883), and the more brilliant treatise of Leroy-Beaulieu, Science des Finances (6me éd. 1899), they have text-books of a high order, the last-mentioned work in particular being remarkable for fulness of information and lucidity of style. Up to the present the dislike to state action is a distinctive note of French financial work, and in this respect it furnishes a useful corrective to the doctrines prevalent in Germany.

§ 9. The introduction of the doctrines of the Wealth of Nations into a country where the older traditions of the ‘Chamber Sciences’ were so strong as in Germany, brought about a re-casting rather than an abandonment of the earlier methods. The masses of material which writers in conformity with previous usage continued to Edition: current; Page: [29] bestow on their readers were presented from the new point of view. Financial questions were either examined in special works, or were assigned a separate place in general economic treatises under the title Finanzwissenschaft. Passing over the less important works of the early part of this century,1 we come to the treatise of K. H. Rau on Economics, the third volume of which, devoted to finance, appeared in 1832 (5th ed. 1864). The merits of Rau's writings lay in the fulness of their information, and in their systematic arrangement, both of which admirably fitted them for use by students, who obtained a general view of the science as accepted at the time. His influence in promoting the study of economics and finance in Germany was great, though often forgotten by his successors.2 Discussion of his doctrines belongs to the treatment of the science, but we may just note his separation of “fees” (Gebühren) from ‘taxes’ (Steuern), and his recognition of the influence of administration in finance. The monograph of Nebenius on Public Credit (2nd ed. 1829), is entitled to a place beside Rau's more comprehensive work, as giving a full treatment of one of the most disputed financial topics. Somewhat later in date is Hoffmann's Theory of Taxation (1840), which has been adversely criticised by Roscher and Wagner on account of its unsystematic character, but which nevertheless has had considerable effect on the progress of finance. It appears to aim at giving a scientific justification of the contemporary fiscal policy of the Prussian State. Many other German writers will require attention in connexion with special doctrines, but the older school that was more or less closely limited by the traditions of Adam Smith's teachings in the shape in which they had been arranged by Rau, presents but one more name for consideration at present—Von Hock, who Edition: current; Page: [30] examined in separate works the financial systems of France (1857), and of the United States (1867), and also wrote on Public Revenue and Debts (1863). This work includes in brief compass the leading questions of taxation and indebtedness; it is specially good, as might have been expected from the production of a trained official, in its discussion of administrative points.1

So far the development of finance in Germany had been carried on in conformity with the conceptions of Adam Smith and his followers, though modified in some degree by the peculiar conditions of the country; but towards the middle of the century, new forces began to act on the social sciences, which had considerable effect on their methods and doctrines. Among the agencies that more particularly influenced financial studies, we can indicate three, viz. (1) the rise of the ‘historical’ school, (2) the disposition to treat finance as a part of administration (Verwaltung) in the newest sense of that term, and (3) the advocacy of politico-social, as opposed to purely financial, aims in fiscal matters. The historical economists did not contribute much to the substance of financial doctrine, but the importance attached by them to distinctions between the different stages of social life, and their assertion of the impossibility of laying down universal precepts, were evidently applicable with peculiar force to the systems of taxation existing in different countries. The belief that the present could be fully understood only in the light of the past made it desirable to study the history of financial arrangements, and some of the best German work has been in this direction.2 Some supporters of the school, in particular Schäffle and Edition: current; Page: [31] Schmoller, went further and assailed such cardinal doctrines of received financial theory as that of ‘net income being the sole fund on which taxation could fall,’ and this questionable position was supported by arguments which led to a closer study of fundamental financial principles.1 To Stein is due a movement towards regarding finance as a problem of administration. His Finanzwissenschaft (5th ed. 4 vols., 1885–6), much modified and expanded in its later editions, contains, along with a great deal that is disputable and fanciful, a full treatment of financial organisation. The State with its administrative organs is in his view the basis of the financial system, and the history and statistics of the various European countries receive considerable attention. More important, from a practical standpoint, than the influence of Stein, is the tendency to regard the financial system as an agency for redistributing wealth. This position, supported most prominently by Wagner,2 is not fully accepted by other economists and financial writers, but in several works propositions are set forth which need this politico-social view as their logical basis.

The result of these several influences has been to give a special tone to German financial work, since even where the newer ideas are not accepted, they are present to the writer's mind. This change in attitude towards financial problems is the outcome of beliefs which may briefly be enumerated as follows: (1) Public finance is a matter of national interest; it is not merely a distribution of burdens among the individual citizens, who owe duties to the State which it ought to be their privilege to discharge; (2) Financial administration is largely dependent on national peculiarities; each country has, or needs, a system suited to itself, so that the idea of a single ‘rational’ system of taxation is absurd; (3) The same Edition: current; Page: [32] conception of relativity applies to the history of finance; earlier systems, e.g. the Roman, have to be judged in relation to the circumstances of the age in which they existed.

Instead of attempting to criticise the opinions and tendencies just described, we have rather to notice the remarkable productiveness which has been the outcome of the study of finance in Germany. Either in respect to general text-books and manuals or to monographs on the most complicated questions she holds the first place. Of the former, in addition to the previously noticed work of Stein, there are: the very extensive treatise of Wagner—still incomplete—in which each aspect of finance is handled at even undue length; the shorter and more lucid work of Cohn, where the evolution of financial systems is brought out by description rather than by brief and precise propositions; the less attractive manual of Roscher, which, however, gives a collection of the various opinions and a mass of interesting historical detail; the compact and conservative work of Umpfenbach, exhibiting some of the best qualities of the older writers; the concise manual of Eheberg (5th ed. 1898); the somewhat abstract and peculiarly arranged introductory book by Vocke (Grundzüge der Finanzwissenschaft, 1894) and lastly the Outlines of the subject by Conrad. Almost reaching the character of general manuals are the more limited treatises of Schäffle, (Grundsätze der Steuerpolitik 1880: Die Steuern, 1895; 1897) Neumann, Sax, and Vocke (Abgaben, &c., 1887). Among special works there is the collection of monographs in the third volume of Schönberg's Handbuch—which had best be regarded in that light—and numerous smaller studies on such questions as ‘progressive taxation’ (Neumann), ‘incidence of taxation’ (Falck, Kaizl) ‘justice in taxation’ (Meyer), ‘the exemption of the minimum of subsistence’ (Schmidt). When the abundant periodical literature appearing in the journals of Conrad, Schmoller, and Schanz—the last devoted exclusively to Edition: current; Page: [33] finance—is added, we can form some idea of the activity of German workers in this field.

§ 10. At a comparatively early period questions relating to public revenue and expenditure had attracted attention in Italy. The work of Broggia (1743) has been described as ‘the earliest methodical treatise on taxes’; and several of the economists of the latter half of the eighteenth century examined the effects of taxation, and especially of those taxes actually levied in their country. The influence of Adam Smith and J. B. Say was for some time predominant in Italy as elsewhere. The development of financial science in Germany has, however, deeply affected Italian students, who have zealously devoted themselves to the examination of financial subjects, bringing to bear on their selected topics considerable independence of mind, and at the same time a thorough acquaintance with what has been already accomplished.1 Amongst general works may be noticed the condensed outline by L. Cossa (7ma ed. 1896) a short treatise by Ricca-Salerno, written under the influence of the Austrian theory of value, the larger manual of Flora, and the more important and comprehensive treatise of Graziani (Instituzioni di Scienza delle Finanze, 1897), which may fitly rank with the best text books of other countries. The fundamental principles of finance have been examined by Viti de Marco, Mazzola, and Zorli, in common with the theory of marginal utility. In like manner the difficult problems of shifting and incidence have been investigated by Pantaleoni and Conigliani; and studies on progressive taxation have been made by Mazzola, and Martello, and in a specially elaborate form by Masè, Dari. The problems of ‘double taxation’ (Garelli), and the tax systems of federal states (Flora) have also been considered. Questions of local taxation have attracted attention and been considered Edition: current; Page: [34] in the monographs of Alessio and Lacava, but more thoroughly in the very complete work of Conigliani (La Riforma delle leggi sui Tributi Locali, 1898). Alessio has also supplied a standard treatise on Italian finance. When the special articles in the Giornale degli Economisti and other journals are added, it may be said that Italy ranks next to Germany in the production of scientific works on finance.1

§ 11. The increased attention paid to economic and financial study has led to fuller recognition of the work done in other European countries. Thus the contributions of Dutch writers to finance, especially those of Pierson and Cort van der Linden, have been brought into notice. Spain has supplied a meritorious general treatise on finance in the work of Piernas Hurtado (Tratado de Hacienda Pûblica, 1st ed., 1869, 5th ed., 1900–1901), the second volume of which deals with the history and actual conditions of the Spanish finances. The Swedish writer Wicksell has made valuable contributions to the theory of incidence, and the history of Swedish finance. What Maine has aptly called “the unfortunate veil of language” shuts off Russian and other Sclavonic writers on finance, unless where, as by Bésobrasoff and Bloch, French has been used as the medium, or where, as with Kaizl's Finanzwissenschaft (1900–1), a German translation has appeared.1 There can be no reasonable doubt that in the future it will be necessary to pay attention to a far wider field of scientific literature, produced in countries so far apart as Holland and Japan, but all serving to advance the development of an adequate financial theory.

§ 12. As noticed above (§ 8) the separation of economic theory from practical questions had a depressing effect on financial studies in English-speaking countries. There was a decided decline of interest in the scientific treatment of financial questions. McCulloch's treatise remained for a Edition: current; Page: [35] long time the sole work of a general character. The English tax system was earliest discussed by Leone Levi (1860), Morton Peto (1863), and Wilson. A series of books by Noble criticised it from the extreme radical and free trade standpoint. More scientific treatment was shown in the Encyclopædia Britannica articles of Thorold Rogers (‘Finance’) and Professor Nicholson (‘Taxation’). Special questions were well discussed by Baxter, Jevons, Leslie and Mr. Palgrave. But, speaking broadly, the question of a scientific finance was unsatisfactory.

The decided revival of economic studies, both theoretical and historical, during the last fifteen years has had its effect on finance. The first sign of improvement was the appearance of important historical works by Hall (A History of the Customs Revenue of England, 1885), Buxton, (Finance and Politics, 2 vols., 1888), and Dowell (History of Taxation and Taxes in England, 4 vols., 1884; 2nd ed., 1888), the last named giving an excellent account of the development of the British financial system. The difficult problems connected with local taxation have been examined by Messrs. Sargent, Moulton, and O'Meara in the interests of the several parties affected. The various aspects of local finance have been scientifically expounded by Mr. Blunden, and ‘local rates’ have found an inimitable historian in Mr. Cannan, while the effect of assigning imperial taxes in aid of local revenues has been investigated by Mr. Chapman. More general theoretical problems have received attention in the series of articles by Prof. Edgeworth, as also in Sidgwick's works; and within the last year the subject of finance has been comprehensively reviewed in the concluding volume of Prof. Nicholson's Political Economy. In periodical literature, too, financial questions have received more notice, owing probably to the greater pressure caused by the rapid growth of expenditure, which has aroused practical interest and compelled reference to general principles.

Another class of contributions has also of late years Edition: current; Page: [36] increased in importance. England has gained a high reputation for the merits of its ‘Parliamentary Papers’ and ‘Reports.’ Some of the most valuable studies in the statistics and theory of finance are embodied in these ponderous volumes. The Report on Import Duties (1840), The Inquiries on the Income Tax (1852–3 and 1861), and the Returns on Public Income and Expenditure (1869), are good examples. But in recent years many additions of special value have been made. The Committee on Town Holdings (1886–92), The Lords' Committee on Betterment (1894), The Report on the National Debt (1891), Sir H. Fowler's Local Taxation Report (1893), and The Royal Commissions on ‘Indian Expenditure’ (1896–1900), ‘Irish Financial Relations’ (1895–6). and ‘Local Taxation’ (1898–1902), have supplied a mass of materials and theories of the highest interest to scientific students. The speeches of finance ministers and the debates on financial measures are buried in the volumes of Hansard and therefore difficult of access, unless, as in the case of Peel, and, partially, of Gladstone, reprinted in a separate form.1

§ 13. The comparative apathy respecting the study of finance which, as we have seen, existed in England was also to be found in the United States. The burning question of the tariff excepted, there was little in personal problems. Mr. Wells's Reports mark the opening of discussion after the close of the Civil war. The great development of economic science since 1888, however, soon extended to finance, and a valuable body of literature has been produced in the last ten years. Short text-books of a high character have been written by Professor Plehn (1886, 2nd ed., 1900), and Professor Daniels (1897), and a larger treatise of considerable merit by Professor H. C. Adams (The Science of Finance, 1898), whose work on Public Debts (1887) was one of the first indications of the new growth. Professor Seligman has dealt with the more Edition: current; Page: [37] important problems in an admirable series of volumes: (Shifting and Incidence of Taxation, 1892, 2nd ed., 1899) (Progressive Taxation, 1894, Essays on Taxation, 1895), and in special articles. Professor Ely's Taxation in American States and Cities, and Professor Kinley's Independent Treasury are valuable studies in widely different fields. The bulky volume by D. A. Wells represents an older point of view, but is serviceable for its facts. Instructive monographs by Messrs. Rosewater (Special Assessments), Ross (Sinking Funds), West (The Inheritance Tax), and F. Walker (Double Taxation), are specimens of the literature, dealing with the theory and history of finance, which is being steadily increased. Dr. Hollander has edited a volume of Studies in State Taxation (1900), confined to five southern states, and has himself written the Financial History of Baltimore (1899). The Essays on Colonial Finance (1900) is a result of the expansion and imperialist policy of the United States. America, like England, is rich in official reports and statistical returns. Of considerable, though very unequal, value are the Reports of the ‘State’ Tax Commission. The New York Report (1871), the Ohio Report (1883), and the Massachusetts Report (1897), may be specially mentioned.1

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CHAPTER I: state economy. general considerations

§ 1. The question of the nature and amount of public outlay forms, as we have seen, one of the cardinal branches of finance; it has an important influence on the other departments of the subject, and may be regarded as the real end of the financial system. In order to estimate correctly the expenditure of any given society, for state or public purposes, it is desirable to see the general features of the agency which so applies this part of national wealth. Most persons are familiar with the conception of a state economy, and are even prepared to adopt the view prevalent among students of social science, that Society is an organism with an independent life, manifesting itself in the exercise of different functions, one set of which has been specialised in the regulating organ or the State. Without pressing this resemblance so far as is sometimes done,1 we may accept the evident fact that the state organisation has certain points of analogy with the arrangements of the individual, and that in regard to economic action the comparison is particularly close. The individual and the State have each receipts and expenditure. Each endeavours, or should endeavour, to obtain the greatest result with the smallest effort; for each it depends on the relation between these economic categories whether wealth is being accumulated or debt incurred; and for each a careful method Edition: current; Page: [42] of keeping accounts is needed as a safeguard against errors. There is, however, a still closer parallel to be found in the case of those associations formed for the accomplishment of certain special ends which are usually known as ‘juristical’ persons or corporations. From the ordinary private partnership, through the local trading company, the progression can be traced up to such a body as the East India Company, that at one time was sovereign all but in name. In all these associations the principal financial phenomena are exhibited in a similar manner, and in a way that helps to explain the character of state finance. The existence of such general resemblances should not, however, conceal from us the fact that public agencies are in some essential points distinct from the ‘economy’ of the individual or of the association. It is the presence of these special and peculiar features that renders the examination of state economy needful in treating of public finance.

2. The first distinctive point in the public or state economy is its compulsory character. The individual or private association has to submit to limits other than those of his or its own will, but so far as legal restraints are concerned, the State stands in a position of complete independence. It is entitled to claim all the services and property of its subjects for the accomplishment of whatever aims it prescribes to itself. When stated in so rigid a form, the proposition is likely to awaken dissent, and yet, from the strictly legal and administrative point of view, it is a commonplace since the time of Austin.1 The effectual limits to state action depend, not on any legal or administrative rules, but on the difficulty of overcoming the obstacles set by external nature, and the sentiments of its subjects. Its expenditure and the objects to which it is directed are bounded by the productiveness of the national industries, and the facility with which the national wealth Edition: current; Page: [43] can be obtained through taxation for public use. The compulsory nature of state action is, then, a trait which marks it off from the individual or the private society.

A second point of difference appears in the ends to be attained through state agencies. They are mainly, as Roscher remarks,1 of an immaterial kind: the protection of the society against aggression, or internal disturbance, and the promotion of progress in civilisation, are hardly capable of being definitely measured and assigned a precise value, nor, even if they were, could the share of each individual be allotted to him in the exact proportion that he was willing to pay for it. The force of the State must prescribe what is to be paid by its subjects as a body, and the share that shall be borne by each. As regards expenditure, the absence of a strict standard makes it very hard to judge the extent to which the public resources should be applied for the satisfaction of the several wants. This vagueness is made still more apparent by confining our attention to a single public need in a given country—say, the amount of protection against foreign and home enemies required by England at present. How shall we determine the expenditure that is suitable for this object? ‘Adequacy in such cases,’ says Sidgwick, ‘cannot be defined by a sharp line. Most Englishmen are persuaded that they at present enjoy very tolerable protection of person and property against enemies within and without the country, but it would be difficult to argue that our security would not be enhanced by more and better-paid judges and policemen, or more and better-equipped soldiers and sailors.’2 The problem, it is evident, can only allow of an approximate solution, such as the actual circumstances will permit, and this finds its expression in the sentiment of practical statesmen, who say with Sir R. Peel, ‘In time of peace you must, if you mean to retrench, incur some risk.’

When the problem is widened so as to include the relations of the several wants of the public organs of the society, Edition: current; Page: [44] its difficulty is increased; the adjustment of the separate items of outlay and the proportion that the total amount shall bear to the sum of national revenue, is a task that tries the abilities of the most skilful administrator.

In connexion with the direction of public expenditure, a third feature of public economy comes into prominence; one which, it is true, may in some degree be found in private associations, but in a very restricted form. That is the existence of special interests opposed to the general welfare. It goes without saying that the individual desires what he deems to be for his own good, and in most private companies the shareholders wish for the prosperity of the institution in which their capital is invested. There are, however, cases where the holder of a few shares may make a gain indirectly, through some action of his company, which will lower its dividends, and being so far an ‘economic man,’ he may vote for and advocate that course. Instances of the kind are not very common, and the power possessed by persons in the situation just described is so slight that it may be neglected. The state organisation is differently placed. ‘Sinister interests’ exercise a good deal of control on its actions. There are large classes whose aim is to increase, not to reduce, the public expenses. More particularly is this true of those connected with the great spending departments of the state.1 Military and naval officers are extremely anxious to insist on the importance of increasing our land and sea forces in order to secure a better system of defence. But each fresh addition to outlay unfortunately fails to secure this result, which appears as far off as ever.2

Reaction against the evils produced by these tendencies has, in England at least, raised up an opposite school of extremists, who are opposed to even the outlay required Edition: current; Page: [45] for real efficiency. The inherent difficulties of the state economy are thus intensified by conflicts of interest and sentiment which, if not peculiar to it, at all events are most prominently exhibited in its working.

A fourth point of difference between the economy of the individual and that of the State is shown in the determination of the area of work for each. The citizen will naturally adopt the most profitable employment open to him, or should it seem expedient, he will combine several different occupations. The interest of others is a very secondary consideration; his activities will depend, as to their sphere and extent, on the ‘net advantages’ to be gained. His investments of capital will be similarly determined. Within the customary limits of law and morality he will seek to make his advantages as great as possible. The field of state action has to be mapped out on different grounds. The fact that a particular business or part of social action could be managed by the State without economic sacrifice, does not prove that it should be handed over to public agency. It is in general a sound practical rule that ‘the State should not interfere with private enterprise,’ and whatever be the theoretical qualifications needed, it is plain that even its partial truth limits the operations of the public power. The existence and constant working of individual and associated ‘economies’ (Privatwirthschaften) beside and under the protection of the great compulsory economy (Zwangwirthschaft) of the State, is a point which should never be forgotten.

Fifthly, a private economy differs from that of the State not only in the limitation of its area of action, but in the object of its working. It seeks to obtain a profit from its operations; in the language of finance it aims at a ‘surplus.’ The individual or company that just makes ends meet at the close of the year1 is not in a prosperous condition. Something more is required to give a fund for Edition: current; Page: [46] expenses beyond the necessary minimum in the former, and for dividends in the latter case. The greater the surplus the more successful is the result deemed to be. The ideal of state economy is, on the contrary, to establish a balance between receipts and expenditure. A State that has very large surpluses is as ill-managed as one with large deficits.1 The best practical rule is to aim at a slight excess of receipts over outlay in order to prevent the chance of a deficit.2 The position of the State as drawing its resources from the contributions of the several private economies under its charge is the reason for this course of conduct.

The last of the points of difference usually noted is rather apparent than real; it results from the mode adopted in regulating state finance, but in fact state and private economy here fundamentally agree. The private person must, it is said, regulate his expenditure by his income; the State regulates its income by its expediture. Such is in form the common mode of determination. The individual says, ‘I can spend so much’: the finance Minister says, ‘I have to raise so much.’ On looking more carefully into the matter, we discover that a certain amount of expenditure is necessary to support individual life, and that each person must procure that amount at least under peril of death. For all classes above the lowest this minimum of expenditure rises to a higher point, and Edition: current; Page: [47] increased outlay is essential for the obtaining of increased income.1 On the other side, state expenditure is not definitely fixed; it has to be determined by various considerations, one of which is the pressure that its discharge will place on the national resources. We can easily conceive the United States wisely incurring expenditure that an Indian administration would as wisely avoid.2

§ 3. Though the several characteristics that we have been engaged in noticing mark clearly the distinct and peculiar aspect of public economy, we have still to constantly bear in mind that the consumption of wealth for public ends is a part of the consumption of wealth in general. As a study of human wants must form the basis of the economic theory of consumption, so must an examination of the number and order of state wants be an essential part of our present inquiry.

The classification most familiar to English readers is that of J. S. Mill, who distinguishes between the ‘necessary’ and the ‘optional’ functions of Government.3 The value of this division is, however, much impaired by his subsequent admission that no employment of state agency can ever be purely optional, as also by the further concessions made in his examination of the limits of laissez faire. The arrangement suggested by Roscher is more in analogy with the case of private outlay, viz., that into (1) necessary, (2) useful, and (3) superfluous or ornamental expenditure,4 corresponding to the necessaries, decencies, and luxuries of individual consumption. It does not require much acumen to add, that the first head is unavoidable, that there is generally a presumption in favour of the second, while there is always one against the last. The formation of such general categories as the foregoing does not help to solve the real difficulties of the matter.5 Edition: current; Page: [48] The terms used to describe the groups just mentioned carry with them an already-formed judgment. By placing a particular form of expense under the heading of ‘necessary’ or of ‘ornamental’ outlay, we have pronounced an opinion on its merits or demerits. It still remains to settle—and this is by far the most troublesome part of our task—the several items to be placed under each head. In order to meet this difficulty we shall find it necessary to consider the proper functions of the State, and how far it is bound to discharge each and all of those functions under circumstances of financial pressure. One of two possible lines of inquiry may be adopted. Starting from our conception of the State, we may seek to determine the proper sphere of its action, and the amount of its justifiable outlay within that sphere, using either general reasoning or appeals to specific experience as our guide. Or we may prefer to trace the development of public tasks, and endeavour by following their direction in the past to form an estimate of their present position and probable future. It may even be expedient to combine the two courses of inquiry, using each as the corroborator or corrective of the other. Here, as often elsewhere, the historical or inductive method comes in to support and check the conclusions of deduction.

§ 4. The primitive theory of politics, if theory it can be called, accepted the omnipotence of the State as a leading principle. The legislator was to fashion the society in the mould which seemed to him best; the very idea of individual claims had no place in such a doctrine. In its passage through feudalism European Society obtained the idea of private liberty, though, owing to the imperfect state organisation of the period, the effect that might naturally be expected was not produced. The centralised monarchies which succeeded the mediæval system claimed the privilege of regulating individual action in a mode that in some respects recalled classical antiquity. The religious and political struggles of the sixteenth and seventeenth Edition: current; Page: [49] centuries were the result of their undue activity in those domains of human life. Commerce and industry did not assert their right to freedom till a later period. State regulation of industry found its highest expression in the so-called mercantile system of the seventeenth century, and particularly in the administration of Colbert.1 The reaction against this policy produced the first theory of state action that had an economic basis—the doctrine of laissez faire, or, as it was entitled by Adam Smith, ‘the simple and obvious system of natural liberty.’ Its rise at the particular time was the result of powerful forces. It is true of humanity that ‘it learns truth a word at a time,’ so that, as the problem of the sixteenth century had been religious liberty, that of the seventeenth political liberty,2 it was reserved for the eighteenth century to assert the claims of industrial and commercial liberty. The similarity in general features of these movements is remarkable. Each was the natural reaction against exaggerated pretensions; each perhaps attached too much importance to its special object, but all have profoundly affected European society for good. In examining this earliest scientific theory of the State, it is most desirable to see exactly what its doctrines really were. The common opinion that the advocates of laissez faire were opposed to any state action is dissipated by a study of their writings. They lived in an age of restrictions in which the most pressing work was to get the many hindrances to effectual industrial activity removed. A body of thinkers including Quesnay, Turgot, and Du Pont de Nemours among its members can hardly be said to have been indifferent to the necessary functions of the State. The real bearing of the laissez faire or ‘natural liberty’ system can be best appreciated by a consideration of the exposition given of it by Adam Smith. In a well-known passage of the Wealth of Nations he has set forth the functions of the ideal State Edition: current; Page: [50] in a manner that leaves no room for mistake as to his views.

‘According to the system of natural liberty, the Sovereign has only three duties to attend to; three duties of great importance indeed, but plain and intelligible to common understandings: first, the duty of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies; secondly, the duty of protecting as far as possible every member of the society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it, or the duty of establishing an exact administration of justice; and thirdly, the duty of erecting and maintaining certain public works and certain public institutions, which it can never be for the interest of any individual, or small number of individuals, to erect and maintain; because the profit could never repay the expense to any individual, or small number of individuals, though it may frequently do much more than repay it to a great society.’1

It is only necessary to read this passage in order to see that the policy favoured by Adam Smith was not a purely negative one. The State has not merely other functions than the economic ones; where private interest is likely to prove insufficient, it has economic ones also, and those, too, of great extent and importance, as will appear when considering his more detailed discussion.

The temporary predominance in the domain of political speculation of the laissez faire view is a commonplace of the historians of political economy.2 We need not repeat the account already given of the different effects produced by the Smithian doctrine on French and English thought. It will suffice to see the operation of newer tendencies, and for this purpose we may pass at once to J. S. Mill. His theory of state action is, in fact, a product, or rather application, of his utilitarianism, and thus we are led to expect what we do in fact find, viz., a close resemblance between Edition: current; Page: [51] his practical proposals and those of Bentham.1 He declares emphatically that—

‘The admitted functions of government embrace a much wider field than can easily be included within the ring-fence of any restrictive definition, and that it is hardly possible to find any ground of justification common to them all except the comprehensive one of general expediency.’2

This extremely vague and general statement is, however, supplemented by a declaration in favour of laissez faire as a general rule. ‘Letting alone, in short, should be the general practice: every departure from it, unless required by some great good, is a certain evil.’3

In regard to state action, as in so many other respects, Mill occupied a transitional position. He had accepted the traditional creed of the economists which was strengthened by his own sympathies in favour of freedom, as well as by his study of the brilliant work of Dunoyer,4 which he frequently quotes with approbation. But other influences affected him: the writings of the French socialists and the social philosophy of Comte both tended to impress him with the advantages of state action in certain comparatively untried directions, and consequently his attitude as to the true policy of the State is in some respects not defined with sufficient precision.

Since his time, the disposition to criticise the shortcomings of the doctrines of the Physiocrats and Adam Smith has become general. The possible theoretical difficulties and the conflicts of individual with general interest have been most forcibly stated in Sidgwick's minute and thorough discussions.5 This natural tendency has been reinforced by the influence of German economists Edition: current; Page: [52] who repudiate the practical position of Adam Smith as a product of the ‘shallow a priori rationalism’ of the eighteenth century, which regarded the State as an agent for determining private rights and duties (Rechtsstaat) in opposition to the older system of paternal government (Polizeistaat). This newer and wider conception of the State's sphere is conveyed in the term ‘civilising State’ (Culturstaat), or in the fuller description of Bluntschli, who regards ‘the proper and direct end of the State as the development of the national capacities, the perfecting of the national life, and finally its completion.’1

Admitting the force of some of the criticisms that have been urged against an exaggerated policy of laissez faire, it seems nevertheless possible to adhere to the substantial truth of the doctrine quoted above from the Wealth of Nations. The real ground for limitation of state functions is not the existence of an abstract rule forbidding various classes of acts. The rule itself is dependent on the results of experience. To the plea that in many cases state intervention would obviate evils to be found under a system of liberty, Adam Smith would reply that the legislator's ‘deliberations ought to be governed by general principles, that he must act by rules which in the supposed cases would do more harm than good, and that it is the balance of advantage which needs to be regarded.

This consideration duly weighed suggests the possibility of so modifying the older position as to include a class of cases that has appeared to be the greatest stumbling-block in its way, viz. the functions of the State in the lower stages of social development. Now it is beyond question plain that the province, and therefore the expenditure, of the regulating organs of society will vary at different stages of social progress. We may take it as indisputable that the duties of the Sovereign of a central African State and of the government of a European society Edition: current; Page: [53] are and must be very different, but the conclusion does not follow that there are no general principles to which the modes of state action may conveniently conform. The construction of a ‘cut and dried’ formula for the duties of the State is perhaps an impossible task, but a careful study of the nature and forms of state activity, as determined by the character of its organisation, will help to elucidate the difficult problem of its suitable duties.

§ 5. For understanding the true position of the State it is essential to see the way in which its functions have been gradually evolved. In the rudest forms of society each individual depends on his own resources. The Fuegians e.g., have no conception of government, and consequently, as Darwin notes,1 no chance of attaining to civilisation. In the hunting tribe, where the first advance beyond the lowest stage of savagery has been made, the elder is leader in war and judge in peace, the ‘warriors’ are soldiers and administrators. The tribe hunts in common over its territory, which it tries to protect from intruders, and it divides the game that is captured among its members. Thus we see that war, justice, or rather the administration of custom, and economic effort are the three forms of the rudimentary society's activity. The two former, and especially war, are, however, the kind of action in which regulation is chiefly needed, and where the power of the chief is particularly manifested.

The domestication of animals, which is the characteristic of the pastoral stage, facilitates the further differentiation of the chief and ruling body. The accumulation of the peculiar wealth of the period is more an individual concern, but war and justice are public duties. Here, and even in the preceding stage, we can notice the primitive forms of public expenditure, viz., the services of the members of the clan, and commodities, in the form of weapons and supplies for those going on expeditions.

When the tribe settles down on the land and devotes Edition: current; Page: [54] itself to agriculture, a further division of duties appears. The primitive agricultural community frequently tills its land by means of slaves; the freeman confining himself to warlike pursuits and to the duty of attendance at the public assembly, where he has to decide disputes and regulate matters of general interest.

Far later in historical order, but still presenting many points of resemblance, so far as public functions are concerned, comes the ‘feudal’ organisation. Some of the actuating sentiments are different, and the traditions of the Empire and the Church exercise a potent effect; but the same economic basis brings about a reversion to the phenomena of earlier periods. The feudal society is essentially militant. State power is vested in the ‘King’ or ‘Lord,’ who represents and personifies the community. In this capacity he contracts with the vassals for the supply of his (i.e. the State's) needs. The feudal army with its loose organisation is one result of this arrangement. Justice is administered through the Lord's Courts. The economic side of state activities appears in the management of the domain and the regulation of commerce. In this particular historical form we notice the rudiments of much that is important in the developed financial systems of the present time.

The City State as it is found in ancient Greece and Italy, or in Germany and Italy during the mediæval period, presents a distinctly higher type of political life. There is no longer the tribe struggling dimly to attain to the conception of political unity. The disorganisation and absence of the idea of political, as opposed to personal, duty which mark the ‘feudal’ epoch have disappeared. The free citizen of Athens or Florence had as firm a grasp of the truth that he owed duties to his city as the Englishman of to-day. An exaggerated conception of the State's powers, and a disregard of private rights, were the natural consequence, but so far as the financial aspect of political life is concerned, we may note the close analogy in many respects to the modern State. More especially is this Edition: current; Page: [55] true of the objects of public outlay. The maintenance of military (and in some cases of naval) force, the administration of justice and police, the furtherance of certain economic ends, are the principal claims on the public resources. Subordinate to these main parts of public service may be enumerated certain requirements, also represented in modern budgets—to wit, provision for religious service, for education, and for matters affecting social well-being.

Later developments of state life, either in the Roman Empire or in modern European countries, present the same general groups of public wants. Many special points will require attention when we come to examine more closely the detailed heads of expenditure, but so far as the general outline goes there is in many respects a consensus of practice in all stages of society respecting the sphere of the State.1

§ 6. The preceding survey of the actual development of state functions, brief and imperfect as it is, tends to confirm, and yet in some degree to qualify, the conclusions of theory. The forms of state outlay have arisen gradually in the course of history as the outcome of social conditions and sentiments, and they in turn influence the society. A community in which some special duty has been for a long period entrusted to the public power will not easily be able to dispense with this mode of supplying its need. The force of habit is here considerable. The conditions of social life are, however, subject to incessant change. The state outlay suited for the Middle Ages, when war and religion were the great operating forces, is almost necessarily unfit for the modern age, concerned as well with industry and commerce. The ready acceptance of this truth must not lead us to ignore the equally important fact, that state wants in their main features are permanent to a surprising degree. It is not in the character of the Edition: current; Page: [56] public needs, but in the modes of supplying them, that the most remarkable changes occur. There is, moreover, a universal recognition of the superior claims of defence and justice as being the primary duties of the State.

Writers of all schools agree in this belief, and so far history and analysis are in accord. The disputable part of state outlay is that which more especially concerns economic and social administration, and even here a good deal of the matter of controversy lies outside the subject of pure finance, and belongs more fitly to economic policy. Some trifling amount may be expended on, say, the promotion of art. The advocate of laissez faire may object to the course as a matter of economic policy, but so far as finance is concerned the smallness of the amount makes it a matter of comparative indifference. The question of public expenditure in its fiscal aspects is best considered in relation to each particular period of society. We may even accept the doctrine of Mill, that ‘in the particular circumstances of a given age or nation, there is scarcely anything really important to the general interest, which it may not be desirable, or even necessary, that the government should take upon itself,’1 while we at the same time remember that Adam Smith's determination of the Sovereign's duties can include these possible cases. Financial theory in its application to the modern state is at all events bound to recognise and indicate clearly the difficulties which extension of state action is likely to produce. The growing budgets of all modern societies have the tendency towards enlarging the sphere of the State as their ultimate cause, and it is important to see that persistence in this policy is certain to lead to embarrassments in financial administration; but the very necessity for discussing this subject compels us to examine the forms of expenditure as they have been, and are, while seeking to indicate what they ought to be.

§ 7. Another aspect of the problem of state wants Edition: current; Page: [57] requires some consideration. All economic life depends on a due supply of two distinct classes of objects, viz., commodities and services, or, in less technical language, material objects and human labour. The public power cannot dispense with either of these forms of supply, and at each period of its existence we find it demanding them both. The hunting tribe requires its warriors and their weapons and food; either the men without equipment, or the outfit without the men, would be useless. This distinction runs through every phase of social evolution, though it is much more complex in the higher stages. A very rude community can summon its members to act for the public good, and require them to fit themselves for their task. In such cases outlay and income are combined; the member of the tribe is at once paying his taxes and performing a public service. The opposite extreme is witnessed in a civilised State of the present age. The supply of public wants is obtained by the purchase of commodities and the hire of services, the power to carry out these transactions being procured through the possession of the public revenue. Intermediate stages show us the way in which personal service was commuted for money payment, and the delivery of commodities in kind was obviated by the development of a money economy. Survivals of the older order continue; in some cases they are too important to be regarded as mere relics of the past: they are rather ‘revivals’ under new and favouring conditions. When dealing with revenue we shall have to compare the direct with the circuitous method of supplying public needs, and in the present Book we shall have to note some of the economic consequences of the adoption of one or other of these modes.

Having disposed of the more general aspects of public expenditure, we shall next consider the several details, commencing with the oldest and most enduring—the need for defence against outside enemies.

Edition: current; Page: [58]

CHAPTER II: the cost of defence

§ 1. Adam Smith commences his examination of the cost of defence by the statement that ‘it is very different in the different states of society,’ and adds, as the result of his inquiry, that it ‘grows gradually more and more expensive as the society advances in civilisation.’1 A reference to the statistics of military and naval expenditure will show that the tendency to increased outlay has continued during the century that has elapsed since the above passage was written.2 There is, moreover, no sign of change in this respect. It is as certain as any prediction in social matters can be, that no reduction in the military budgets of Europe will soon be made; on the contrary, there is every probability that this form of expenditure will go on increasing in the future as it has done in the past.3

The causes that have produced this, at first sight, unfortunate state of things must, it is clear, be deep-seated and persistent, and accordingly, when we scrutinise more closely the operating forces, it appears that the increased cost of warfare, and of the preparations which it involves, is closely connected with some of the normal features of social development. It is principally the result of two general tendencies, viz. (1) the increased division of labour which necessarily accompanies the advance of society, and (2) the Edition: current; Page: [59] development of those inventions that are such a striking characteristic of modern civilisation. The former makes it absolutely essential to set a specially trained section of the population apart for military service, to the sacrifice of their assistance in the ordinary work of production, while they usually receive a higher reward than a similar body of labourers would be able to command in the market. The pay of the British Army is a good illustration of this fact, and it is the most suitable instance to take, as enlistment in it is purely voluntary. The rapid progress of scientific discovery increases the cost of warlike material and equipment, since the constituents of this part of ‘consumers’ capital,’ as it may be called, become much more elaborate and have to be more frequently replaced. If we compare the stock of weapons of a savage tribe with the equipment of a mediæval army, and either of them with the war material now necessary for a single ‘army corps’ of any European State, we cannot fail to recognise the increase in complexity and in cost which the later organisations show. Even in the last quarter of a century the changes in warlike implements and supplies have been such as, while vastly increasing their cost, to render them very different from the appliances previously existing.

§ 2. The expenses of defence and aggression have, it must be noticed, to be divided into two distinct parts. The former, which may be regarded as the normal and regular part—the peace establishment—meets the preparation for war. It is so well recognised a feature of the modern budget, that it passes without comment. The other part of state outlay in this respect is that devoted to actual warfare; it is evidently irregular in amount, and may so far be called ‘abnormal,’ though it is almost certain to recur at indefinite intervals.1

The cost of preparation for war consists in obtaining a supply both of services and commodities, i.e. in the recruiting and training of troops, the provision for pensions, Edition: current; Page: [60] and the selection and preparation of arms, ammunition, and stores generally. Actual war causes expenditure on campaigns and expeditions, and, further, in the replacement of losses, alike in men and stores, incurred during its continuance. In estimating the loss to society through the persistence of the custom of war between nations, both the above-mentioned elements have to be combined in order to judge accurately of the real cost imposed.

§ 3. Preparation for war, as it appears in the successive stages of society, conforms to the general principle declared by Adam Smith. In a savage or barbarous community the cost of warlike preparation is insignificant. The ordinary course of life is of itself a training for times of conflict; the hunter or shepherd is ready at the shortest notice to transfer his exertions to a fresh and more exciting employment. Such rude societies are (with some rare exceptions) organised on a basis of militancy, all the adult males being available as warriors. Similar conditions prevail with respect to commodities. Bows, spears, staves, &c., are useful either in peace or war; they are eminently non-specialised capital, and more elaborate contrivances are as yet unthought of. The introduction of agriculture has a modifying effect, in so far as it tends to reduce the mobility of labour and commodities; but even in this stage the same general features recur. The ordinary husbandman easily becomes a soldier, and there is a recognised interchange between swords and ploughshares. An invasion is still carried out or opposed by a levée en masse, and usually takes place in the ‘off season’ of agricultural work. The cost of preparation for such wars obviously cannot be very heavy.

The introduction of manufactures, and the establishment of urban life that accompanies it, put an effectual check to the ruder forms of belligerency. A State possessing the varied elements of an industrial society—even in a rudimentary form—cannot permit the suspension of the normal economic processes during a period of hostilities, and it is Edition: current; Page: [61] therefore compelled to make adequate arrangements in time of peace in order to obviate the danger. The difficulty is met by the introduction of standing armies, whose origin is thus easily explained. It, in fact, becomes necessary to carry the gradually increasing division of employments into the military art, and to form at least the nucleus of an army, which can be readily increased in case of need. The difficulty of suddenly shifting the artisan from the workshop to the field of battle makes this imperative. Improvements in weapons and systems of discipline furnish additional reasons in favour of increased special training, to be given either to the whole efficient population, or to a selected portion of it, but in any case involving larger outlay.

In the section of the Wealth of Nations devoted to this topic the adoption of either of the alternatives just mentioned is regarded as a cardinal point in the evolution of the military system. The former method—that of training the whole effective population—is described as the creation of a militia, the latter as the formation of a standing army, and a very strong judgment is pronounced in favour of the latter expedient. Admitting fully the truth of some of the views set forth on this point by Adam Smith, it is nevertheless desirable to remember that they by no means exhaust the subject and the considerations relevant to it. His appeal to history more particularly strikes the reader as superficial. To support his contention that standing armies are always superior to militias—an idea evidently derived from his belief in the advantages of increased division of labour1—he brings forward the examples of the Macedonian army that overthrew the forces of the Hellenic commonwealths and the Persian Empire; the early successes of Hannibal and the ultimate triumph of the Romans; and finally the fall of the Western Empire before the barbarian invaders. The cases quoted, however, Edition: current; Page: [62] fail to establish the doctrine asserted. It is surely contrary to fact to speak of the army of imperial Rome as a ‘militia’; if ever there were a ‘standing army’ it was one. The whole discussion, in short, amounts simply to this: that the better disciplined and trained force will generally defeat its opponents, and that it ought to be called a ‘standing army.’ The historical summary is accurate, if somewhat trite, but the interpretation results in a truism.

We have therefore to replace Adam Smith's account by one more consonant with facts, while preserving those parts of his exposition that are substantially correct. It is certainly beyond dispute that the course of development tends to replace the rude levies described as ‘militias’ by the better trained forces known as ‘standing armies.’ In addition to the instances given above, we may mention the introduction of permanent armies in every European State, so that the tendency towards specialisation is very generally operative. An opposing tendency, however, comes into play. It is equally a principle of evolution that all organised bodies tend to lose their original plasticity; they become, as it were, crystallised into a rigid form, and from this condition armies are not exempted. But warfare is the struggle for existence in its intensest shape, and in that struggle, mobility and power of adjustment are important advantages. The natural result is that the most efficient military machine or organisation of one period proves to be unsuitable for the changed requirements of another and later one. The history of war is, in fact, a series of illustrations of this truth. As convincing and well-known examples we need only note the Phalanx, the Legion, the man-at-arms of mediæval times, the army system of Frederick the Great, and the French system of the 19th century. And it may well happen that a future European war will afford a further instance in the fate of the present German army. The essential condition of military efficiency is constant readjustment—incessant striving towards improvement in discipline, training and equipment. Edition: current; Page: [63] Such efforts, necessary as they are, demand continuous intellectual strain on the part of the organisers, and heavy demands on the public purse.

§ 4. If, as we believe, Adam Smith failed to correctly interpret the past, he certainly did not succeed in forecasting the future. Up to his time there had been a steady movement towards the establishment and increase of permanent forces maintained at great cost. The effect produced on thoughtful persons by the growing European armaments is instructively shown in the statement of Montesquieu. A remarkable chapter of the Spirit of Laws1 describes the position and its dangers to the future of Europe in the following terms:—

‘A new disease has spread through Europe; it has seized on our sovereigns and makes them maintain an inordinate number of troops. It is intensified, and of necessity becomes infectious, for as soon as one State increases its forces the others at once increase theirs, so that nothing is gained by it except general ruin. Each monarch keeps on foot as many armies as if his people were in danger of extermination; and this struggle of all against all is called peace! Thus Europe is ruined to such a degree that private persons, in the present position of the three richest Powers of that quarter of the globe, would not have the means of living. We are poor with the wealth and commerce of the whole world; and soon, by dint of having soldiers, we shall have nothing but soldiers, and be like the Tartars. For that we need only make effective the new invention of militias established in most of Europe, and carry it to the same excess as we have the regular troops.’

This vigorous account has been largely justified by the actual course of events. The wars that resulted from the French Revolution proved the power of national sentiment to raise and maintain enormous forces during a period of protracted conflict, and the reform of the Prussian army under Scharnhorst's guidance, after the disaster at Jena, Edition: current; Page: [64] carried the tendency towards the enrolment of the nation into periods of peace. The wars of the third quarter of the 19th century, and especially the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, and the Franco-German one of 1870–1, have greatly increased the popularity of the national army system, which has been adopted by nearly all Continental States,1 and has been approved by many English writers. The change of opinion in recent years is perhaps most clearly shown in a remarkable essay of Cairnes, in which the respective merits of the older French, the English, and Prussian systems are estimated, with a conclusion strongly in favour of the ‘national army.’2

We may seem, for the moment, to have lost sight of economic and financial considerations, but they really underlie the whole military movement of modern times. The increase of permanent forces had reached its limit before the opening of the French Revolution, when about one per cent. of the population was available for actual service. The prolonged conflicts which arose out of that event led to the addition (as Montesquieu apprehended) of a militia to the regular forces. The modern national army in its full force is the old ‘standing army,’ plus a levée en masse, the latter, it is true, being suitably organised and equipped. This system, though produced at first by a particular set of circumstances, was obviously necessitated by economic conditions. Military power had to be increased, and as the state revenues did not allow of an enlarged permanent force, the only alternative was that actually adopted, by which the whole effective male population became a reserve, and was yet enabled, in times of peace, to carry on its ordinary industrial pursuits.

The question of cost is in the last resort decisive, and it is by it that the merits of the several military systems must Edition: current; Page: [65] be judged. One of the conditions to be included in our measurement of net cost is efficiency. National defence is too important, even from a purely economic standpoint, to be placed in jeopardy through narrow ideas of economy. An ineffective and badly organised army is dear on any terms, though, on the other hand, large outlay will not of itself secure efficiency, and so far weakens the economic resources of the nation. The problem is, indeed, as remarked before,1 one of extreme difficulty, and only allows of an approximate solution. As regards the cost or sacrifice involved in the various methods of defence, the national army presents two great advantages: (1) it requires less direct outlay, and (2) its real pressure is not so acutely felt. It is plain that services obtained through legal compulsion will be cheaper than those that are hired in the labour market at the current rate. Moreover, when the duty of military service is general, and enforced without favouritism, the sacrifice entailed by it will probably be less felt than if the large amount of additional funds needed under voluntary enlistment had to be levied through taxation. Granting, however, both these positions, it yet remains doubtful whether the indirect losses may not be more than the gains just mentioned. The real cost of an army formed on the German type is hard to measure. Mere comparison of army estimates will not establish its superiority over a freely enrolled force. Thus an able writer2 compares the English and German outlay for 1883–4. The former was £16,600,000 for 199,273 men, the latter £18,325,000 for 445,392 men, i.e. an army much more than twice that of England was maintained by Germany at an increased cost of only 10 per cent. This estimate is supported by additional calculations, which make the cost per soldier in England £86, in Germany only £44, or little over half. Such calculations err in the omission of several material circumstances. The rates of wages and salaries in the two countries are not on the same level. Under any system a Edition: current; Page: [66] given number of German soldiers would cost less than an equal number of English ones. Next, though the compulsory service in the former country reduces considerably the amount of direct outlay by the State, it inflicts a tax on those compelled to serve, whose amount could be measured only by what they would pay in order to escape it. A third influencing condition is the indirect effect on the productive powers of the country.

‘The military service,’ says a favourable critic of the German army, ‘postpones to a relatively very late period the productive use of the productive power of the country ... The waste of skilled labour ... is enormous. The future artisan or mechanic has not learned his business when he enters the army, nor can he practise it until he leaves the regiment.... Half the lifetime of the flower of the population is thus unproductively spent. Even in the case of unskilled labourers or peasants, who can go to work from the day they leave barracks, a considerable loss is sustained.’1

None of the foregoing considerations are taken into account by Geffcken. It may, indeed, be argued that the habits of discipline and order acquired during service should be placed to the credit of the German system, but this questionable item would not much affect the general result, more especially when we add the probable loss of originality and initiative, which is another result of discipline. The national army system further involves a supervision of the movements of all the members of the potential war force, and such regulation must in some degree restrict the free flow of labour to suitable markets.

The difficulties in the way of any estimate of the financial merits of different army systems, already evident enough, are enhanced by the special circumstances with which each country has to deal, and which render the complete adoption of a foreign system almost impossible. Thus England has Edition: current; Page: [67] to provide garrisons for many places very distant from her own territory, and service of this kind in India or the Crown Colonies could not be made compulsory. Separation of the home and foreign (or Indian and Colonial) armies appears a retrograde step,1 and in any case the supposed home force might, in time of pressure, be required for service abroad. A great power whose foreign possessions are insignificant has not this problem to face.

§ 5. A partial solution of the difficulty of procuring sufficient military force without compulsory service, and at the same time keeping expenditure within due bounds, is presented in the English Volunteer system. By this method the public spirit of the citizens leads them to give a portion of their time to acquiring the rudiments of military training and sufficient dexterity in the use of weapons. Competent military opinion seems, however, to hold that a considerable degree of organisation is necessary in order to make volunteer forces of any real service in time of war. The endeavour to combine the strict discipline essential for the soldier with the freedom naturally claimed by the volunteer is not an easy one, though the object is eminently desirable. Besides its great advantage in fostering the national sentiment of the members, and impressing them with the conception of their duties to the State, the volunteer corps would, by taking charge of the home fortresses, probably allow the regular troops to be drawn off for foreign service, and would also be a valuable source for recruiting.

It may further be remarked that a very general enrolment of the active population in such bodies, under proper discipline, would be equivalent to the national army system and at the same time avoid the evil of compulsion. In this as in other cases of volunteer assistance for public service, the chief difficulty is to enable the two agencies to fit into each other without friction or waste.

§ 6. The navies of the various powers do not present so Edition: current; Page: [68] much difficulty, for they are less costly so far as the supply of their personal service is concerned, and that supply is taken from a special class already trained to a life of hardship, and accustomed to constant supervision and control, though here, too, the question of obtaining the necessary force without undue outlay is a serious one.1

§ 7. The best and most economical mode of supplying equipment and material for both military and naval forces has been for some time recognised as a grave problem. The extraordinary rapidity of inventions soon makes the most costly and best devised appliances antiquated. It seems a hopeless task to provide all new agencies of attack and defence, owing to their great expense and their certain replacement by later improvements, so that it might appear that the wisest course was to await the outbreak of war, and then procure the best existing weapons. Unfortunately such a course is not practicable. Ships and ordnance cannot be speedily produced and distributed. The stock, the ‘fixed capital’ of destruction as it may be called, like that of productive industry, takes time to create, and in warfare delay is fatal. A steadily progressive policy seems the most advisable in this respect, even from the purely financial point of view, as the pressure is more evenly distributed, Edition: current; Page: [69] and by adopting it there is, on the whole, the best chance of security.

Against the undoubted evil of the great increase of outlay on armaments, it is satisfactory to be able to point to some compensation, or at least alleviation. One result is to favour the wealthier, and therefore the most industrious nations. A rich State can obtain the best ships, rifles, and cannon, and so gains the same advantage over its poorer rivals that civilised peoples generally gained over barbarians by the invention of firearms. Then, as Sir R. Giffen has suggested, the increased cost of warlike equipment is accompanied by an immense expansion of industrial production; if the burden be heavier the bearer is stronger, and is not so much oppressed as we might at first suppose; and finally, though this is problematical, the skill developed in aiding the work of destruction is also of service for industry.1 The best method of securing arms and supplies is also a doubtful matter. The usual alternatives are: purchase in the open market, or state manufacture; and in the former case the contracts may be given privately, or by public tender; but the advisability of state manufacture may be reserved for a more suitable place.2

§ 8. The cost of actual warfare presents problems very similar to those already considered. The national army, when in the field, is a very expensive agency. ‘An army composed of such materials as the Prussian, cannot be employed in war without immense loss and suffering both to the soldiers and the whole nation.’3 The ordinary standing Edition: current; Page: [70] army, on the other hand, is often unfavourably criticised as being composed of the refuse of the population.1 Were this true it would be rather an advantage in the event of war, except in so far as it detracted from military efficiency. In any case it is difficult to measure the cost incurred in war apart from the direct outlay and the loss of men and material in the conflict. There is, besides, the disturbance in the economic system which is a necessary result, and which may injuriously affect, not merely the national well-being, but the state revenues. Such consequences are hard to foresee, and vary widely in different nations. With regard to England, for example, the outbreak of war would materially injure her shipping trade, which forms so important a part of her industry; the diminished profits in that trade, and the innumerable dependent and connected occupations, would soon be shown in the reduced income-tax returns under Schedule D and would so far affect the state receipts at a time of extra pressure. It is needless to add that the revenue would almost certainly be acted on by other results of war, and not beneficially. A Continental State would probably suffer in a different way. Some of its territory might be occupied by the enemy, and its contributions suspended, or under the most favourable circumstances the productive powers of the community would be reduced by the withdrawal of so many men from their usual employments with the natural result of diminishing the yield from taxation.2 All such elements form part of the financial considerations appropriate to the subject.

To make the estimate a fair one, it is further desirable to take into account the possible advantages so forcibly stated by Wagner3 and others. They are: the ennobling effect of warfare on men, and even its value as an economic discipline; its tendency to bring about a better grouping of nations (as in the recent cases of Germany and Italy); and finally the fact that successful warfare may allow of the cost being placed on the vanquished. It might be Edition: current; Page: [71] added that some periods of war have been seasons of high profits, as was the case in England during the French wars of 1793–1815. But these supposed gains are, after all, no adequate set-off against the certain losses. There is no evidence that war promotes higher social or economic training, and it decidedly deadens the higher moral feelings.1 Under given conditions, capitalists may gain by it, but only at the expense of other classes. The power of placing all the expense on the conquered party is not a diminution but simply a shifting of the burden, as happened in the Franco-German war of 1870–1.2 And the redistribution is not always purely beneficial to the winning side, while it intensifies the sufferings of the defeated State.

§ 9. In conclusion, it may be said that war and preparation for war are by far the heaviest charges on the resources of modern States.3 An enormous sacrifice of labour-power and of commodities is inevitably caused by its persistence as a usage among modern nations. The uncertainty and indefiniteness of the requirements of states for this end is a perturbing element in financial arrangements. War has been the principal cause of the great state indebtedness so general in Europe, and of the severe pressure of taxation. It is consequently beyond reasonable doubt that peaceful methods of settling disputes, or limitations on the present rigour of belligerent rights,4 are not merely social, moral, or even economic reforms: they are further of the greatest financial importance. Arrangements for disarmament, if possible, would belong to the same class. But while strongly insisting on the great advantages that are certain to result from the maintenance of peace, and the reduction of military and Edition: current; Page: [72] naval expenditure, it is quite as essential to assert that so long as present conditions last, a well-organised and effective system of defence is a necessary part of state expenditure, and one that amply repays its cost by the security that it affords for the political independence as well as the economic interests of the nation. To maintain a due balance between the excessive demands of alarmists and military officials, and the undue reductions in outlay sought by the advocates of economy, is one of the difficult tasks of the statesman. In endeavouring to attain the proper mean, many specially financial considerations have to be noticed. Among these are: the relation of state to national revenues; the risks to which unsuccessful war would expose the country; and the comparative urgency of the other claims on the State. The application of the amount judged necessary is also difficult to determine. It has to be distributed between services (Personalbedarf) and commodities (Realbedarf), so as to secure the maximum advantage, but this latter question lies, strictly speaking, outside the limits of finance, and belongs to military administration.


The growth of expenditure for military and naval purposes is very plainly shown in the following table (000's omitted):—

Table I Expenditure of England and France on Army and Navy at different periods.
1 Besides home expenditure the military force of the British Empire costs India about 230,000,000 rupees, or 15,333,000.
Year. Amount.
1775 ... ... ... £3,810
1823 ... ... ... 14,350
1847 ... ... ... 18,500
1857–8 ... ... ... 23,500
1868–9 ... ... ... 26,891
1878–9 ... ... ... 30,252
1889–90 ... ... ... 32,781
1893–4 ... ... ... 33,566
1895–6 ... ... ... 37,407
1900–1 (war)    ... ... 121,230
Year. Amount.
1774 ... ... ... £4,880
1830 ... ... ... 12,960
1847 ... ... ... 19,320
1858 ... ... ... 19,960
1868 ... ... ... 26,320
1878 ... ... ... 29,240
1890 ... ... ... 37,640
1900 ... ... ... 38,880
1902 ... ... ... 41,151
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Table II Military and Naval expenditure of—
(a) The German Empire.
Year. Amount.
1873 ... ... ... £19,200
1876 ... ... ... 21,900
1883–4 ... ... ... 22,750
1888–9 ... ... ... 41,900
1900–1 ... ... ... 39,090
1902–3 ... ... ... 39,946
(b) Italy.
Year. Amount.
1862 ... ... ... £8,500
1869 ... ... ... 6,800
1875 ... ... ... 8,760
1880 ... ... ... 10,120
1886 ... ... ... 13,120
1890 ... ... ... 14,500
1900–1 ... ... ... 15,377
Table III Total Military and Naval Expenditure of the Six Great Powers.1
1Austria, England, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia.
2Probably £70,000,000 should be deducted for the abnormal outlay by England in South Africa, but this expenditure is likely to continue in part for some time.
Year. Amount.
1868 ... ... ... £104,250
1873 ... ... ... 124,450
1882 ... ... ... 146,460
1888 ... ... ... 180,200
19002 ... ... ... 275,000

Whatever qualification may be requisite in consequence of the above figures being obtained from different sources cannot affect the general conclusion that they are adduced to support—the increase of expenditure for the purposes of defence and aggression.

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CHAPTER III: justice and security

§ 1. In tracing the gradual development of state functions, we found that the maintenance of internal security, the protection of each member of the society against ‘the injustice or oppression of every other member of it,’ or in more modern phrase the establishment of law and order, was a task that was attempted in the earlier stages of social evolution, and one that became more fully emphasised as political institutions grew in strength. The necessity of the function is admitted by all except advanced anarchists. In fact, the extreme urgency of the claim for public activity in this respect has frequently led to a comparative neglect of other sides of state duty. Both in its social and economic results the establishment of security is of the utmost importance; but there is the danger of limiting its range too narrowly. All institutions and legislative measures that tend to increase the power and resources of the State so far conduce to the preservation of order, and this wider point of view should never be ignored, though it is necessary to give the most prominent place to the agencies directly employed in promoting the end.

An instance of the disposition to unduly confine the subject is found in the Wealth of Nations. The section of the work devoted to this topic deals solely with the administration of justice. Adam Smith appears to have believed that the one matter of importance for the State was to decide disputes, though his account of the introduction Edition: current; Page: [75] of law courts shows that it is just as essential to suppress disorder. The sovereign does certainly discharge a most useful function in settling controversies about the precise nature of private rights and duties: but beside the claims of individuals, there is the whole body of public law, and even individual rights have to be determined in respect to their orbit and incidence by the State. The ultimate aim is the promotion of social welfare by the establishment of security, which may be obtained in two different ways, with very dissimilar financial effects. ‘The Legislature may pass laws which give certain rights and remedies to the persons interested, and may leave it to them to enforce the law by taking their own proceedings, according to their own interests, in the courts of law. In this case the courts are the organs through which the State exercises its power. Or, again, the Legislature may entrust the duty of enforcing the law to an executive department, which then becomes the organ of the State for the purpose.’1 The former method would come under the head of ‘justice’; the latter under that of ‘police’ or ‘administration,’ and it is a significant fact that it is not noticed by Adam Smith. His whole economic system, on its practical side (in this respect in strict agreement with the Physiocratic position), was a protest against the older paternal policy. He had no conception of the development of administration and supervision for social and even economic ends, which is so characteristic of the modern State, and consequently his work presents a gap in regard to this important subject.

The student of modern finance is, however, compelled to take the different elements of justice and administrative police into account when seeking to estimate the cost incurred in guarding the rights of private persons, and the security of the community which is an essential condition precedent to the former object. The growth of expenditure in this direction has been very large, and presents some serious financial problems.

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§ 2. Though many of the details of legal development are as yet obscure, its broad outlines have been sufficiently elucidated by the labours of the historical jurists.1 In the primitive community custom is binding; violations of its prescriptions are offences, but any disputes as to the fact of a breach of the customary rule have to be decided by the opinion of the tribal or village assembly. As soon as the chief comes into existence the decision of controversies becomes one of his tasks—or privileges; the submission of the parties is, notwithstanding, voluntary, at least in appearance, and the Judge is entitled to a ‘fee’ for his services.2 Under such conditions, justice is a matter of special bargain. The chief, as judge or arbitrator, gives his time and attention to the decision of disputes, and like any labourer is ‘worthy of his hire.’ Very many legal systems afford evidence of the existence of this dealing out of the commodity, justice, and of the slow process by which voluntary submission became compulsory.

At a far later stage of growth, and even when the coercive power of the sovereign State was fully established, this idea of ‘service for service’ was retained. The financial significance of such a view is apparent. As long as the suitors paid fees for the services of judges there was no need for including the item among the heads of public expenditure. Even if entered, it would only be a matter of account, the receipts balancing the outlay.3

First appearances are in favour of this arrangement. The public revenue is exempted from charge; the persons who are supposed to gain have to pay for a service rendered; and judges are stimulated to diligence by the hope of reward. The operation of individual interest seems to produce a sufficiently satisfactory result. So plausible is this idea Edition: current; Page: [77] that it was maintained by Adam Smith. But before his time the practical weakness of the method was so apparent that the abolition of all law charges was advocated, and Bentham had little difficulty in showing the mistake of the older view. It based its case on a series of false comparisons. The judge—and every judicial official—is indeed a labourer discharging a most useful service even in a strictly economic estimation; but his toil is for the interests of the society at large, and he ought to be paid out of the fund created indirectly through his work, that is, the increased wealth of the society owing to an exact administration of justice and the consequent increase of security. If lawsuits always arose from mistakes, there might be something to be said for compelling the parties in fault to pay for the correction, but this is not the usual case; far more often they arise from intentional wrong-doing by one party, or in many instances through the difficulty of knowing the law. The innocent suitor is not a special gainer by the action of law; he is in rather a worse position than those who by the restraining effect of justice have been saved the necessity of asserting their rights. The great advantage that a legal system sustained by fees gives to the rich is an additional argument against it, as is also the tendency of payment by fees to foster judicial corruption. A court supported by charges on suits would be likely to work so as to increase those charges, and might not be strictly scrupulous in the methods adopted.

The theory, besides, is only applicable to civil courts. If we grant that the criminal courts are to be sustained by the parties—one of those parties is the State, and it must draw its contribution from the public funds. A possible source of revenue may be suggested in the penalties inflicted on wrong-doers. Unfortunately this, which so far as it goes is very suitable, proves insufficient. In many cases there is not enough to compensate the individual sufferers. The offender—either civil or criminal—may have no available property, and we therefore find ourselves forced to the Edition: current; Page: [78] conclusion that the cost of justice should be defrayed by the State. Nor, so long as due care is observed in scrutinising the outlay, is there any form of public expense that is more amply justified. On the due administration of justice depends in a great degree the prosperity of a country. The outlay incurred for it ought not to be regarded as a deduction from a definite and pre-determined fund; it is more correctly a percentage levied on wealth, that but for it would never have existed.1

§ 3. In regard to justice, as to defence, it is possible to adopt different methods of supplying the state requirements, consisting in this case chiefly of services. As Germany has given the world the greatest example of forced military duty, affording a model that has been widely imitated, so has England supplied the most striking and impressive instance of compulsory civic service. The jury system of the United Kingdom, though it does not enter into the national accounts, is, notwithstanding, a heavy tax on those who are subject to it and should be considered in estimating the national burdens. Continental legal systems economise in another direction. By placing judicial salaries at a lower scale, the work is done by an inferior class of men,2 but then they are enabled to employ a larger staff and can secure a quicker disposal of cases. In this they are aided by the superiority in form of their laws. A less skilled judge can deal successfully with the definite rules of a Code, when he would fail under the English method of case-law. But whatever mode be adopted, the total cost of the legal system is not light, as the figures show, and it tends to increase with the growth of population and industrial intercourse.

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§ 4. Voluntary service contributes towards the performance of judicial work. As England has a volunteer army, so she possesses a volunteer judiciary in the unpaid justices, who discharge the lower tasks of courts of first instance, and are rewarded by the consideration that attaches to their office, and by the reflection that they have ‘done their duty.’ The Germans, and Gneist in particular, place great weight on the advantages of ‘Self-government’ as it exists in England and is being gradually introduced into Prussia. It is nevertheless of doubtful efficiency (‘justices' justice’ has long been a byword), and from the financial point of view the gain is not great. At all events, the system of unpaid magistrates is only suited for thinly peopled districts, where small offences are comparatively few in number, and where the administrators command respect by their social position. Civil cases, above the lowest, have to be referred to a paid official—the county-court judge; and the criminal jurisdiction over large cities is given to well-trained and salaried magistrates, since the work would be beyond the power of volunteer service. Thus self-help, or rather free public service, turns out to be a valuable aid, but impracticable as a sole or even a chief resource.

§ 5. Next to the cost of law, the outlay on ‘police’ requires notice. The general term ‘police’ has been used in a wide sense;1 we may, however, limit it to its modern meaning. In this application it is of very recent growth. Formerly each citizen was in some degree prepared to defend himself, or belonged to some body or group that would protect him more or less effectually against aggression. All difficulties finally came to the tribunals. Now the State is held bound to have a force on hand to suppress disorder and bring criminals to justice. The absence of a police force from any scene of disturbance is regarded Edition: current; Page: [80] as a grievance, the support of order being supposed to concern it solely. A series of causes has tended to produce this remarkable change in public feeling; they are:—(1) The increase of population, and its great density in certain areas, affording naturally a greater facility for escape to offenders; (2) the alteration in manners that has abolished the custom of carrying arms; (3) the modern industrial system, with the consequent accumulation of valuable commodities, many of them incapable of being identified; (4) the development of agencies for locomotion, and the facilities for escape thereby provided, while pursuit, though difficult to an individual, is still easy for an organised body. The financial outcome of the normal forces has been a great increase both in central and local expenditure, for the purpose of maintaining police forces engaged in supporting and facilitating the action of courts of justice, as also in preventing outbursts of disorder.

§ 6. The penal system stands on the borderland between ‘police’ and administration. When the judge and policemen have dealt with the criminal, he is handed over to the jailor, and in this department of state outlay also there has been a noticeable change during the last century. Ancient societies treated offenders in a summary way. They were executed or reduced to slavery, so that the problems of prison expenditure or management did not arise. The mediæval idea was quite as barbarous, though not so efficient. Criminals who escaped death were the objects of great cruelty, as well as at times of undue lenity.1

The more humane spirit of the eighteenth century brought about a salutary change. Under the influence of the teaching and practical work of Beccaria, Bentham, and Howard, continued by their many followers in their various lines of exertion, the whole system of criminal legislation and penalties was remodelled. Punishment, instead of being regarded as the vengeance of the State or the Edition: current; Page: [81] individual, was transformed into an agency for prevention and reformation.1 Executions became few in number, and prisons, from being purely places for confinement, were used for purposes of discipline and instruction.

The necessary financial result has been a considerable increase of expenditure. Prisons and convict stations are formed on an elaborate scale, with careful provision for the health of the inmates. The comparative leniency of sentences has further tended to perpetuate the class known as ‘habitual criminals.’ This small body—for such it really is in all civilised countries—is yet responsible for the greater part of the outlay on ‘crime and police.’ Any effectual method of dealing with proven ‘habituals’ would be a financial as well as a social benefit. Even under the present arrangements the outlay on the ‘penal system’ is in the strictest sense productive, or at least preservative, of wealth.

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CHAPTER IV: administrative supervision. poor-relief

§ 1. The modern State has in some respects added, if not exactly to the classes of objects under its care, at least to the complexity of the tasks connected with those classes. It is still possible to stretch Adam Smith's description of state functions so as to include the subjects of the present chapter, but the extension, though conforming to the letter, hardly agrees with the spirit of that well-known statement. In this instance we have a good example of the way in which public tasks are conditioned by the circumstances of time and place, and of the impossibility of using an inflexible formula to guide the course of social action. The expansion of administrative supervision in the last fifty years has placed a fresh series of duties on public authorities. A century ago there was little of the kind in England, and the older French and German systems of regulation were in a state of decay. The French Revolution of 1789 was believed to have removed these checks on individual liberty, and to have secured by its influence their ultimate abolition in other Continental States. The passage from the Ancien Régime was regarded as definitely accomplished.

Such expectations have proved unfounded; old methods of control and supervision have indeed for the most part disappeared,1 and no one advocates their re-establishment. Edition: current; Page: [83] In their place we have a newer body of arrangements for the regulation of various parts of social life. Under an elaborate system of legislation, a large official staff has been created for the purpose of regulating the free movement of the ordinary citizen. There are inspectors of mines, factories, shipping, railways, tramways, hackney-carriages, &c. The soundness and purity of articles of food are tested by public agents. Many trades are placed under special rules, and local authorities are entrusted with wide discretionary powers in their dealings with the habits and occupations of the communities under their charge.1 The foregoing account, applicable in all points to the United Kingdom, holds true generally of all modern States; there may be differences in detail; the power which exercises supervision may be local in one country and central in another; nevertheless, the broad fact remains, that in both Europe and America the department of ‘administration’ is increasing in extent.2 Opinions may and do differ widely as to the merits of this movement,3 but on the point most pertinent for our present inquiry there can be no dispute, viz. the increase of expenditure that necessarily results from it. The budget of every civilised society is swollen by the charges needed for the salaries of agents engaged in the work of inspection and regulation, while the total cost can only be ascertained by combining the general and local outlay.

§ 2. Some of the causes of the great increase in administrative outlay have been noticed when dealing with ‘police.’ They, however, deserve a more precise statement:—(1) The growth of great centres of population makes organisation Edition: current; Page: [84] and control more necessary; e.g. to employ a body of police to regulate the traffic on a country road would be absurd; in the Strand or Regent Street it is indispensable. The inspection of dwellings in order to prevent overcrowding is another prominent instance. (2) The moral sense of the community stands at a higher point now than it ever previously did, and as a consequence the public power is invoked to remove any evil that shocks public opinion. The legislation as to unseaworthy ships affords an illustration. (3) The democratic movement makes interference with the owners of capital or property generally, as also with large dealers in commodities, acceptable to the holders of political power. (4) The establishment of bodies of officials is carried on so gradually that the total expense entailed by the system is never realised, while the special gain hoped for in each case is distinctly conceived. (5) Finally, the influence of the prevalent political and economic theories should be added. Most cases of actual state regulation would come under the exceptions to laissez faire as discussed by J. S. Mill and H. Sidgwick; they also have been powerfully advocated both in Germany and America on theoretical grounds. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to assume that this tendency of speculative thought has in some degree influenced the conduct of statesmen.1

§ 3. The difficult question remains. How far is this outlay financially justifiable? It may at once be conceded that many of the ends sought are eminently praiseworthy, and that no supposed principle of abstract right ought to hinder the adoption of measures of general utility. The final test must be expediency, but expediency in its broadest sense. It is only possible here to indicate some of the general considerations applicable to the problem, and which have to be used as guides in each particular case. (1) The pressure of taxation, and the probable sacrifice that its Edition: current; Page: [85] increase for a proposed new end would cause, or the advantage that would result from its remission. (2) The possibility of voluntary agencies undertaking the work now carried out by the compulsory power of the State. Thus it should be a matter for deliberation how far Trade Unions could insist on sanitary provisions in factories, and associations of consumers guard against adulteration and fraud generally. The danger of weakening the spirit of association by hasty state intervention is not to be overlooked; all the more that it is unobtrusive and cannot be readily weighed. (3) The extent to which administrative action is really effectual in meeting evils, though of extreme importance, is not easily determined. Sweeping general propositions, to the effect that ‘individuals do things better than the State,’ or that ‘the State does things better than individuals,’ will not carry us far, but the inertness of human nature when relieved from the stimulus of direct self-interest, and the danger of official corruption, both suggest a presumption against state interference, a presumption it is true of very different force according to the case in which it is used. The solution of the problem belongs to the statesman, who, however, will not form a less sound judgment by taking general principles into account.

It seems perfectly certain that administrative expenditure will continue to increase more rapidly than the cost of justice or police. These latter move with population; the cost of inspection and regulation grows much faster, it is, too, more divided and not so definitely ascertainable, and may therefore be regarded, in common with military and naval expenditure, as presenting the principal difficulty for the finance of the future. Growing expenditure implies increased revenue or additional debt, and either means extra pressure on the subjects of the State. The duty of seeing that all outlay is productive of compensating advantage to the community is more than ever imperative.

§ 4. The relief of indigence is now in most countries one of the charges on the public revenue, and has even become Edition: current; Page: [86] at times—as in England under the old poor-law—a heavy burden; it has not, however, been assigned a prominent place in the estimates of outlay given by financial theorists. The reasons for this comparative neglect are not hard to find, for (1) it has generally been a local charge, and has not found its way into the national budgets, which used to occupy most attention; and (2) the state relief of pauperism has been one of the contested questions of economic policy. It is probable that Adam Smith, who does not mention poor-relief in his examination of public expenses, disapproved of any form of compulsory aid to distress, and his followers would in most cases take the same view.1 But though we can thus explain the omission of poor-relief, we cannot accept the reasons as sufficient. From the point of view of public finance, it is immaterial whether the State acts through general or local authorities: e.g. in England before the Act of 1877, prisons were maintained by the counties; since the passing of that measure they are under the Prisons Commission; but in either case they involved a public charge. In regard to the second point, finance is engaged in dealing with facts, and therefore the existence of state aid to those in distress is a valid reason for examining the subject. We may at the same time admit that the question of expediency in this respect is a most difficult one, involving as it does reference to a number of political and economic considerations.

The problem presents itself in the following way. In all modern societies there are persons who, by reason of physical or moral causes, are unable to—or at least as a matter of fact do not—provide themselves with the means of subsistence. The question then arises, what is to be done with this class? Ancient societies relieved themselves from the difficulty by the rude expedients of infanticide and slavery. The Middle Ages met it by the inculcation of private charity by the Church, and by the monastic Edition: current; Page: [87] institutions. In modern times the insufficiency and irregularity of private relief have led to state intervention. The break-up of the mediæval system, and the resulting economic disturbances, made it an urgent matter of public policy to deal with distress. The greater power of the principal European monarchies also furnished the means, in the shape of legislative action, prescribing and limiting the conditions of relief. The growth and expansion of the system of public relief is of itself an argument in favour of its expediency as meeting an evil common to all communities that have reached a certain stage of development.1

This simple and obvious ground for the policy has been supported by several arguments of a more theoretical character. (2) Thus it has been urged that the State is ‘bound’ to relieve distress. The methods in use in ancient times for the suppression of indigence are happily impossible; private charity is not sufficiently regular, and the State cannot with safety so far outrage the sentiments of its citizens as to allow even the poorest to perish by starvation; it therefore has an imperative duty to discharge in the relief of actual destitution. (2) Another contention appeals to justice rather than sentiment. If the relief of distress were left to voluntary exertions, it would in fact amount to an extra tax imposed on the charitable, who would have to pay more than their due share, the niggardly escaping the payment of anything whatsoever towards what ought to be a common burden. (3) In addition to justice amongst taxpayers, the plea of justice to the indigent may be advanced; it may be said that the real cause of destitution is the appropriation of the agents of production by private persons, and that consequently those in distress may fairly claim at least that minimum of Edition: current; Page: [88] subsistence probably attainable in a state of nature, or—to vary the argument slightly—the holders of property may justly be called on for the amount required for the relief of actual want, in return for the benefits that they obtain from the present social organisation; i.e. they are asked to pay a ‘ransom’ for their possessions.1 (4) To these somewhat abstract arguments, a more direct and practical one may be added. Under the present penal system2 criminals are supported in a way that secures them a tolerable and healthy existence: now to deny to the pauper what is thus guaranteed to the criminal amounts to an inducement to crime.

The force of these several arguments, and the fact of the almost universal existence of public relief, would appear to leave no room for doubt on the subject, but we find to our surprise that a formidable list of arguments may be brought forward on the other side. The opponents of poor-relief contend (1) that to give support to the non-worker is essentially ‘communistic,’ and that any such system has ‘communism’ as its logical result; (2) that aid to distress tends to act on population; that therefore an increasing number of applicants for assistance would present themselves, until at last the whole revenue of the community would be absorbed in their support; (3) that state relief demoralises the recipients, while (4) it interferes with the beneficial action of private charity, and injuriously affects the moral sentiments both of givers and receivers. The more extreme foes of relief, public or private, would add (5) that all relief (and therefore public relief) discourages providence and saving. Almsgiving is—as Professor Newcomb puts it—‘a demand for beggars’3 The industrial and economic virtues are, it is said, weakened by every attempt at distributing aid. Finally, (6) evidence has been adduced to show that poor-relief lowers wages, since it allows the lowest sections of the population to Edition: current; Page: [89] work for less than the amount needed for subsistence by the amount of relief that they get from the public authorities.1

§ 5. To strike a true balance between the opposed arguments that have been just stated is indeed difficult, but for financial discussion it is possible to arrive at a satisfactory result. In the present position of most modern societies a methodised system of public relief is indispensable, and therefore forms a legitimate part of public outlay; nor is it hard to fix approximately the standard of relief. If the treatment of the pauper should be better than that of the criminal, it should, on the contrary, be worse than the standard of living of the poorest self-supporting labourer, and unhappily the limits as thus determined are very narrow. For financial as well as for social and moral reasons all relief should be given in the form prescribed by the State, i.e. generally ‘indoor maintenance.’ Assistance from public funds is not ‘charity,’ from which it should be clearly and distinctly separated, and in no way can this be better accomplished than by confining the action of the public agents engaged in relief to a definite sphere. It may be further said that in the administration of poor-relief the reformation of the habits of those who are indigent should be aimed at. What the habitual criminal is in the prison the hereditary pauper is in the poor-house. Expedients calculated to improve the moral of the destitute would powerfully affect the productive forces of the nation.

The relations between the system of legal aid and private charity are of extreme importance. One of the most serious blots in the usual poor-law arrangements is the absence of any connexion between the two classes of agency. We can hardly doubt that the contributions of private persons, properly utilised, would go very far towards meeting the necessary outlay on those in distress, with the double advantage of economising the public funds for other objects, and preventing the evils that result from Edition: current; Page: [90] the existing abuses of almsgiving. Discrimination as to the causes of distress, and consequently the amount and character of relief, can be properly applied only through the operation of private beneficence.1

§ 6. In addition to the direct relief of indigence, the State has been called on to meet the difficulty either by instituting a system of public works, by granting old-age pensions, or by compulsory insurance on the part of the workers. The assertion of the ‘right to obtain work’ supplied by the State is distinctly of French origin.2 It has never obtained full recognition in practice, as the difficulties it would cause are evidently insuperable. The provision of work, the mode of supervision, the rate of pay, and the disposal of the products, are each and all so many obstacles in the way of its adoption. The economic effect on the whole working class would, moreover, be surely evil; the expenditure would be indefinite, and not capable of easy control. A general system of pensions for the aged would undoubtedly provide for one large section of the pauper body, but it would at the same time necessitate a great increase in the public burdens. To add £16,000,000 to the annual expenditure of the United Kingdom would involve a grave disturbance in financial equilibrium, which could only be restored by a series of retrograde measures in respect to taxation. Without pronouncing any opinion on the social and economic aspects of the various pension schemes lately put forward, it is here in place to dwell on the serious financial difficulties that their adoption would be certain to create, and which by themselves suffice to make any step of the kind one of very doubtful expediency.3 ‘Compulsory Edition: current; Page: [91] insurance,’ as advocated in England, and in some degree carried out in Germany, is less open to criticism on the financial side, but it may be remarked that the collection of the insurance charges is likely to be ineffective in a country where labour is allowed full freedom of movement, while the scheme involves the State in extensive financial operations, and at the same time weakens the action of voluntary effort. The English friendly societies even now insure a large number of the more provident artisans, and have been favourably contrasted with the foreign state insurance bodies by Mr. Goschen.1 A strict administration of public relief encourages the habit of insurance, or other provision against distress, and the development of such methods of self-help makes it easier for the State to adhere to the rigid policy of relieving nothing except absolute indigence.

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CHAPTER V: education. religion

§ 1. The recognition of education as one of the tasks of the State was a natural result of the decline of the influence of the Church. The innumerable religious institutions of the Middle Ages had provided instruction for youth, as they had provided sustenance for those in need, and when their endowments were in great part seized by the different European sovereigns, some provision in their place, or by their diversion to the supply of education, was obviously suggested. Even the theorists of the eighteenth century hesitated to exclude the duty of assisting education from the sphere of state operations. The Physiocrats and Adam Smith agreed in recommending state aid to education, but only under such conditions as would encourage efficiency in the teachers, with industry and application in their pupils.1 Since their time the tendency has been towards the extension of public effort in all the departments of education. The question presents itself in connexion with each of the three forms of teaching, primary, secondary or intermediate, and university.

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§ 2. In respect to primary education we may note the distinct expression of opinion by Adam Smith in favour of state facilities for this form of teaching. The success of the Scotch parish schools had evidently impressed him, and he contends with great force that the increased division of labour due to economic progress tends to weaken the faculties of the workman, and that this evil can only be counteracted by education. The State has moreover, he thinks, a direct interest in the education of the bulk of the people in order to secure political tranquillity.1 A mild form of compulsion is even allowable, since he suggests that passing an examination should be a necessary preliminary to entry into a trade. Adam Smith does not advocate free education, but his reason is curious, viz. that the teacher's diligence is stimulated by the receipt of fees, an aim that would be otherwise reached through the modern result-fee system.

During the present century the state-guided system of primary instruction has become definitely established, as an examination of the details of expenditure will most clearly show. The development of this system has brought out the existence of several difficulties imperfectly recognised at its commencement. Among those are:—(1) The problem of religious teaching; denominational schools are offensive to one section, undenominational ones to another; and both the amount and application of state funds are hotly contested by the different parties. (2) Distinct from the foregoing, but connected with it, is the relation of state to voluntary schools. If no fees are charged in public schools, the private schools complain of the unfairness, which indeed is manifest. On the other hand, fees—especially if education is compulsory—press heavily on the poorer parents. (3) When, to avoid some of the foregoing puzzles, payment by results is made, there is a danger of superficial preparation; and yet without some test of the kind, efficiency cannot easily be measured. The only Edition: current; Page: [94] complete escape from such difficulties would be the abandonment of instruction to voluntary effort, a solution which is forbidden by the importance of education, both socially and economically, as also by the practical impossibility of securing it without state aid in the case of the very poor.

§ 3. Secondary education is in a very different position. The older economists would abandon it to the action of individual and family interest. There is, it would appear, no pressing ground for state exertion in order to supply instruction superior to that enjoyed by the whole population. It may, therefore, reasonably be left to private initiative or to voluntary effort, more particularly in the form—too often disregarded by economic and financial theorists—of endowment by gift or bequest. The modern tendency is here, too, in favour of an extension of state action, generally directed rather to supervision and readjustment of existing resources than to the supply of additional funds. In some instances special agencies for testing the quality of secondary education, either by inspection or examination, have been created.1 From the financial point of view, it must be said that outlay of this kind is not to be placed in the same rank with that in aid of the primary instruction of a country. At best it belongs to the class of useful outlay, and is very likely to be supplied by private funds. It, moreover, is open to the objection of benefiting but one, and that the most independent, section of the population. Against these weaknesses it may claim to be of a moderate character, and not likely to seriously affect national finance.2

§ 4. Universities, or, more generally, institutions for higher education, have to be judged on special grounds so far as their claims for state aid are concerned. It is quite true, as Adam Smith shows, that the higher education in Edition: current; Page: [95] many cases is not a necessity, but rather a luxury or ornament that may very well be paid for by the wealthy, if they desire it for themselves or their families. In most of the remaining instances it is a legitimate investment in immaterial or personal capital, a point of view that predominates in the minds of the professional and commercial classes, so that on either supposition there is no call for public intervention. State or other endowments have besides, the injurious effect of checking the easy remodelling of the system of higher instruction in accordance with the inevitable changes in scientific and literary studies.1 There is unfortunately a tendency on the part of highly paid permanent teachers to take their work in a mechanical manner, and expend their energies in other directions. The result of such considerations leads to the suggestion of thorough reform in the mode of higher education, rather than complete surrender on the part of the State of its regulating functions, more especially when some less obvious parts of the working of Universities are taken into account.

The modern University has very different elements, and may be looked at from different points of view. In the first place, it is a grouping of professional schools, and here the tendency towards extended administrative action almost compels the State to form closer relations with the larger teaching bodies. The increase in the number of professions, entry into which is granted only on supposed proof of competence, as evidenced by examinations and courses of study obtainable solely by means of attendance at a University College, affords a strong reason for offering facilities towards getting the necessary instruction. When Edition: current; Page: [96] the State imposes on candidates for various offices or professions the obligation of having a University Degree, or something similar, it is in fairness bound to supply them with reasonable opportunities for acquiring that needful badge. Moreover, many parts of administrative work could hardly be carried on without the aid of the scientific skill maintained by the teaching bodies.

Secondly, the importance of scientific research in its effects on the production of wealth, and in dealing with many social problems, is now abundantly recognised. Even literary and historical inquiries are found in many cases to be of practical service, and to powerfully aid in the advance of culture. The ‘endowment of research’ is a matter, if not of practical politics, at least of discussion. A University, however, is, or at least ought to be, the home of research, and its support by the State may be claimed on the ground that it discharges this most valuable function. Possessing these two departments, which may reasonably expect aid from public funds, a University naturally adds to them a third in supplying to the richer members of the society the ornamental education or ‘culture’ that they demand and are willing to pay for. By this combination it is further possible to stimulate the teachers by fees that will largely depend on the reputation and credit of the institution where they are placed.

§ 5. The question of ‘technical’ as opposed to general education presents itself in all the stages of instruction, and in each it raises the same problems. The evident economic advantage that a nation obtains through the skill of its producers is a prima facie ground for State aid being given towards the attainment of suitable training. Expenditure for such an object is productive even in a financial point of view, and it may be further argued that individual or family interest will not suffice to accomplish the end desired. On the other hand, the sturdier individualists urge that self-interest, if good for anything, should surely be good for inciting men to learn in the most efficient manner Edition: current; Page: [97] the trades or occupations by which they have to earn a livelihood. The same general result is reached here as elsewhere, viz. that the true test is experience, and it shows that public outlay may be of advantage in promoting industrial training, though it is subject to the inevitable drawback of all state interference in its tendency to reduce private exertion, and in the difficulty of duly regulating the supply of skilled labour called out by its action. The acquisition of training for unprofitable employments is no slight evil, and under the rigid system of regulation inseparable from official management it is not unlikely to occur. Even general education may produce a surmenage scolaire, as the example of France shows.

§ 6. Under the same head the cost of museums, libraries, picture galleries, and institutions for promoting science and art generally should be placed. They come in to supplement the more directly educational agencies, and are often quite as effective in promoting the ends aimed at. The modern development in this domain is remarkable (especially in England and the United States). Central and local authorities have both made considerable efforts in the direction of meeting the wants of the population for opportunities of acquiring information and culture. Few large towns are without appliances that were unknown a century ago, or confined to national capitals. We have to add this expenditure to the cost of schools and colleges before we can say what is the total sacrifice incurred by a nation in its public capacity for the object of culture.

§ 7. Voluntary action may be expected to relieve the revenues of the State from a great deal of this charge. Not only are the expenses of education largely met by the normal economic process of payment for advantages obtained; the donations and bequests of the wealthy have supplied, and we may hope will continue to supply, a good many of the less profitable fields of instruction and research with sufficient endowment. The splendid example set by American Edition: current; Page: [98] millionaires may produce good effect in Europe by attracting attention to the benefits of supporting the educational and investigating bodies to which civilisation owes so much.1

In any case, it must be said that no modern State is likely to suffer financial embarrassment through its outlay in promoting education and culture. Measured against the cost of war, and preparation for war, this form of expenditure is modest and inconspicuous in the total amount; and taken with its probable advantages, it is the least questionable of the many secondary heads of charge.

§ 8. The relations of Church and State have been at different periods the principal problem of rulers. The earlier sentiment rather included the State in the Church than the Church in the State. Modern societies are practically agreed in reversing this position. Excluding the polemical sides of the subject, we can see that for the financier the religious wants of the community need the supply of particular forms of services and commodities, and the question arises whether the public authority should provide these needed objects or leave them to private effort. Historical conditions have determined the actual solution in each country, while the prevalent theoretical view is derived from the doctrines of the last century. Adam Smith, who approached the subject under the influence of Hume,2 regards the clergy as a particular form of police attending to spiritual interests. His ideal is complete non-intervention on the part of the State. The probable result would be a ‘great multitude of religious sects,’ whose fanaticism might be kept in check by the two remedies of: (a) ‘the study of science and philosophy,’ and (b) ‘the frequency and gaiety of public diversions.’ Where, however, there is one predominant religion, the State ought, he Edition: current; Page: [99] thinks, to regulate and control, or, to use his significant term, to ‘manage’ it—a process that is best carried out by the skilful use of the power of bestowing preferment. Religious endowments are regarded as a part of state wealth withdrawn from the more pressing end of defence.1

The circumstances of the case have, it need hardly be said, been profoundly altered since 1776. The United States now afford a remarkable example of the actual working of the policy of laissez faire in respect to religion,2 and they are imitated by the English colonies. Continental nations show a different set of changes: the ‘Established Churches,’ with their numerous independent and private funds, have given place to bodies directly chargeable on the State revenues. The ‘enlightened absolutism’ of the eighteenth century commenced the work of disendowment, which was further carried out by the revolutionary movements since 1789. Later reaction has made the clergy pensioners of the State. As regards the United Kingdom, the American example has, for special reasons, been followed in Ireland, and seems likely to be extended to Great Britain.

Viewing the question as one of finance, it appears that the expenditure on religion, though not large, can be easily supplied by voluntary contributions, and therefore is not an urgent call on public resources, which can be better used for other objects. When the State, for political motives, undertakes the supervision of religion and its supply, concurrent endowment is a necessity in modern societies, as otherwise an evident injustice would be inflicted on the non-endowed sects. Such is the policy of most States at present, but it is more expensive, owing to Edition: current; Page: [100] the greater number of ministers, buildings, &c., that have to be provided.

The provision for religious teaching has a rather close affinity to that for education proper. Modern budgets often combine the two charges under a single head. There is also an historical connexion between them, and it is noticeable that in countries such as the United States and the English colonies, where state endowment of religion is given up, educational bodies take the vacant place. Public expenditure for denominational education is a near approximation to state aid to religion.

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CHAPTER VI: expenditure on industry and commerce. constitutional and diplomatic expenditure

§ 1. Expenditure for directly economic objects has often occupied a large place in public outlay. To foster industry and commerce was long regarded as a leading function of the State. In fact, it is to this conception that we owe the origin of finance and political economy.1 The great object of the Cameralwissenschaft of the eighteenth century was to give instruction as to the right direction of national resources, and most of the earlier economic writers of France and England held that it was very important to encourage economic enterprise.

The complete revolution wrought by the combined labours of the Physiocrats and Adam Smith exonerated the State from this difficult, indeed impossible, task; but it is a vulgar error to suppose that the advocates of industrial liberty did not recognise certain definite duties of the State in economic matters. Apart from the exaggerations inevitable in so violent a change of opinion, we see that the sound sense of Adam Smith and Turgot fully understood that in several directions the Government could beneficially aid the efforts of producers.2 The necessities of practice have made it incumbent on States to undertake Edition: current; Page: [102] a series of duties intended for the advantage of industry and commerce.

There is, however, a distinction to be made at the outset. In one sense all state expenditure may be said to be for the benefit of industry. The armies and navies of modern States are productive of the security needed for the full development of industrial effort. The administration of justice and the maintenance of an efficient police have the same effect. A great deal of administrative supervision has, or is supposed to have, considerable influence in increasing production. One of the strongest pleas for aid to education is based on its economic value, and writers of the school of Hume would regard the inculcation of honesty and frugality as the most useful function of the clergy. So close is the consensus of social phenomena, that there is no part of public expenditure that may not aid the progress of economic production.

§ 2. But besides this more general action of the State on industry, there is a special one. Portions of the public revenue are devoted to objects either solely or principally economic; and it is the employment of this part that we have now to consider. It, again, may be divided into expenditure on industry and commerce generally, and that on special trades or employments. Of the former we may notice the following as the most usual: (i) the cost of maintaining a monetary system, as in the case of the English gold coinage; (2) the establishment and preservation of a system of weights and measures; (3) the enactment (as in some countries) of a commercial code, with possibly a special tribunal or tribunals; (4) the maintenance of agencies for facilitating communication and transport, viz., post offices, telegraphic communications, roads, railways, and canals; in the same group may be included lighthouses, surveys of coasts or new countries; (5) consular and diplomatic establishments, chiefly for the benefit of foreign trade, but with an indirect action on home industry.

The slightest glance at the above list at once suggests a Edition: current; Page: [103] criticism. Some of the agencies included, will, under proper management, yield a profit to the State, and seem therefore more fitly to belong to the domain of state industry. The English Post Office and the Prussian railways earn large net revenues for the States to which they belong, and the currency system may, by the imposition of a seignorage, be made to cover its cost, and probably leave a surplus. The answer to this difficulty is not hard to find. Granting the truth of the assertion on which it rests, the fact remains that in many cases the State has to incur còst for the objects mentioned. The gains of post offices and railways will be noticed in their proper place.1 There are, however, some that have a recurring deficit,2 which has to be met out of the funds derived from other sources. We get but one more illustration of the difficulty of drawing ‘hard and fast lines’ in social inquiry. What is in one country a cause of expenditure is in another a cause of gain as a state industry, while in a third it yields revenue through taxation.

§ 3. State aid to special branches of industry presents much greater opening for objections; but here, too, suitable cases present themselves. Among these are:—

(1) The introduction of new and profitable industries In modern times this part of state action has been usually carried out by means of protective duties. The so-called ‘infant industry’ argument is one of the best of the protectionist pleas, and its theoretic force has been recognised by most economists, but the question is really a wider one. The problem before the statesman amounts to this: How far is it expedient to incur a present loss for a future gain? And on the financial side the balance of the different public wants, as also the percentage of the national income absorbed by the State, are elements to be taken into account in the actual solution. In its simplest form, encouragement is given by means of bounties on production, or premiums Edition: current; Page: [104] for the establishment of new industries. A protective duty may be regarded as a tax on the consumption of the protected article, with an equivalent bounty to the home producer; it is, therefore, in reality more complicated than a simple bounty. This aspect of the matter may be reserved for a later stage of our inquiry;1 but here we have to note the difficulty of escaping corruption and favouritism in the application of a policy of encouragement. In an undeveloped industrial system, such aids, if applied with wisdom, may afford a beneficial stimulus, as was probably the case with some of the measures of mediæval sovereigns. They, in some degree, occupy in economic policy the place that despotic government holds in political evolution, but appear quite unfitted for a progressive system of industry.2 The direct support of special branches of production from the public revenue is sure to be a diminishing item of charge in modern countries.

(2) The promotion of inventions, by the inducement of state premiums, or even the encouragement of a higher standard of excellence in production by the same means, has been regarded without disapproval by Adam Smith. Their effect is not to disturb the natural distribution of employments; besides, as he remarks, their cost is insignificant.3 A good patent law will, however, be the most effectual way of facilitating invention.4

(3) The periodical holding of exhibitions of industrial products under state auspices, and in fact at the State's expense, is now an established custom, though it is probable Edition: current; Page: [105] that the need of agencies of the kind is at present less than it formerly was.1

Other expedients are: (4) model institutions, such as agricultural schools, &c.; (5) state subvention of railways and means of transport for the improvement of the poorer districts of a country; (6) outlay on the administration of forests and drainage;2 (7) the support of credit institutions and assistance by loans.3

§ 4. Finally, we should remark that the State may find itself called on to act in relation to any economic interest of the society that it regulates. There is no strict and universally binding rule that can mark off the area of its action. The protest of laissez faire was directed against the policy of continual interference. The intervention of the public power should, however, be only admitted on clear and definite proof of its advantage. The best safeguard against excessive state action is to be found in insistence on a careful calculation of all the elements entering into each case, and more especially of the financial relations that it necessitates.

The actual figures of modern budgets do not indicate much danger from the purely economic action of the State. Some exceptional cases occur where the zeal of politicians has led them to develop the system of public works beyond legitimate limits. Thus the several States of the American Union at one time engaged in a reckless policy of internal improvements that culminated in the repudiations of 1840–50.4 The plans of the French minister, De Freycinet, for railway extension were also arranged on too extensive a scale, as their subsequent abandonment proved. The Edition: current; Page: [106] public works of India have furnished a ground for bitter controversy; but the opponents of the policy have hardly made out their case, though under the special circumstances of the country greater moderation might have been advisable.1

§ 5. We have kept for the last one of the most essential parts of state expenditure—that incurred for the maintenance of the central organs of the State itself. No matter what be the form of government, the head of the State, ‘the Sovereign,’ in Adam Smith's phraseology, must be supported. Round this personal head are grouped the various branches of the executive, and in some relation to it the legislative body also exists. In a so-called constitutional or ‘limited’ monarchy—the prevalent European form of the 19th century—the head of the State may possess a private income, but is far more likely to be paid out of the Civil List. The royal or crown lands are generally absorbed in the public domain, and in any case they must in strictness be regarded as a portion of public property, set apart from the general funds for a specific public object. This application of public revenue is necessary, though it often excites an amount of popular irritation that might be more advantageously exerted in other directions.2 The head of the State is frequently called on to discharge ornamental functions, requiring a good deal of expenditure, and has, moreover, to hold a higher position than the wealthiest of his subjects.

§ 6. A republican State is partly relieved from this expense; its head, usually elected for a short term, receives the salary of a minister in monarchical States. There is, however, a counterbalancing cost in the expenditure on the numerous members of the corporate sovereign.3 Nearly Edition: current; Page: [107] all democratic societies approve of payment to legislators, in order to reduce the chances against poor men being elected. The inevitable result is an increase in the cost of the legislative body; and when the same principle is applied to subordinate legislatures, a further increase has to be faced. The belief that legislative efficiency is improved by reward does not appear well-founded so far as finance is concerned. We must remember, however, that historical conditions, and particularly the way in which wealth is distributed, have considerable effect in determining the wisest course. Thus the English colonies that possess responsible government are perhaps justified in departing from the English method of unpaid legislators. At the same time, there is an unquestionable advantage in the development of public spirit produced by the English system. One point is certain, viz. that the least satisfactory method of all is the granting of small payments which do not attract the best men, while they discourage those who would serve without any salary. The danger of corruption is brought to its highest in the case of ill-paid legislators, who are inclined to supplement their official incomes by less honourable means.

Expenditure on diplomatic agents and ambassadors may perhaps be best placed under the present head. Such outlay is hard to classify. It might be plausibly regarded as incurred for the sake of securing peace, and therefore be added to the cost of the military and naval services. Or, again, it might be regarded as expenditure for economic objects, viz. the promotion of trade, as the consular service undoubtedly is. But on the whole the diplomatic staff is really representative of the sovereign, and is entitled to its present position.

§ 7. In nearly every civilised country the charge of Edition: current; Page: [108] interest on debt has to be considered. We shall have, later on, to examine more closely the theory of public credit and debt, and therefore need only mention it here as an item of outlay.

When dealing with the mechanism of the financial system, we shall find it desirable to distinguish carefully between gross and net revenue, the former being the total receipts, the latter the net result, deducting the cost of collection and the expenses necessary for obtaining the required resources. Here we have simply to note these charges as one of the parts of public expenditure, and to see how large an item they are. In England, the Customs, the Inland Revenue, and the Post Office are mainly earning departments. The mere mention of these establishments will suggest the remarkable differences in the relation of revenue to cost of collecting or earning it. Savings in this respect are as important as those made in connexion with outlay on other state functions, but any reduction of cost which impairs the efficiency of the fiscal service is as imprudent as over-retrenchment in other directions.

The cost of collection, or earning, of revenue in the leading English departments is given in the annexed table.

Having concluded our examination of the forms of state expenditure, we have now to summarise the results, as also to develop some points that could not be properly treated until the several heads of the public services had been duly noticed. There is, however, one topic that must be first discussed, viz. the distribution of state outlay between the central and local powers.

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Table (000's omitted).
Customs. Inland Revenue. Post Office.
Year. Receipts. Cost of Collection. Percentage. Receipts. Cost of Collection. Percentage. Receipts Cost of Collection. Percentage.
£ £ £ £ £ £
1875 19,289 1,022 5.3 43,938 1,672 3.8 6,790 5,077 74.
1880 19,326 973 5. 47,624 1,810 3.8 7,770 5,213 67.
1890 20,424 905 4.5 52,990 1,749 3.3 11,770 8,303 70.
1901 26,271 838 3.2 83,300 1,995 2.4 17,250 14,471 83.

In 1806 a gross revenue of £58,255,000 cost £2,797,000 to collect, or 4.8 per cent., while in 1826 the charge for collecting £54,840,000 was £4,030,000 i.e. 7.3 per cent.

In France the total expense of collection for the ten years 1883–92 averaged about £13,000,000, but of this amount £5,000,000 should be charged to the postal and telegraphic service and nearly £3,000,000 to the expenses of the tobacco monopoly, leaving a balance of £5,000,000 for the cost of collecting the direct and indirect taxes.1 The total charge has risen since. It stood at £14,600,000 in 1893, and has advanced to £16,100,000 in 1901.

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CHAPTER VII: central and local expenditure

§ 1. Up to the present we have taken no notice (except incidentally) of the division of duties between the central and local organs of the State. For the object that we had in view, this mode of treatment was quite legitimate. In order to bring out the fact that all expenditure by public bodies is really one in kind, and that any differences are subordinate and secondary, it is advisable to set forth the leading forms of that expenditure in a general and comprehensive manner. The principles that determine the distribution of public functions between central and local powers, or even between federal and state governments, though highly important and influential on financial policy, are yet immaterial when we are considering the broad grouping and effect of the cost of maintaining those compulsory agencies that we place together under the title of ‘the State,’ and the expediency of extending or contracting their field of operations. It is, besides, impossible to draw a precise and definite line, applicable to all or most countries, between general and local expenditure. What is retained in one country or period in the hands of the central authority is in other places or times delegated to subordinate bodies; or, to regard the subject from a different aspect, which is in some cases more in accordance with historical fact, the older and smaller groups have reserved from the encroachments of the State very different amounts of power in different ages and nations.

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Examples of this diversity in usage are abundant. The transfer of the English prisons from local to central management has been already mentioned.1 The older system of poor-relief in England was purely local. The great reform of 1834, though it did not go the length of making the aid of the indigent a national charge, yet accepted, and was based on, the recommendations of the Poor-law Commission in favour of complete and efficient regulation of local administration by a specially formed central board. The treatment of primary education affords another example; in England and Wales it is largely under local management, while in Ireland the national school system is strictly centralised. The police systems of the United Kingdom also show like differences in administration.

On extending our view to other nations, we find a similar absence of uniformity. The powers of a Swiss Canton or an American State are far greater than those of an English County or a French Department. Even limiting the comparison to countries with constitutions of the same type, there is still much variety in the actual division of duties.

§ 2. Such remarkable differences have arisen from more than a single cause, but undoubtedly the most powerful reason is to be found in the peculiar historical conditions under which States have been formed and developed.2 To explain, e.g. the diversities in the distribution of public duties in France and Germany, we must see how the governments of those countries have been formed. In no other way is a full interpretation possible. The centralised system of French administration goes back further than the Revolution of 1789; it is a product of the absolute monarchy and of the consequent impossibility of developing local authorities.3 The greater division of state power in Germany is Edition: current; Page: [112] one result of the unhappy conflicts that prevented its attaining to national unity till the present century. In order to comprehend it, we must know the history of the Holy Roman Empire, and its many changes. Exactly similar are the cases of Switzerland and the United States; each is the product of special conditions. The nature of American state and local governments is effected by the circumstances of the colonial institutions from which they have sprung. At all stages of formation this influence is powerful. It is due to the particular events of the time that Italy, at almost a single step, reached the full unity of France or England, while Germany as yet retains so many traces of the process by which it has been formed. There is nothing of rigorous necessity in the course of development; circumstances that may be regarded as accidental have had most effect in deciding the result, and there seems, consequently, little place for the employment of scientific explanation in so purely empirical a matter.

Historical conditions are, however, often the result of deeper forces; the political destiny of a nation is not altogether at the mercy of events. The physical features of its territory, the character and sentiments of its members, go a ong way in determining its constitution. We cannot doubt that the mountains of Switzerland, and the enthusiasm of its citizens for independence, have contributed towards the great vitality of its local institutions; but then it is also true that circumstances somewhat analogous have not hindered Holland from becoming a centralised State.

§ 3. The most complete recognition of the preponderating influence of historical and physical agencies in determining the actual division of state duties between the central body and the local ones, ought not to prevent us from endeavouring—as far as possible—to disentangle from the mass of material any ascertainable general principles. There seem to be—quite apart from national peculiarities—some tendencies, operative in all societies, which assign particular duties to the central agency and place others Edition: current; Page: [113] under local supervision. An examination of the several public wants will, we believe, confirm this view, showing that some of them can be best satisfied by local management, and that others should, in order to attain the desired object, be supplied through the central organisation of the State.

In making this distribution by reference to general principles, it is necessary to take into account the historical influences that we have previously noticed. They partly determine, not only what are, but what should be general, and what should be local tasks. What has been for a long time confided to local administration ought not without good reason to be transferred to the general government, as, on the other hand, where, from any cause, little has been left to local action, the devolution of tasks by the central administration should be gradual and cautious.

§ 4. Additional light is thrown on the leading principles and present position of the distribution of powers between local and central organs, by consideration of the fact that two different tendencies have been in operation during the course of history. Political evolution is not a direct movement towards a definite goal; it is rather a series of efforts following the line of least resistance at any given time. Early societies do not exhibit the opposition or distinction between central and local powers. All government is local either in the tribal system as found in Germany, or in the city states of Greece and Italy. War—and its result, conquest—is the introducer of centralisation. The smaller groups are unable to withstand the successful military chief and have to submit to his rule. The municipal governments of the classical age—for such they were in fact—passed at last under the dominion of Rome, which gives us the picture of a vast administrative organisation employing local authorities as the instruments of its working. The originally autonomous city was ultimately reduced to take commands, even as to the smallest details, from the Emperor Edition: current; Page: [114] and his officials.1 Some place for local co-operation was allowed under the earlier Empire, and up to the last the expenditure of towns was distinct and separate from that of the Imperial government.2

Mediæval society shows a movement towards the revival of local privileges. In all European countries the cities succeeded in acquiring a large amount of freedom in dealing with their own affairs. In some countries—as Italy—they ultimately attained independence, and in all they were enabled to apply their resources for purposes of local interest. One of the principal features of the steadily growing consolidation of States in modern times has been the reduction in power of the various semi-independent bodies within the State.3 Provincial liberties have been curtailed, and particular immunities, whether of towns, districts, or associations, have had to give way to the rule of uniform rights and duties. With great varieties in the process in different countries, the same general result has been reached by the absorption of all independent political forces in the single organ of the State. This point was sooner attained in England than in France, and in France than in other Continental States, but except where a federal system has preserved the authority of one group of bodies, it is now accomplished in all civilised societies.

The establishment of a controlling and legally omnipotent government, though it marks an important stage in political growth, is nevertheless accompanied by some disadvantages. However desirable it may be that the powers of a nation should not be weakened by the existence in its midst of powerful bodies in a position to frustrate the attempts of its rulers to act with vigour and decision in a given way, and however much society may suffer from the absence of political cohesion, it is not conducive to the Edition: current; Page: [115] interest of the nation to concentrate all administrative authority in a single centre. The gains from centralisation may be great, but to obviate the evils that accompany it a wise decentralisation is also requisite. Having secured political unity, it becomes the task of the statesman to so distribute the functions of government as to obtain the best political and financial results. The earlier historical movement that has led to combination needs to be supplemented and corrected by the rational process of division of duties. All modern societies have to see whether their present institutions strike the mean in this respect, and if not, how they can best attain it.

§ 5. The relations of the administrative organs become more complex as States increase in size. A small society has no need of intermediate political forms between the lowest unit and the State, but in countries with the area and population of the great European powers or the United States something more is wanting. Between the ‘parish’ or ‘township’—the ‘primitive cell’ of the political organism—and the central government there are found one or more bodies essentially subordinate to the latter, but of greater range and larger resources than the former. Thus France has the canton, arrondissement, and department; Prussia the district, the circle, and the province; England, the union and the county; the United States, the county and the state or ‘commonwealth’; and in each nation a different class of duties is assigned in proportion to the size and importance of the particular body.

The complexities of local government and finance have in some countries been increased by the irregular and almost haphazard method of expansion adopted. Instead of following a definite and orderly plan, each special need has been met by a special creation. This natural but unfortunate method of procedure is characteristic of English and, in some degree, American legislation. Where a new local duty has been marked out, a new area with a separate board has been formed, ideas of uniformity or co-ordination Edition: current; Page: [116] being almost ostentatiously disregarded. The outcome in England has been, according to Mr. Goschen's often-quoted phrase, ‘a chaos as regards authorities, a chaos as regards rates, and a worse chaos than all as regards areas.’1 Something similar is the case in a few American States. ‘In many of our commonwealths,’ says Professor Seligman, ‘there are separate local taxes for almost every purpose of local expenditure. In New Jersey, e.g., we find no less than forty such separate taxes.’2 The reason for this confusion is only discoverable by considering the usual conception of local governing bodies; they were regarded rather as associations for a particular end than as delegations of the public power, and it is in fact true that the smaller subdivisions do approximate more closely to private groups in proportion as their sphere of action is reduced. The generally unsystematic character of English legislation also favoured this extreme multiplication of local functions arranged on no definite plan.

Political organisation, developed on perfectly logical principles, would offer a decided contrast to the multiplicity of arrangements just described. It would be symmetrical and convenient to a degree that no country—not even France—can lay claim to at present. In actual political life, perfectly adjusted plans of the kind are inapplicable. Constructive legislation is hindered by the nature of the materials that are at hand. The correct and well-fitted plan will not work by reason, first of all, of the varying circumstances of different districts. Rural areas are suited for a simple kind of local government that would utterly fail if applied to towns or cities. The latter require a more elaborate and careful system; new administrative problems are constantly arising;3 their expenditure is sure to be much greater, and even if part of it be what is called Edition: current; Page: [117] ‘productive,’ and likely to afford counterbalancing receipts, there is still a greater amount of energy and toil required in working their finances, and special provisions are needed in order to guard against abuses.1 In many countries, however, backward agricultural districts are often transformed in a few years into seats of manufactures and commerce, making alterations in the form of local government essential.2 Some particular interests are also so important as to need special treatment. The management of harbours, river navigation, and drainage, or great public works created at the cost of the State, may have to be placed under bodies formed to represent the interests chiefly concerned, and they must be kept apart from the general system, and so far mar its completeness.3

The necessity for attending to geographical boundaries tends to prevent even an approximation to divisions with equal areas or population, and special local habits and customs act in the same direction. But the greatest check in this direction arises from constitutional restraints. Perfectly unified governments, such as those of France and England, are seemingly free from this defect. There is nothing in English law to prevent Parliament from abolishing the division into counties and parishes, and substituting a new one in its place. The whole machinery of municipal administration might at the same time be handed over to a central board with an official staff.4 The federal countries—Germany, Switzerland, the United States—are differently situated. In their case the power of constitutional legislation is Edition: current; Page: [118] distributed in a more complex manner, with the intention and result of checking its frequent exercise. Such ‘rigid’ constitutions—as they have been happily called—give a permanence to particular local divisions that prevents the powers of administration being divided in accordance with theoretical conceptions. A Swiss Canton or American State holds a legal position essentially different from that of a County or Department. It is prior in order of time to the central government, towards whose creation it may be said to have contributed, and it is entitled to object to measures affecting its existence.1 Whatever be the reasons in favour of this system—and we need not undervalue them—it is a fatal barrier to orderly and proportionate distribution of functions. Delaware and Rhode Island, insignificant both in population and area, hold the same place as the great States of New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas; Bern, with more than half a million of people, is only equal to Uri, with less than one-thirtieth of that number.

Difficulties of the kind just noticed are not in reality so serious as they at first appear. To begin with, the intractableness is found in one only of the minor groups or subdivisions; the others can be easily adjusted. Congress cannot, indeed, redistribute the areas of New York and New Jersey without the consent of both of those States, but either State can rearrange its counties and municipalities as it pleases; the important cities of New York and Brooklyn have been consolidated into greater New York by the legislature of the State. Therefore, within each State a reorganisation of local government is possible. Again, by taking extreme cases an unfair impression is produced. The average State or Canton (say Wisconsin or Freiburg) is a convenient body to interpose between the national government and the smaller local groups. There is, Edition: current; Page: [119] besides, a tendency towards adjustment between the habits of a people and its indigenous institutions. The Americans and Swiss have by usage become fitted for their particular systems, which therefore work with greater ease. The distribution of the several German States is more irregular, and illustrates, as noticed before, the powerful influence of historical conditions. The principal anomaly is due to the preponderance of Prussia, compared with the very small States that form part of the empire. The internal local government of Prussia is, however, based on a well-proportioned system.1

§ 6. Applying our results to the financial question of expenditure, and its proper division, we commence with the central government. Its claims to disburse the larger part of the total public revenue are unquestionably strong. It is the representative of the nation. Other bodies exist under it, and to relieve it of undue toil, but ‘the State,’ in the popular sense of the term, is prima facie the agent in charge of all public duties. It is at once clear that all general interests ought to belong to its province. What concerns the whole community may indeed, for other valid reasons, be delegated to localities, but the fact that a public function concerns all is a weighty reason for entrusting it to the central government. A smaller body, no matter how liberal its constitution may be, cannot take the same ground. Even an absolute ruler is more likely to regard the welfare of the whole society than the representative assembly of one part of the nation's territory, while the highest security for due attention is obtained by the representation of all districts in a national legislature. This attitude of the central government is partly the consequence of the wider view that it is almost compelled to take, but it is also partly due to the higher intelligence and skill that it has at its disposal. For tasks in which these elements are Edition: current; Page: [120] of importance, the superiority of the central administration is generally apparent. A third circumstance in many cases favours the centralisation of certain classes of state duties—those namely in which unity and co-ordination are required. Though division of labour is beneficial, its combination is no less so, and public duties that need combination will naturally be placed under a single control. It would be too much to assert that these conditions have completely determined the actual sphere of the national government in modern countries; it would be a gross exaggeration to say that they have done so consciously. There is, however, much truth in the doctrine that the actual forces which they describe have generally had a powerful effect.

The sphere of local agencies in directing expenditure can be indicated by reference to conditions strongly contrasting with those just described, which make it expedient to call into play the administrative energies of the smaller territorial bodies. As the central power guards the general interest, so do the representatives of localities best attend to their particular interests. ‘That people manage their own affairs best’ is not universally true, but it has sufficient truth to justify the entrusting of local matters to the several localities affected. A second case in which local is superior to central administration occurs wherever minute supervision is required. Central authorities, though possessed of superior skill and intelligence, often fail through the difficulty of regulating from a distance operations that need unfailing attention and watchfulness. It is to this circumstance that we must attribute the almost universal devolution of the smaller parts of economic administration, as it is to it that we probably owe the origin of the attempts at decentralisation on the part of the general government. Finally, it is expedient to place the charge of public duties in the hands of the smaller bodies, when diversity rather than unity is needed. Some of the forms of state action are not suitable for being conducted on a uniform pattern. Edition: current; Page: [121] Special conditions and habits have to be taken into account, so that the very tendency to adopt different methods becomes a benefit instead of an injury. We thus reach the result, that if attention to the general welfare, the command of higher intelligence and skill, and the power of unity in action are advantages possessed by the central government, regard to local interests, attention to details, and possibilities of judicious variety in practice will be best secured by local management.

Like conditions help to determine the functions of the intermediate public organs. A county administration has the same superiority over a parochial one that the national one has over it, and it is inferior in the same respects. An American State holds a similar position in respect to the smaller local divisions. Its sphere of action has to be limited in both directions by reference to the general principles already noticed. When we come to such important divisions as the State of New York or the administrative county of London, restrictions on their functions are dictated rather by considerations of national unity than by defects of organisation. The position of the larger German States—Baden and Saxony, and still more Bavaria and Würtemberg—in the distribution of power can hardly be settled by reference to principle. It will rather depend on a compromise between their claims to complete self government and the need for greater unity of the empire.

§ 7. Taking up in order the different forms of public expenditure, we find it easy to understand the reasons for making the military and naval forces a national charge Security is the greatest general interest of a society; the appliances and organisation necessary for successful defence tax severely the highest powers of human intelligence; and unity of management is of great advantage in warfare. Consequently the cost of war and preparation for it always comes from the national budget. Germany and Switzerland still preserve some traces of the older independence of their component parts, but the German forces are in fact Edition: current; Page: [122] completely under imperial control, and their cost is defrayed from imperial funds.1 One of the most decisive marks of union between hitherto independent States is the formation of a common army.

The cost of Justice also seems most fitly to belong to the general expenditure. It figures in all national budgets, but some of the charge may be thrown on localities. In a Federal State the subordinate courts are usually reserved by the separate units, but the Judiciary of the union becomes a general charge. The reason of this division is plainly historical, and as there is no pressing necessity for complete unity in the judicial organisation, it is allowed to continue. The importance of distinguishing between federal and state law is a further ground for separating the central and local courts. Uniformity in law and in its administration is such a benefit to a society that, unless under special circumstances, it is advisable to place it in the hands of the national government. Efficiency, too, is increased by removing the judges from the distracting influence of local feeling that is sure to affect them when they are appointed and paid by the district in which they act.

Police, and the treatment of criminals, cannot be definitely assigned to either department. On the one hand, it is certainly advantageous to have these matters arranged on general principles. All members of the nation are interested in the preservation of internal order in every part of their country. No district should be allowed so to relax its prison administration as to offer inducements to a criminal class to congregate within it;2 but on the other hand, the Edition: current; Page: [123] benefits in closer supervision and greater economy when the duty is entrusted to localities are a considerable set-off; besides, the principal interest of good order is found in the case of those resident in the district. A practical solution is generally discovered in a division of the duties, combined with regulations as to the distribution of the burdens imposed.

Administrative duties have also been divided, and though, in most countries, no attempt has been made to settle the partition on intelligible principles, usually in conformity to the guiding conditions indicated above. Where wide general interests, requiring a high degree of skill from those who control them, are involved, the central government has been the acting body. In smaller and more detailed matters the local governments have undertaken the task.

The relief of distress was primarily a local duty. During the development of the English Poor Law, previous to 1834, the whole system of management was left to the small unit of the parish, and though this arrangement led to much irregularity, it afforded examples of the best method of administration, which were utilised by the reformed system.1 Local administration and charge do, however, give rise to difficulties; in particular the question of the domicile or ‘settlement’ of those relieved becomes a constant subject of dispute. ‘The birthplace and dwelling of the foremost peer,’ says Mr. McNeil-Caird, ‘the birthplace and dwelling of Newton, Shakespeare, Milton, or Burns were never investigated with half the eagerness, or a tenth of the expense, that is freely spent as to the birth and residence of a pauper.’2 The injustices attending the distribution of the cost are always perplexing, but local direction and Edition: current; Page: [124] management under central regulation presents, on the whole, the least objectionable method.

In dealing with education, it is at once obvious that elementary teaching has a closer relation to separate localities, resembling, in this respect, poor-relief. Particular circumstances so far affect it that there is reason for making it, at least in part, a local charge; but it is also a general interest affecting the well-being of the whole society, and requiring for its proper working a great amount of trained intelligence, which can be best supplied by the central government. The higher grades of education do not admit of the same degree of localisation. Universities in especial bear a distinctly national character, and are therefore, so far as they receive public aid, rightly a national charge. Other appliances for instruction and the promotion of culture are provided both from general and local sources, though it is hard to determine what should be the exact position of each in the matter.

Wherever the support of religion is a public function, it is met from the national budget, or at least by national endowments, the cases where local bodies pay for religious services being simply compensation for work done, as in the case of union chaplains, &c.

The principle of general or particular interest explains the division of the economic duties of the State. What affects the whole society is done by the central government; what is specially needed by a locality or minor division is usually done by it. Here, however, there are exceptions. Works too extensive for the resources of a district are undertaken by the central administration, or aid is given to the subordinate authorities that direct and manage them. In this department of expenditure the smaller bodies are more likely to become embarrassed than is the central state authority. Their available funds are not of such vast extent, and change more speedily in amount owing to their limited area. Local administration, besides, in reference to public works is more liable to suffer Edition: current; Page: [125] from the private interests that affect all public ceremony.1 The modern credit system, however, affords facilities for expenditure based on a pledge of the property of the district that will not be felt at once, but will prove a continuous charge. It is in respect of this so-called ‘reproductive’ outlay that the difficulties of local finance are at present most serious.

Finally, with regard to what we have called constitutional expenditure, the boundary line is plain and simple. Each part generally pays for its own outlay. Members of the central executive and legislature are paid from the central budget. The officials and subordinate legislators of states, cantons, or municipalities are paid from the budget with which they are connected. As an exception, the charge of all elections is sometimes a local one, but it is so on the ground that it is really a local interest.

§ 8. It thus appears that on a broad view, and with full allowance for the influence of previous history and special circumstances in each case, there is a tendency to distribute functions, and therefore expenditure, in accordance with the principles that we have seen in operation. Some additional reasons for particular forms of distribution may be noted here: they are really expansions of those already pointed out.

First, particular duties are often given to, or withheld from, local bodies on the ground that they are well or ill suited, as the case may be, to bring the cost of the service home to those who benefit by it. This, however, is merely an application of the principle that particular interests belong to those concerned in them, and a further reason for that policy. The division of control over outlay, so as to secure justice in the apportionment of the burden, can be realised in another way, viz. by a readjustment of receipts between the central and local governments. A further ground for limiting local duties is sometimes found in the existing division of general and local taxation. Edition: current; Page: [126] Where, as in some countries, local revenues are rigidly restricted in amount, it is evidently impossible to place duties involving much extra cost on them. Here, too, the true explanation is found in the narrowness of the local interest that has led to the limitation on its taxing power, and it can be remedied, either by removing the restraint, or, as in recent English legislation, by a transfer of part of the general revenue. By dexterous use of the latter method it is possible to combine the great aim in expenditure—the maximum return for outlay with that in the collection of revenue—a just distribution of burdens.1

§ 9. Some further characteristics of local finance in relation to expenditure require attention. We have seen the classes of duties that local bodies deal with, and that they are mainly of an economic character, at least in so far that advantage and cost can be somewhat definitely measured. This feature suggests, as we saw, a comparison with private economic associations; and though the resemblance is closest in the industrial domain,2 it also appears with regard to expenditure. There is, however, one essential difference. The private company is formed on a voluntary basis. No one is compelled to enter it against his will; a local governmental body has compulsory powers, and is therefore more particularly in need of being kept within bounds in its action, and of being compelled to act when circumstances require it. Some of the duties in its charge are general state tasks, delegated for motives of convenience. These it cannot be allowed to neglect. Otherwise provisions for poor relief, education, or police of the highest value might be rendered utterly useless by hostility on the part of the local administrators. In other cases, where the task is of purely local interest, as e.g. water-supply, a minority of the inhabitants may suffer from the ignorance or carelessness of the majority, when also there is ground for interference by the central power. Such cases make Edition: current; Page: [127] supervision and regulation of the various divisions a necessity of good government. To insist on the discharge of certain functions, to prevent an undue extension of others, and, finally, to protect the interests of individuals against encroachments by local authorities, becomes an important state work.1 An organisation connecting the local and central bodies is needed, and has been developed in most countries. The English Poor Law Board—becoming later on the Local Government Board—is a good example. So are the many Commissions in the American States; while similar results are attained in another way by the bureaucratic systems of France, Germany, and Italy. The need of securing due discharge of duties imposed, avoidance of expenses in directions not allowed by law, and moderation in the exercise of expenditure, even on lawful objects, has brought about a system that shows in the clearest way how all expenditure, local as well as general, is really one, and has to be combined in order to judge correctly of the pressure of the State and its organisation on the national resources.

The value of this conception of the unity of state services in helping to form a more accurate idea of the amount of public expenditure will be better realised by reference to the following table:—

Table (000's omitted).
Country. Central. Local. Total. Percentage of total expenditure by Local Government.
2 The local expenditure is somewhat underrated owing to defective returns. According to the American Census of 1890, the distribution of expenditure amongst the different authorities was as follows:—
National Government ... ... ... 352,218,614
States and Territories ... ... ... 77,105,911
Counties ... ... ... ... .... ... 114,575,401
Municipalities ... ... ... ... ... 232,988,592
Public Schools ... ... ... ... ... 139,065,537
County and municipal expenditure is partly estimated.
The Census Report of 1900 in its full form is not yet available.
£ £ £
France (1899) 143,576 44,720 188,296 23.72
Italy (1897–8) 67,689 31,088 98,776 31.3
United Kingdom (1898–9) 108,150 79,300 187,450 42.3
United States (1890) 70,443 112,747 183,190 61.5
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Some writers on finance have included in their discussions an examination of the finance of ‘State Confederations’ (Staatenbünde) and also of Colonies,1 but neither seems entitled to a distinct place. There is a decided difference between a federal State and a confederation of a group of States. The former is a true political unit, and one of the points of unity is financial; the latter can be resolved into its component parts, each with a separate financial system. The resources of a confederacy are always derivative, and are obtained from the separate States. The old German Bund (1815–1866) may be contrasted with the existing German Empire as effectively illustrating this essential distinction.

But though in general the line of division is a clear one, some difficulty occurs—as is so often the case in political and social inquiries—in respect to societies in a transitional condition. The American Confederation in the period 1776–89, and the Swiss Confederation, 1816–1848, may be taken as examples. In such instances we find a new financial organisation in course of development, the older bodies being gradually merged in a new and larger whole. The best method of treatment is to start from the consideration of the separate parts and show how they become effectively combined in the natural course of events.

The financial position of such a composite State as Austria-Hungary is another difficult question; but here, again, the parts take precedence of the combination, which is strictly dependent for its revenue on the contributions of its components. The revenue of Austria-Hungary is formed from expenditure by Austria or Hungary. A further consideration to be borne in mind is the determination of the amount of contribution on the basis of treaty or contract, which will presumably be calculated in proportion to the benefit received by each portion. The whole arrangement is therefore one of international rather than public law.

Like considerations are applicable to Colonial finance. It is perfectly correct to combine the central and local finance of the United Kingdom into a single whole. A similar attempt with the British, Canadian, and Indian Edition: current; Page: [129] financial systems would be absurd.1 The conditions of unity do not exist. The very conception of a financial system depends on the existence of the single State which has created it. Any departure from this fundamental principle must produce confusion.

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CHAPTER VIII: some general questions of expenditure

§ 1. State outlay, like that of the individual, may be distinguished into normal or ‘ordinary,’ and abnormal or ‘extraordinary.’ These terms almost explain themselves, but may be thus contrasted. Normal expenditure is that which recurs at stated periods and in a regular manner; it is accordingly capable of being estimated and provided for. Extraordinary expenditure has to be made at indefinite times and for uncertain amounts, and it cannot be reckoned for with any approach to accuracy. The distinction is not always applied in the same way,1 and indeed the boundary line is not to be quite sharply drawn. Most heads of outlay vary from time to time, and any increase may so far be regarded as extraordinary, the ‘ordinary’ charges being those that, like the English Civil List, are fixed for a long term. In practice, however, very close estimates can be made of probable expenditure, small increases in some directions being compensated by savings in others.2 To use the distinction to the best advantage, we shall confine it to marking the difference between the usual expenditure and unanticipated extra demands, arising in most cases from fresh calls on the State. We should describe the usual Edition: current; Page: [131] annual expenditure on military and naval forces, the cost of justice and education, as normal or ‘ordinary.’ The cost of a war, or expenditure for the relief of distress in a sudden emergency, is, on the other hand, plainly ‘extraordinary’ or abnormal. No French financier could have foreseen the burdens that the Franco-German war of 1870–1 would impose on his country; nor, though the probability of disturbance was recognised in the United States for some years before the Civil War, could there be any calculation of its expense.1 Even after the outbreak of a war the difficulty of forecasting expenditure is very great. The first estimate by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the expense of the South African War was £10,000,000, part of which would, he held, be recovered. Eighteen months later, he announced that the cost incurred up to that date reached £150,000,000. In like manner it is not open to the English Government to provide beforehand for Irish distress, or for Indian administrators to say whether their finances will be disturbed by famine. War and—in backward countries—distress approaching to famine are events that do recur, and though it is not possible to forecast their effects on public expenditure for short periods, they ought to be taken into account in the general financial scheme. The famine fund of the Indian Government was a recognition of the correctness of this principle, and though the cost of war does not admit of the same mode of treatment, it is sound policy to reduce liabilities in time of peace, so as to secure some relief in the extraordinary charge in the time of war.2

It thus appears that, by taking a sufficiently lengthy period into consideration, the separation between normal Edition: current; Page: [132] and abnormal outlay may be so attenuated as almost to disappear. The conception is a vague one. ‘It indicates,’ as Cohn remarks, ‘an undeveloped stage of economic thought,’1 to be replaced by the more careful estimation of the future. State economy expands both in bulk and duration. The expenditure of e.g. England under the Tudors was likely to show ‘extraordinary,’ i.e. unusual, elements in matters that are at present well within the prevision of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When the outlay is measured by thousands, a variation in hundreds is serious; but when it reaches millions, changes of thousands are trifling, besides being balanced through savings in some other parts of expenditure. There is also in modern States a greater facility for foreseeing and, so to say, ‘discounting’ the future. The refined financial mechanism by which public borrowing is carried out enables ‘extraordinary’ expenditure for a short period to be transformed into ‘ordinary’ expenditure for a long one.

Still, the development just noted does not remove completely the dividing-line between the two classes of expenditure. We shall find later on2 that both on financial and political grounds it is eminently desirable to have the estimates and results of national finance set forth fully and in unity at short intervals, usually in practice annually. But during such a period it must sometimes happen that the amount to be paid out of the National Exchequer will be much above the average, and it follows as a matter of course that the expenditure is then ‘abnormal.’ What modern finance can accomplish is to secure a more even distribution of the pressure.

Another point for consideration is found in the fact that what is at first extraordinary may soon become ordinary expenditure. At the outbreak of war the cost of the army and fleet will be greatly increased, giving rise to abnormal outlay, but after a time, say after the first year, a probable estimate of the expenses to be incurred in the prosecution Edition: current; Page: [133] of the war will not be so difficult. The financial history of England affords several illustrations. During the century and a quarter from 1688 to 1815 there were the following war periods: 1688–1697, 1702–1713, 1718–1721, 1739–1748, 1756–1763, 1776–1783, 1793–1802, 1803–1815. At the commencement of each period expenditure was greatly increased, but when the state of hostility became a settled one, it was possible for, and therefore incumbent on, the Minister in charge of the finances to present the outlay on war as part of the ordinary expenditure. Under such conditions the charge for war became the normal charge of an abnormal period.

Abnormal expenditure also frequently occurs in a somewhat different way, as in the case of durable public works or other improvements. It may be a part of state policy to erect extensive public buildings; to carry out a system of fortifications, of railroads, or canals; to drain and plant waste lands; to promote colonisation, or to develop an industry that requires the aid of fixed capital. Innumerable examples of such forms of expenditure are found in connexion with local government: the acquisition of the industries engaged in supplying large towns with water and light will at once occur. Outlay of this kind is, in mercantile phraseology, ‘chargeable to capital, not to revenue,’ and is clearly abnormal. The method almost invariably adopted is to meet the abnormal outlay by an abnormal receipt, viz. borrowing; or, to put the point in another way, to turn the extraordinary expense of a given year into the ordinary one of interest on debt.1

Much ingenious argument has been advanced in favour of borrowing for all such extraordinary expenditure, on the ground that it is in substance a creation or investment of capital, which is an asset to be placed against the new Edition: current; Page: [134] liability.1 The plausibility of this doctrine in its extreme form arises from failing to notice the different effects that may follow from different forms of state expenditure.

§ 2. For understanding the point it is necessary to separate state outlay into ‘productive’ and ‘unproductive,’ using these terms in the sense given to them by Adam Smith.2 The former does, in fact, secure a return in the shape of material goods possessing value, and it may be said that expenditure of this kind is admissible even by the aid of loans. The general category of productive expenditure will, however, be found to need further analysis. It is not at all difficult for the central and local governments to expend a great deal in obtaining articles that possess value but yet will not yield revenue. For instance, the many buildings existing in the United Kingdom for the meetings of legislative bodies, sovereign and subordinate—from the Houses of Parliament down to the smallest town-hall—are certainly embodiments of value, but do not, except in very rare cases, bring in a return. They are ‘consumers’ capital,’ and their cost must be supplied from other sources. In contrast to the foregoing are those forms of wealth that return a revenue by their use as ‘producers’ capital.’ Municipal gas and water works belong to this class; so do the Continental state railways. The policy of expenditure on such works is plainly to be judged, partly at least, as a question of investment. Public bodies may succeed in realising good value for their outlay. It is perhaps on the whole best to divide expenditure into ‘economic’ and ‘non-economic’ rather than into productive and non-productive; outlay for the purpose of securing future revenue being economic, while that which will not have this result is non-economic.3 The expediency of economic outlay is really a question Edition: current; Page: [135] closely connected with the formation of state property and the (so-called) private revenue, and has to be treated under that head.1 Non-economic outlay includes the procuring of material goods that are not productive capital, as well as the cost of those public services that take no tangible form. It may be, and often is, more necessary than pure economic expenditure, but it cannot be regarded as a creation of capital. National security and honour, the promotion of culture and education, may be better than wealth, but they are not wealth, and their cost is so far a deduction from the stock or accumulated wealth of the society. They belong to consumption, not to production, and the outlay on them has to be limited by economic considerations. Thus this case is closely parallel to that of the individual, whose expenses, for enjoyment, general education, &c., reduce his economic resources, and have to be limited by the amount of his income.

Some expenditure, both of individuals and of public bodies, may prove to be indirectly productive. What a person spends on recreation may so improve his health, both physical and mental, as to make his labour more efficient. The State may likewise, by its maintenance of a powerful army and navy, or an active police, increase the production of wealth, and in practice all public expenditure has this amongst other aims in view.2

§ 3. Though public and private expenditure have so many points of resemblance, there is one very important difference. The individual's income is formed by the returns on his property and the reward of his exertions. Public income or revenue is to some extent composed of similar constituents, but in modern times it is mainly derived from contributions levied compulsorily on the members of the society: that is to say, state income or revenue is derivative, and is dependent on national income; local public revenue is in like manner derived from the revenue of the community in its locality.

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This connexion of public and national revenue has been recognised from the earliest days of finance: it is to it that we owe in great measure the commercial policy of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Physiocrats also accepted it, as Quesnay's famous maxim ‘pauvres paysans, pauvre royaume; pauvre royaume, pauvre roi’ shows. It is an essential doctrine of modern theory, though there is not perfect agreement on the question whether it is on ‘net’ or ‘gross’ national revenue that state income depends.1 There can be no doubt that a small nation, with little accumulated wealth, cannot adopt the same scale of outlay as a larger and wealthier one, and one of the rules of good finance is to observe moderation in the demands of the State on its citizens. Beyond this general precept no definite result has been reached. Some writers have suggested a percentage limit for state outlay. Justi regards 16 per cent. as the average, 25 per cent. as excessive. Hock states 15 per cent. as the upper limit. Leroy-Beaulieu, who confines his discussion to the amount of taxation, arranges the charge on national income for state ends in grades: 5 per cent. he thinks light, between 5 and 10 per cent. moderate, over the latter figure heavy, and when 15 to 16 per cent. is reached it is almost impossible to increase it.2 Any attempt to settle once for all the proper proportion of public expenditure to national income is necessarily vitiated by the different elements to be taken into account; such as (1) the purpose of the outlay; if it has an economic end a larger amount may be taken, since it is expected to yield a direct return, and even if not for economic ends, no decision can be made until the urgency of the want is known. A nation engaged in a conflict perhaps involving its national existence is justified in expenditure that would in ordinary times be imprudent. (2) The amount Edition: current; Page: [137] of the national income is also a factor to be considered. Expenditure requiring 10 per cent. of the annual income of India would be much more burdensome than if 30 per cent. were to be required in England or the United States. (3) The distribution and the forms of wealth, though less in importance, have some effect on spending power. The bounds of outlay in any given case can only be ascertained by trial, though it is plain that the agreement of the writers referred to above supports the belief that 15 per cent. of the national income is too large an amount to appropriate for state objects, unless in very exceptional cases.

§ 4. Other methods of measuring the proper amount of state expenditure are still more doubtful. We might take the proportion to area as a guide, were it not for the fact that the extreme differences in the value of land in different countries, as also the varying proportions that other forms of wealth bear to land, make this test fallacious. The amount of accumulated wealth, as estimated in modern statistical inquiries,1 might be used, but we shall find that income (not property) is the fund out of which in ordinary cases expenditure has to be met, and the relation of income to property varies. A very commonly used index is the charge per head of population, though for this purpose it is far inferior even to the amount of property. An attempt to measure the comparative pressure caused by expenditure in India and in the Australasian Colonies, based on taking the charge per head, would give the astonishing result that it was about nineteen-fold heavier in the latter.2

Such considerations lead to the belief—which indeed ought to be obvious—that there is no mechanical mode of judging the sufficiency or the legitimacy of public expenditure, a belief that is strengthened by remembering Edition: current; Page: [138] that local expenditure must be added to that of the central government before the full pressure can be known, and that a series of complicated calculations is needed to apportion the combined charges over the several districts.

Fortunately the question of expenditure in all its forms does not present itself as a single problem. It would be quite hopeless to attempt to prepare a budget of outlay for any country without the aid of the material collected during previous experience. The great mass of expenditure is taken as settled, and it is only the particular changes for each year that have to be weighed in order to estimate their probable advantage. This method of treatment simplifies the issues very much. In the language of modern economists, it is ‘final’ rather than ‘total’ expenditure that needs the financier's attention.1

§ 5. The usual form that deliberation has to take is that of considering the advisability of increased expenditure. Theoretically it is of course equally possible to debate the benefits of retrenchment, but in nearly all modern States outlay is steadily increasing. The older doctrines of economy and frugality have disappeared, and in nearly every direction proposals for new exertions on the part of the State are put forward.2

First as to the facts: we may take a few typical examples. English expenditure in 1833 was 48¾ millions, in 1898–9 it was over 108 millions, or an increase of nearly 60 millions. But as 1833 marks the lowest point of English general expenditure, it will be fairer to take another set of examples given by Mr. Gladstone.

‘The gross expenditure of the State was in 1842–3 Edition: current; Page: [139] £55,223,000, and the local expenditure in the three kingdoms was £13,224,000, making a total in round numbers of £68,500,000. In 1853–4 the total state expenditure was £55,769,000, or very nearly the same amount as in 1842–3, and the local expenditure £15,819,000; making together in round numbers £71,500,000, instead of the £68,500,000 which was the amount in 1842–3. In the year 1859–60 the gross state expenditure had grown from £55,769,000, which it was in 1853, to £70,123,000. The local expenditure, no doubt actuated by a spirit of honourable rivalry, had increased in the same period from £15,819,000, which it was in 1853, to at least £17,458,000, and probably something more; the total expenditure for the year 1859–60 thus reached £87,697,000 [?]. Accordingly it appears that in the eleven years from 1842–3 to 1853–4 the expenditure of the country under the two comprehensive heads which I have mentioned increased at the rate of 4½ per cent., nearly the whole of the increase being local; while in the six years which have elapsed between 1853 and 1859 it became much more mercurial, and increased at the rate of 22½ per cent., by far the larger part and greater rate of increase being now imperial.’1

To complete the illustration, we may state that for the year 1879–80 the national expenditure had risen to £82,184,000 (or, deducting the imperial contributions for local purposes, which came to £3,396,000, £78,788,000), and the local expenditure to £61,174,000, making a total of £139,962,000, e.g. an increase over 1859–60 of almost 60 per cent.; that in 1889–90 the national expenditure was £86,083,000, and the local expenditure £67,120,000, giving a total outlay of £153,203,000 (or, deducting imperial contributions to the amount of £2,470,000, £150,733,000), being an increase of 82¼ millions over the expenditure of 1842–3, i.e. 120 per cent.; and finally, as already shown, that in 1898–9 the national expenditure was £108,150,000 and Edition: current; Page: [140] the local £79,300,000, i.e., a total of £187,450,000, or an increase of 25 per cent. over the expenditure of 1889–90.

France presents a similar movement. In 1820 the general expenditure was 906 million francs, by 1860 it had reached 2,084 million francs, or much over double; more precisely, 130 per cent. The expenditure for 1899 exceeded 3,589 million francs, or a growth since 1860 of over 72 per cent.1

The Italian expenditure of 1861 was 812 million lire: the estimate for 1901–2 is 1,728 million lire, an increase of 916 million lire, giving a growth in 40 years of 112 per cent.

The Prussian budget in 1849 was 282 million marks; in 1865 it had grown to nearly 507 million marks. Since the formation of the North German Confederation (1866) and the German Empire (1871) the increase has continued, the actual expenditure in 1889–90 was 1,831 million marks, and the estimates for 1902–3, 2,350 million marks. The Prussian Budget for 1901 is 2,614 million marks.2

The smaller German States exhibit like features. Bavaria spent 32 million marks in 1819–20; the expenditure for 1889 was 260 million marks, and the estimated expenditure for 1893 came to 306 million marks.

In Austria, Russia, and even in small States like Belgium, we find the same general tendency towards increased outlay. In the last-mentioned country, whose administration has been well conducted, the expenditure in 1835 was 87 million francs; for 1890 it was 417 million francs, making almost a five-fold increase. For 1900 the expenditure was estimated at 451 million francs.

So well established is the general fact of increasing outlay—and whoever doubts it need only run over the examples just given—that even conservative writers on finance, such as Roscher and Umpfenbach, lay it down as a general law Edition: current; Page: [141] of progress;1 and they explain it by reference to the increasing demands made by society on the modern State. ‘What judgment should we pass,’ asks the former, ‘on a government that, after the manner of the Middle Ages, did not trouble itself about the health, mental training, maintenance, or enriching of the people?’ And so far there is no doubt that the intensifying of state duties is one cause of the almost universal increase. In previous chapters we have seen how the cost of defence, of administration, and the minor needs of civilisation have gone to swell the growing totals of modern budgets, and in each case special causes have appeared that went far to explain the final result.

Before collecting these, it may be well to correct to some extent the impression that increasing figures of outlay are apt to produce. Leroy-Beaulieu remarks2 that one cause of the general increase is to be found in the depreciation of the precious metals. As expenditure is estimated in terms of money, any change in the value of the circulating medium should be taken into account, and the application of some test as to the reduced purchasing power of money would considerably alter the figures for the earlier part of the period that we have taken, i.e. from 1820 to 1870, but for the last thirty years the correction would act in the other direction. Increases in outlay since 1873 would certainly mean more than the amount as measured in money, so that we cannot place much stress on this part of the explanation of increase. Another element is, however, important. In most countries population is growing, and national income grows with it; and in the exceptional cases where, as in France, population is stationary, income is increasing. It is not, therefore, certain that the proportion of public outlay to national income has become greater. Moreover—and this is the most important consideration—the extension of the economic activity of the State in certain directions has been accompanied by a Edition: current; Page: [142] passage of special industries from private to public management. As a necessary consequence, public expenditure and income are both increased without the real pressure on the people becoming greater. It may be that in this tendency there lies, in Roscher's phrase, ‘ein communistischer Zug,’ and it is plain that the transfer in this manner of all industries means the establishment of socialism pure and simple. But apart from its economic reactions, a writer on finance is not entitled to absolutely condemn this movement. His duty is, however, to point out that comparison between the expenditure of a State with large industrial enterprises in its charge and one without them is illegitimate unless due correction is made. To take a simple illustration, it is plain that if the State purchased the English railways, and the accounts entered into the national budget (as they should), both expenditure and income would be largely increased. This has actually happened in Prussia, and explains a large part of the increased outlay in that country.1

Notwithstanding these extenuations, there has been, we believe, an increase in expenditure that is not balanced by receipts from the property of the State, and this larger outlay may be attributed to the following causes:—

(1) The cost of war and preparation for war. We need not repeat the details already given on this subject,2 but we ought to emphasise the general fact. The annual military and naval expenditure of Europe approaches £300,000,000, and the disturbance to industry, the apprehension of hostilities, and above all the interest on debts incurred for the most part for the purpose of war, considerably increase the burden.3 As if to enable us to judge of its effects, a test case has been provided in the condition of the United Edition: current; Page: [143] States, which further shows that it is not war, but the necessity of constant readiness for it, that affects most injuriously the economic interests of nations.1

(2) A second cause is to be found in the extension of administrative action. To maintain a large staff of competent officials considerable outlay is needed, much of it necessarily wasteful. It may be that a great deal of official work does with advantage to society what men are too busy or too careless to do for themselves. Perhaps also it checks some moral and social evils, but, financially speaking, it is undoubtedly costly, and if the end could be otherwise gained it would be an economic benefit.

To these causes many would add a third—the progress of democracy.2 It is argued that a widely extended suffrage lowers the standard of legislatures, and that under the influence of socialistic ideas the expenses of the State are increased. There is probably some truth in this doctrine. The ‘new radicalism’ is not desirous of economy in expenditure,3 and it may be freely conceded that ‘democratic finance’ is remarkable for its disregard of principles and its utter incapacity to measure financial forces; but on the whole it cannot be said that Russian finance, which is certainly not democratic, is much superior in these respects. Nor is it plain that English finance before the Reform Act of 1832 was worthy of commendation. The socialistic element which has an injurious effect on finance is not an essential part of modern democracy. The technical administration of revenue and expenditure is also likely to suffer while under the control of an untrained democracy. But allowing all this, the real enemy Edition: current; Page: [144] of sound finance is ignorance on the part both of rulers and ruled, and this is unfortunately too common under all forms of government.

§ 6. Any discussion of public expenditure that neglected to notice its influence on national and social economy would be incomplete. The State, through its central and local organs, is by far the greatest purchaser of goods and employer of services: it can in this way powerfully influence prices and wages, and through that influence affect the distribution of wealth. The sum of £150,000,000 annually disbursed (after allowing for the amount that goes as interest on loans, which operate on the money market) must both by its great amount and its changed direction alter the structure of the British national industries. Demand for commodities determines the direction that production will take, and consequently the form of labour in many cases depends on the policy of the State; so also do the rates of remuneration and the conditions of employment.1 The economic systems of Germany and the United States owe their different features largely to the special direction of state activity in each country. The technical arrangements for the supply of commodities for public requirements are a serious consideration for administrators, owing to their ulterior effects. Government manufacture is liable to the evils of expense and inferiority in quality of products, but the alternative method of purchase in the open market, necessarily carried out through agents, is not free from similar evils. In particular, the result of giving contracts at the lowest tender has been vehemently assailed by reformers as tending to lower wages.2 The direct employment of services or labour by the State gives rise to further complications. Hiring on the ordinary system and at the market rate is impossible in the case of the higher officials, while for Edition: current; Page: [145] military and naval services special conditions of engagement are needed. The great extent and variety of the general Civil Service make the determination of its proper remuneration a question of much difficulty. To avoid the political evils that short tenure—as in the American system—causes, its members ought to be permanently employed. Permanence in state service soon affects private employers, who will have to give either like security of tenure or better pay.1 In every part of national life this influence of state expenditure is felt, and is becoming greater.2

The great and increasing importance of state outlay does not, however, afford a presumption that the movement is advantageous. The current of modern sentiment runs as strongly at present in favour of state action as it did fifty years ago against it, but neither tendency can be its own justification; both have to be judged on the grounds of reason and experience. Some popular arguments for state expenditure may be at once dismissed. Perhaps the crudest is that which regards the State as affording employment, and imagines that if war and the other conditions which call for state services were to cease, there would be no field for the labour of those now employed as soldiers, policemen, and officials. This obvious fallacy arises from entirely overlooking the previous existence in private hands of the funds collected by the State as its income, and which would afford like employment, but on other lines: the best practical refutation is, however, found in the ease with which the enormous expenditure of the United States during the Civil War was reduced at its conclusion, and the military forces absorbed in various industrial employments.3 Expenditure of itself Edition: current; Page: [146] is plainly not a good; it has to be judged by its object, i.e. by the benefits obtained in return for the sacrifices made. By taking this view we avoid the opposite fallacy that all state outlay is bad, or at all events that the less the expenditure the better. This doctrine, though accepted by Say and Ricardo,1 is palpably incorrect, since it takes no account of one of the two factors in the problem. It is not true that the cheapest article is the best, nor is ‘the cheapest State’ the most serviceable. That state organisation is the best and really the cheapest which, all elements of the question being taken into account, gives the greatest amount of benefit to its citizens and provides best for the future progress of the nation.

APPENDIX.: On the Classification and Guiding Maxims of Public Expenditure.

The rapid development of financial study in recent years has led to a careful examination of the more backward divisions of the subject, in order to bring them into scientific form. The theory of state expenditure has naturally attracted a large part of this fresh energy. The undue neglect of the earlier English and French writers2 has been replaced by rather elaborate critical discussion. But it is nevertheless true that the difficulties of the question have not by any means been removed. No one has as yet propounded a system of arrangement and a body of rules applicable to public expenditure which could claim to be of the same character and fundamental importance as those established for public revenue, and particularly for taxation. This failure is undoubtedly due to the peculiarities of the subject-matter, and is closely paralleled by, if not in a sense identical with, the case of the theory of consumption in Economics, as contrasted with that of production or distribution.

There is, however, some advantage to be obtained by considering the suggestions put forward by the able writers who have endeavoured to throw further light on the matter.

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First, we may notice the ingenious development of a conception, presented in a less elaborate form by Cohn, which appears in Professor Plehn's textbook.1 This system groups the several kinds of expenditure with reference to the benefit that they confer. From the great class of expenditure which confers ‘a common benefit on all citizens’ there is a transition through the intermediate forms of outlay that (1) are special, but treated as common, and (2) confer both special and common benefit to that class which confers ‘only a special benefit on individuals.’ There are thus four sections or heads of expenditure, each of which makes a separate category, and it is claimed that on this basis a satisfactory—and the only logical—classification can be established.2

At the first glance the arrangement appears to be convenient, but even a cursory study suffices to bring out its defects. Perhaps the most obvious is the immense difficulty of assigning the various items of outlay to the prescribed categories. May it not be truly said that all expenditure is for the public and general interest? Otherwise it should not exist. Again, it is impossible to exclude the element of special advantage, even in the case of the first class. There are surpluses of utility accruing to some individuals from the expenditure for national defence or internal security. Thus the four classes may be reduced to one—the third in order.3

Still more serious is the fact that the allotment will vary according to the views of the arranger. Expenditure that one writer would put under a particular head will be assigned a different place by another. The classification—to state the point definitely—rests on a subjective rather than an objective basis. This would seem, of itself, enough to condemn it as a scientific solution of the problem. Prof. Plehn, indeed, in his treatment of the contents of the different classes, supplies examples which support this criticism. Thus, e.g. pensions as the recognition of service belong to class one, but when they are improperly bestowed they come under class two. How hopeless it would be to apply such a test the history of the English Pension List proves.4 In truth, the test of graduated benefit is as unsatisfactory as one of graduated disutility would be for taxation.

Another theory is given in the work of Prof. Adams, in which the functions of the State are regarded as, after due analysis, affording a clue to the law of public expenditure. Governmental functions may be analysed into three classes—protective, commercial, and developmental. This classification also permits the framing of general laws as to the relative movement of the different groups. The cost of the protective function will decline. while that of the commercial one will probably, and that of the developmental one will certainly, increase with the progress of society.5

In this case also the difficulty of determining the proper head to which the Edition: current; Page: [148] several concrete items of expense are to be assigned is encountered. There is no doubt that what some writers would describe as protective outlay others would call developmental. J. S. Mill showed long ago that there is no clear-cut line between the institutions and qualities that conduce to maintain order and those that promote progress,1 and in the same way expenditure for protection helps development. Commercial expenditure, again, is justifiable only as contributing to present well-being or future progress.2 An equally unsatisfactory feature of Prof. Adams' discussion is found in the laws of movement which he formulates for the several classes. To lay down dogmatically that protective expenditure declines in the progress of society is hardly warranted by facts. If any proposition can be confidently laid down respecting the course of expenditure in the near future, it is that military and naval expenditure will increase more than in proportion to other outlay—a statement that will probably be as true of the United States as of the great European powers. Prof. Adams', like Prof. Plehn's, classification fails to present the characteristics of a grouping, logical and in accordance with fact.

More scientific than either of the preceding attempts is the treatment of public expenditure adopted by Prof. Nicholson in his recent treatise.3 After dwelling on the fact that expenditure must be regarded as co-ordinate with revenue, he classifies the forms of expenditure by reference to amount of revenue obtained in return for the services rendered. Thus the following classes may be distinguished: (1) expenditure without any direct return of revenue; (2) expenditure indirectly beneficial to revenue; (3) expenditure with partial direct return; (4) expenditure with full return or surplus profit.

Under this system the greater part of expenditure in every given State can be easily and conveniently grouped, but the difficulty remains that the dividing line is not always clearly marked, e.g. there may be doubt as to the inclusion of a particular item under head (1) or (2). Still more important is the question whether the classification is one which brings out the really essential differences in different kinds of expenditure and places these separate groups in their proper relation. It must never be forgotten that public expenditure is one division of the social consumption or using of wealth, and has, therefore, to be treated on the same principles as other forms of consumption. But it would hardly be allowable to classify the forms of private consumption by reference to the amount of income obtained in connexion with each. We could not get beyond the broad division into ‘productive’ and ‘unproductive’ consumption, which is not very illuminating as to the real character of the many sections of private outlay.

In truth, the forms of public expenditure are determined by the various needs of the State, and thus it appears that the consideration of these several wants in their concrete manifestation is, so far as inquiry has yet gone, the most convenient and instructive way of discussing this class of financial problems. No ingenuity of analysis can remove the subject of public finance Edition: current; Page: [149] from the domain of Political Science, which, in turn, takes its starting point from the institutions and activities of the State.

Similar difficulties beset the framing of general canons of expenditure. Beyond the broad rule of aiming at the maximum result, it is not easy to reach any important conclusions by the deductive method. Nor does it seem probable that the canons of taxation can, as Prof. Nicholson believes, be employed as a guide in developing equally fundamental maxims for expenditure. There are, no doubt, certain common principles running through the whole public economy, as the laws of Supply and Demand affect most economic questions. In respect to expenditure there is, however, the influence of the needs of the society, which are in a sense extra-financial. This is the element of truth contained in the view of Leroy-Beaulieu and others, who refuse to include the question of expenditure in their treatment of finance.1

If scientific principles of expenditure are developed in the future, it will be by (a) the use of the marginal doctrine applied to the last increments of outlay in each particular direction,2 and (b) the more critical examination of the actual processes by which the public economy is carried on. At all events, a long time must elapse before any rules claiming the authority that the Smithian canons of taxation have acquired can be elaborated.

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CHAPTER I: the forms and classification of public revenue

§ 1. A System of public expenditure such as has been examined in the preceding book requires as its necessary basis a corresponding public revenue. State economy is in nowise exempt from that condition of all private economies which makes it essential to provide that consumption shall be balanced by production, and that effort must be put forth in order to procure satisfaction. In respect to the public power there is a wider field, but no change in the nature of things; the correlation of exertion and enjoyment holds here as elsewhere, and if temporarily disturbed is certain to be sooner or later reestablished. All financial systems are in fact compelled to recognise the relation, though political exigencies may sometimes make it inconvenient to adopt a line of conduct completely in accordance with that recognition. Every Parliamentary Government has arrangements for raising funds as well as for granting supplies. In England the Committee of Ways and Means is parallel to the Committee of Supply, 1 as in the United States the small House Committee on Ways and Means is to the Committee on ‘Appropriations.’ The raising of revenue has to be formally separated from the more agreeable occupation of applying it for the public requirements. Edition: current; Page: [154] Public revenue being thus the counterpart or obverse of expenditure, it becomes our duty to consider its forms and sources, and to see how far they admit of logical grouping and arrangement.

§ 2. This, like most financial questions, needs to be studied at first from the historical side. The early tribe shows us expenditure and revenue in combination; the services and commodities required for public use are directly levied and applied to the particular end. 1 When once this primitive stage is passed, revenue as distinct from expenditure emerges, and its collection and administration become matters of vital concern to the growing state organisation. It is true that for a long time contributions of goods are levied in kind, but their employment is more complicated, and involves redistribution of the different forms of wealth obtained by the State. With the introduction of money, the divorce between the revenue collected and the expenditure undertaken is finally established, since public agents can directly buy what they need for the public service, while the revenue is brought in under the form of the general medium of exchange. What strikes the observer most forcibly in contemplating this development is the extreme variety of the forms of revenue or state receipts. Dues levied on land, on goods of all kinds, on the performance of different acts, in addition to the several kinds of individual revenue, are enjoyed by the State. The Egyptian revenues under the Ptolemies were of the most varied kinds. The Roman finances received contributions from very many and diverse sources, and so did the Exchequers of mediæval sovereigns. When we run over the long lists that appear in legal and historical works treating of this side of mediæval law and economy, the greatest difficulty is to reduce them to some manageable form.2 This complexity seems to have puzzled Edition: current; Page: [155] the earliest scientific students of finance. Bodin, as noticed before, arranged the sources of revenue under seven heads, but Klock, who fairly represents the German views of the seventeenth century, gives a far more extensive list. The ‘chamber science’ writers were more successful in grouping the forms of revenue under (1) those from the domain of the sovereign, (2) the so-called ‘regalia’ or prerogative rights, and (3) taxes. In Adam Smith's hands the double aspect of the State became the basis of classification. Regarded as an artificial personality, or (in the language of modern jurisprudence) ‘juristic person,’ it might hold property and engage in trade. Revenue obtained in such ways ‘peculiarly belonged to the sovereign.’ It was his quasi-private income. In another aspect, as sovereign or supreme power he was able to impose charges on the revenues of his subjects, and these contributions or ‘taxes’ formed the second group of state receipts. The simplicity and clearness of this classification commended itself to English and French writers, who have almost universally adopted it. The greater political development of France and England, by making taxation the most important part of the state income, favoured its acceptance. The remains of the feudal system were more numerous in Germany, and its methods of finance in particular, with all their variety and confusion, were slow in disappearing from that country. Consequently German Finanzwissenschaft aimed at so arranging the forms of revenue as to give harmony and consistency to the existing systems. The ‘regalia’ or prerogatives were always regarded with particular attention, and it was sought to place them alongside of taxation as a head of revenue.

Rau is in great measure responsible for another addition to the main groups, viz. that of ‘fees’ (Gebühren).1 He Edition: current; Page: [156] noticed that in many cases public institutions gave special benefits for which they charged an equivalent; e.g. in law proceedings fees were asked from the litigants. It was natural to regard this class of objects, denoted by a special name (Gebuhr), as a separate and independent form of revenue, giving as a final result that state receipts were distributed under four heads: (1) Private industry of State, (2) Prerogative rights, (3) Fees, (4) Taxes. On this classification of public revenues most of the controversies as to arrangement in German financial works turn. It is too plain for dispute that the first and fourth of the above-mentioned heads must be kept apart, but in the endeavour to bring the two intermediate divisions into some form of combination with them, great difference of opinion is to be found. Some writers oppose ‘Taxes’ to the three other forms of revenue, which are joined under some more general term.1 Others place Taxes and ‘Fees’ under one head, and oppose them to the ‘quasi-private income’ and prerogative dues, or with greater wisdom eliminate the latter from the division altogether.2 There is even a decided tendency in the latest inquirers to come back by a somewhat devious route to the plainer position of Adam Smith, and to recognise only the two great divisions of state revenue into (1) quasi-private and (2) public, though distinguishing, as he has done, the various cases of extra payment for special services.3 A detailed examination of the many points raised in the controversy on this subject of classification would lead us too far, but some of the results are too important to be altogether passed over, and must therefore be briefly noted.

Edition: current; Page: [157] § 3. First, it is abundantly established that much of the difficulty of classification arises from the historical peculiarities of different countries. The whole doctrine of the regalia is an instance in point. It was the result of attempting to apply the special German forms of revenue, due to the slow development of the financial system, as general categories suited for all times and places. A particular kind of state rights was opposed to the general state right to raise funds, of which it was but one part.

A second result of the discussions on arrangement is that the many and varied shapes of public revenue do not always admit of sharp and clear-cut divisions. Just as in economics we pass by a series of steps from the purest form of productive capital to what could not by any straining of terms be regarded as such, so do we find many transitional forms between what is the State's private income and what it gains by pure taxation. The attempt to create a co-ordinate class composed of ‘fees’ parallel to taxes is the outcome of this circumstance, as also of the want of analytic power in the originator of the classification. If Rau had recognised the frequent combination of the double elements of state industry and taxation under the apparently simple and independent form of revenue, he would have aimed at separating and assigning to its proper place each of those elements, while he duly noted the intermediate forms that presented most difficulty. The department of fees (Gebühren) touches at one end the quasi-private income of the State, and at the other, as in the case of ‘taxes on commerce,’ the field of taxation, but it has no central point possessing well-assigned and definite features, and enabling us to give a definition that is at once rational and useful in practice.

A third conclusion is also warranted, viz. that it is easy to overrate the value of precise and rigid classification. We need not deny that a good and natural grouping (i.e. a grouping in accordance with the real affinities of the objects dealt with) is very helpful both for exposition and Edition: current; Page: [158] investigation. By its aid, features of resemblance and of contrast are most easily perceived, and new and hitherto neglected relations are often suggested; but notwithstanding these undeniable advantages, the most essential matter after all is to give adequate and proper treatment to the material of study, and even with a somewhat faulty arrangement this end can be attained. And not only so; the merits of any particular classification depend partly on the end in view. In a purely historical inquiry the class of regalia is entitled to a prominence to which it has no claim when a scientific exposition of principles is specially desired. So in descriptive and statistical works the terms and divisions adopted by positive financial legislation have to be followed, subject to whatever qualifications scientific arrangement may necessitate. In an investigation of general finance, the grouping of topics ought to be based on the underlying economic and social conditions, and aim at bringing out their relations as clearly as possible.1 Besides, different arrangements naturally tend to place different parts of the subject in prominence, and thus study of a new, even if on the whole inferior, system of grouping will suggest novel points of view to the inquirer.

§ 4. We have already suggested in the preceding criticisms the arrangement that appears to be most suitable. It has now to be more fully stated. The widest division of public revenue is into (1) that obtained by the State in its various functions as a great corporation or ‘juristic person,’ operating under the ordinary conditions that govern individuals or private companies, and (2) that taken from the revenues of the society by the power of the sovereign. To the former class belong the rents received by the State as landlord, rent charges due to it, interest on capital lent by it, the earnings of its various employments, whether these Edition: current; Page: [159] cover the expenses of the particular function or not, and finally the accrual of property by escheat or absence of a visible owner. Under the second class have to be placed taxes, either general or special, and finally all extra returns obtained by state industrial agencies through the privileges granted to them. This course seems best calculated to satisfy the conditions of scientific accuracy and practical convenience. It places together distinct and well-defined parts of public revenue, and it separates the economic from the compulsory receipts of the State.

To test it in its relation to other divisions, we may consider the place it assigns to (1) the prerogative dues and (2) ‘fees.’ If these classes can be fittingly placed, then the arrangement may be said to be justified. A very slight examination shows that many, if not most, of the prerogatives or regalia are really special property-rights. Roscher has noticed that they originated in the mixture of landed property and sovereignty.1 They are thus in their right place when classed along with other economic sources of revenue. In some instances, however, an element of monopoly created by law comes in, and where there is an additional receipt from this condition it is certainly a tax, and must find its place in the compulsory revenue of the State.

Fees admit of a somewhat similar analysis. Usually they are but a small return for the expenses of the state agency to which they are paid, and find a position among the private economic receipts as a deduction from the expenditure. It may even be best to subtract them from the expenses and charge the balance as net outlay, though in practice the wisdom of bringing all expenditure and receipts (not merely balances) into the budget is well established. In some cases it happens that fees just cover Edition: current; Page: [160] all expenses, and then the public office or agency is a state industry that pays its way. Up to the point at which ordinary profit is obtained the same title is justified, but when (the institution being exclusively a public one) ordinary profit is exceeded, the monopoly possessed by the office is employed for taxation. It therefore follows—and this is perhaps the greatest difficulty that our classification raises—that one and the same public institution may occupy different positions in this respect at different places or times. The Post Office, for example, may be a purely public function involving expenditure, as the earliest government Posts probably did; it may in another country, or at a later time, just cover its expenses, or even pay fair interest on whatever capital it employs,—such has been at times the position of the United States Post; or, lastly, it may, as in England at present, give a large surplus to the general revenue, when its charges become a tax on communications, though, as we shall see, sometimes admitting of full justification.1 In truth this apparent defect is a reason in favour of our grouping of the forms of revenue. Such institutions as the Post Office are in this respect different in different countries, but in all they are capable of presenting the three elements of expenditure, industrial revenue, and tax revenue. In treating of economic expenditure we have already noticed the first aspect;2 in the present book we shall consider the second, reserving the last for its appropriate place.

Some classes of fees, e.g. law fees, are closely connected with the primary functions of the State. They then approach so nearly to taxation as to be best classed with it. There is an appearance of straining the conception of state industry by including them under that head. Here acquaintance with the historical development is of use in establishing that in their origin such fees were strictly payment for service done; and even when this element has Edition: current; Page: [161] been obscured by the increase of state power, it gives place to that of special as opposed to general advantage, a distinction on which so much of local taxation turns, and which can be applied to the class of fees under consideration.

§ 5. So much suffices at present with reference to the general classification of public revenues. We have now to arrange the subdivisions of the quasi-private income in their natural order. The great importance of this part of the receipts in less developed societies made it a subject of greater attention formerly than it is now, and led to those long lists of the heads of revenue above referred to. The modern student of finance gains little from these enumerations, made in all cases from the legal or administrative point of view, but he is impressed by the fact that such receipts are regarded as the ‘ordinary’ revenue of the State, taxation being merely an occasional resource. This idea survives in Blackstone's chapter on ‘The King's Revenue,’ where the tax revenue is regarded as ‘extraordinary.’ Even such recent writers as Mr. Dicey have to notice this division, and the fact that the change in circumstances has made the old terms seem incongruous.1 A classification of the quasi-private funds of the State must, it would seem, have to follow the lines of the analysis of individual incomes made by economic science. One of the most valuable of Adam Smith's investigations was that presented in his chapter on ‘the component parts of the price of commodities,’ since it not only gave a starting point for all later analyses of cost of production, but it afforded in outline a scheme of economic distribution, and it is on it that the discussion of taxation in the Wealth of Nations is based. Its main point consists in showing that all incomes can be Edition: current; Page: [162] separated and referred to one or more of the three categories of rent—the return on natural agents; wages—the reward of labour; and profit—the gain on capital. The State's economic revenue must be capable of being put under the same heads, but the general doctrine, as it appears in the work of its originator,1 requires two corrections before we can use it in this connexion; for first, the massing together of the interest on capital and the earnings made by its productive use is now perceived to be inaccurate. The function of the capitalist is distinct from that of the ‘undertaker’ or ‘employer,’ and is so distinguished in later economic works.2 Another correction is needed for the present application. The category of ‘wages’ cannot enter into the public receipts; the State often pays, but never receives, a reward for labour. Any apparent exceptions really come under the head of ‘undertaking’ or ‘management’ of industry. We thus get three broad divisions of the public industrial revenues, viz. (1) the receipts of administrations, central or local, from rent of land or similar natural agents; (2)—and this is obviously a less important source—the gains of the State as capitalist or lender of funds; and (3) the returns to the industrial activities of the public power. Such a grouping would appear to be clear and logical, but it needs some further modification to bring it more into accordance with the realities of actual finance. Instead of confining our attention to the State as a landlord in receipt of rent, we shall find it more convenient to consider all its dealings with its agricultural property, whether retained in its own hands or let out to tenants. In like manner the treatment of mines may most suitably be placed along with the State's action as employer or undertaker of industrial operations. Two additional topics will also have to be brought into the list. Edition: current; Page: [163] The many and various fees and dues may be combined with the rent-charges and other settled sums payable to the State, and also with the interest on loans made by state authorities, the whole class being connected by the common idea of fixed payment, that is for the most part capable of capitalisation. And finally, to the revenue-yielding industrial domain we ought to add those forms of state property that either give no direct returns or whose expenses exceed any receipts that they may bring in.

In short, to sum up, our discussion of the public economic revenue may, partly on grounds of logical arrangement partly for practical convenience, deal with (1) returns from land, including forests, (2) industrial revenue, (3) payments which either represent, or can be converted into, a capital charge, with much administrative revenue, and (4) those forms of property that yield not revenue, but utility in a less distinctly measurable form.


Since the publication of the first edition of this book, the question of classification has been discussed by Professor Seligman in a special article,1 in which vigorous criticism of the views of preceding writers is accompanied by the exposition of a new mode of grouping, believed to be more in accordance with logical requirements. As the acceptance of this system would necessitate extensive changes in the arrangement adopted in the text, it seems right to state briefly the reasons for retaining out former classification.

The general advantages that result from a good method of grouping public revenues are admirably stated by Professor Seligman, whose opening pages may be referred to as supporting what has been said above on that subject.2 A single point of difference should, however, be noticed. We have sought all through to insist on the essentially relative character of classification. No system is in itself absolutely good or bad; each must be judged by its fitness for the purpose for which it is employed. And further, a system will hardly combine all possible advantages with no disadvantages. Any arrangement will probably have something to recommend it, and will bring out features that would remain unnoticed in a different system. On the other hand, Edition: current; Page: [164] Professor Seligman appears at times to maintain that there is one, and but one, perfectly logical arrangement, compared with which all others must be regarded as altogether erroneous. It is true he admits that historical circumstances may alter the mode of classifying, but for modern times no such allowance is to be made, and the least departure from the one ‘correct’ classification becomes deserving of censure. This view is, however, far too narrow. As Jevons points out,1 the distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ systems of classification is really one of degree. When we are dealing with the classification of organic species, there is the guiding principle of arrangement according to descent,2 which makes the genealogical grouping the scientific one. But in such subjects as grammar, jurisprudence, legislation, and finance, this element is a subordinate one, and we have to take into account the convenience of a classification in considering the advisability of its adoption.3 Such is the procedure recommended alike by logic and the practice of the best investigators in those branches of knowledge. Applying this test to the particular matter in hand, we cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that the arrangement in the text, if less elaborate and less complicated than Professor Seligman's, is at least as well suited to exhibit in their order the chief features of interest in the financial system. The briefest inspection of the receipts obtained by public authorities suffices to establish the existence of (1) economic revenue and (2) taxes as the two great forms of income. These are broadly contrasted, and must form the basis of any division: it is to their discussion that by much the largest part of any work on the subject must be devoted, and it is by the way in which he handles them that a writer will be judged. Now is there any other form of revenue that can fitly be regarded as ‘co-ordinate’ with these great categories? To this question Professor Seligman replies in the affirmative, while the answer we have already given is in the negative. To justify our position, let us briefly consider the three classes of receipts which are put forward as entitled to so prominent a situation. These may be briefly described as consisting of ‘fines,’ ‘fees,’ and ‘special assessments.’4

‘Fines and penalties,’ we read, ‘form by themselves a class of compulsory revenues, levied according to definite but non-fiscal principles. It is obviously wrong to class them with fees as do some writers, or to ignore them entirely as do others.’5 It is, of course, true that fines are a part of state receipts which should not be ‘ignored,’ but it is equally true that they cannot be regarded as co-ordinate with taxes or economic revenue. Their yield is trivial, Edition: current; Page: [165] and their relation to the financial organisation of the State is remote. To give a separate book of a treatise on finance to fines and penalties would, to adopt Austin's phrase, ‘somewhat smack of the ridiculous.’1 The slightest and most cursory mention is the one best suited to give the reader a proper feeling of their financial insignificance.

With respect to ‘fees’ the case is different. A plausible argument may be framed in support of an arrangement that puts them in a prominent place, but, on the whole, the objections to this procedure appear to outweigh its advantages. An abstract distinction between ‘fees’ and ‘taxes’ may easily be made, but cannot be applied with satisfactory results in practice. Nor will it be easy to secure agreement as to the true boundary line. Professor Seligman himself disagrees with nearly all his predecessors, and confines the fee revenue to that derived from monopolised enterprises. Even then, if profit is obtained, the charge becomes a tax. Thus it would seem that, to take a concrete case, the British letter-post charge is a ‘tax,’ payments for telegrams are ‘fees,’ while the parcel-post service, not being a monopoly, charges a ‘price.’ Put in a general way, the distinction seems acute, and to some minds satisfactory, but what is to be said as to its practical convenience? Must the Post Office revenue be broken up into these several parts and its disjecta membra scattered over several distinct books? Such a course would, we believe, be altogether out of place in an orderly and systematic exposition of financial principles and facts. The different position of similar institutions in different countries further increases the difficulty. Are Prussian railway fares to be treated under ‘taxation,’ while Australasian ones are discussed when dealing with ‘fees’?

But a more serious difficulty remains. Perhaps the commonest use of ‘fee’ in this sense in the English language is its employment to describe the charges made for various official acts. We speak of ‘court fees’ or ‘registration fees’ far more readily than of ‘postal fees.’ In those cases, however, the idea of equivalent service is not very prominent.2 A certificate of birth or the issue of a writ involves some payment, but in each case there is really a small contribution towards the expense of a public department, not a charge based on ‘the special benefit accruing to the individual.’3 In fact, this kind of fee is essentially ‘incidental revenue,’4 and it is noteworthy that the earliest Edition: current; Page: [166] systematic writers took exactly this view. Professor Seligman will not allow that Rau was the originator of the separation of fees, and refers to Justi as having perceived their existence. Both Justi and his contemporary Sonnenfels do, indeed, speak of ‘casual revenue’ (Zufällige Einkünfte), and this is precisely what fees are. They come in, if not as a windfall, at least as a by-product, a characteristic which prevents their being entitled to be classed as co-ordinate with taxes. The transference of one large portion of the matter, sometimes placed under the head of fees, to that of economic revenue, and of another less extensive portion to the category of taxation, leaving the miscellaneous residue to come in as an appendix to the treatment of the former, commends itself as a logical and convenient distribution of material.

The third distinct category is of greater interest. Special assessments may be fairly described as an American creation,1 and it was therefore fitting that American writers should introduce them to the scientific students of finance. This pleasing duty has been ably performed by Professor Seligman and his pupil Mr. Rosewater,2 and the European writer will henceforth be compelled to enlarge his descriptive material in order to include this new phenomenon. It is not quite so certain, however, that he ‘will have to revise his classification.’3 That will depend on the view he takes of the character and working of these charges. One of the first features of the special assessment that attracts notice is its strictly local application. It is a product of a particular form of local finance, and has apparently little or no place in general receipts. Following out the clue thus supplied, we discover that the special assessment is a mode of distributing burden according to advantage received, and has thus one point of resemblance to the special improvement rates that British local bodies frequently levy on limited areas receiving advantage from work done. The doctrine that ‘special assessments must always be proportional to benefits’4 is merely an example of those legal fictions so dear to the minds of American judges and lawyers, since ‘acreage, frontage, value, superficial area,’ may any of them be taken as the measure of presumptive benefit (a benefit which, it should be added, may never be realised),5 and therefore the limitation of proportionality is effectually evaded. In any case there is no necessity for proportional charge. A sovereign legislature might levy assessments at a heavier percentage on those who held larger masses of property, or, in other words, it might permit the smaller owners to retain a greater part of the benefit or ‘betterment’ that the improvement had produced.6

Edition: current; Page: [167] Thus it seems that the line of demarcation between special assessments and taxes is by no means so sharp as Professor Seligman supposes. The real characteristic of the former is their imposition as a single charge on property instead of being a recurring charge on income.1 They belong, in mercantile language, to the ‘capital,’ not to the ‘profit and loss’ account. But in this respect they are paralleled by taxes levied for a single great occasion, e.g. a war or the discharge of debt.2 In estimating the financial position, it is important to keep both ‘capital’ and ‘revenue’ accounts in view; this, however, need not hinder us from regarding a capital payment as a tax levied uno ictu, instead of by recurring charges. When local bodies have recourse to this method, the circumstance deserves to be noted, but does not call for any revolutionary change in arrangement.3

Prof. Plehn, in an article entitled ‘Classification in Public Finance,’4 has sought to support Prof. Seligman's arrangement, and has criticised the views expressed in this note. He has, however, failed to understand them, and has been led into several misrepresentations, some of which have been already pointed out. Thus he seems unable to grasp the idea that the principle of classification is relative to the matter in hand; that an arrangement suitable for one purpose may be unsuitable for another. But this is a commonplace with logicians; it is familiar by practice to students of natural science, and should be equally so to investigators of social life.5 ‘It is unscientific,’ says Prof. Plehn, ‘in the study of legal institutions or economic life to confuse the old and new, or to classify in such a way as to hide the connecting links between them.’6 No doubt ‘confusion’ is always unscientific, but combination of similar phenomena, though of widely different origin, is not. To take examples: the emphyteusis of Roman Law may be placed along with Irish judicial tenancies, and the English income tax with other charges on revenue, without reference to the wide differences in origin. In fact, one of the most instructive lessons in social inquiry is derived from the adaptation of diverse institutions and rules to accomplish similar ends.

Equally incorrect is Prof. Plehn's assertion that ‘Prof. Bastable ... denies ... that there is any necessity for distinguishing between fees and taxes.’ It is hard to understand how any one who had read the sections on ‘Administrative Revenue’7 could have committed himself to so misleading a statement. It is hardly necessary to state once more that there is no denial of the existence of so-called ‘fees.’ What has been urged is (1) that ‘fees’ are Edition: current; Page: [168] not a class co-ordinate with ‘economic revenue’ and ‘taxes.’ (2) That some fees are really ‘industrial,’ that others are ‘special taxes,’ while the balance may best be described as ‘miscellaneous receipts.’ (3) That the heterogeneous character of ‘fees’ is proved by the divergence of opinion respecting their character and boundaries. The practical outcome of these views is the treatment of a large section of fees as a kind of appendage to economic receipts, and this course is supported by Prof. Plehn's ‘practice,’1 which in this, as in many other cases, is better than his ‘theory.’

Edition: current; Page: [169]

CHAPTER II: the state domain. lands and forests

§ 1. The oldest form of public property undoubtedly consists of the territory on which the society is situated. There is a great body of evidence to show that communal holding of land is far more persistent and enduring than other kinds of common enjoyment. The witness of history is moreover supported by all the probabilities of the case. Until agriculture has extended and improved with the growth of population, a large part of the tribal land must lie waste or be only used for pasture. It remains under the control of the community or, at a later time, of the chief. Public land is increased by the action of war; the land of the vanquished becomes the property of the conquerors and goes to swell their public domain. But a counter-process is found steadily operating in the allotment to individuals of parts of the domain. The Roman ager publicus dwindled in extent under this influence, and the territory of the Provinces—in technical law the property of the Commonwealth 1—was ‘possessed’ by individuals with the substantial rights of ownership. A public domain was notwithstanding retained, and some of the local revenue was derived from the letting of land, though it was largely supplemented by other sources. The earlier Middle Ages regarded the royal domain as the basis of public income. Edition: current; Page: [170] The feudal King was the greatest landholder, and was expected to discharge the necessary public duties by aid of the revenue that he obtained from that source. The same opposing forces that were operative in earlier times continued to affect the royal lands. They were reduced by lavish grants to royal favourites, and increased by resumptions and forfeitures. The position of the domain depended very much on the strength or weakness of the individual monarch, improving in extent during vigorous reigns and shrinking considerably in feeble ones.

The later history of the domain varied in detail in each European country, but one very general result is found in the transformation of what had been the King's estate into public property. In the few cases where royal or princely estates have remained in the possession of the reigning family, they are nevertheless, in substance, public, inasmuch as they supply the ruler's official income, and by rewarding his services relieve the treasury from an equivalent charge.1

§ 2. The disintegrating forces that tended to break up the great state domains, as well as the other parts of mediæval finance, did not everywhere act with the same intensity. Owing to peculiarities of situation and in some degree to differences of policy, the proportion of state domain is at present hardly the same in any two countries. England is remarkable for the almost complete alienation of its Crown lands, the revenue derived from that source being one of the most insignificant in the budget of receipts.2 ‘It was in the fifteenth century that,’ according to Thorold Edition: current; Page: [171] Rogers, ‘the great impoverishment of the Crown estate began,’ and though increased by the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, it was again reduced by his successors until it reached its present position at the commencement of the eighteenth century.1 In France also a series of losses has reduced the public lands held by the central government to a very small amount, with the exception of forests, of which it possesses 1,070,477 hectares (about 2,650,000 acres). There is, however, a remarkable difference as compared with England in the large quantity of land held by the Communes or local units. These bodies in 1877 had 2,058,707 hectares (or, in round numbers, 5,000,000 acres) of forests and 2,258,310 hectares (or 5,600,000 acres) of other land, most of it being of very poor quality. The productiveness, however, as distinguished from the extent of this property, is not considerable; in 1877 the receipt from communal property, including other items than land, was only 51,702,694 francs, or little over £2,000,000, showing less than £40,000 increase since 1862. These figures need some further correction, since a large amount of communal land has been sold, and in some cases timber has been freely cut down. Thus in 1877 over 24½ million francs were obtained from those extraordinary resources that had for the earlier year 1862 yielded over 34 million francs. It accordingly appears that a sum of about £3,000,000 was the contribution from immovable property for 1877 towards a total communal expenditure of about £27,000,000.2 It is plain that neither England nor France can hope for much financial advantage from public lands either general or local. The policy, or at all events the desire, of alienation has been too strong, as the speedy disposal of the confiscated estates of the clergy and the emigrant noblesse shows in regard to France.3 Nor Edition: current; Page: [172] are the cases of Italy and Spain substantially different. The heavy expenditure that the accomplishment of Italian unity necessitated was partly met by sale of the state lands, and at a later time by confiscation and sale of the possessions of the ecclesiastical bodies so numerous in that country. By 1886 over £33,000,000 had been realised through those sales, and by far the greater part of the lands had been disposed of.

The countries of Eastern Europe are differently situated. Germany, Austria, and Russia all possess large public estates—a circumstance that may be fully explained by the later growth of constitutional government in the former, and its absence as yet in the last-named. A State that cannot rely on taxation as a resource at need must provide other financial support, and taxation is productive only on the condition of general willingness to contribute. States, therefore, in which royal power has not been completely displaced by popular government will probably retain a larger amount of public land. The position of Prussia illustrates this proposition. The budget estimate for 1902–3 gives a gross receipt of 106,854,000 marks, and after allowing for the working expenses of over 46,653,0000 marks, there is a net revenue of about 60,000,000 marks, or £3,000,000. The Bavarian domains are, in proportion, larger and more valuable than those of Prussia. The biennial budget estimated the yield for each of the years 1898 and 1899 at 38,800,000 marks. Würtemberg, Baden, and Saxony also have large domains, chiefly forests.

Austria and Hungary have each state lands and forests, the estimated revenue in the former country from that source being over 5,000,000 florins, and in the latter 2,500,000 florins.1 Russia is a more remarkable case: it illustrates the statement that the less the development of the society the greater is the proportion of public land. At the time of the great reform usually known as the emancipation of Edition: current; Page: [173] the serfs an amount, estimated at from two-fifths to one-half of the land of Russia, was held by the State. About eighty years earlier 10,500,000 serfs were found on the state lands, and in 1861 this number had increased to 23,000,000. The measures of emancipation—so far as the state domain was concerned—consisted in a readjustment of the dues that were payable, which henceforth, in many cases, assumed the form of taxation, either imperial or local Economic inquiries are said to show that rent has been evolved from taxation, but it is equally true that in many cases taxation has passed into rent, or rent-charge. In some parts of Russia the state charges on the former imperial serfs are higher than an economic rent, in others they are lower, and in the latter case they may be looked on either as a reserved property or as a land tax. It appears in this way that the income of the State as landowner may approach very closely to the tax revenue that is imposed on land, and that the line of separation can only be fixed with reference to all the circumstances of each particular case. In addition to this wider form of state domain, the Russian government received, in the year 1900, over 76,500,000 roubles from lands and forests, though the expenditure on the same objects (40,600,000 roubles) has to be deducted to arrive at the net gain.1

The Indian land tenures present the same features even more forcibly. Under all the varying forms of assessment the principle that the State is ultimate owner has not been, in practice, completely lost sight of, except in the settlement of Bengal. Nothing appears more equitable than that this head proprietor should receive a share of the increasing value of the soil. On the other hand, the machinery of assessment and collection is compulsory; it is nearer akin to the process of the tax-collector than of the landlord, and the difficulty recurs of saying whether the receipts are taxes or rent. The best solution of this question is arrived at when we see that in strictness they belong to Edition: current; Page: [174] neither class.1 They differ most markedly from the rent, either customary or competitive, of a modern landowner, and more nearly resemble the dues of the feudal lord. They are just as distinct from the ordinary tax, and are not governed by the canons to which it ought to conform; at the utmost they might be assimilated with the taxes on special advantages or monopolies, of which class the possession of land is one example. Where the state dues are frequently revised in accordance with the movement of land values the approximation to rent is very close; where they are changed in order to suit the needs of the State, they are practically taxation;2 but where, as is most common, they are fixed for long periods, or in perpetuity, they are really charges that may be capitalised at the market rate of interest. The Indian Land Tax, with its great net return of nearly £20,000,000, has, at different times and in different provinces, shown each of the three features, but on the whole the rent-charge element has preponderated over the others. The lengthening of the period of settlement, and the disposition to keep the assessment under the value, have both tended to this end.

§ 3. European colonies, and more particularly the English settlements in North America and Australasia, contrast remarkably with the preceding cases. The most prominent economic features in a new country are abundance of land with scarcity both of labour and capital; land is consequently the cheapest of commodities, so much so, that it is freely offered in full ownership as an inducement to fresh settlers. The progress of cultivation soon changes this state of things. The more fertile land is taken up, and Edition: current; Page: [175] acquires value from the growth of population. At first sight it seems that the State might derive important resources from a reserved charge on its land, or, by adopting the simple expedient of leasing it out, instead of giving it away, would obtain a share of the increase in its value. The Wakefield system, though not designed for financial ends, sought to secure a higher capital return for land that was sold, at the same time applying the funds so derived for the promotion of immigration; in fact, increasing both colonial receipts and expenditure. The advantages of free access to land are, however, so great in a new country, the effect on economic development of a speedy growth of population is so considerable and so easily perceived, that no effectual method of limiting the occupation of the soil in full ownership has been continued. The United States, the various English colonies, and the South American republics have all found that nothing is such a stimulus to immigration as full liberty of acquiring vacant land. For this reason the revenues of those States from land are, comparatively speaking, small, and for obtaining the necessary funds recourse must be had to other forms, principally indirect taxation. As examples it appears that in 1889 the United States obtained over £1,600,000 by the sale of public lands, but against this the expenses on the same account have to be set off, and the result seems to be that on the whole there is a loss on the state lands: they really are an item of expenditure, not of receipts.1 For the financial year 1892–3 the Canadian land receipts were a little over £65,000, though it is hoped that in future years the return will be greater. In the same year the Australasian colonies received £4,150,000.2 Thus Edition: current; Page: [176] neither in new nor in old countries are state lands one of the main supports of the financial system. It requires an extraordinary combination of circumstances, as in the case of India, to create an exception to this general rule.

§ 4. The apparent advantages of a large state revenue from land and the peculiar nature of the income received from the use of superior natural agents have suggested the advisability of dispossessing all private owners and reverting to the primitive system of public ownership. Whether levied under the name of rent or of the single tax, this plan of imposition involves the confiscation of all existing rights in land. Its bearings, when regarded as a form of taxation, belong to the theory of that part of our subject, but we may at present notice it in so far as it advocates an extension of state property. And here there is an evident distinction to be made. In one form of the proposal, existing owners are to be compensated, when it simply amounts to an extension of the state domains by purchase. In the other and more drastic form no compensation is to be allowed. Owners of land, no matter how acquired, are to be compelled to surrender their incomes from this source to the State. It is not necessary to characterise the morality of this scheme, but its financial attractiveness, at first sight great, is much diminished on closer examination. The disturbance of economic relations and the general feeling of insecurity that the adoption of such a measure would produce, even on the assumption that it could be carried into effect without a revolution, would go far to reduce the productiveness of land to the Edition: current; Page: [177] State, and to lower the incomes of other classes of the society in whose interest the measure is advocated. In another way, too, the gain would be reduced. The large amount of general and local taxation at present raised from land, as also the necessary expenditure for keeping it in proper condition, must be deducted before the net advantage to the Exchequer can be known. Besides, all the difficulties attendant on state management of land would exist in at least equal strength if it were acquired without paying its fair value.1

§ 5. From these far-reaching and unsafe theoretical plans we may now turn to the actual questions connected with the public ownership of land. They are divided into two groups, the first of which considers the advisability of the State retaining its domains, and the second, taking the retention as desirable, investigates the best methods of administration. As the former comprises the already noticed question of land nationalisation with full compensation, we shall find it convenient to commence with it.

At the opening of scientific economic inquiry the treatment of state lands was a subject for discussion. German writers, e.g. Justi, favoured their retention as being a better source of income than taxation, but the tendency of the new doctrines of the Physiocrats and Adam Smith was in the opposite direction. Taxation in the form of a direct charge on the net revenue of land was regarded by the former as the proper support of the State, and the latter has unequivocally pronounced in favour of the alienation of the public domain. ‘The revenue which in any civilised monarchy the crown derives from the crown lands, though it appears to cost nothing to individuals, in reality costs more to the society than perhaps any other equal revenue which the Crown enjoys. It would in all cases be for the Edition: current; Page: [178] interest of the society to replace this revenue to the crown by some other equal revenue, and to divide the lands among the people, which could not well be done better perhaps than by exposing them to public sale.’1

The reasons given in favour of this policy are clear and simple. Firstly, the lands held by the State are managed so badly that the revenue of the society would be increased by their alienation, since the produce obtained from them would be larger. The price obtained by the government would go to discharge liabilities, and therefore the amount of receipts, if not larger, would certainly not be less; and finally, the improvement of the alienated lands, under the management of private individuals, would, by adding to the source from which taxes are drawn, make their yield greater. The case as so presented is a strong one, and, in the main, convincing. Nevertheless, the German writers on finance have regarded this view of Adam Smith's as one-sided and exaggerated. His condemnation of state property is, it is said, too absolute, and various arguments in favour of the retention of state domains have been put forward. Thus the advantage of such property as a security for public loans is suggested as a reason for its retention; also its use as supplying model estates on which improvements may be introduced as a means of instruction to agriculturists. The political gain to the Crown from possessing an independent source of in come and the prospect of the value and return of land increasing through the progress of society, are given as further reasons in favour of retention. Most of these pleas are unfounded: if public lands are a security for loans, their sale would prevent the need of borrowing. The royal income is just as secure when settled on the civil list; no matter what be its form, a revolution will disturb it. The Edition: current; Page: [179] value of model estates is a distinct and separate question, and belongs rather to expenditure than to revenue, so that the only valid argument remaining is that derived from the growth of rent or unearned increment. The question, however, remains, whether this very growth is not in great measure due to the incentive that private ownership of land gives, and which is removed by state appropriation. Still it must be admitted that, more especially in the case of land suited by position for building sites, there is a decided advantage in reserving the constant increments of rent for public use; and that any equitable mode of accomplishing this end would be deserving of approval. The retention of state or crown lands is of itself by no means sufficient for the purpose. Even in Germany or Russia the proportion of public land really at the full disposal of the State is only a fraction of the whole, and the part of it that is situated within urban districts is much smaller, so that it appears that under actual conditions the difficult question of unearned increment in connexion with ground rents must be solved, if solved at all, by special taxation. The contention of Adam Smith therefore holds good, that in general, from a purely financial point of view, the sale of lands in order to clear off debt or meet extraordinary expenditure is expedient. Underlying the discussion in the Wealth of Nations there are, it should be noticed, some assumed conditions that did really correspond to the facts in Adam Smith's time. These are (1) the existence of debt on the part of the State. While it is financially wise to dispose of property yielding small returns in order to discharge obligations paying a high rate of interest, it is not equally clear that alienation of property to meet current expenditure is justifiable. Expenditure of the normal kind should be met by equally normal receipts, and the sale of land is not of this nature.1 Unfortunately, the case of complete Edition: current; Page: [180] freedom from debt is rather conceivable than actually existent, as every country has public debts to a larger amount than the sale of its domains would meet. (2) The expediency of selling the state domain also depends on the available market. In most European States in the eighteenth century there was no difficulty in finding an open market for the amount of land held by the sovereigns. But under other circumstances it would be hopeless to expect that large masses of land could be sold at their proper value, owing to want of capital and enterprise on the part of individuals. Such is plainly the position of India in those cases where the land tax is really a rent.1 In addition to the political and social evils there would almost certainly be a financial loss from forced sales. The same statement would hold good for all new countries where the sale of land depends on the demand of fresh settlers, and where the amount disposable in any one year is limited.

The evident conclusion seems to be that the function of the State as owner of agricultural land is sure to decline in importance with the advance of society. The proportion that the quasi-private income of the State bears to tax revenue becomes smaller in the course of time; and as the industrial domain has in certain directions a tendency to expand, the falling off in the yield from rent must be very decided. Though this will be the probable final result, it is also true that for a long period the management of state lands will be of practical interest in some countries, and will always remain as a problem of financial science. If the State, through its central or local organs, is the owner of landed property, it is desirable that property so held should be wisely managed.

§ 6. The methods of administering state lands may be reduced to the same classes as those existing in the case of a large private owner. As in the latter instance the estate may be worked by the proprietor or let out to tenants, so Edition: current; Page: [181] may public property be either directly under state administration or be leased to private individuals. The former system is probably the earliest. The capitulary of Charlemagne, entitled de villis, contains a set of regulations for the management of his manors, and in Germany several parallels are to be found,1 but the same influences that caused land-owners to abandon farming by bailiffs affected the royal estates. A direct financial gain was procured by letting the land to tenants. To work effectively a large area of land requires a good deal of capital applied with intelligence, under diligent supervision. All these conditions were wanting in public or royal management, and therefore the economic advantages of the tenancy system were too great to be disregarded. The method of direct state administration as a financial policy has no supporters.2

The dealings of the State with agricultural tenants ought, it is plain, to be modelled on the system of a prudent landlord. There is no possible reason why the treatment of state domains should differ from that applied by private owners to the management of their properties. In two respects, indeed, the nature of the public power has peculiarities that affect its dealings with land. It is of longer duration than the individual owner, and it has necessarily to act through agents. A result of the former is the possibility of longer agreements and a more continuous policy in the system adopted: the latter makes the use of definite rules desirable, in order to prevent corrupt action on the part of officials. Even as regards these special features there is not much difference between state properties and those of the largest class of English owners where the method of estate management is handed on unchanged for generations, and most of the administrative work has to be done by paid representatives.3

Edition: current; Page: [182] The earliest agricultural tenants are probably to be found in the serfs who cultivated the soil and paid rents in labour, or produce, or both. The advance in personal liberty freed these cultivators from many of the more degrading incidents of their tenure, and by degrees they became established as free tenants paying money rents. In another way a class of larger tenants was created. Officials in charge of land were bound to account for a certain return, the surplus, if any, going to them; and this function of collecting dues, with the obligation of giving a fixed quota to the sovereign, became in many cases tenancy passing later on into ownership.

The application of what are called ‘commercial principles’ to the letting of land is of comparatively recent introduction, but it is only at this stage that the idea of conscious choice between different systems, hitherto followed through the blind influence of custom, comes prominently forward. Three forms of tenure are possible, viz. (1) tenancy from year to year, or in popular language ‘at will,’ (2) leases for years, and (3) heritable, extending to perpetual, leases. The first form has been almost universally condemned, though under the fair and impartial guidance of a public department it would be free from some of its most objectionable aspects. The undue increase of rent and the discouragement to improvements characteristic of the tenure would neither of them be likely to happen under state management. Leases for years are, however, free from even the chance of such evils, and it is perhaps wise to adopt this system, as otherwise the example of the public estates might be put forward to justify the conduct of private owners in adhering to yearly tenancies. The Edition: current; Page: [183] exact number of years to be given in the state leases can hardly be decided on general principles. The term should be long enough to give full room for the application of the tenant's industry and capital, while in the interest of the public it should not exceed the time during which a large increase in the natural value of the land takes place Provided that full allowance is made for the tenant's improvements, thirty years seems a fair period, and sufficient to eliminate the effects of casual disturbances.

Older than leases for years is the system of hereditary lease (Erbpacht) that has from early times been connected with public property. The emphyteusis—the form that it takes in Roman Law—was originally developed on the estates of municipalities, and in the Middle Ages ecclesiastical bodies were foremost in granting similar tenures.1 The advantages to a corporation of obtaining a settled rent without the trouble of supervision and calls for expenditure are greater than in the case of a single owner who hopes to gain extra rent by his attention and outlay, and, when combined with fines for change of possession, the revenue obtained is generally satisfactory. Nevertheless the hereditary lease is in reality a step towards alienation. The tenant holding by this tenure is part owner, and in course of time tends to take the position of full owner subject to a rent charge;2 more especially is this true when the fines, as usually happens, are redeemed by a fixed payment. The head landlord,—i.e., with regard to public lands the State—is substantially a creditor entitled to certain remedies if his obligation is not paid. What seems the most prudent policy, alike on financial and social grounds, with respect to state management of property, is to follow the system adopted by the best individual landowners, and the forms between which choice will generally Edition: current; Page: [184] lie are the lease for a sufficient term of years and the hereditary lease; the former is financially the wiser, but special circumstances may make the emphyteusis—to use the old title—more convenient, in which latter case the land revenue is practically converted into a fixed charge. Leases for lives are open to the objection that they are uncertain; but by judicious regulations as to renewals, much of the evil of insecurity can be avoided.

The modes of letting vacant farms, the duty of supplying buildings and permanent improvements, and the form in which rent is to be received, have all been carefully discussed in the older financial treatises. Most of these questions belong to practical administration, and are, moreover, not of great interest in modern times. Certain plain rules, may, however, be stated. The claims of successors to the late tenant should not be overlooked; it is better for the tenure to be continued without break, and therefore the question of new letting ought rarely to occur. When it does, the best mode of disposal will depend on the circumstances of the particular district; with capitalist farmers letting to the highest bidder is admissible, and it excludes all chance of unfairness. But where, as notably was the case in Ireland, there is exaggerated competition for land, the amount of rent payable over a series of years by a solvent tenant should not be exceeded. In such cases a sale of the interest, subject to a fixed rent, seems the best course. The supply of suitable buildings and the institution of permanent improvements must, under a system of short leases, be carried out by the State, but the modern plan of advancing public funds for improvements could be easily applied, the interest on loans being added to the rent and paid at the same time. Hereditary leaseholds may be safely left to the tenant, as he gains all the benefit of improvements. The form of rent ought clearly to be, as far as possible, in money. Special conditions may make payment in kind more convenient, but this mode of receiving rent should be only temporary, and all reasonable Edition: current; Page: [185] efforts be tried to introduce the more definite system of money payments. Even where for practical convenience the rent is a fixed part of the total produce, the actual payment had best be in money, the various articles being estimated at their money value.1

§ 7. We are now in a position to deal more fully with the expediency of extending the state lands. In their extremest form plans of this kind aim at the acquisition by purchase of all private landed property. More moderate proposals seek to increase these possessions in a smaller degree. Any plan of the kind, even when limited in the most careful manner, is open to overwhelming objections. It amounts to the creation of a new public department engaged in countless dealings with what is the most intricate and complicated form of property; arrangements as to valuation, the renewal of leases, allowances for improvements, abatements for unexpected losses, the maintenance and audit of innumerable accounts would all fall to the lot of the department. It would, on the supposition of purchase, have to pay interest on a large amount of debt. There would be little hope of a favourable financial result under such conditions. In short, we may say that if land-nationalisation without purchase is palpably unjust, land nationalisation with purchase is as evidently inexpedient. The same arguments apply to smaller acquisitions of land. They have little chance of being remunerative, while they so far contract the supply of a much desired commodity, and they necessitate a class of administrative duties of exceptional difficulty. If the alienation of state lands should only be carried out with due care and deliberation, the acquisition of new estates can only be justified on non-financial grounds. Practical politics clearly conform to this rule of prudence. State lands are often alienated Edition: current; Page: [186] and seldom acquired, and in these latter cases there is generally some social or political reason as the actuating cause. We may look on the slow decline of the state domain as one of the permanent facts of financial development.

§ 8. So far we have confined our attention to the case of cultivated land—of ‘farms’ as Carey would say—where the ordinary economic motives operate with considerable force. The State, it would seem, had best avoid entangling its interests with the difficult questions of land tenure, and can hardly expect any financial advantage from retaining its ownership of land. It does not follow that with regard to other closely allied forms of extractive industry it may not be expedient to retain, or even extend, public ownership. The principal example is afforded by forests, and in their case the wisdom of alienation is far less clearly established. Individual self-interest is not in the same general agreement with public advantage as in the case of ordinary agriculture. The creation of a forest is a work of time and technical skill which can hardly bring in recompense to the originators, and existing forests are a ready resource for the embarrassed owner. Moreover, forestry is only applicable to large tracts of land, and is most profitably carried on where the soil is of little use for other purposes. The estate of the large owner is, as we saw, not very differently managed from the state domain, and therefore some of the usual arguments against public ownership lose their weight. There is, besides, the important effect of suitable plantation on climatic conditions, and in some countries the need of wood as the only available fuel. There is here a striking example of failure in that harmony of individual and general interest which was so enthusiastically set forth by Bastiat and became a ‘watchword’ of what was supposed to be ‘Political Economy.’ The case against not simply state ownership, but even direct state management is accordingly deprived of its foundation; Edition: current; Page: [187] while the promotion of his own interest had best be left to the individual, the interest of the community cannot always be safely entrusted to his hands. The real questions at issue are to be decided by estimates as to (1) the influence of other than purely self-regarding motives on the proprietors, (2) the amount of general interest that is jeopardised by the possible action of individuals, and (3) the probability that public management will secure the desired results. In reference to the first, it has been universally remarked that large proprietors are in many cases willing to give up a portion of present wealth for the future advantage and beautifying of their estates, while peasant proprietors show no such disposition, but, on the contrary, seek immediate gain by the removal of valuable timber.1 The inattention of the State to forests in England compared with Continental countries is partly explicable on this ground. English proprietors have done at their own cost what foreign countries have to secure at the public expense. Another reason is to be added. The supply of fuel in England is not dependent in the smallest degree on the cultivation of timber, and the recent developments of naval architecture have destroyed the importance of forests as a source of shipbuilding material, the object to which the Woods and Forests Department principally attended. Considerations of climate are besides of less weight in the case of islands subject to the equalising influence of the sea. We can thus easily understand the peculiar attitude of England and the reasons for the very different policy of the Indian Government, where the circumstances are in all essential points reversed. The chance of success in state administration of forests depends on the application of the best scientific and technical Edition: current; Page: [188] ability to the work, which can only be attained by effective organisation. Among examples we may mention the Indian Forests Department and the Prussian administration. The benefit of a sound method of dealing with this part of the public domain is not mainly financial, though good management may make it yield a surplus. But, as appeared in dealing with expenditure,1 it is quite possible that the general revenue of the State may have to contribute for the maintenance of the requisite plantings, in which case the policy has to be judged as a matter of expenditure.

§ 9. The necessities of practice have led States to a recognition of the special advantages of directly controlling forests. In all nations they form the largest part of the public land; the figures for France have already been given, and the same general features mark the position in other countries. The broad result is that about one-third of the forests of Germany is held by the States; about one-sixth by communes and quasi-public bodies; very little over half remaining in private ownership. In Austria one-fourth belongs to public bodies, and in Norway one-eighth.

The excess of forests over other state land is easily explained when we call to mind that they are the last remnants of the old common property. To a primitive community land with timber is of little service. When, at a later time, wood rises in value the one aim is to clear the soil as speedily as possible, and land still under trees is waste. The fact that planting often succeeds best on poor soil tends to confine it to land of this kind, since more fertile land is turned to other and better uses. The recent movement towards reafforesting is for the same economic reason directed towards inferior land, and it is only by adopting this policy that new forests can be made even tolerably remunerative. There is almost a consensus of competent opinion in favour of state action for the purpose Edition: current; Page: [189] of increasing the area under trees, and directly administering those areas by a skilled and well-organised staff.1

Most European countries have a considerable area of uncultivated land which would be particularly suitable for planting, and a well-considered system of purchase by the State, perhaps accompanied and facilitated by the sale of the other parts of public landed property, is likely to be advantageous. The financial results cannot be of much importance. Prudence and judgment may, however, save a good deal of unnecessary expenditure and combine the two ends of public economy—utility and saving of effort.

§ 10. The division of control over landed property between the central and local governments can hardly be arranged on general principles. Historical conditions and the special features of each case are the principal factors in the settlement. Management by a central department is open to the dangers of laxity in administration along with pedantry in the application of inflexible rules. Public estates so placed have all the defects attributed to the absentee proprietor. Local bodies have a different but not less serious drawback, viz., the danger of jobbery and intrigue in the administration of what ought to be applied to the best advantage of the community. This evil is of varying magnitude according to the size of the body. Among the larger German States, as, e.g., Würtemberg or Baden, it disappears completely. In a small French or Swiss Commune it is at its maximum. The dealings with public or quasi-public property by small corporate bodies need to be carefully controlled and regulated, and this necessity has been recognised. Thus the French Communes are unable to sell or grant a lease of their lands for more than eighteen years without the sanction of the Préfet in the council of the Préfecture.2 The property of British Edition: current; Page: [190] corporations has in former times suffered from the want of such control, as has also that of the Swiss communes. When local government is applied to a sufficiently large area, and public spirit is operative, landed property is generally better managed than it would be by a central department. The concessions to tenants are more liberal, but, except where the land is within an urban district, its sale is probably advisable if there is a local debt sufficient to absorb the purchase money: where this is not so, there is the danger of the price, which is really capital, being treated as current revenue. The retention of building sites by corporations is, where practicable, the happiest solution of the vexed problem of taxation of ground rents, and their alienation should not, unless in the exceptional cases of extraordinary pressure or special encouragement to small proprietors, be sanctioned.

The above considerations are in some degree modified with regard to forests. So far as the inhabitants of rural districts obtain fuel from the communal possessions there is no reason to object to local management. But in modern times the need of husbanding and developing the national forests has become too important an end to be surrendered to the care of persons whose views are from the nature of the case certain to be limited to a particular district and to present advantage. The result has been a very general centralisation of management in this respect. France, Italy, Switzerland, and the United States have all dealt with the matter as one for the central government. The Swiss cantons, so jealous of their autonomy, have not refused to surrender the control of forests to the Federal government. All the conditions that we noticed in a former chapter as tending in favour of central management are in operation here. General interest, need of trained intelligence, and of unity of control make it expedient to continue the policy of centralisation.

Edition: current; Page: [191]

CHAPTER III: the industrial domain

§ 1. In the preceding chapter the gradual decay of state revenue from landed property has been considered. Special circumstances may preserve a comparatively large amount of agricultural possessions in the case of some nations, but so long as the present system of private ownership and free competition continues—and it is only to societies resting on that economic basis that attention need be directed—no large part of the State's resources can, speaking generally, be obtained through the rent of public lands. The universal tendency exhibited in countries so widely separated in all respects as England, the United States, and India is towards a relative, or even an absolute, decline in the revenue derived from this form of receipts.

Another class of public property does not so clearly show the same movement. The industrial domain, if it has been contracted in some directions, has been enlarged in others, and its position in state and public economy is deserving of the most careful examination. For this purpose it is best to take the leading groups of industrial activity, beginning with that which belongs to extractive industry, and is consequently nearest to agriculture and forestry.

§ 2. Besides the retention of agricultural land and forests, the State has in most societies regarded mines as belonging to itself. Thus the famous silver mines of Laurium were an important source of revenue to the Athenian people, who let them out on lease. Rome retained its salt mines Edition: current; Page: [192] and monopolised the sale of the product. As the Roman dominion extended by conquest the mines of the provinces came under its control. The modes of management applied were different in respect to the various minerals, gold and silver mines being directly worked by the state slaves, and other mines conceded on lease or abandoned to private working, subject to a tax proportional to the produce.

The mining laws of mediæval Europe were affected by feudal ideas; they placed the right over minerals in the ‘Lord’ or ‘Seigneur,’ and the influence of this system can be traced at present in the English law as to gold and silver mines. The desire to encourage mining industry, and the need of gaining revenue for the sovereign, both tended to restrict the rights of landowners with respect to what lay beneath the surface. Hence the system of ‘free mining,’ under which the discoverer was entitled to open a mine against the landowner's wish, subject to the payment of royalties to the State (Bergregal), became usual.1 Notwithstanding this growth in Continental States of a separate property in mines, some countries retained much of their mineral wealth as public property, more particularly where the landed domain also was extensive. The various parts of the German Empire are noticeable for their state mines, though the distribution of these sources of wealth is far from uniform. Prussia owns coal, iron, lead, silver and copper mines, which (including the value of the partially worked-up products) contributed in 1901–2, 192,316,000 marks gross revenue. Austria, Russia, Spain, and India also possess some mines as state property, though they are practically conceded to private owners. The financier is not much concerned with this part of the public possessions, as the net revenue obtained is small. The mines and mining works of the Prussian government in 1901–2 gave only 33,794,000 marks (about £1,690,000) as their net yield. Salt, which in many countries contributes very largely to the public resources does so through taxation.

Edition: current; Page: [193] Whatever be the net return from mines, it should—economically considered—be divided into two parts, (1) the rent of the mine, and (2) the profit on its working, including the gain of elaborating the raw material obtained from it where this is done at the mine. The former is essentially the same as the rent of land, though possessing some peculiarities due to the exhaustible nature of mineral products, and is generally levied in proportion to the gross yield. Without state ownership it might be applied as a special tax on private owners of mines.1 The second element is plainly the result of the employment of capital, and should therefore comprise both ordinary interest and employer's gain. The use of capital in mining is a highly speculative one, being most uncertain in its returns. The receipts from the Prussian mines have varied much, and of course are dependent on the prices of the minerals produced.2 It therefore seems desirable to give up this source of revenue by selling the mines to private individuals or companies, and applying their price to the reduction of debt; and from the financial point of view the wisdom of the policy of sale is indisputable. The continuance of mines as state property is due partly to the survival of the older forms of public economy in which taxation was subordinate to quasi-private receipts, and partly to views of economic policy. The danger of mineral supplies being worked in a reckless and extravagant manner without regard to the welfare of future generations, and the dread of combinations by the producers of such commodities as tin, copper, and salt, with the aim of raising prices, have both tended to hinder the alienation of state mines. There are fortunately other and more effectual methods of warding off these by no means imaginary evils.3 The disposal Edition: current; Page: [194] of state property does not carry with it a surrender of the right of state regulation where public interests require it. It is also possible to retain the ownership (dominium) in the State, giving long leases to the capitalist workers, by which system the risk of market fluctuations is in a great measure avoided; or, finally, the net receipts from mining industries may be specially taxed.

In one case the policy of sale may not be a wise one. When the particular product of a mine is taxed, the necessity for supervision compels the public officials to watch the process closely; and under such conditions to place the whole business in the hands of the administration or of a powerful company may be the best course and prove the least inconvenient to all concerned. The principal example is in the case of salt, which is taxed in most countries, and monopolised by the State in some. Where the supply is obtained from mines there is an obvious advantage in keeping them in the hands of the State.1

§ 3. The modern State has not confined its activity to extractive industries. In the seventeenth century, France started some of those model manufacturing establishments which continue to the present, and possess so varied a character.2 The German States followed a similar course, and during the eighteenth century many artistic industries were founded under official management. The object was not financial; it was rather to supply a standard for private producers and to discharge the functions now supposed to belong to exhibitions. The more costly products were intended for court use, or as gifts to foreign princes.3

This class of state factories has preserved the original Edition: current; Page: [195] type, and is important only as giving examples of superior work or supplying some state need for a certain commodity. But though financial aims are not prominent in this department of public economy, there are opportunities for realising a moderate revenue by careful management and securing a superior class of products.

The latter consideration becomes of great importance when we pass to the method of supplying the larger public services such as the military and naval forces. The difficulty of deciding on the best mode of meeting the manifold needs of modern armies and fleets is chiefly due to the conflict of financial and technical reasons.1 As we shall see, there are strong economic and financial objections to direct manufacture by the State. But in some cases it is essential to secure a high standard of excellence in the products. Guns that will not go off at the right time and bayonets that bend under pressure are dear at any price; and state establishments for the production of these articles are defended on the ground that in no other way can goodness of quality be guaranteed. The state clothing factories and flour-mills have been supported by like arguments, since it is assumed that complete supervision of private contractors is practically impossible. On purely financial grounds state industries of the kind are open to serious criticism, owing to the very defective system of keeping accounts which is characteristic of such establishments. The amount of invested capital is hardly ever properly estimated; receipts that should go to capital are assigned to revenue, and expenditure that ought to be met from revenue is defrayed from other state funds or by borrowing.2 To Edition: current; Page: [196] meet this evil it seems best in a developed industrial community to trust to private enterprise for the supply even of warlike implements. The growth of such factories as those of Elswick and Essen ought to enable Government to dispense with the troublesome institutions that require so much attention and vigilance to prevent the grossest abuses. Where there is not a fully grown system of industry it may be necessary to keep up state arsenals, dockyards, and factories, to supply wants that would otherwise remain unsatisfied, and it is, perhaps, partly to this earlier condition that we owe the erection of the state industries in question. Moreover, the possibility of keeping down prices, by having an alternative source of supply in the not unknown case of there being only one private factory in existence, may be allowed in favour of state industry, though against it there is the risk of political corruption in towns that are largely supported by public outlay. Admitting then that the State's manufactories for its own use are necessary only in the earlier stages of development, and ought to diminish as society advances, we may go on to assert that the same proposition is true of public industry in general. The government of a backward country may rightly undertake works that would be quite uncalled for in more advanced nations. British India gives us numerous illustrations. The most promising agricultural industries have been taken under state management and costly experiments have been tried. The best available evidence, however, leads to the conclusion that the greater Edition: current; Page: [197] part of these well-meant efforts have been unsuccessful, and they have in some instances been abandoned.1

§ 4. Though any very large system of state-directed industries is not likely to be a financial success, and is besides open to other weighty objections both social and political, there are some exceptions to the general statement. There is no validity in a plea of laissez faire set up in opposition to special cases of state industry, when it can be shown that the interests of the community will be furthered by interference. The rule of non-intervention is nothing but a generalisation from experience, and holds good so far only as experience supports it. Where special reasons justify the action of the public power there is no ground for objecting to its employment. To avoid the opposite and more dangerous extreme, we should add that the advantageous conduct of certain industries by the State is no argument in favour of extending its activity to other and dissimilar cases.2

In addition to the direct supply of the needs of the public services, which in some cases is a good ground for the State undertaking industrial functions, there is the important class of cases in which the production of certain articles is subject to heavy taxation. In such cases the placing of the absolute control of the process of production in the hands of a state department may be a financial necessity, as the only effectual remedy against fraud and evasion. The French tobacco manufacture is probably the best example of this system, which is also exemplified in the Bengal opium regulations. But the large receipts obtained from these industries are not in reality industrial. Scientifically speaking, they are a part of the revenue raised by taxation, the state monopoly being only a particular form.3 The ordinary gains of a business are all that Edition: current; Page: [198] should be credited to it as ‘earnings,’ unless the extra amount is due to the superior efficiency of public management.

§ 5. The remaining cases, where the industrial action of the State may possibly be useful and has in practice been largely applied, may be grouped under two heads, according as they exhibit specially one of two characteristic features; viz. (i) those industries in which there is a tendency to the creation of monopoly, or in which the establishment of monopoly is likely to prove economically advantageous, and (ii) the large and important industries that deal with communication and transport. This classification is unfortunately not completely distinctive, since the last group in many instances exhibits the features of the first-mentioned one, but it is sufficient as a guide in discussing the principal points of interest.

(i) The first group is not easily characterised and separated, but there are some general marks that may be taken as common to all the industries in question; they are:—

(1) The products are much required, and in some cases absolute necessaries, or of high sanitary importance. (2) They are connected with special localities, and situation is an element in their advantages. (3) They are usually subject to the ‘law of increasing returns,’ and thus concentration and unity in management tend to cheapen the product. (4) Competition is not steadily operative even where no legal restrictions are imposed.1

On coming to collect the industries that belong to this group, we further notice that they in great measure fall within the domain of local rather than that of general government, and are moreover chiefly due to the conditions of city life. The oldest, and one of the most important, is the supply of water. Under ordinary circumstances this Edition: current; Page: [199] indispensable commodity is valueless in the economic sense, and has usually been the stock example in economic text-books of objects that possess utility, but are not wealth. The growth of population in certain confined areas at once creates a greater demand than can be supplied from natural sources, and at the same time pollutes that limited amount. Fresh supplies must be obtained from a distance, and often necessitate heavy outlay. In earlier times, this of itself made it incumbent on the State to do what no private individuals' association could accomplish, a policy extensively carried out by the Romans. In the modern period, the business of water-supply to cities has been placed in the hands of private companies, who have invested large amounts of capital for the purpose. The rise of the sanitary movement of the nineteenth century, and the danger of monopoly on the part of the holders, have led to an extension of public activity, and to the purchase of waterworks by the municipalities. This tendency has been clearly shown in the United Kingdom during the last thirty-five years. Of the larger towns, London, Bristol, and Newcastle only are supplied by private companies, and the purchase of the London water companies is actually proposed. The receipts for water-supply by English local bodies in 1897–8 were over £2,600,000. In the United States there has been a like movement. Out of 135 towns of about 10,000 inhabitants, 91 had municipal waterworks, the remaining 44 being supplied by companies. Continental cities also, in many cases, have acquired full charge of this industry: this is true of Berlin, Paris, and Vienna, not to mention smaller towns.1

Edition: current; Page: [200] The business of lighting has not as yet been so largely entrusted to public agency, but several leading British towns have acquired their gasworks: Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Belfast may be mentioned as examples. The United States have hardly entered effectively on this branch of state industry. The most remarkable example of municipal gasworks was that of Philadelphia, where they only had taken over the business in 1887, but abandoned this system in 1897 by leasing the works to a company for the term of thirty years. This change in policy was the subject of much discussion and somewhat severe criticism, as it seemed to be opposed to the prevailing tendency towards extension of public control.1 There are a few other cases of municipal management in the smaller American towns. Out of the forty-four largest German towns, twenty-nine (including Berlin, Leipzig, and Breslau) own their gasworks, while Paris is supplied by a privileged company.2

Drainage and the removal of refuse, as well as other sanitary arrangements, are usually regarded as a public function involving expense, though scientifically these operations are on exactly the same plane as the supply of water and light, and might be carried on as a private business; but in practice, as the service is a general one, its cost is defrayed from taxation.

The actually existing forms of these public industries, and the line of development that they are following, are easily explicable. The rapid increase of public waterworks is due to the great importance of a pure supply of that necessary, to the large quantity of it that is required Edition: current; Page: [201] for public purposes, and finally to the absence of invention in the industry. Lighting, while it possesses some of the features just mentioned, is very different in the last respect. Until the contest between gas and electric lighting is closed, the acquisition of either of these industries will be a financial risk that no prudent body will care to incur.1

§ 6. Without dwelling on further details, or considering the politico-social aspect of the movement, we need not hesitate to say that a new public domain, yielding large gross returns, has within the last fifty years become established in most civilised States. The gas and water works of the United Kingdom under municipal working give an estimated yield of about £7,000,000, and the similar German industries afford a considerable net return to the local budgets.2 It is quite possible that in the present century such industries will give substantial aid towards meeting the heavy expenditure that town administration requires.3

On the other hand, there are some financial aspects of the case which reduce this apparent gain to much more moderate dimensions. The purchase or construction of the needed public works has involved municipal governments in heavy debt. Thus the returns of English municipalities for 1897–8 show an outstanding debt for waterworks of £41,578,000, and of £15,800,000 for gasworks; there is further a debt of nearly £,3,000,000 for market buildings. Adding these figures together, we get over £60,000,000 of actually existing debt, besides what has been already paid off.4 According to the United States Census of 1890 Edition: current; Page: [202] about £38,500,000 of local indebtedness was incurred for waterworks. The interest on these loans has to be deducted from the gross receipts of the industries before a full estimate of their financial position can be made; and though the actual debt-charge is enhanced by the sinking funds attached,1 there is on the other side the cost of renewing the works after a period. Another deduction has also to be made. On the assumption that the different public industries were left open to private enterprise, it would be possible to tax their profits, or, as most of these industries are monopolies, to levy a special charge on their gains. The right of supplying a large city may be sold to a company or let for a term of years, and the revenue thus obtained without risk or trouble applied to the use of the municipality. By granting a long period, with the ultimate reversion to the local governing body, a large revenue would be provided for the future, and the difficulties of public management escaped.

As in the case of mines and their products, any charge for municipal services that exceeds normal profit must be regarded as taxation. The profit of capital expended on public works is a part of the earnings or industrial receipts: so is any further amount gained by the low interest at which well-managed towns can borrow, or the savings that monopoly, with the consequent check to waste by competition, may cause; but any additional charge for the supply of water, gas, or other services is in fact a tax on the consumers or users of that service.2 We have noticed before this mingling of earnings and taxes in public economy. Another financial evil may possibly result from municipal industries. Instead of taxing the consumers by heavy rates, the administrators may reduce the charges below the profitable level, and so give what is in fact a bounty on the commodity at the expense of the taxpayers. Where the article is required by the poorer members Edition: current; Page: [203] of the community, the temptation to adopt this course is very strong, but it really involves the transfer of the industries so dealt with to the head of expenditure; from being a source of revenue they become a charge on the municipal budget, and their development only adds to the public burdens.

§ 7. (ii) The second group of industries leads us back to the finance of the central power, and includes amongst its ranks the best known and most generally accepted of all state employments. The Post Office has been regarded, even by the older economists, as an exception to the general rule against state interference in trade and industry. ‘It is, perhaps,’ said Adam Smith, ‘the only mercantile project which has been successfully managed by, I believe, every sort of government,’1 and his opinion has been accepted by all his English followers, none but the extremest advocates of state abstention ever questioning the public management of this department.

State postal service originated in the claim of the sovereign to monopolise whatever affairs closely affected public interests, and in the need of communication between officials. Its development has been the same in its general features in all European countries. At first the service was rendered by private persons, or by some specially privileged body (e.g. in France the messengers of the University of Paris), and was finally taken by the State, though in most instances it was farmed out to a company.

The English Post dates from Charles I. (there being little evidence for the earlier dates of Edward IV. and Henry VIII.), and became a strict monopoly during the Commonwealth. After the Restoration, it was bestowed on the Duke of York, who retained it on his accession to the throne as James II. in 1685. The net annual revenue was at that date about £50,000.2 The growth of revenue during the eighteenth century was steady, and various Edition: current; Page: [204] improvements, such as the introduction of mail-coaches in 1784, improved its position. The invention of railways and steamships further aided the expansion of postal service, until in 1840 the introduction of the penny letter-post, on Rowland Hill's proposal, widely distributed the advantages of cheap communication. Without in the least denying the wisdom of this reform, it should be said that its real financial result was not what is popularly believed. So far from improving the net revenue of the service, it actually lowered the gross revenue, and so far reduced the already deficient income of that period. In 1839 the gross revenue had been £2,390,000, and the net revenue £1,630,000. In 1840 the former fell to £1,360,000, and the latter to £500,000, showing a loss of over £1,130,000; and this loss continued for several years: the gross receipts did not exceed those of 1839 till 1855, and the net revenue did not recover its losses till 1864. Taking into account the growth that would have taken place even under the older system, it is plain that the immediate adoption of the penny post involved a sacrifice of financial resources.1

Even during the last thirty years, though the mass of business has grown enormously, the net receipts have not shown a proportional increase. They amounted in 1872–4 to £3,060,000, in 1883–4 they had risen to £3,222,500, in 1893–4 to £3,749,000, and in 1901–2 to £3,999,000.2

The French Post Office was instituted by Louis XI. in 1464, and carried on irregularly, till in 1627 the service was better organised and improved. The business was farmed out in 1672, and the competition of the agents of the University of Paris was prohibited; the yield increased Edition: current; Page: [205] from 100,000 livres in 1661 to £1,200,000 in 1677, and 1,400,000 livres in 1683. In 1699 the postal income was 2,800,000 livres, in 1750 it had increased to 4,500,000 livres, and in 1788 it reached 12,000,000 livres. The method of farming, so common under the Ancien Régime, made it in fact a monopolised private industry, on which the State levied a gradually increasing rent.

The Revolution separated the carriage of letters from the other duties of the old ‘Poste,’ and in 1792 placed the former under the direct management of the State. The heavy financial pressure, and the general mismanagement of the revolutionary period, caused a great increase in the charge for letters, destroyed the receipts from the business, and even left a deficit on the working. The postal service did not gain much during the Consulate and Empire, but several improvements were introduced after 1815. The rates were better adjusted, and the increased facilities of transport allowed of a better service. The example of England, whose adoption of the uniform penny post attracted much attention and was eulogised by Bastiat, led to the establishment in 1848 of a charge of 20 centimes (2d.), which has been raised to 25 centimes in 1850 and again in 1871, restored to 20 centimes in 1854, and finally reduced to 15 centimes (1½d.) in 1878.1

The same fact of financial loss through reduction presented itself in France in 1848 as in England in 1840. The gross revenue fell from 45,000,000 francs to 32,000,000 francs in the first year after the change (1849), and only recovered the earlier amount in 1855.

The postal history of other States is very similar. Germany, owing to its political disorganisation, was in part served by the house of Thurn and Taxis, which managed the carriage of letters for several of the smaller States. The Prussian post began in 1646, and was under direct state Edition: current; Page: [206] administration. Its net yield in 1685 was less than 40,000 thalers; by 1740 it had increased to 220,000 thalers. The financial necessities of the government caused an increase in the tariffs, and in 1806 there was a clear surplus of 667,000 thalers. The amount in 1856 had risen to nearly 1,760,000 thalers, and in 1862 to over 2,200,000 thalers. The events of 1866 and 1870–1 changed the Prussian post into that of the German Empire—Bavaria and Würtemberg only retaining separate establishments. The net revenue of the imperial post was, in 1874, 5,000,000 marks (1 thaler = 3 marks); in 1879, 17,500,000 marks; in 1892–3, 21,000,000 marks, and in 1901–2, 40,320,000 marks.

The postal systems of Austria, Russia, Italy, and those of the smaller European States need not be examined in detail. Nor does the postal development of the United States, India, and the Colonies present any special features of interest. One general fact is the smallness of the revenue obtained. England, France, and Germany are the only countries that derive a substantial amount from the postal service.1

§ 8. The so-called ‘Post Office’ is in fact a collection of different, though connected, industries. The earliest state posts in both England and France carried passengers as well as letters, and this function lasted in the latter country till the Revolution, when the state passenger service became a separate organisation, and endured till 1870. But the conveyance of patterns, books, newspapers and small parcels forms an extensive part of the postal service, and is the least profitable side of its endeavours. The rates for these separate classes are below the ordinary letter-charges, since otherwise the amount of business would be much reduced. The State is compelled to adopt the principle familiar to railway managers of charging what ‘the traffic will bear,’ but it necessarily obtains very little over the cost of its operations. So far as the conveyance of parcels and newspapers is concerned, the English Post Edition: current; Page: [207] Office does not possess a monopoly, and is therefore a true industrial agency, whose earnings contain no tax element. The German post has specially developed the conveyance of parcels, a part of the business which is left entirely to private companies in the United States, and is a comparatively recent addition in England (only since 1882).1

To secure a proper adjustment of rates on the many classes of articles, and to duly apportion cost and service to the several items, is beyond doubt a most complicated problem. Such solutions as have been reached are for the most part empirical, and are the outcome of innumerable changes. The mere recapitulation of the diverse charges of the various state letter-posts would fill many pages with figures that could hardly be explained on any definite principle. There are, it would appear, three elements that might be taken into consideration, two of which depend on definite physical facts, viz. (1) the weight of the communication or document; (2) the distance over which it has to be carried; and (3) its nature; to which (4) the mode of conveyance may be added. The first is at present the basis of the charge for letters. The second element has lost most of its importance. Since 1839 the question of distance has entirely disappeared in the postal charges of the United Kingdom. A letter from Penzance to Wick pays the same as one posted to a person residing in the same street as the sender. France has with one exception adopted the same policy since 1848, and the United States have also a uniform rate, practically the same as that of England (2 cents). The reason for this at first sight curious system is found in the fact forcibly urged by Rowland Hill, that the actual cost of carrying letters is small enough to be ignored. At the rate of one penny per ounce, a ton of letters all up to the full weight would produce almost £150, while the mere cost of conveyance would certainly not be £5, or one-thirtieth of the receipts. Edition: current; Page: [208] The real charges are those of collection and distribution and the maintenance of offices, the cost of which is equal on all letters. The uniform charge irrespective of distance is thus easily explained, and proved to be sound as well as equitable. It is in the extension of this principle to international postage that the greatest advance in the future may be expected.1

One of the principal distinctions now turns on the character of the articles transmitted. Circulars and postcards would not bear the same charge as ordinary letters. The transmission of newspapers gives a yet smaller fund of utility on which to levy a tax, and is affected by the competition of carrying agencies. The result is shown in the lower halfpenny rate. The mode of conveyance might be used as a measure of the relative value of the service, speed in transmission being a very important part of the advantage of communication; but in fact this test has been little used.

§ 9. The question of the retention of the postal business by the State is hardly an open one. Long experience seems to have decided altogether in its favour. No country has adopted the method of private industry as regards letters, though the state parcel post is not so general. The reasons for this remarkable unanimity are to be found partly in the facts of governmental administration, partly in certain special features of the employment. Before the rise of the economic schools that opposed industrial action on the part of the State, the method of public postal service was firmly established, and was seen to give, on the whole, sufficiently satisfactory results. It therefore escaped the hostile criticism that economists freely bestowed on the less efficient public departments. Mr. Herbert Spencer himself has hesitated to condemn the continuance of the Edition: current; Page: [209] English Post Office. The peculiar nature of the service supported the evidence of facts. It requires as a first condition that the agency shall cover the whole territory to be served, or be universal. Next, it must be uniform and regular, and conducted on a definite routine; and, thirdly, the necessary capital is very small in proportion to the recurring expenditure and receipts. All these conditions favour state management, while its close connexion with everyday life secures a constant supervision on the part of the public, who are the consumers interested in the efficiency of the service.1 It is, therefore, expedient as a matter of policy to place the work in the hands of the State, and the bestowal of a monopoly is justified on the double ground that otherwise private agencies would compete for the more profitable parts of the business, leaving the supply of sparsely peopled and backward districts to the official post office, whilst the waste involved in rival establishments would hinder the reduction of rates below their actual level.

On the purely financial side the gain from the service must generally be a small one; the return for capital employed is little, and the only remaining element would be the economy that results from the application of monopoly, and the consequent unity of the service. Any further charge is really a form of taxation, and requires to be tested by the rules applicable to that mode of procuring revenue.2 The resources to be obtained are in any case not Edition: current; Page: [210] important, though good management may easily prevent a deficit, and unduly high charges will by their reaction on industry prove seriously detrimental to other financial resources.

§ 10. The telegraph as a state business forms a natural appendage to the postal system. It is generally connected with it, owing to the resemblance in the work to be done. There are, however, some serious differences. Unlike the letter-post, telegraphic work has been successfully carried on by companies, and international telegraphy is still largely in their hands.1 The capital expenditure is much greater in the case of the telegraphs, and therefore leaves room for that tendency of official bodies to confuse capital and revenue, which we have already noticed,2 and which is so detrimental to sound finance. Not only is the original cost of establishment or of the purchase of pre-existing rights comparatively speaking large, but incessant renewals and extensions are required in order to meet wear and supply new demands. The saving by unity of management is, besides, not so great, and the cost of transmission Edition: current; Page: [211] forms a larger proportion of the expense, which increases with increased work more rapidly than in the letter-post.

All the circumstances suggest that state telegraphy is not likely to prove financially successful, and such is apparently the result as shown by experience. The intermingling of postal and telegraphic business makes it hard to establish this proposition, but where a strict separation is kept up the telegraph balance is generally on the wrong side. The English state system has suffered financially, first from the excessive purchase money given to the companies who held the business, and secondly through the pressure on Parliament for lower rates, as shown in the adoption of sixpenny telegrams.

If full power to regulate its rates on economic principles be given to the department, there seems to be no reason why it should not at least meet expenses, including interest on capital, or perhaps give a small surplus, sufficient to clear off the first charges in a series of years. Behind the fiscal question there remains the more difficult one of the effect of state management on the development of improvements. To retard the progress of an essential modern auxiliary to commerce for the sake of adding a sum to each side of the national budget is not a desirable achievement. The dealings of state agencies with new inventions are the worst blot on public administration, and it seems that there is this risk in the state telegraphs, that though they are quite up to the standard at their inception, they almost insensibly fall behind as it advances with growing knowledge. This consideration belongs to economic policy rather than finance, which, however, suffers from any hindrance to commercial expansion and is certainly not likely to gain by state telegraphy.

§ 11. The agencies of transport and the different facilities for the movement of goods have in modern times acquired much greater prominence, and have to some extent come to occupy a different financial position. Adam Smith regards the maintenance of roads and canals Edition: current; Page: [212] as one of the duties of the State, requiring expenditure that ought to be defrayed out of the special receipts obtained from the users. His recognition of the so-called ‘fee-principle’ (Gebührenprincip) is qualified by his discussion of the taxes on communication, and is further weakened by the modern development of the transport system.1 To understand the financial position of the industries in question, we have to separate the different forms and examine them in order.

The maintenance of ordinary roads can hardly be regarded as a quasi-private industry. It is a part of the functions of the State, and preferably of the local governments. The principle of particular interest assigns this task to the smaller divisions, unless in the case of great main lines of traffic, but in no way does it fall within the industrial domain, unless the antiquated method of tolls is employed, and even then such charges have more resemblance to taxes.

The canal system has better claims to treatment under the present head. Private companies have in many instances reaped large profits from this form of investment, and there seems to be no reason why the State should adopt a different policy when it is the owner. In practice the usual tendency has been to keep the rates down to the amount necessary to cover expenses and meet the interest on the capital charge. The introduction of railways has put an additional strain on the canal finances, since rates have to be kept below those of the more rapid competitor, until finally in many cases all dues have been abandoned, and the canals have been maintained at the public expense. Such has been the position in France from 1880, when, in opposition to expert opinion, the last remnant of the canal dues was abolished. The Erie canal constructed by the State of New York, which at first gave very large surpluses, had to be relieved from all tolls in 1882. The German rates have also been lowered, and at Edition: current; Page: [213] the same time large expenditure has been incurred for new works; so that it appears that no assistance to the national or local revenues can be derived from this source so long as present industrial conditions continue.1 The system of purely gratuitous service is certainly unjustifiable. A canal ought at least to pay its working expenses, otherwise its maintenance is a direct loss. The charges needed for this purpose would come from the utility that it affords, and the assumed impossibility of levying them is a proof of the comparative inutility of the service.

With regard to capital expenditure the case is different. The tendency of all improvement is to displace fixed capital previously in use by newer and better forms, and state agencies cannot expect to escape this influence. But the existence of the danger is a good ground for seeking to get the maximum net revenue in the earlier years, in order to wipe off the capital charge, and in the period of decline for keeping the rates at the highest profitable level.2

§ 12. In social and financial interest and importance railways far surpass the other agencies of transport. The creation of the nineteenth century, they have contributed largely to promote its special characteristics. Existing political and economic arrangements depend for their successful operation on the modern railway system, supplemented by steamboats and telegraphs. Accordingly we need not be surprised to find that the principal financial problems of the public industrial domain centre in the treatment of railways. Every country has had to consider in what mode it might best utilise the invention, and in each the Edition: current; Page: [214] influence of national peculiarities and historical conditions has produced different effects. The railway legislation of England, France, Germany, and the United States affords many interesting examples of this statement.

Confining our attention to the financial aspects of the subject, two divergent modes of treatment are broadly contrasted.1 The policy of England and the United States has been to regard railways as merely one particular form of industry taking a place beside banking, insurance, shipping, mining, or other companies, but dependent for any special privileges on the direct exercise of the legislative power. The railway company on its first appearance was regulated by enactments curiously similar to those devised for the earlier turnpike trusts and canal companies. The liberal laws of the various American commonwealths with reference to the formation of companies, while giving certain advantages to promoters, were based on the same principle. Such a policy reduced the public financial interest to a minimum. Railway companies were indeed taxed for local purposes in the same way as other proprietors of land and buildings. A passenger duty intended to balance the older stage-coach tax was imposed on them. Various corporation taxes were raised by the American States, lavish grants of land were given to new companies, some advances of money were made, but in all other respects the public powers and the railways were separate. The various changes of English and American legislation have not infringed on this complete isolation. The restraints of the Interstate Commerce Act and the Railway and Canal Act (1888) have had no financial aim or effect. They are confined to the field of economic policy.2

Continental countries have started from a different condition of things, and have all been willing to recognise a much closer connection of the State and the railways. Edition: current; Page: [215] The earlier transport agencies had been under state direction. The carriage of passengers was one of the branches of the French post before the Revolution, and the administration of both roads and canals had been carried on by a state department. The German States had the same general conception, but did not possess the centralised organisation of France. There was thus a predisposing cause for the recent movement towards state railways, which has been encouraged by the ablest theoretical writers. The direct action of the State in the construction and working of railways has been restrained by economic conditions too potent to be set aside by legislation. England was the birthplace of the railway, and its mode of procedure had some effect on other countries, but the principal check was found in the absence of sufficient capital for the work. It was only by severe pressure on the English middle classes that the rapid progress in railway construction of the years 1845–50 was accomplished,1 and the motive power was the extravagant hope of gain. No such force assisted Continental governments in procuring funds, and they were therefore compelled to fall back on the support of private companies, whose shareholders were actuated by the ordinary economic motives.

§ 13. The different circumstances of the different countries affected the railway system. France with its strongly unified government aimed from the first at establishing a well-arranged series of lines on a systematic plan, with the reservation of the ultimate property in them to the State. This course, when considered a priori, had much to recommend it. It preserved the routine policy of the administration as to the older communications, and it promised at the end of the periods of concession to the companies to add a valuable property to the public domain. The earlier concessions under the legislation of 1842 were for short periods, not in any instance exceeding forty-five Edition: current; Page: [216] years. The result was, however, to hinder the investment of capital, and to gradually force more favourable terms from the Government. To encourage the construction of new lines a guarantee of interest was given to the older companies who opened them, and the time of the concessions was extended. Special legislation was applied to induce the construction of local railways either at the expense or with the aid of the local governments. The war of 1870–1 and its effects made the improvement of the service a matter of great interest. In 1878 some railways were acquired and worked directly by the State, and a plan for the creation of state railways on a large scale was proposed. Owing to the impossibility of procuring the necessary capital, a new arrangement was made with the companies in 1883, by which the state railways became only one, and that the least important, of the seven groups into which the main lines are divided.

The financial results are decidedly unsatisfactory. The surplus from the government group after the working expenses are paid is small (for the year 1885, 4,257,000 francs), and by no means equals the interest on capital, which for the same year (1885) was over 40,000,000 francs. The local lines are a further charge on the central and local governments, and they have been proved to possess little earning power. Under the various conventions between 1859 and 1883 large advances have been made in the form of guaranteed interest, amounting for the eight years 1867–74 to over 290,000,000 francs. As these charges are repayable out of the future increments of value, they have under the newer system been separated from the annual budget charge.1 To state shortly the outcome of French railway policy on its financial side, we may say that as yet the expenditure of the State has been considerable, for which the returns so far have not been a sufficient recompense, but that the method of limited concession, which Edition: current; Page: [217] checks the development of railway enterprise, and almost forces the State to give subsidies or guarantees, has the advantage of creating a large state property in the future. The terms of the six great companies who possess the main lines of France all expire between 1950 and 1960, when nearly 16,000 miles of railway will revert to the State, besides the new lines, amounting probably to about 6,000 miles, for which public money is by the arrangement of 1883 being gradually advanced. The net revenue of the French lines for 1899 was 690,000,000 francs, so that, without taking the prospects of increased revenue into account, there would be an addition of £27,600,000 annually to the state resources. Whether undue sacrifices have been made for the sake of this distant benefit is a difficult question to answer but we may conjecture that a simpler and more consistent method would have been better for French finance.1

§ 14. The earlier German railways were developed chiefly by state assistance or in some cases by state construction, but on no uniform plan. Each of the smaller territories formed its own railway system to meet local needs, without paying attention to the through lines of communication. Prussian railway policy was somewhat exceptional. Private companies were allowed to take part in the work of supplying needed lines, and guarantees of interest were given as encouragement. On military grounds several railway lines were constructed and worked by the State, and thus a basis was laid for the later policy.

The creation of the German Empire and the unification of its monetary and banking legislation could not fail to influence the position of the means of communication. State ownership and management were decided on, the only question of difficulty being the determination of the bodies who were to undertake the duty. At first the central or imperial Edition: current; Page: [218] government was to have been the owner. When, in deference to the sentiment of the smaller States, this plan was abandoned, the Prussian administration proceeded to buy up the chief private lines and work them by state officials. The magnitude of this process, which commenced about 1870 may be judged from the fact that in 1878 the state-owned railways were about 3,000 miles against 11,000 miles owned by private companies. In 1893 the lines owned or worked by the State had 16,900 miles against 1,467 miles owned and worked by private companies. The smaller States have also purchased most of the few private lines in their territories. Hesse alone has a greater length of private than public mileage.1

So far as Prussia is concerned, the financial results have been extremely favourable. The prices paid for the purchase of the several lines were high, but nevertheless there has been a good surplus in each year after meeting all expenses and paying interest.2. The services given to the imperial post by the railways form another gain, which is hardly ascertainable, since it is mixed up in the postal receipts, which are thereby increased. To obtain a clear revenue of over £15,000,000 is an undoubted proof of financial success, though it may partly be derived from limiting Edition: current; Page: [219] the facilities for goods and passengers, and be in fact a tax on industrial activity. The great amount of public debt contracted as the purchase money of the private lines should be taken into account in considering the policy of Prussia. All pre-existing debt makes the terms of future loans more onerous, even when there are assets sufficient to meet the earlier charges, and it may be that Prussia's railway debt will injuriously affect her credit should she need it for war.

In the smaller German States the financial advantages of state ownership are not so great. In Baden the estimate for 1893 assumed a surplus over working expenses of 14,297,000 marks, while the interest and sinking fund on the railway debt was taken as 18,370,000 marks. Würtemberg is in a similar situation. The net revenue for 1893–4 was estimated at 13,000,000 marks, the interest on the railway debt being over 16,000,000 marks. The Bavarian railways have only now come to yield more than the interest of their debt, and the lines of Saxony just balance. The reasons for this relatively inferior position are not clearly established. The greater activity and the wider area covered by the Prussian railroads probably allow of more economical management than can be applied to the smaller lines. The system of state management is of longer standing in the other States, and it is possible that sufficient time has not elapsed for a proper judgment on the merits of the state railways of Prussia.

§ 15. Both Austria and Hungary have in recent years increased the number of their state lines. In consequence of the financial troubles of 1873, and to avoid the heavy payments for guaranteed interest, several leading lines were purchased by the State, though more than half remain in the charge of private companies. The surplus of the Austrian Ministry of Commerce, so far as the state railways are concerned, for 1902 is estimated at 39,220,000 crowns, which does not meet the interest on the railway debt. The Hungarian state railways also have been in an unsatisfactory Edition: current; Page: [220] financial condition, but show an improvement, the surplus for 1892 being taken as 31,563,000 florins, a large increase over the preceding year.1

Belgium illustrates perhaps better than any other European country the operation of state and private railways. The earlier lines were created by the State with the object of developing the transit trade, for which the country was so well suited. Additional lines were afterwards constructed by private enterprise, which competed with the state railways and with each other. To avoid this struggle a large part of the company-lines has been purchased by the government, but with the unfortunate result of reducing the receipts below the profitable point. In 1870, before the era of purchase, the surplus was nearly 20,000,000 francs, and the interest on debt nearly 13,000,000 francs, giving a net gain of almost 7,000,000 francs. Ten years later the surplus had risen to 45,750,000 francs, but the debt charge had reached 45,795,000 francs, giving a deficit of 45,000 francs, or, speaking broadly, the total receipts and expenses balanced. By 1883 the surplus was 48,500,000, francs, the debt charge having grown to 52,500,000 francs thus making a deficit of 4,000,000 francs. Higher rates were imposed as a remedy for this evil, and in 1891 the surplus over working expenses reached 58,000,000 francs.

The experience of other European countries in regard to the financial effects of state-owned railways does not materially alter the conclusions that the cases already examined suggest. Holland and Italy (since 1885) have preferred to lease the state lines to private companies. Russia has conformed to the general tendency in favour of railway nationalisation. In January 1887 the state railways were only 4,418 verstes in length as against 21,045 verstes in the hands of companies. In September 1892 the relative lengths were 11,536 and 17,152 verstes. On September 1st, 1901, the state railways comprised 34,998 verstes, only Edition: current; Page: [221] 14,913 verstes remaining under private control. The financial results have not been satisfactory: for the fifteen years 1886–1900 the expenses have exceeded receipts in twelve, but a part of the outlay is properly assignable to capital. The excess of receipts over working expenses on the state lines amounted in 1900 to 114,500,000 roubles. Roumania, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark have most of their lines under state ownership, which in the former countries does not give sufficient surplus to pay interest on capital charges. Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland have as yet substantially adhered to the system of private enterprise.1

§ 16. Outside of Europe the railways have been mainly an item of state expenditure to the various governments. Both in North and South America large grants of land and guarantees of interest have been given as inducements to the undertakers of railways. Brazil and Chile possess some state lines which do not pay the interest on their capital. The government lines of Canada have not even paid working expenses for any year since 1871, and the accumulated excess of expenditure over receipts since confederation in 1868 amounts to over 7,800,000 dollars, besides the capital expenditure of 58,000,000 dollars.

The Australasian colonies have entrusted the work of railway construction to their governments, who have borrowed largely for the purpose. In the year 1892 the total receipts from the Australasian state railways were £10,040,000 and the working expenses £6,533,000, showing a surplus of over £3,500,000. The debt contracted for railway service, however, amounted to £123,100,000, with an interest charge of over £4,600,000. Thus the railway system, so far from being a source of gain, really involved expenditure to the amount of about £1,100,000. In all the colonies except Victoria the administration has been placed in the hands of an expert commission, with satisfactory Edition: current; Page: [222] results, especially in New South Wales, where the surplus nearly pays the interest on railway debt.1 It may reasonably be expected that the growth of population will in future largely increase the railway receipts in all the colonies without proportionally raising the working expenses.2

Indian railway policy is financially interesting as affording a further proof of the readiness of English administrators to adopt a system quite different from that of their own country. As in Australia, the State has taken a great part in the extension of railway communications. The first method was that of securing or guaranteeing interest to private companies, under which stimulus some of the main lines were constructed. Then came the pressure of military necessities and of famine relief. A number of smaller and less important lines were established, and for the most part worked by the government. Finally, financial conditions have made it desirable to return to the guarantee system, but at a lower rate of interest and for a limited time. Though the receipts from the state railways are large (195,517,000 rupees for 1893–4), the expenditure is still larger (215,458,000 rupees for the same period), so that if the net balance only be taken into account, there is an annual outlay for the service.

Edition: current; Page: [223] § 17. The statistics of state-railway finance have been given at some length in order to facilitate the formation of a correct judgment on the system. Within the last thirty years the movement towards ‘railway nationalisation’ has been increasing in force, and though the grounds on which it has to be decided belong mainly to economic policy in the widest sense, financial considerations cannot be altogether neglected. The one conspicuous financial success of state-managed railways is found in Prussia, of which the minor German States, as Cohn points out,1 fall very far short. France, Belgium, and Russia in recent years have not profited financially from their state lines. Those of Australasia and Canada afford on the whole no direct addition to the public revenues, a statement which is also true of India.

If the question is to be determined on these definite facts, the conclusion ought, we believe, to be against state property in railways. Many other considerations are, however, to be taken into account. Advocates of state property dwell on the future increase from the growing movements of both persons and goods, and regard construction or purchase as a profitable investment for the future. Transport agencies act powerfully in the promotion of industrial and commercial development,2 and hence it is argued that even unremunerative lines may so benefit the community as to increase the productiveness of other sources of revenue. Again, unity of management, only to be obtained under the state, would reduce working expenses and leave a larger surplus as net profit. The superiority of state credit is alleged as another reason for believing that its ownership would be financially successful. The English Government could some years ago borrow at 3¼ per cent. (and now at less than 3 per cent.), and, buying Edition: current; Page: [224] up the railway shareholders' interests at their market value, would, it is supposed, secure for itself the difference between the return on railway shares and that on Consols. By an extensive investment of borrowed capital a margin of profit would be obtained for the discharge of other public services. The objections to such a policy are obvious enough. There is no financial reason for investment in railroads that might not be applied to other forms of industry. If the advantages of unified management are important, the dangers of attempting to deal with a varied and complicated business are grave. Railway nationalisation as a financial measure is open to the risks that attend similar proposals for land nationalisation. Without accepting Jevons's view that the supposed gain from purchase through the higher credit of the State is wholly a fallacy,1 it is certain that it depends on a series of events which are uncertain and incalculable. Depression in trade, appreciation of the standard of value, or new inventions would reduce very much the value of the fixed capital of the railway system. The policy of state acquisition exposes the public finances to all the chances of loss that these possibilities open up. At best the system of state owned and managed railways thus appears to be a speculative employment of financial resources, and, judged in the light of experience, to be of more than doubtful advantage to the Exchequer. The general difficulties of state industrial enterprise are besides very likely to occur Edition: current; Page: [225] in this case. Defective accounts of capital and revenue expenditure and receipts cannot be escaped any more than in the dockyards or arsenals. With the best intentions it is not easy to distinguish clearly between the different sources and applications of the funds with which a railway administration has to deal; and yet to get a perfectly trustworthy statement of the financial position of state railways is essential for a correct judgment on the policy that has created them.

§ 18. What the railway system is to the nation tramways are to the town, and therefore it is quite in accordance with the general course of policy that there should be an effort to ‘municipalise’ these means of communication. English legislation places local governments in an exceptionally favourable position, either for establishing tramways themselves, or, after the expiration of a period, purchasing the rights of companies. A large number of British towns own their local lines, but up to July 1st, 1899, only seventeen municipal bodies worked their lines; in other cases the lines are leased to companies. Capital to the amount £3,200,000 has been applied to this object by about thirty towns. In the United States ‘a few municipalities manage their own street-car lines,’1 but the number is small.

Though classed in accordance with their nature among the industries of transport, the tramways resemble in their economic and financial aspects the other industries discussed in an earlier part of the chapter.

§ 19. The proper administration of the railway system, assuming it to be owned by the State, is a further problem. Shall the lines be leased to a company, as in Holland, or be managed directly by state officials? The former seems the solution that offers the greatest financial advantages. The full value of the line can be obtained and the chance of loss in a great measure avoided. Unfortunately the objects for which state railways are often desired cannot be accomplished in this way. The lessees will doubtless use their Edition: current; Page: [226] privilege to gain the highest possible returns, and the evils of competition and unequal rates will continue.

State administration is so much desired by the opponents of private companies that, as in Germany, private lines are leased to the State. In this way great outlay of capital is avoided, and as the management of a railway line may be reduced to a system of routine, there at first appears to be a fair analogy with the Post Office. This resemblance is only apparent. Instead of the simple tariff and limited classes with which the Post Office deals, there must be very elaborate grouping and frequent adjustment to new conditions. The management of a great railway is an industrial ‘undertaking’ of peculiar difficulty, and is almost certain to suffer from the want of capable direction. The financial success of state-managed railways will be affected by the efficiency of the management of so complicated a business, and it is more than doubtful whether the gain through unity of direction and system will compensate for the lack of energy and zeal that state industries display.

A great deal will depend on the particular constitution and situation of the country. The good financial results of the Prussian railroads are largely attributable to the skill and care of the trained officials in the service of that State. Countries where the public service is not so well organised and with governments more subject to popular control cannot hope for equal success. ‘I tremble to think,’ said Jevons, ‘what might be the financial results if a property exceeding the National Debt in nominal value, and requiring in every part of it constant repairs, renewals, and extensions, were in the hands of a Parliamentary minister who might find some day that he had been illegally and ignorantly signing away great sums of money at the bidding of his subordinates.’1

Edition: current; Page: [227] The financial working of the system would be particularly exposed to danger; for, in addition to the risk of errors in management, there would be the pressure of public opinion in favour of low fares and rates. If a substantial surplus were realised in any year, it would be impossible to escape reductions that would effectually prevent its recurrence. Victorian experience is instructive on this point. Any increases in the gross receipts of the Colonial lines have been ‘absorbed by the additional working expenses’ due to extra facilities and lower rates. The Railway Commissioners declare that ‘No department controlling state-owned railways can expect to be allowed to realise more than a small margin beyond the amount required to pay the interest upon the capital invested, as immediately that point has been reached the public request and insist upon concessions in rates or increased facilities, both of which are practically an amelioration of taxation.’1 It remains to be seen whether Prussia will succeed in maintaining her high revenue from railways when once a movement for remission of taxation sets in. Cohn, for example, justifies the railway surplus on the ground that it is derived from the well-to-do classes, and makes the distribution of public burdens fairer, but if the duties on commodities of general use, which are so heavy in Germany, were modified, the claim for lower railway charges could not be met in this way.2

The question of compensation for loss is another serious financial point in railway administration. State post offices escape the difficulty by repudiating all responsibility, no matter what loss they inflict, but railways could not follow this most objectionable method. Over a large system it is probable that the cost of accidents and other losses could be averaged from year to year, though some variation would still occur. Smaller countries would not have this refuge from loss. A single heavy accident Edition: current; Page: [228] would disturb the balance, and turn profit into loss. The Victorian railways had for a single accident to pay claims to the amount of £128,988; but the total expenditure under that head for the year in question (1887–8) only amounted to £142,562, while for the preceding year it was but £6,655. It is moreover highly probable that if the amount of compensation were assessed, as at present in England, by juries, their bias would be altogether against the railway administration, and to a greater extent than it is now against private companies.

§ 20. One difficulty common to most forms of state industry arises from the necessity of dealing with large numbers of employees. The tasks of the modern State are sufficiently varied and comprehensive to take up all the ability and time of administrators, without adding unnecessarily to their duties. Public industries, however, require for their efficient working a body of organised hands, obtained by free contract. An unavoidable consequence is the possibility of disagreement between the State and its helpers, culminating perhaps in the last weapon of industrial war—strikes.1 The position of the public powers is in such cases a trying one. The agency that is bound to enforce order and fair play is one of the parties to the dispute; the natural disposition of an administrator in a popular government is to make things smooth by yielding to the demands of the discontented, a course that involves additional expense and injuriously affects the financial position. The pressure of the consumer—that is the community—for low rates, and that of state officials for better conditions of service, is the most serious financial risk that the industrial activity of the State is likely to encounter. The Prussian railway service controls its 80,000 employees on an almost military system, aided by the organisation of the national army. But any Edition: current; Page: [229] attempt to direct the railway system of the United Kingdom on a similar plan would be hopeless.

§ 21. But whatever be the judgment that we form as to the expediency of the policy, there can be little doubt that it has had important effects on public finance. In most European States a new branch of the public domain has been called into existence, with very large gross receipts. The weight of public indebtedness has moreover been increased, and the real nature and results of that burden have been obscured.1 A large section of private industry, that would otherwise contribute to the public resources through taxation, has come into the charge of the State. The broader social and political results do not concern us here. But the purely financial consequences of a continuance of the movement have much interest. One inevitable result will be the comparative reduction of tax-revenue as contributing to the gross receipts. The addition of English railway expenditure and receipts to the national Budget would far more than double its already portentous sum.2

Edition: current; Page: [230] Under such conditions the ordinary method of interpreting financial returns would prove defective. At present the Post Office unduly affects the balance of the Budget, but its effect is insignificant compared with accounts of the magnitude of the railways. The Indian Budget, as Fawcett very clearly showed,1 is open to misinterpretation on this ground. Until the gross and net figures are separated and arranged, there are no correct data for discussing the financial situation.

Of more weight is the fact that this great increase of gross receipts and expenditure would leave the real power and burdens of the country almost unchanged. The financial condition might be a little better or a little worse, according as there was a net gain or loss from the new state domain; but in substance the public wants would still have to be met from taxation, and the pressure would fall on private income, since the large revenues from quasi-private possessions would have corresponding charges against them.

The system of creating a state industrial domain by the policy of granting long concessions, with ultimate reversion to the State, is by far the most plausible. It appears to be a form of saving by securing advantages in the distant future at a small present sacrifice. For we cannot believe that the concessionnaries do not endeavour to compensate themselves for their shorter term by increased charges, the result of limitation of advantages. Such is apparently the case in France, where the railway companies, if their tenure is limited, derive a counter advantage from the very high dividends guaranteed to them.

From one point of view the formation of a state property may be regarded as a mode of saving, somewhat analogous to the treasures accumulated by sovereigns in earlier times. A long-continued process of judicious investment might succeed in raising these accumulations to a very large amount, but under modern conditions it is better to trust to Edition: current; Page: [231] taxation for the needed revenue, and allow the investment of capital to proceed from the action of individuals. It may be further remarked that each extension of state ownership and management is a step in the direction of Socialism. That the growth of public industries, if carried on unchecked, would ultimately transform society into the type desired by the more thoughtful Socialists, is undeniable; and, whatever may be the merits of this kind of social organisation, it is utterly incompatible with the continuance of the conditions which existing financial theories assume. During all changes of social life, the fundamental economic and financial categories will survive, but their form may be so changed as to render entirely new expositions essential. We are not called on to discuss socialistic proposals, but, to all who recognise their impracticability, the encouragement to Socialism that attends the extension of the industrial domain of the State may be noted as a further objection to it.

Edition: current; Page: [232]

CHAPTER IV: the state as capitalist. administrative revenue

§ 1. The agricultural and industrial property of the State, though the former has lost most of its importance and the latter is confined to particular sections of industry have both retained a place as substantial sources of revenue in the case of at least some countries. The domain, the forests, and the railways of Prussia contribute a considerable amount to the budget, and cannot be passed over in any estimate of the financial position of that country. The land revenue is a mainstay of Indian finance, and England would feel the loss of the postal revenue. Very different is the position of what once might have been regarded as a co-ordinate part of the quasi-private income of the State, viz., the revenue from commerce. At one time the regulation, and even the monopoly, of certain branches of trade was believed to be a part of the royal prerogative. This position, which was most strongly held in the sixteenth century, gave way before the presence of new economic forces and the criticisms of the more intelligent theorists. It is now universally recognised that, to use Adam Smith's words, ‘no two characters seem more inconsistent than those of trader and sovereign.’1 The speculative nature of commerce, the need for constant watchfulness and minute calculation of the chances of gain or loss which Edition: current; Page: [233] are its essential features, make it impossible for a State to hope for revenue by engaging in it.

Exceptions to this general rule are rather apparent than real. When a State possesses and works lands, forests, mines, or factories—unless the products are used in the state service—it must find a market for what it turns out, but even this irreducible minimum of commercial transactions is the weakest part of state economy, and by its risks forms an additional objection to those already urged against increasing public lands or industries. The same necessity, of course, exists where an article is artificially monopolised for the purpose of effective taxation, a process that is sometimes confined to the sale, leaving the production to private enterprise. Revenue obtained in this way is virtually taxation on the commodities so treated, and must be considered in that connexion. The only special case that we need notice is that of the Dutch Government trade from Java. Under the ‘culture system’ large quantities of valuable products, chiefly coffee, tea, and spices, were received by the Colonial Government and sold at a high rate. For many years large surpluses were realised, but lately the modifications of the culture system and the fall in prices have led to deficits in the colonial budget, and given still further proof of the hazardous nature of such revenues.1

§ 2. The business of banking is in so many ways connected with the State that its public management appears to have much to recommend it. The ordinary method has, however, been that of granting concessions to privileged companies, which are bound to afford facilities to the State in return for advantages enjoyed. England, France, and Germany at present adopt this policy, with the various modifications that the circumstances of each country make advisable. The pure ‘state-bank,’ in which the capital of the undertaking is supplied from the public funds, is Edition: current; Page: [234] found only in Russia and Sweden. In most countries banks contribute to the revenue either by the special services that they perform for the State, by taxation, or by sharing profits over a certain point with the Treasury, the last being the system of the German Imperial Bank.1

Banking may naturally be divided into dealings (1) with money, and (2) with capital. There are strong reasons for regarding the former as a state function, and it is probably from this part of the business that public revenue may best be obtained.2 The trade in capital, on the other hand, seems entirely unfit for governmental intervention, though some small revenue may be gained from it by judicious taxation.

The relations of public finance with the banking system are not confined to questions of revenue. The public debt in its different forms, especially that of inconvertible paper issues, is mixed up with the trade in capital, and the whole mechanism of the financial system is dependent for its successful operation on the agencies of credit. We shall therefore have more than once to return to the subject.3

Another form of state banking has come into existence in the last thirty years in the savings bank, which originated in England in 1861, and has extended to Belgium, Italy, Holland, France, Austria, and Sweden; but its financial importance is confined to the aid which the large deposits afford in the creation of terminable annuities.

§ 3. A more important but at the same time more questionable source of revenue is by many States derived from the receipts of lotteries conducted by the government. The tendency of the State to seek gain from the errors or vices of its subjects is very noticeable in the earlier periods Edition: current; Page: [235] of financial history. Appeals were often made to men's ‘absurd presumption in their own good fortune,’ by the establishment of periodical lotteries, in which the contributors, taken as a body, were certain to lose. In many cases the lottery became a state monopoly, and several examples still exist. The Prussian budget estimate for 1902–3 assumes a yield of 88,263,500 marks from this source. Italy is the receiver of a large revenue from lotteries, the gross yield for 1901–2 being computed at 67,500,000 lire. Saxony, Hamburg, Spain, and Hungary are also indebted to this system for a portion of their revenues. The objections are rather moral than economic, though the virtues weakened by the prevalence of gambling are the peculiarly economic ones of prudence and willingness to acquire wealth by labour.

From the purely financial point of view, the more refined lottery systems depending on combinations of numbers are objectionable, as there is some uncertainty as to their gains. The State is exactly in the position of the banker of the gambling table. Thus 1885 was a bad year for the Italian lottery, 1886 a good one. The simple method of prizes arranged in classes is preferable, but it appeals less powerfully to the spirit of adventure, on the prevalence of which the institution depends for its continuance.

The pernicious effects of state sanction of the vice of gambling have led to the abandonment of the lottery system in England (1826), Hesse (1832), France (1836), Sweden (1840), Bavaria (1861), and Switzerland (1865).

§ 4. Adam Smith has made the institution of a ‘public pawnshop’ familar by his reference to the case of Hamburg; and many similar establishments in the shape of the ‘Monts de Piété’ in France, Belgium, and some German States are in existence. The proceeds, when they exceed the advances and cost of working, are not applied to public use, so that the whole system is rather a charge, chiefly on municipal revenues.

A priori it would seem that the lending of accumulated Edition: current; Page: [236] wealth would be a convenient mode of securing a revenue for the public services, but, as in the case of industrial investments, the test of experience makes it plain that this is really an expensive way of obtaining the necessary supplies, since the principal has first to be raised, and is afterwards less productively employed than when left in the ownership of private persons. A true conception of the relation of state income to the national income, which is the sum of all private incomes within the nation, overthrows the fallacy of state accumulation and investment.

Notwithstanding the force of this general canon, the financial accounts of modern States exhibit apparently many examples of advances of capital by the State, but on closer investigation these cases turn out to be connected with the use of public credit. For the furtherance of certain economic or social ends, such as the improvement of land, or the erection of better dwellings for workmen, or municipal improvements, advances are made by the central government either to individuals or to local bodies, but these loans are themselves ultimately derived from private capital by means of public credit. The Treasury acts simply as an intermediary in supplying capital for certain desirable objects—a position made clear in England by Viscount Goschen's separation of the local from the general debt. Repayment of the money so advanced is but the appropriate method of discharging the amount of debt that was contracted for the original loans.

§ 5. The interest on capital lent out is thus not a source of state revenue that need receive attention here, since it does not really increase the public receipts. We may therefore pass on to consider those kinds of revenue that are fixed in amount and admit of capitalisation, a circumstance that connects them with the gains from invested capital, notwithstanding that their origin is very different.

Foremost amongst such revenue is the gain from charges, Edition: current; Page: [237] on land. In an earlier chapter of the present book we found that the agricultural domain had often passed gradually from the hands of the sovereign by the introduction of hereditary leases. Permanency of tenure without limitation of rent is of little benefit, as increase in the charge can always be imposed in order to destroy the tenant's interest. Consequently the fixing for ever, or for a long term, of the rent to be paid accompanies the hereditary lease. The variable payments become settled and definite charges.

In another way the same form of revenue comes into existence. The servile tenures of the Middle Ages prescribed a great variety of duties to be performed by the tenants, which under the new conditions of ‘money economy’ were commuted into fixed sums. English legislation on copyholds, the measures of the French Constituent Assembly, and Prussian land legislation since 1807 have all had this commutation and settling of dues as one of their objects. The tithes—so peculiarly distinctive of ecclesiastical property—have also undergone the same treatment, wherever they have not been abolished. The universality of the forces that work this change is shown by the extension of the terms of the Indian land settlements and the favour in which perpetual settlements are held. The difficulties as to drawing a distinction between rent and taxation in India have been already noticed, as also the fact that with a perpetual settlement the state receipts in reality belong to neither head, but are a thing per se.1

A still further question arises, viz. whether long-continued taxes on land should not be included in this class of receipts. Much controversy has arisen in connexion with the French Impòt Foncier; one party contending that its burden has ceased to be felt, since all purchasers deducted the capitalised amount of the tax from the purchase money, while opponents of this view have brought forward the ever-open possibility of changes in the amount so levied. The Edition: current; Page: [238] broader theoretical aspects of the matters at issue will occupy us in studying taxation,1 when we shall see reason for adopting the last-mentioned view, but some concession can be made to the advocates of the rent-charge conception of land taxes. Where, as in the case of the English Land Tax of 1692 (originally intended to include all property, but evaded by the holders of movable wealth), the amount is fixed on each estate, it does become a charge on the land. The system of redemption, applied first in 1798, is of itself sufficient to prove the correctness of this view. The so-called ‘English Land Tax’ is gradually disappearing. From its highest point of £1,911,663 in 1798, it has come down to £755,000 in 1900–1.2

The expediency of allowing redemption by the parties liable to such charges depends altogether on the nature of the burden. So long as the land tax was, or was intended to be, variable, permission to capitalise the payments would necessarily be futile, since a fresh charge could always be imposed, but, where fixity has been introduced, redemption is generally for the advantage of both sides: for that of the person liable, since otherwise he would not consent to redeem, and for that of the State, which is thereby enabled to reduce its liabilities. Whether a charge should be fixed or not depends on the way in which it has been established, and is mainly determined by considerations of public policy. The conversion of taxes into fixed payments is, however, unquestionably an error in finance, as owing to the growth of public expenditure, provision has to be made for procuring larger sums, while the immobility of each existing tax compels the financier to have recourse to new and, on the whole, less eligible sources of revenue. The same consideration applies to commutations of rent, either of land, of mines, or of concessions for railways, Edition: current; Page: [239] canals, and other undertakings. The probability is that they will give a larger return at each renewal, and this additional gain is lost by commutation for a fixed sum, unless, indeed, full allowance is made in the arrangement for the value of the increments that may reasonably be expected in the future. Such transactions are not usually settled on terms favourable to the public interest. An individual will not estimate a very distant gain at its real value to the community, and, as a result, the fixed payment will be but slightly raised by the inclusion of a benefit to be obtained later on. Financially, it is best to reserve these prospective receipts for the new objects of outlay that are certain to arise.

§ 6. Besides the services attached to land, there is a miscellaneous group of receipts which may conveniently be noticed here. Historically they belong to the class of regalia, and are due to the sovereign's prerogative. Amongst them we may mention charges for the privilege of hunting, or of fishing, which to some small extent contribute to the public revenue at present. Mediæval finance expanded this class of receipts to a remarkable extent. They acted, as Roscher as shown, as a traditional form between the earliest condition, in which the domanial revenue sufficed for the royal service, and the later state economy depending chiefly on taxation.1 Our modern customs and excises appear in germ in these feudal or imperial dues. Succession duties can also be referred to the same source; but, apart from what may fairly be regarded as tax revenue in rudimentary form, there are the well-known feudal aids, the right of the sovereign to fines, that of taking ownerless goods, and the numberless other claims that the ingenuity of lawyers succeeded in establishing.

Modern finance has chiefly to deal with these prerogative rights so far as they help to explain the evolution of existing systems of taxation, or in the scattered remnants Edition: current; Page: [240] which are found as survivals in every country, inexplicable except on historical grounds. The discussion also serves as a suitable introduction to another class of public receipts that has presented much difficulty in regard to its correct position in the financial system.

§ 7. The problem of classifying the revenues known as ‘fees’ (Gebühren) need not be again considered.1 In accordance with the conclusion before reached, no separate department for fees is requisite. Some of the so-called Gebühren, e.g. the postal revenue, have been noticed in the preceding chapter, others will find their place in the study of taxation, while the remainder of the heterogeneous class will be considered here as a sequel to the fixed charges imposed by the State. By this method the complications that otherwise occur are avoided, and the creation of a distinct group of state receipts, co-ordinate with that derived from taxation, becomes unnecessary.

If further justification were needed for this breaking up of the topic of Gebühren that German financial science has laboured so strenuously to develop, it would be found in the remarkable divergences of opinion among its exponents. No two of the able and erudite workers at the subject give precisely the same interpretation and arrangement. The one fixed and definite result obtained can be and is recognised in our treatment, viz. that the ‘fee’ is paid in return for service done, and that it does not bring in a clear return to the State over and above the cost of the service for which it is paid.

The classification and division of the different kinds of fees is almost as unsettled as the nature and position of the whole system, but when we deduct those charges that really belong to the industrial domain, as also whatever is in fact tax revenue, the difficulty is very much lessened. Special reasons apart, the State may charge for any service rendered to a determinate individual, and therefore it would Edition: current; Page: [241] seem abstractly possible that each public function would have its corresponding fees. State services cannot, as we know, be analysed and their effect on each citizen assigned. The general interests of the society are a matter of importance to all; were it otherwise the whole organisation of the State might be dissolved, and its duties given up to individual enterprise. Fees come in only as a supplement to the other receipts of the public exchequer, and have to be confined to certain cases of measurable services, where the citizen is brought into direct contact with the public power.

§ 8. The administration of justice has been the occasion for the earliest of these charges. Without returning to the previously considered position of primitive law courts,1 we need only bear in mind that the cost of law services has been more and more placed on the general revenue. From being self-supporting, the cost of justice has been steadily increasing. Nevertheless, a large number of charges are still levied in connexion with legal proceedings in every modern country. The United Kingdom shows net receipts for the year 1893–4 to the amount of £870,844 under the general head of ‘Fees,’ of which by far the largest part was obtained from court charges. Local governments also receive fees for police and justice which ought in strictness to be added, but the total amount was less than £500,000 for 1887–8. In France the system of court fees in the older form of épices was abolished at the Revolution, but the charges for documents and legal forms are still a part of the revenue under the title Greffe. The timbre, or stamp duty, also affects judicial acts, but the greater part of its return is really taxation. For the year 1888 the receipts from the Greffe were 8,225,000 francs. The same category of receipts in Italy for the year 1881 came to 7,000,000 lire. The several German States, as well as the Imperial Government, obtain more or less revenue from the same Edition: current; Page: [242] source. So do many of the American commonwealths, but the value of the comparative figures is very little, owing to the intermixture of fees with taxation.1

Besides the revenue derived from contentious proceedings, or from fines on criminals, there are numerous juridical acts which require for their validity the payment of a contribution to the State, or which involve work on the part of the public officials, that can be charged for on the ordinary principle of service done. Such are entries in official registers, grants of naturalisation, and the supply of copies of legal transactions. One of the most important in practice is the dealing with land titles. In all countries with a proper land system owners' titles are registered and changes in the rights over land are recorded. The benefit of such a system to owners and intending purchasers is beyond question, while the cost is very moderate. A low scale of fees for the operations of the registry suffices to cover its expenses, and therefore is an eminently suitable mode of providing for them. Such charges are in principle clearly distinct from the heavy duties on the transfer of land that still exist in France and form a part of the system of enregistrement. Low fees have the double advantage of securing without difficulty a good proportion of the expense that administration entails, and of allowing transactions to be carried on without check.

§ 9. Fees for justice and juridical acts shade off almost insensibly into ‘administrative fees’ (Verwaltungsgebühren), so that many of those enumerated in the preceding section might fairly be placed under the latter head, but where the payment is made in connexion with questions of legal right, it seems better to regard it as a ‘law fee.’ Among administrative fees those for ordinary certificates, e.g. of births, deaths, and marriages, may be included the issue of Edition: current; Page: [243] passports, attestation of degrees and diplomas, and the many other payments for special official relations. More important, however, are charges connected with economic transactions, such as fees for testing the quality of articles, that now exist chiefly as survivals of the older system of regulation, as e.g. the English hall-mark on gold and silver, or have been introduced on social grounds, as in the case of testing for adulteration.

In this somewhat miscellaneous collection, whose indefiniteness results from the wide extension of state functions, may be placed the revenue from seignorage. The function of coining money is undertaken by every civilised government, and in most cases a small amount of the metal sent for coinage is retained in order to meet the expenses of the process. Where the deduction is limited to the amount necessary to cover the cost it is substantially a fee for guaranteeing the fineness and weight of the currency. The English mint does not even do this in respect to the gold coinage, which is a cause of expense to the State. It is more than recompensed on the token coinage of silver and copper, which gives a varying surplus, amounting for the year 1889–90 to the unusually large sum of £774,000. Receipts of so considerable an amount, if normal, would not be treated under the present head. If it could be shown that the seignorage charge pressed on any class or classes, it would be a special tax levied on them; if it was the result of state monopoly, it would be a gain of the State from the industrial undertaking of coinage. As any large gain is very rare—the receipts of the English mint for 1889–90 were described by Viscount Goschen as a ‘windfall which cannot be expected to recur’1—and as some mints do not cover their working expenses, it is best to regard seignorage as being one of the class of ‘fees.’

Charges for testing weights and measures make another item in the list; so do lighthouse dues and dock charges In almost every case of administrative action there will be Edition: current; Page: [244] some receipts owing to the definite services that are rendered to individuals or the commodities supplied to them. The sale of official publications may be given as an example.

A comparatively important but diminishing head of revenue from ‘fees’ is found in school attendance payments. The promotion of education is now regarded as a public duty, involving extensive outlay, which must be supplied either from taxation or from the fees paid by those who avail themselves of instruction. There seems to be no reason why a part of the expenses of the system should not be borne by the parents, unless in the case of actual destitution. The tendency, however, is towards their removal. The United States, and France since 1881, have no fees for primary schools. Prussia still retains them, but they have disappeared in the United Kingdom under the operation of the Education Acts of 1891 and 1892.1 The higher educational institutions also produce fees in small amounts, as e.g. in England the University of London, before the recent change in its constitution almost covered its annual working expenditure by the fees of candidates for its degrees and certificates.

§ 10. Looking back on the list of receipts that may fairly be classed as fees, we see the absence of any harmonious or logical arrangement. There is no branch of the public power to which they can be attributed; they are spread Edition: current; Page: [245] over the local and general budgets, and sometimes never come into account, being the perquisites of the officials who receive them, as is not uncommon in the United States. Much of the law that regulates them is only of interest in administration; they are often inextricably mixed up with the public industrial receipts and with taxes, especially ‘taxes on commerce’ (Verkehrssteuern),1 and finally the aid they give to the financier is not considerable. They may indeed be regarded as incidental products of state action. Just as in manufacturing processes certain by-products are found which are sold for what they can bring or as the labourer disposes of his spare hours for any wages that will overcome his desire for leisure, so the mechanism of the State, while aiming at the efficient discharge of the tasks set to it, nevertheless does not refuse to collect revenue that can be acquired without neglect of the primary object in view, and such revenue is that from fees.

There is thus complete justification for regarding them as an appendage to the quasi-private economic receipts, as we have done in the present chapter.2

Edition: current; Page: [246]

CHAPTER V: state property.—general considerations on quasi-private revenue

§ 1. We have now examined the different classes of public receipts that can be fairly classed as ‘quasi-private’ or ‘economic’; what the practical financier would describe as ‘non-tax revenue.’ The component elements are somewhat heterogeneous, a necessary result of the variety and complexity of public administration. Some of the categories shade off indefinitely into the other great class of contributions obtained through taxation, and thus deprive the technical groupings made for practical purposes of the logical consistency needed in scientific inquiry. In another respect the nature of things presents difficulties in the way of precise classification. The ‘economic’ revenue of the State is the product of property held, or payment for services done, by it. Great masses of public property are, however, not productive of revenue in the ordinary sense. From the Houses of Parliament down to the smallest court-house—from Epping Forest to the village green—there are buildings and lands that bring in no return to be entered in any budget, local or general. They are, nevertheless, a constituent part of the public domain, the loss of which would be seriously felt even financially. They contribute not wealth in the strict sense, but utility, and the problem of determining their financial advantage is therefore a difficult one. It seems that the best mode of framing Edition: current; Page: [247] an approximately correct estimate is to take the sacrifice that their loss would impose. The destruction of the public buildings of this class in the United Kingdom would place a considerable charge on both national and local resources, and this sum gauges the value of the existing buildings. The same test applies to the land devoted to general use such as parks, commons, and roads when free from tolls.1 The last-mentioned case shows how revenue-yielding property can pass into the class under discussion, and the French canals previously noticed afford another instance Strictly speaking, the policy of charging fees only equivalent to, or even under, the cost of maintenance is an intermediate stage between using state possessions as a source of economic revenue and abandoning them to gratuitous use.

The extension of this ‘unproductive’ public domain is one of the remarkable features of the present century. The movement, usually described under the title of ‘State Socialism,’ has made public authorities owners of museums, picture-galleries, libraries, baths, gardens, and the other appliances of a civilised society. No materials are at present available for forming an adequate conception of the extent of the movement, but of its reality and importance there can be no question. It is not limited to any particular country, and it is as prominent in local as in central government. Though commonly placed under the head of ‘State Socialism,’ it is really ‘communistic’ rather than ‘socialistic,’ since it implies the gratuitous supply of certain advantages that may be wholly unearned by the receivers. The Edition: current; Page: [248] classes that benefit directly are not those who contribute, even in labour, to the work of society. The public domain, applied to either state or general use, also influences the financial position by the outlay that is needed to keep it in efficient working. The existence of numerous public buildings, of large areas of land devoted to the service of the community, of works directly supplying state needs, might give a very considerable sum of assets to be entered in the national ledger if an inventory of state property were taken.1 It must, however, be remembered that the State is in mercantile phraseology ‘a going concern.’ Its property cannot be realised without suspending the processes of political life, and so long as these continue further expenditure is unavoidable. This part of public property resembles the mansion, demesne, carriages, plate, and furniture of a rich man, which are only productive of wealth on the breaking-up of his establishment, and otherwise involve him in additional outlay.2 Each is, in the language of modern economists, the ‘consumers’ capital' of the proprietor, affording utility but not revenue in the narrower sense of the word.

These various points of connexion are quite sufficient ground for noticing the unproductive possessions of the State, and their suitable position is plainly in immediate sequence to that other section of public property which does contribute to the resources of the budget. Between land earning profit and land that merely affords enjoyment there are so many intermediate gradations that we pass almost insensibly from one to the other; and the same statement is applicable to some other forms of fixed capital.

There is an evident convenience in the use of separate terms for these two classes of public property. The Edition: current; Page: [249] language of French administration describes the revenue-giving part as ‘Domaine privé de létat,’ while the remainder is the ‘Domaine public,’ though the latter term is sometimes used in a wider sense to include all the possessions of the State. The phrase ‘Domaine privé’ has often a legal rather than an economical or financial meaning, and denotes the property held by the State as a juristic person. Stein has proposed the terms ‘Domänen’ and ‘Staatsbesitz’ for the ‘productive’ and ‘unproductive’ parts of the public property, and perhaps the best English equivalents would be ‘domain’ and ‘property,’ though the latter is rather too vague unless qualified by some limiting term.1

§ 2. All the sources of revenue described in the present book possess one common feature that differentiates them from the tax receipts. Their amount has no essential connexion with the public wants. No matter what may be the demands on the public treasury, the various parts of the national domain will continue to give the returns that the economic conditions establish. State lands will afford rent, state investments interest, and state industries profit under the normal form of those divisions of income. They will not increase in times of pressure, nor will they diminish when funds are abundant, and they therefore deserve the epithet ‘mechanical’ as opposed to ‘organic’ which has been given to them.2 This feature of itself makes recourse to taxation a necessity in times of increasing expenditure. Even on the supposition that England had sufficient returns from its economic revenues to meet the expenditure of 1790, the French wars would have disturbed the balance, and it would never since have been restored. It might appear that the proposition just stated is not strictly exact. Fresh state wants might lead to more judicious management of the domain. Rents might be brought nearer to the economic limit. State industries might be Edition: current; Page: [250] worked with a closer eye to profit, and fees, notably, might be made higher. This qualification is only apparent. The previous low receipts were either the result of bad management or of a particular line of policy, and if the former, could have been rectified apart from the new needs, if the latter, would involve the loss of the object previously aimed at. Increased rents may retard agricultural advance, higher railway charges injuriously affect commerce, and increased fees tend to limit the transactions on which they are charged. Assuming then that pre-existing receipts have been arranged on correct principles, no increase can be obtained without a corresponding loss to the community, and in many instances it will be really taxation, as may easily happen with regard to any economic source of income. It is further probable that new demands will act injuriously on the economic revenues, e.g. war with its accompanying expenditure retards social progress.

The antithesis between ‘mechanical’ and ‘organic’ revenue is thus shown to be based on the natural conditions of the two classes, and to indicate the place of each in a developed financial system.

§ 3. The division of the mechanical sources between central and local authorities is in general determined by the history and situation of each particular country. Land may, it would seem, be held either by the State as representing the sovereign of mediæval times, or by the parish or commune, which is the descendant of the old village community, but peculiarities in legal development have influenced the actual position. The English parish is very different from the French commune with its juristic personality and separate property.1 The commune and the State are in most European countries the only public powers that have had enough continuity of existence to acquire the ownership of land. The Crown and Church possessions Edition: current; Page: [251] have passed to the latter, the ‘waste’ of the district to the former.

Intermediate bodies under unified governments, e.g. the English ‘County’ and the French ‘Department,’ have little economic receipts, and what they possess is of recent origin. Federation naturally supplies the principal subdivisions with larger possessions, or rather it leaves them the wealth which they held before union, though in certain cases the tendency is towards placing land, and especially forests, under the central government.1

With regard to industrial undertakings the general rule, confirmed by practice, is in favour of placing them in charge of the State. Local bodies cannot be expected to deal wisely with the complicated and involved questions that must arise. The principle of ‘particular interest’ is the reason for a class of exceptions. Just as those public functions that principally concern a town or district should, generally speaking, be entrusted to its authorities, so should the industries connected with those functions or services. It is on this ground that municipal gas and waterworks, main drainage systems, and tramways are to be justified. Such undertakings are most prominent in urban districts, but, if needed, rural bodies may fitly carry them out. Local railway lines (e.g. the Chemins de Fer d'intérêt local of French finance) may be, and sometimes are, owned by the appropriate local body. The railways possessed by the various German States would probably be more successful if they were in the hands of the imperial administration, and such was the original design of the promoters of state purchase, only defeated by the jealousy of the smaller States.

Postal and telegraphic administration and industries monopolised for the purpose of special taxation are best suited for administration by the general government. As Edition: current; Page: [252] regards the various receipts capable of capitalisation no general rule obtains. When they are received by local bodies supervision by state officials is desirable in order to prevent maladministration or redemption for insufficient value, but there seems to be no reason for depriving a town or district of any resources of the kind that it may possess. Its taxation is so far reduced, and the nation as a whole has no claim to the funds.

Fees have to be distributed according to their source. Local administration is fairly entitled to what may be called its ‘incidental earnings.’ On the other hand, all administrative revenue that is gained by agents of the central government is justly due to it. By this simple rule much confusion is avoided, and there is the best chance of effective control.

A like consideration ought to guide the division of unproductive property. Whatever land or buildings subserve the wants of local administration should belong to the authority so administering; the general government should retain the remainder. Thus buildings for the local courts parks, or baths for a town are best put under local control National museums or libraries, or the principal courts of justice, belong rightly to the State.

§ 4. The necessity or advantage of general rules on the subject of division is, however, much reduced by two circumstances viz. first, the variety of conditions in different countries, and the numerous modifications in the structure of local government. Much more depends on the character of the particular people, or even the particular body, than is usually the case in finance. Thus the devolution with benefit of powers to the Corporation or to the County Council of London is no argument for a similar course with the municipality of Paris. Nor can inferences be safely drawn from both these bodies to the proper position of the Corporation of New York. At present the duty of the inquirer is rather to note the actual phenomena, avoiding hasty generalisation. The other qualifying circumstance Edition: current; Page: [253] is the interaction of the central and local bodies in respect to finance. Not to touch as yet on taxation, we can, even at present, see that land belonging to the communes may for financial reasons be managed by the State, and the receipts paid over to the owners. Again, local bodies may for convenience or economy take charge of public property which is essentially that of the State. So also general fees may be received by local officials, or vice versa. The consequence is that the two agencies, or rather the two sides, of the public power are so interlocked that systematic distribution of revenue cannot be made without a comprehensive survey of the whole position, and full allowance for the many influencing conditions.

§ 5. A final question now presents itself, viz. what is the proportion of revenue contributed by the ‘mechanical’ sources? Or, in other words, how much is left to be supplied by taxation? The answer, it need not be said, will vary according to the time and the country to which it applies. In some German States, at the end of the Middle Ages, taxation did not exist save as an exceptional resource. The present English or French revenue is almost wholly made up from this ‘extraordinary’ aid, as it was anciently called. And many intermediate positions are to be found.

Before entering on these particulars we must recall a distinction noticed already for another purpose, viz. that between gross and net revenue. Modern finance has accepted as correct the policy of bringing all sums received and expended into account, so that the budget shall reveal any defect in the operations carried on. For scientific analysis it is just as necessary to eliminate certain elements from each side of the accounts. To take the nearest example. In the English accounts for the year 1900–1, Posts and Telegraphs figure on the revenue side for £17,250,000, and form over 13 per cent. of the receipts. The expenditure was, however, taken as £12,700,000, and this, deducted from the former sum, leaves the more Edition: current; Page: [254] modest item of £3,550,000, or less than 3 per cent. If all the component parts of revenue were equally affected by this diminution there would be no difficulty in comparing amounts; but the nature of the quasi-private State revenue makes the gross largely exceed the net receipts, while in respect to taxation the existence of any remarkable difference between the two is of itself a strong objection to the particular form so affected as showing undue cost in collection. Nor are these differences confined to the tax as opposed to the non-tax receipts; within the latter class the relation of net and gross revenue is not in every, perhaps hardly in any, case exactly the same. The Indian land revenue gives a very high proportion of net return. In 1899–1900, about £14,500,000 out of £17,200,000. The Prussian mines, on the contrary, give very little net receipts, and some purely industrial enterprises have often a balance on the wrong side.

What is most important at present is to recognise that in estimating the financial merits of the various sources net revenue is the only sound basis of calculation. No matter what are the gross incomings, if there are equal outgoings the exchequer does not benefit. Taking this view, we are led to reduce very much the importance of the economic receipts. Except in the case of rent the net returns are small. Even the Prussian state railways, the most profitable of public undertakings, do not produce much revenue when compared with the total net receipts of the budget. Besides, the intrusion of the tax element tends to deprive some of the most important public industries of their purely economic character.

§ 6. The intermixture of economic and tax revenues as well as the complications of net and gross receipts, and the involved relations of capital and revenue accounts, prevent a precise and definite answer regarding the proportion of public expenditure defrayed out of taxation. It is, however, possible to give approximate results that are not without value. In the English financial year Edition: current; Page: [255] 1901–2, the receipts from taxation were £121,893,000. The cost of collection was £2,970,000, leaving a net return of £118,923,000. Non-tax receipts came to £21,105,000, expenditure to £13,300,000, and the net receipts to £7,805,000.

Passing over the various readjustments that the question of fees and the distribution of interest on capital charges might in strictness necessitate, 94 per cent. is obtained from taxation against 6 per cent. from other sources. Local finance in England and Wales for the year 1898–9 (the last available) gained by taxation £38,600,000 directly, and £11,790,000, from contributions of the central government. Gas, electric lighting, waterworks, and tramways yielded over £10,430,000, while their cost was £7,785,000. This balance of £2,645,000 has to be further reduced by the interest on debt incurred on the industries in question, or about £2,350,000, the net gain being brought down to less than £300,000. Tolls, dues, repayments, rents, and dividends came to about £9,000,000, from which the uncertain cost of collection has to be taken. The broad inference from these figures is that about two-thirds of the gross local receipts come from taxation, the remaining one-third being otherwise obtained, but that in the net receipts taxation stands to other sources in the ratio of 5 to 1.1

Germany shows a somewhat different position. Nearly all the German States have a good percentage of their gross receipts from economic revenue, but when the cost of gaining that revenue is taken into account there is very little surplus left. Thus the estimated net revenue for the year 1902 from the Prussian lands and forests (other than railways) is 59,600,000 marks (£2,980,000); that from mines and salt-works 30,800,000 marks (£1,540,000), the railway earnings (part of which is taxation) contributed 532 million Edition: current; Page: [256] marks (£26,600,000), or a total of about 623 million marks (or £31,150,000).1 The gross receipts would convey a quite different impression. They for the same year are estimated at 1,714 million marks, the corresponding outlay, net working interest on railway debt, being 1,091 million marks. As the gross receipts from all sources are taken at 2,614 million marks, while the net receipts only reach 883 million marks,2 we may conclude that though the domain and industrial undertakings were over 62 per cent. of the gross, they formed a smaller proportion of the net income.3 The inclusion of fees and administrative revenue would increase the proportion of economic receipts, but the tax element is so prominent in them (especially the law fees) that the correctness of this course is doubtful.4

The other German States resemble Prussia, though in their case the proportion of net receipts by taxation is probably larger, as their net income from railways and mines is lower. Austria and Hungary, too, gain much less than Prussia from the economic sources of revenue.

India is the only other country whose proportion of economic revenue is deserving of attention. One noteworthy feature of Indian finance is the contrast between its most productive sources and those of European countries, especially Great Britain. Its financial mainstay Edition: current; Page: [257] is in the rent charges on land, which, together with the parts that are truly either rent or taxation, supply close on £15,000,000 annually. Other sources of the same class are unproductive. Postal service, telegraphs, and railways lead to expenditure rather than profit. Forests produce a small surplus. The tax revenue is just as sharply contrasted with that of England. Salt and opium are the chief contributories, and fiscal monopoly is a prominent agent in the collection. The ordinary excise, customs, and stamps are comparatively unimportant; so is direct taxation, which is so effective in England. On the whole we may say that even in India less than half the net receipts are derived from quasi-private sources of revenue.

§ 7. The preceding facts sufficiently support the general proposition that the economic revenue of the State is financially inferior to that gathered by the tax-collector, and it also seems to hold good that the greater the economic development of a country, the less important is the former. Whether the statement will be applicable to the future is perhaps doubtful. Modern tendencies are in the direction of creating an industrial domain that may rival in value the agricultural domain of earlier times, but the net revenue to be obtained from it will probably be less than would at first appear likely. The cost of constructing the modern state domain and the pressure on the administration to reduce the cost of service to the lowest point that expenses of working will allow, are both hindrances to the use of state industries as an effective relief from the charge of taxation. There is no probability that in the near future the proportion of the public charges to be met by direct levies from the citizens of the State will diminish, more especially when the rapid growth of public expenditure is taken into account.

Taxation will, therefore, next claim our attention, and as the main support of the State's economy will need fuller and more critical investigation than has been necessary with other forms of revenue.

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CHAPTER I: definition and classification of taxation

§ 1. The subject of the present book is undoubtedly the central part of modern finance. Its importance has led English and American writers to regard it as almost the sole topic for discussion. Though this is not true either for England or the United States, and is still more erroneous when other countries are taken into account, yet the existence of such an opinion proves the preponderating influence of taxation in the modern financial organisation. Another evident reason for the great prominence given to this source of state revenue is its close connexion with economics. State expenditure may be looked on as a question of public policy to be decided by the practical judgment of ‘that crafty and insidious animal vulgarly called a statesman or politician,’ the quasi-private receipts may be treated on the principles of private economy, but taxation raises a series of fundamental questions which involve refined ethical and economic considerations. The effect of any given tax system is a strictly economic question, requiring for its solution frequent reference to the conditions both of production and of distribution. What ought to be the system adopted in each special case must be decided by reference to both moral and economic conditions. Assuming that the partition of the burden should be a just one, we must estimate its true weight and the share really Edition: current; Page: [262] borne by each citizen before we can venture to pronounce a judgment for or against any proposed arrangement.

The necessity for constantly appealing to the theorems of economists has made the study of taxation almost a part of applied political economy;1 but, notwithstanding that this is the favourite English method of treatment, it is far better to discuss it as a part of the wider subject of public finance, since its origin and growth are in this way better understood, and the unquestionably close relation between the several departments of public finance can only thus receive due recognition.

§ 2. At the commencement of our examination questions of definition and classification present themselves in embarrassing number. Administrative practice and economic theory are both responsible for this difficulty. Terms apparently of the utmost simplicity have been, and are, used with a variety of meaning that is all the more confusing because of the strong points of connexion between the different uses. Discussions as to the meaning of terms are, it need not be said, hardly ever purely verbal: they in almost every case turn on different conceptions of facts, or different modes of grouping the objects under notice. The literature of finance, especially in Germany, is rich in examples, and some of the best-known doctrines derive a great deal of their authority from some particular application of an ambiguous word. To clear up our terminology, or at least to explain the use of the terms we employ, is an indispensable step in the investigation.

§ 3. First of all we have to settle the meaning of the word ‘tax.’ This term, so clear and simple to the ordinary citizen, has been very variously defined, sometimes at astonishing length, and often with the, it may be unconscious, design of aiding a particular theory as to the Edition: current; Page: [263] character of the facts denoted by it. The following definition is, we believe, correct and quite in accordance with the realities of finance and politics: it has the further advantage of not implying unfairly any special view respecting the nature or justice of taxation.

A tax is a compulsory contribution of the wealth of a person or body of persons for the service of the public powers.1

Each term in this definition is significant, and helps to explain the object defined. First, a tax is ‘compulsory.’ This does not mean that all tax revenue is paid unwillingly, but merely that the will of the payer is legally immaterial. The amount, the mode and time of levying, the persons affected, are all determined by the sovereign or its delegate, and individual preferences or dislikes are allowed no place in the act. It thus appears that so-called voluntary taxation is not true taxation, which is plainly the fact; for in the few cases in which it has been tried, society is either in the pre-political stage in which the public economy exists only in a rudimentary form, or the system is one of self-assessment supported by social rather than legal sanction. Gifts may indeed be made by individuals to the State, a circumstance not without importance in the history of finance, but they are at present so rare as hardly to need mention.

Next, a tax is a ‘contribution’—that is to say, it involves a sacrifice on the part of the contributor. It is quite possible that some persons may gain through the operation of a tax of which they themselves pay a part; but it is rather the operation of the tax than its payment by the person affected that produces this result. Every tax necessitates a deduction from the wealth of the contributor, even though compensation may be indirectly brought about through its action.

Thirdly, the term ‘wealth’ has to be understood in a Edition: current; Page: [264] wide sense, including ‘services’ as well as commodities. Military service or forced labour for, say, repairing roads (corvées) is taxation quite as much as payment of money or goods. These may be good or bad forms of taxation, but they must be reckoned in the category of taxes.

Again, all taxation is imposed on ‘persons.’ This necessarily follows from the circumstance that the payment of taxation is a duty, and persons only can be liable to duties. The proposition is apparently inconsistent with the division of taxes into ‘personal’ and ‘real,’ and also with the taxation of commodities so often mentioned. There is, however, no opposition between the different uses. The term ‘real’ taxation refers to the ‘object’ of taxation; the owner or ultimate bearer is the ‘subject’ of the tax, and he is a person. Taxation of commodities falls on the consumers or other persons connected with the taxed articles, and a similar analysis will apply to other forms of taxation. The truth, though often forgotten, yet always holds good that a tax must ultimately be paid by some one.1

Fifthly, taxation is levied for ‘service’ or ‘benefit.’ The public economy requires the supply of its wants, and taxation is the mode of meeting whatever proportion of those wants remains unsatisfied from other parts of the public revenue. The produce of taxation has unfortunately been only too often misapplied, and resulted in injury rather than gain; but the tax-imposing body must be regarded as the final arbiter of the justice of its wants. That some requirements are evil makes them none the less requirements in the case either of individuals or of States.

Finally, taxation is for the ‘public powers,’ i.e. it has to meet the wants of both central and local governments. A rate raised by the smallest parish is as much a tax as if it were levied by the Imperial Parliament. All contributions Edition: current; Page: [265] to the various organs of government are taxes in the view of finance, whatever be their administrative name. Special kinds of taxation have been often denounced as being for the benefit of classes or individuals, not for that of the State. Protective taxes, e.g., have incurred this reproach. Such forms of taxation are, however, imposed in the interest, or supposed interest, of the nation, and if they yield any revenue are so far productive of gain to the State. The advantage obtained by the protected producers may be regarded as equivalent to so much public expenditure in their favour. It is generally incapable of being estimated, but this circumstance is of practical rather than theoretical importance. That all taxes of equal pressure are not of equal advantage, either to the State or the community, is too evident to need formal assertion. Otherwise there would be no reason for the selection of any particular forms.

§ 4. The foregoing definition, with the accompanying explanations, conveys all that is essential in the idea of taxation, but the numerous efforts to explain the term deserve some further notice. Many of the ablest writers on the subject have given definitions which substantially agree with that stated in the preceding section. Thus De Parieu defines taxation as ‘the charge levied by the State on the property or labour of the citizens, in order to provide for the public expenses’; Roscher asserts that taxes are ‘the contributions which individual economies must pay, in consequence of their dependence, to the State, province, commune, etc., or, generally, the particular collective compulsory economy placed over them in order to assist in satisfying the financial needs of the receivers.’ According to Cossa, a ‘tax is that part of the wealth of private individuals which the authority of the State, province, or municipality appropriates in order to provide for the public expenses incurred for the advantage of the general body of tax-payers.’1 To these definitions it is not here desirable to add the many others that generally agree with Edition: current; Page: [266]them; but we ought to consider some of the doubtful variations in the formal statements of the nature of taxation. One of these is suggested by the last clause of the definition just quoted from Cossa.1 The phrase ‘incurred for the advantage of the general body of tax-payers,’ recalls to mind the once-established, and still generally popular, doctrine that taxes are the price paid for the services of the public authorities. This way of looking at the facts was quite in harmony with the political doctrines of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Belief in a compact between the ruler and his subjects led naturally to regarding taxation as simply a payment for service done. The citizen received security and paid its price in taxation. The immediate advantage of this doctrine, as placing a limit to arbitrary exactions and tending to increase security, is apparent, and there is accordingly no reason for surprise when, in some form or other, the idea of exchange is associated with the payment of taxes. In Montesquieu's opinion, ‘the revenues of the State are the portion of his property that each citizen gives in order to have security for the remainder, or to enjoy it in comfort.’ Here the conception of payment to escape further demands is combined with that of return for services rendered. The French National Assembly gives still another variation in its reference to taxation as ‘the common debt of all citizens, and the price of the advantages that society affords them.’ From this it is not far to the assertion of Proudhon that ‘Taxation is an exchange in which the State gives services and the contributor money.’2 Hardly distinguishable is the belief that taxation is the insurance premium against the risks of social disorder Edition: current; Page: [267] set forth in Mirabeau's proposition that ‘Taxation is only an advance to obtain protection for social order.’ The desire to present a ready justification of the arrangements of society finds an illustration in these attempts to depict taxation as a quid pro quo.

To show that this way of explaining taxation is incorrect is not difficult. The assertion that taxes are purely a return for services rendered is plainly untrue. We shall see that there is no possibility of measuring precisely the most important of the benefits rendered by the State. Security against aggression is, literally speaking, an ‘incalculable’ good. Social order cannot be sold by retail like tea or sugar, and so is it with the other state functions, even the purely economic ones. Indeed, it would be very near the truth to say that the difficulty of applying the normal method of purchase makes a given form of activity suitable for state management; if defence and justice could be readily bought and paid for, we might trust to private enterprise for a sufficient supply. Wherever the benefit to the individual can be even approximately estimated there is a strong presumption in favour of levying the cost incurred from him and converting the tax into a ‘fee.’ Special reasons may make it desirable that this charge should be compulsory. The citizen may be so negligent of his true interest as to omit obtaining the best appliances for the purposes of health or education, but even in such cases there is also a general interest which furnishes the principal ground for the intervention of the State.

The opposition between free payment and taxation is too important to be evaded by the introduction of a vague idea of exchange of services as including both, and any definition of taxation that implies, or expressly states, this combination is so far erroneous. Like the general doctrine of the social contract, its practical convenience as a weapon on the side of liberty cannot conceal its scientific weakness. The equivalence between the amount of taxes paid and the benefits obtained is rather to be found in the case of the Edition: current; Page: [268] community as a whole than of any special part of it. Looking at the public agencies from this point of view, it is well to consider whether the advantages of government are a compensation for its cost, and this test should be steadily applied in judging the merits of any proposed expenditure. The question, in truth, belongs to that department of public finance. Once expenditure has been incurred, the imposition of taxation in order to meet it is a matter of course. We have accordingly considered it in its fit connexion.1In any case, to introduce what is at best a highly disputable doctrine into the definition of so important a term is altogether a mistake.

§ 5. Other definitions of taxation fail through excessive vagueness. We gain little by being told that taxation is ‘a public charge, a duty imposed on certain things.’2 Very often one or more of the essential elements is omitted. Thus the fact of taxation falling solely on persons is neglected in the definition of taxes as ‘the enforced proportional contribution of persons or property levied by the authority of the State for the support of government and for all public needs.’3 Besides the error of including ‘property’ as a subject of taxation, this definition brings in the unessential principle of ‘proportionality,’ and would therefore exclude large groups of what are universally regarded as taxes. This is a very common defect in the definitions of the term, due to the desire to give an exhaustive account of its attributes, or to bring some favourite theory into its general conception. Professor Ely's elaborate account, like those of many German writers, illustrates this danger.4 The real function of a definition is to give a clear Edition: current; Page: [269] idea of the nature and limits of the phenomenon denoted by the term, not to convey in a formal statement all that is known about it, still less to prejudge the questions that may arise in the course of further inquiry.

§ 6. The etymologies of the words employed in different languages to’ denote this class of public contributions are full of instruction. The English ‘tax,’ as also its equivalent in local finance, ‘rate,’1 suggests the estimation or fixing of the amount of charge. So does the German ‘Schätzung.’ The idea of assistance or advantage to the State is foremost in the French ‘aide’ and the German ‘Steuer.’ That of compulsion is primary in ‘impôt’ and ‘Auflage.’ The surrender by the payer is connoted in ‘tributum,’ ‘dazio,’ and ‘Abgabe,’ while finally the origin of taxation in voluntary payment is evidenced by the words ‘donum’ and ‘benevolence.’ Minute investigation may show that there are differences in the nature of the charges described by these several names, but, speaking broadly, they all cover what we regard as taxation, and help to justify the definition given above.2

§ 7. Having determined the meaning of ‘taxation,’ it next becomes necessary to understand its chief classifications and the technical terms employed respecting it. First, we may notice the term ‘subject,’ which is conveniently used to denote the person who bears its burden, and who must be distinguished from the immediate payer—e.g. the importer of wine in England pays the duty on it, but the ‘subjects’ of the wine duties are the consumers so far as the charge is really a pressure on them. The ‘subject’ and the payer may or may not be the same according to the particular circumstances.

Edition: current; Page: [270] As the ‘subject’ of taxation is the person affected, so the ‘object’ is the thing or fact on which it is imposed.1 Thus, in the example just given of the wine duties, the commodity wine would be the object of the duty. Even where taxation is said to be ‘personal’ it is assessed on some object as ‘income’ or ‘produce,’ or in the extreme instance of a capitation or poll tax on the person as a physical body. Confusion between the ‘subject’ and ‘object’ is the cause of the belief that some taxation does not fall on persons.2

The ‘source’ of taxation has somewhat the same relation to its ‘object’ as the ultimate bearer or subject to the immediate payer. The fund created by taxation is derived from the resources of the community, i.e. as we shall see from the income, or in special instances the property, of the ‘subjects.’ There has been much dispute as to the real ‘source’ of the tax-revenue that will need consideration later on, but there can be no doubt as to the proper use of the term ‘source’ in respect to taxation. It is, perhaps, unnecessary to mention the terms ‘unit’ and ‘rate,’ which are employed, the former to describe the quantity of the object taken as a standard, the latter the amount of taxation per ‘unit.’ Where commodities are taxed the unit will be a measure of weight, e.g. the lb., as in the British tea duty, or contents, as the gallon in the wine duty, or length, as in the old duties on cottons. A sum of the standard money is the commonest, as in the system of ad valorem duties.2

Edition: current; Page: [271] § 8. A much more important set of terms is that connected with the classification of taxation. The division and grouping of the several kinds of taxes have been varied to suit particular financial systems, and much of the general discussions on the subject is concerned with the comparative merits of these arrangements, and the extent to which they conform to the natural order, so far as it can be said to exist. A preliminary notice of some of the more common distinctions is desirable at the present stage.

One of the most widely known and frequently used divisions of taxation is that into ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’; unfortunately it is used in different senses, though with several points of connexion. That most familiar to English readers is stated by J. S. Mill in the following terms:—

‘Taxes are either direct or indirect. A direct tax is one, which is demanded from the very persons who, it is intended or desired, should pay it. Indirect taxes are those which are demanded from one person in the expectation and intention that he shall indemnify himself at the expense of another.’1

The difference is here made to turn on the mode of incidence, a matter often very difficult to determine, and changing with the special circumstances of each case. Whatever be its economical importance, it is evidently useless for administrative purposes, and probably owes its origin to the peculiar theory of the Physiocrats respecting the ‘source’ of taxation.

A natural result has been that practical financiers have adopted a different basis of distinction, and regard those taxes as direct which are levied on permanent and recurring occasions, while charges on occasional and particular events are placed under the category of indirect taxation. On either method the income tax would be ‘direct,’ and the excise and customs ‘indirect’: the ‘death duties’ would be ‘direct’ from Mill's point of view, and ‘indirect’ in the administrative sense. The vagueness of the terms has Edition: current; Page: [272] led to a number of further applications differing from the important ones just mentioned. With some writers taxes on possession are ‘direct,’ taxes on consumption ‘indirect’: with others production is substituted for possession, while a third class would regard taxation of income as direct, imposts on expenditure being indirect.1

Another division is that into ‘taxes on revenue’ and ‘taxes on capital,’ or, perhaps better, on ‘property.’ The former are paid out of the annual national production; the latter encroach on the accumulated wealth of the society. But in qualification of this statement it must be added that most of the actual property or capital taxes are so only in name, being really paid out of the income of the persons subject to the charge. There is thus a discordance between the practical and scientific use of these terms as great as in the case of direct and indirect taxation.

Taxes are often said to be either ‘real’ or ‘personal,’ and attempts have been made to distribute them into two classes on this basis. Personal taxes are those in which the person is taken note of in assessment. They require lists of the tax-payers (rôles nominatives, in the language of French administrators). Real taxes are assessed on objects other than persons, and without direct reference to the owners or possessors. Capitation and income taxes are ‘personal’; taxes on land, houses, or goods are ‘real.’ The use of these terms has the inconvenience, already noticed, of obscuring the fact that all taxation is in the last resort on persons, and further raises a particular form of levy into undue importance. An income tax is certainly personal, but Schedule A of the English income tax is very similar to the French impôt foncier, that is as certainly ‘real.’

Edition: current; Page: [273] In respect to the mode of assessment taxes may be either ‘rated’ or ‘apportioned.’1 In the former class the charge per unit is fixed, but the total yield is always uncertain, depending as it does on the number of units that pay. An apportioned tax is one the total amount of which is fixed the shares being apportioned among the objects that are charged. As examples the English income tax and the French impôt foncier will again serve. The former is ‘rated,’ the latter ‘apportioned,’ being so divided among the departments as to make up the previously fixed amount. This method is decidedly the more primitive: it has disappeared long ago from the English system, and will probably meet the same fate elsewhere.2

§ 9. The foregoing distinctions are too important to be passed over, but they are also too imperfect to be of much use in a scientific classification of taxes. Particular aspects of taxation, the administrative peculiarities of certain countries, and obsolete or imperfect theories have been the causes of their employment. It is accordingly advisable to consider the subject from a more general point of view in order, as far as possible, to reach a natural arrangement.

In choosing the principle of grouping we have to make a selection between two contrasted systems which may be distinguished as (1) the economical and theoretical, and (2) the empirical or fiscal modes.

The first mentioned depends on the economical theory of the distribution of wealth, and can be traced back at least to Adam Smith. He opens his discussion of taxation by asserting that ‘the private revenue of individuals arise ultimately from three different sources—rent, profit, and wages,’ and proceeds, ‘every tax must finally be paid from Edition: current; Page: [274] one or other of those different sources of revenue, or from all of them indifferently.... The particular consideration of each of these different sorts will divide the second part of the present chapter into four articles.’1 Nothing can be plainer and simpler in appearance than this arrangement. The economic shares in distribution are regarded as so many sources of revenue, on one or more of which every tax must fall. The later analysis of profit into the component parts of ‘interest’ and ‘employer's gain’ would add one further source, but would not otherwise disturb the treatment.2 The great attractions of this method are its simplicity and the facilities that it affords for employing the propositions of economics in deducing the effects of taxation. To reduce the subject into ‘four articles,’ even with ‘several other subdivisions,’ promises a welcome abridgment of labour. English economists in treating of taxation have therefore intended, as far as possible, to follow this course. Ricardo and J. S. Mill are the most prominent examples. But on closer examination it appears that neither of them, nor even Adam Smith himself, could adhere consistently to this over-simple grouping. In Ricardo's hands the subject requires eleven chapters, several of which consider the effects of taxes on land, houses, raw produce, and gold, in addition to those on the primary sources of rent, profit, and wages. Mill goes further and formally limits the division of taxes according to the economic source on which they are imposed to the case of direct taxation on income.3 The taxation of commodities and such taxes as those on contracts and on communication are quite outside it. But the Wealth of Nations affords a stronger proof of the insufficiency of the ground of division Edition: current; Page: [275] selected by its author. Sections devoted to taxes on produce of land, on the profit rent, and the ground rent of houses, to capitation taxes, and taxes on commodities, break up the compact order that the introduction holds out. It is evident that the subject-matter refused to fit into the limited groups that the economic classification required, and the sound common sense so characteristic of Adam Smith is shown by his deviations from the theoretic lines previously traced out by him.

Much of the difficulty arises from the fact that taxation always has persons for its ‘subjects,’ and they frequently derive their income—the normal ‘source’ of taxation—from more than one of the different economic shares. The citizen is not a pure rent, interest, or wages receiver; he often combines all three in his annual receipts. Again, the most prominent external feature of taxation is the ‘objects’ on which it is levied. These are, however, very many, and it is often beyond the power of analysis to decompose the charge on some commodity or form of receipt into its economic constituents, e.g. the produce of land may be due to the co-operation of natural agents, capital, labour, and directing ability, but to say how much of the taxation imposed on the result is to be assigned to each factor is quite impossible.

The obvious conclusion is that the classification is unsuitable. It is often convenient to use the economic theorems respecting rent, wages, etc., in our investigations of the effects of taxation, even though we should never meet in fact with the pure taxes on those parts of the product. For the problems of finance it is also necessary to remember that these preliminary inquiries are but steps towards the final result, which must deal with realities and not with imaginary and hypothetical cases.

§ 10. The defects of the economical mode of classification lead us to turn to what we have entitled the ‘empirical’ or ‘fiscal’ one, which takes the actual kinds of taxation and arranges them in the most convenient way. To this Edition: current; Page: [276] procedure it may at once be objected that as each country has its own tax system, varying from time to time, we cannot attain to a general arrangement applicable to all cases. The classification of taxes suited for ancient Rome would be inadequate in modern England, and even confining attention to the present day, the Indian and British tax systems cannot be easily reduced to the same classification. This effect of temporary circumstances in limiting general principles has been already noticed,1and it does at first sight raise difficulties in the effort to prepare a natural grouping of taxes. A ready mode of escape is, however, to be found. The terms and minute details of taxation vary greatly at different times and places, but this does not preclude the existence of large categories of taxation, possible in all countries, and found in somewhat different forms in many. The Indian land revenues differ from the English land tax and also from the French impôt foncier, but in all three countries there is ‘taxation of land,’ which offers a general title, under which they may be placed in company with the Roman provincial tax and several others. Like treatment can be applied to different forms of taxes on the produce of industry, and so in other cases.

The question next arises, How far should this process be carried, and what general categories can we form? Rau has boldly grouped all taxes under the two heads of ‘estimated taxes’ (Schätzungen) usually charged on goods, and ‘taxes on expenditure’ (Aufwandsteuern), which does not carry us much beyond the rude divisions mentioned in § 8. Hoffmann prefers the division into taxes on possession (Besitz) and taxes on acts (Handlungen), while Cohn accepts the tripartite arrangement of Wagner into taxes on (a) acquisition (Erwerb), (b) possession (Besitz), and (c) consumption (Verbrauch).2 De Parieu carries out the division Edition: current; Page: [277] more minutely, and forms five classes of taxes, viz. (1) on persons, (2) on wealth, (3) on enjoyment, (4) on consumption, (5) on acts. In defence of this arrangement he argues that, like all natural classifications, it allows of an indefinite margin between each adjacent group, and that it further harmonises with the administrative division between direct and indirect taxation, classes 1, 2, and 3 belonging to the former, and classes 4 and 5 to the latter category.1

All the preceding classifications appear to have at least two defects: for (1) they simply deal with certain external features of taxes, and do not take note of their essential characteristics, and (2) like the otherwise very different arrangement of Adam Smith, they are too simple for the complexity of the facts to which they are applied. Hock has attempted to avoid this defect. He starts from the untenable position that taxation is a compensation for state services. These services are, he thinks, of three kinds, to wit: (1) protection of person, (2) protection of property, and (3) the performance of special services. To each corresponds a ‘primitive tax’ (Ursteuer): these are (1) personal taxes, (2) income taxes, (3) taxes for special services rendered.2 The practical difficulties in levying these taxes in their pure form leads to the use of other taxes as substitutes (Surrogate) in the form of taxes on (a) consumption, (b) product, (c) customs, (d) special income taxes, (e) fees and charges on occupations.3

Though it is plain that the basis of Hock's division is unsound, it yet has the merit of suggesting the best way of reaching a truly natural arrangement. The distinction between primitive and derived taxes is a valuable one, and Edition: current; Page: [278] can be so used as to combine the economical and empirical methods of grouping in a consistent arrangement.1

§ 11. The position of Adam Smith that taxation must be derived from the constituents of private income is, broadly speaking, correct. Where it falls on property there is a diminution of the national wealth which, if continued, must prove destructive. A true instinct, therefore, prompted him in his effort to analyse taxes into those on rent, on wages, and on profit. On the other hand it is equally true that the ‘objects’ of taxation do not easily allow of this analysis. Between the taxes of economical theory and the taxes of actual life there is a gulf that appears hard to bridge over, and one that has retarded the progress of financial science.

This difficulty is at all events extenuated by the circumstance that though the abstract economic taxes are not met with in fact, they are not wholly imaginary. A tax on economic rent has some and often considerable resemblance to a land tax, or, to put it the other way, a land tax often tends to become a tax on rent. The ‘tax on profit’ of the economic text-books bears a like relation to the taxes on business, of which Schedule D of the English income tax, the Prussian Gewerbesteuer, and the French Patente may be taken as specimens. So with the wages tax, in relation to actual capitation taxes, or the late Classensteuer of Prussia. If now we regard taxes on the factors of production, and therefore on the shares in distribution, as ‘primary,’ we have a basis from which to proceed to the investigation of those secondary taxes that are placed on other ‘objects.’ By grouping together the various taxes on land we can consider the play of financial forces in the case of rent. The industrial taxes will similarly enable us to see the working of charges on interest and profit, and finally poll Edition: current; Page: [279] and capitation taxes will perform the same service for taxes on wages.

The economic mode of arrangement assigns a place to taxes on income or revenue which may be regarded as a combination of all the primary forms. It may in certain cases be admissible to break up an income tax into its component parts, just as, on the other hand, it may be well to combine a series of taxes that together make up an income tax. Thus the five schedules of the English income tax or the four of the Italian one might be separately treated, or again the ‘four direct contributions’ of the French system might be taken in combination as nearly equivalent to a general income tax.1 Still, it is necessary to consider the fiscal bearings of general income and property taxes, and this discussion most fitly follows the examination of the taxes on component parts of income.

When the ‘primary,’ and, if the phrase be admissible, ‘quasi-primary’ taxes have been discussed, there remain no small number of other charges. The whole elaborate system of taxation on commodities that has so large a place in every country must be dealt with. It may be regarded as taxation of consumption, or of expenditure, but for practical purposes it includes the two great departments known to English fiscal practice as ‘excise’ and ‘customs.’ So far the taxes enumerated have appeared to fall on the production, the distribution, or the consumption of wealth; those that directly affect the remaining economic process of circulation must also be noticed. Taxes on transport and communications come under this head; so does the yet more important class of taxes on the transfer of property and the transactions of commerce, i.e. the ‘taxes on acts’ of De Parieu's arrangement. The taxation of succession after death may be treated as a particular case of transfer, but it also has affinities with property and income taxes which must be carefully considered. In like Edition: current; Page: [280] manner taxes on necessary commodities often resemble in their effects a tax on wages, as Ricardo with some exaggeration urged. The other secondary taxes have similar reactions on the constituents of income, but, nevertheless, their separate treatment is desirable, and indeed unavoidable.

§ 12. We have now obtained what appears, on the whole, a satisfactory distribution of the several taxes. Briefly recapitulated it is as follows: The main division is into ‘primary’ and ‘secondary.’ The primary taxes comprise those on land, on business and capital, on persons and on labourers’ earnings. The combination of these primary forms gives us the general income and property taxes which come next in order. Passing to the secondary forms of taxation we find (1) taxes on commodities, including both excises and customs, (2) taxes on communication and transport, (3) the remaining taxes on commerce and legal transactions, (4) taxes on transfer of property, (5) succession duties.

But the discussion of the several taxes in the foregoing order must be postponed until we have studied the operation of taxation in general and the conditions required for its satisfactory working. No single tax can be rightly appreciated without reference to the financial system of which it forms a part. The remaining chapters of the present Book will therefore be devoted to a study of the characteristics of taxation in general and the principles that should regulate its application. In this part of finance we meet with difficult theoretical and practical questions which will require the utmost attention for their proper understanding. On some points opinion is sharply divided, and consequently, while endeavouring to reach a definite judgment on each disputed question, we shall endeavour to obtain a clear conception of the grounds on which opposing views are based.

Edition: current; Page: [281]

CHAPTER II: the general features of taxation

§ 1. The increasing importance of taxation as a mode of supplying the public wants is a conspicuous feature in financial development. It is partly attributable to the decline of the earlier forms of revenue, but far more to the great and continuous growth of expenditure. The modern State is dependent on taxation to an extent unknown in mediæval times. Hence all questions connected with this department of finance have an enhanced interest. Errors on the subject, or mistakes on the part of practical financiers, tend to become more and more serious and the need of a careful study of the general features of the tax system is greater. Without a true appreciation of the conditions under which it works, it is hopeless to expect the adoption of a wise policy, or determination in applying it. Practical sagacity has its part—and no small one—in successful financial management, but it is all the more effective when enlightened by the study of principles. The complications of modern financial systems make it advisable to note their chief characteristics before discussing the comparative merits of the rules proposed for their regulation. The phenomena are not so simple as to admit of regulation by a single mechanical rule, and the real bearing of the different propositions will be best understood after some acquaintance with the subject-matter to which Edition: current; Page: [282] they are applied, and the difficulties that surround them. The interaction of state and national economy brought about by taxation produces further complications that will not allow of hasty treatment. We shall therefore begin by a study of some of the general features of the tax-system, a knowledge of which is essential for forming a correct judgment respecting its regulation.

§ 2. Looked at in a broad general way, the first circumstance that strikes the observer is the fact that taxation means the subtraction of so much wealth from individual enjoyment or use. The definition given in the last chapter seeks to express this fact by pointing out that taxes are contributed by persons from their wealth for the public service. State expenditure is devoted to the supply of certain wants of the community or nation by the action of the public powers. These, like all other agencies, cannot be obtained without cost, partly met by the economic or quasi-private revenue, but leaving a balance to be supplied by taxation. It thus appears that there is an element of truth in the description of taxation as ‘the expenses of production of the State’; the phrase, however, suggests too close an analogy with industrial enterprises, in which the expenses are repaid out of the product. In respect to public services, the benefits will in normal cases largely exceed the cost, but the method of calculation is not so easily applied, nor is the object in view the attainment of profit.

The proposition that taxation is the form of cost or expense proves that it is so far an evil in the sense that every sacrifice is such. It may be necessary or advisable, but could the object be otherwise accomplished it would be still better. Any saving in the expense of working the State enables a larger amount to be left in the possession of the tax-payers, and to that extent improves their economical position. The former statement of this very plain fact might appear superfluous were it not for the existence of strong popular prejudices in favour of the expenditure of Edition: current; Page: [283] funds derived from taxation. ‘Government expenditure gives employment and benefits the labourers’ is the commonest form in which this belief is asserted. Without entering into the question how far such expenditure does really reach the labourers, it is sufficient to reply that the persons from whom the funds have been taken by the tax-collector would certainly have made use of them, either in the employment of labour, or the purchase of commodities. The belief that taxation returns in ‘a fertilising shower’ was rightly regarded by Bastiat as one of the errors arising from defective observation.1 Hardly worthy of refutation as a theoretic doctrine, its evil effect, particularly in democratic societies, in producing extravagant expenditure is not to be overlooked.

The idea that ‘taxation is the best form of investment’ is placed by Bastiat in the same category as the gross fallacy just refuted, but it admits of a more favourable interpretation. If it be said that the taxation required for the national defence, the maintenance of justice, and the necessary functions of the State, has been invested in the best manner and yields a good return, the assertion is substantially true, though perhaps expressed in a misleading way, as the State cannot be regarded as a mere industrial concern. Further, as Leroy-Beaulieu points out, the proceeds of taxation, if employed in public works, may yield a satisfactory profit, and thus be, in the literal sense, ‘a good investment.’ The expediency of such investment belongs rather to the subject of expenditure than to that of taxation, but we may remark that, if public works are likely to be profitable, it seems better on the whole to raise the requisite funds by a loan, to be repaid through the agency of a sinking fund. To use taxation for this purpose is almost equivalent to a ‘forced loan.’2

Edition: current; Page: [284] § 3. The consideration of taxation as reproductive in the way of investment suggests the further question of the possibility of its productiveness through reaction on the national economy. If the use of the funds raised by taxation can prove beneficial, may not the effect of taxation itself on production be sometimes good? This view is expressed in the maxim discussed by Hume, ‘that every new tax creates a new ability in the subject to bear it, and that each increase of public burdens increases proportionably the industry of the people,’ which, he thinks, ‘must be owned, when kept within certain bounds, to have some foundation in reason and experience.’1

Natural disadvantages sometimes stimulate industry, why then should not artificial ones have the same effect? The most remarkable economic progress has been made in countries where man has had to exert himself in consequence of the parsimony of nature, not in those that possessed the richest and most fertile lands. A judicious use of the engine of taxation would, it might be thought, have a similar effect on the disposition of the people. Such was the opinion of McCulloch, who maintained that the heavy taxation of England, during the French wars (1793–1815), was one of the causes of the growth of wealth at that time, since it stimulated industry and the spirit of enterprise and invention.2

The doctrine in this rather extreme form admits of an easy refutation; for if taxes create a new ability on the part of the payers there can be no determinable limit to their useful employment. A wise government would increase taxation indefinitely, and thereby augment the national possessions. The process of creating fresh wealth by simply taking it from the producers is so evidently impossible that its advocates hesitate to carry their view to its logical outcome. There is in truth a two-fold fallacy in the argument. Edition: current; Page: [285] In the first place, natural obstacles do not, in general, stimulate to exertion; economic development is not greatest among the Eskimos, or the Fuegians, as it ought to be on this hypothesis. Some natural difficulties urge man to action, but others reduce him to torpor, and check the first steps towards civilisation. The influence of natural disadvantages in promoting the growth of wealth is rather by their indirect effect on the physical and mental qualities of those subject to them, not by the economic loss that they occasion. Secondly, the analogy between natural and artificial obstacles is defective. It does not follow, because men work more strenuously (and this is doubtful) to till a barren soil, that therefore they will exert themselves the harder the more they suffer from the incursions of marauders. The greatest promotive of industry is security, and protection from arbitrary or oppressive taxation is but one form of that ‘protection against the Government’ on which Mill justly insists as more important even than ‘protection by the Government.’1

Later on, however, Mill appears to adopt a milder form of McCulloch's view. When examining the effect of a tax on profits, he declares that ‘It may operate in different ways. The curtailment of profit, and the consequent increased difficulty in making a fortune, or obtaining a subsistence by the employment of capital, may act as a stimulus to inventions, and to the use of them when made.... Profits may rise ... sufficiently to make up for all that is taken from them by the tax. In that case the tax will have been realised without loss to any one.’2 Such a result, though possible, is extremely unlikely, as the additional production in consequence of the tax would itself be subject to taxation. A low rate of profit may lead to the introduction of economising expedients, but the expectation of a high rate is far more effective in increasing production. There is just as much, and just as little, truth in the belief that low profits encourage industry, as in the similar beliefs Edition: current; Page: [286] that low wages make the workman and high rents make the farmer industrious.1 Some special examples have been brought forward in support of the position that certain forms of taxation stimulate invention. McCulloch cites that of the Scotch distillers, who, under the influence of a spirit duty, assessed according to the contents of the vessels, so improved their processes by economy of the time spent in distilling, that instead of taking a week, they in a few years required only three minutes, and thereby were able to bear a duty nearly forty times as great as at first. Somewhat similar improvements have been introduced into the Continental beet-root sugar industry in consequence of the method of imposition, which assumes a certain yield and charges duty only on that amount, leaving any excess free.2 What is really striking in these cases is the fact that invention has been stimulated, not by the duty, but by the possibility of escaping it: the imperfect form of assessment has encouraged efforts in this direction that would cease if the true return were brought under taxation. They do not show in the slightest that the progress of invention is greater in a taxed industry than in one free from taxation. All antecedent probability, and all actual experience, go to prove the opposite.3 One great impediment to the use of new processes is the surveillance that taxation renders necessary.

The result of the preceding discussion is, briefly, that any compensating effect of taxation in increasing production is extremely doubtful, and is at best so small, and occurs in so few cases, as not to form an element worthy of entering into the rational calculations of the financier. The raising Edition: current; Page: [287] of compulsory revenue means so much loss to the payers and to the community, for which the only return obtained is the benefit resulting from the efficient execution of state functions. Any doctrine that removes attention from this cardinal fact is erroneous in principle, and may lead to serious practical evils.

§ 4. Nor does taxation only mean the withdrawal of the amount required by the public powers from the disposable funds of the subjects of taxation. It may, and often does, take much more. In all countries the cost of collection is no inconsiderable item, which must be added to the actual amounts needed by the state departments unless it be regarded as an additional state function. In either view it increases the burden to the payers. Consequently, one of the most generally recognised maxims of finance is that which prescribes that ‘Every tax ought to be so contrived as both to take out and to keep out of the pockets of the people as little as possible over and above what it brings into the public treasury of the State.’1 This rule, declared by Wagner2 to be simply the application of the general principle of economy to public finance, has two distinct applications: (1) as regards the State itself, the aim of securing the best return in amount of taxation for the expense incurred in collection is very plain, but even when this is realised there is (2) the still more important object of not inflicting indirect loss on the subjects, either by the obstruction of industry that taxation causes, or by the inconvenience that the regulations incident to the system of collection may produce. Some forms of taxation are much more oppressive in these respects than others, and one of the principal tasks of financial practice is to discover the least burdensome modes.

The public economy depends ultimately on the national economy; anything that reduces the economic power of the Edition: current; Page: [288] individual citizens is an injury to the State. A system of taxation that diminishes the revenue of the subjects without a corresponding return to the public treasury is certain before long to show its effect in reduced receipts from taxation.

A comparison of English taxation as it existed in 1820 with that now in force proves how much may be gained by a determination to conform to the rule of ‘economy.’1 But even in the best existing systems of finance there is a large amount of waste, some of it unavoidable. The raising of such a sum as £120,000,000 in the course of a year cannot be accomplished without much interference with industry and trade and a great deal of annoyance to individuals. From a purely material point of view this canon of ‘economy’ is probably the most important in fiscal science, and no efforts should be spared to secure the closest observance of it that existing conditions permit.

§ 5. The supply of state wants by taxation is then, it is plain, a charge on the collective resources of the community. Finance is no exception to the general rule that it is impossible to obtain something out of nothing. Prudent management may make the available resources go farther than they otherwise would. The financier, like the mechanician, proves his ability by the direction, not by the creation, of force, and especially by reducing to a minimum the loss through friction. But having decided that taxation is a charge on the national resources, there is room for further inquiry as to the precise fund on which it falls. We have already mentioned Adam Smith's opinion that it must be derived from the shares of revenue. Ricardo declares that ‘Taxes are always ultimately paid either from the capital or from the revenue of the country,’2 and expands his statement by pointing out that the proceeds of a tax must curtail consumption, increase production, or reduce Edition: current; Page: [289] capital, i.e. ‘impair the fund allotted to productive consumption.’ From this he concludes that taxation should be imposed on revenue rather than on capital, since the latter form of tax tends to check future production. Some writers have even raised this into a maxim of finance.1 The danger of hindering the growth of capital is apparent, though as capital is derived from revenue it is not easy to avoid taxing it to some extent. ‘To provide that taxation shall fall entirely on income and not at all on capital is,’ says Mill, ‘beyond the power of any system of fiscal arrangements.’2 In actual economic life the line between capital and non-capital is not so fixed and rigid as the text-book definitions would make us believe.3 Any tax is certain to take some wealth that would otherwise have been devoted to the aid of production, and also some that, if left to the taxpayers, would have been consumed unproductively. How much will come from each source is not easily determinable.

The distinction between capital and revenue is, besides, not quite the same when considered from the national rather than the individual point of view. Much individual capital is not national capital, and this is likewise true of revenue; but for the financier it is national capital and revenue that need attention. Any pressure on the most important auxiliary of production is as far as possible to be avoided; but when capital is rapidly increasing, a tax that appears to trench on individual capital, as e.g. the English Death Duties, is not open to the objection of reducing national capital in the same degree as it would be in a poor and unprogressive country. Taxation is drawn from the total stock of wealth, including Edition: current; Page: [290] at any given time both capital and revenue. The real aim should be to so direct it as to interfere to the smallest extent with the action of the forces that promote accumulation. Heavy taxation will always be injurious in this respect. If imposed on revenue it reduces the fund from which capital comes, and may even lead to direct encroachments on individual capital: if on capital it leaves revenue free to partially fill up the gap that it has made. There is no impassable barrier between the two categories of wealth; any action on one will, in all probability, extend to the other.1

In addition to the productive capital and annual new production, every civilised society possesses a large mass of wealth in process of use, ‘stock reserved for immediate consumption’ as Adam Smith calls it, ‘consumers’ capital’ in Sidgwick's phrase. There is in this ‘stock’ a further source on which taxation may fall without injuriously affecting the productive powers of the community. In fact, we can fairly say that no less comprehensive term will suffice to describe the source of taxation than that already employed, viz. ‘the collective wealth’ of the country. But in actual societies in their normal condition taxation is derived from the national revenue, some of which would have been transformed into capital. Nothing but a national crisis would justify taxation so heavy as to absorb the free income of the society and reduce the sum of its accumulated wealth.

§ 6. A celebrated doctrine has carried still further this limitation, and maintained that all taxation should be levied on the net, as opposed to the gross, income. Net income is asserted to be the only disposable fund for the purpose. Gross income includes the necessary expenses of maintaining the citizens and replacing the national capital. To touch on that part of the gross receipts would be a blow to the industrial organisation, inasmuch as it is an essential requisite for the society being continued Edition: current; Page: [291] in its full efficiency as an economic machine. A tax that takes away a part of the labourer's necessary subsistence, or lowers profits below the minimum for which men will consent to take the risk of investment, is indefensible, and in the long run defeats its own object.

The earliest appearance of this doctrine is with the Physiocrats. Their theory of the ‘produit net’ has its chief application in respect of taxation. The fifth of Quesnay's maxims lays down ‘that taxation should not be destructive or disproportioned to the sum of the national revenue; that its increase should follow the increase of revenue; that it should be imposed immediately on the net product of land.’ According to Du Pont de Nemours, ‘the portion of the returns called the net product is the sole contributory to taxation, the only one that nature has prepared to meet it. It is of the essence of taxation to be a part of the net product of cultivation.’ Mercier de la Rivière is, if possible, clearer. ‘Taxation is nothing but a part of a net product, and can be levied only on a net product.’1 The conception of the net product as consisting of nothing but the rent of land appears absurd, but the way in which Quesnay and his followers reached that startling result is not hard to follow. In their opinion the labourer requires a definite amount of commodities for his subsistence; more than that he will not receive, and so much he must get under penalty of starvation. This ‘subsistence theory’ of wages was fully accepted by the Physiocrats,’2 and fairly accorded with fact in the France of the Ancien Régime. Precisely analogous is the position of the capitalist. The rate of interest is just sufficient to keep up the existing supply of capital. The interest on capital advanced is, Turgot tells us, ‘the price and the condition of that advance, without which the Edition: current; Page: [292] undertaking could not continue. If that return is diminished the capitalist will withdraw his money, and the undertaking will cease. That return ought then to be sacred and enjoy an entire immunity.’1

When wages and profits are removed by the nature of things from the tax-collector's power, it goes without saying that rent is the only remaining source on which he can draw, and we are compelled, their premises being given, to accept the Physiocratic conclusion. Adam Smith, however, declined to follow this seemingly rigorous deduction. He holds that both wages and profits may contribute to taxation, though the amount to be obtained from the former must be very small. Ricardo takes the same view. While asserting formally that it is only from profits and rent ‘that any deduction can be made for taxes,’ wages ‘if moderate constituting always the necessary expenses of production,’ he qualifies his statement by the admission that labourers may receive more than their necessary expenses, in which case the surplus is a part of ‘net produce.’2 Finally, J. S. Mill emphasises the share of the labourers in ‘net produce,’ and seems to desire to amend Ricardo's doctrine on this point.3

§ 7. The doctrine of net income as the sole source of taxation, whose history we have just traced, has met with strenuous opposition in Germany. For the last thirty years the fact that taxation is a duty incumbent on the citizen and to be paid by him, not by the pure abstraction called ‘net income,’ has been loudly proclaimed. Hermann's theory of ‘use capital’ (Nutz-capital) has been employed to show that there is an enjoyment revenue to be added to the economic revenue derived from production in the strict sense. ‘It is,’ says Cohn, ‘undoubtedly income that the owner of a house enjoys from his residence in it, the owner of a park from his enjoyment of the park, that a person enjoys in his own hunting-ground, in his own picture gallery. It is income in the specific form of enjoyment Edition: current; Page: [293] of property.’1 Such an extension would give a larger fund on which to draw, though it seems preferable to regard these forms of wealth, in the way adopted in a preceding section of the present chapter, as property or capital, and so far liable in exceptional cases to taxation. Of greater force is the argument that the cost of maintaining the State is itself a part of the necessary expenses of the society. The protection of person and property, the duty of the public powers even in the opinion of the extremest individualists, is almost as indispensable as feeding or clothing. So far then from taxation being dependent on the surplus produce of the community, it may with justice be looked on as one of the first charges on the gross production, coming next to that minimum of food and covering that is needed for the preservation of life.

The apparent contradiction between two such plausible opinions can, we believe, be escaped by taking a broader view of the subject than the disputants on either side have done. Necessary expenses are in no case a fixed amount. Each standard demands a certain minimum outlay, but the standard can be varied. The subsistence standard of the English labourer has always been higher than that of the Hindu, and what is true of labour is equally true of the other factors of production. The amount of capital can be reduced to suit a less intensive method of production, and the smaller the quantity needed, the less, cæteris paribus, will be the rate of interest. And so is it also with state wants. Their amount and cost can and have to be adjusted to the general position of the society. The difficulty of laying down any definite rule as to the proportion of national income, gross or net, that ought to be devoted to the public service has been shown at an earlier stage of our inquiry.2 Here it will suffice to distinguish between that part of taxation that conduces directly or indirectly to the production of wealth and that which produces non-economic advantages. The former is beyond dispute a part Edition: current; Page: [294] of the cost of production; without it the amount of wealth would be smaller, and the payment of this part cannot be said to come from the net income, or surplus after necessary expenses are met. The latter, like all other forms of enjoyment, can be dispensed with, and yet leave the amount of production as great as before. It may, therefore, be said to come out of the net produce in the wider sense given to the term by Mill. This separation is, however, very hard to carry out. All forms of public expenditure have some effect in promoting industry,1 and some retrenchment might be made in all without economical loss to the society. Still the principle of the separation is intelligible, and within limits can be usefully employed.2

§ 8. Inquiries respecting the derivation of the tax revenue from gross or net income, or from the sum total of the national wealth, may appear at first a piece of unnecessary subtlety. They have, however, important practical bearings. Until the normal source of taxation has been determined, it is impossible to estimate the pressure that it places on a community. The taxable capacity of India or Ireland would be very different according as gross or net revenue is taken as the measure; and in a comparison between Great Britain and the United States, the test of income would probably give the first place to the latter, while that of property would assign it to the former.3 In another important question of finance the problem of the true source of taxation becomes of moment. The justice of any particular system of taxation cannot be estimated without a knowledge of the fund from which the tax revenue is derived. According as taxation has its source in gross Edition: current; Page: [295] or in net income our view of the equity of existing systems must vary.

The principles just stated find an important application in the case of the financial position of Ireland. It has been argued with apparent plausibility that the cost of subsistence of the Irish population should be deducted from its gross income in order to ascertain the fund disposable for taxation. But this at once raises the difficult question of calculating the cost of subsistence, and also suggests that the doctrine of section 7 as to the variableness of necessary expenses should be taken into account. Sir R. Giffen has assumed that the amount of £12 per head should be taken as the minimum standard, and thus departs in two respects from the taxation of true net income, for (a) the assigned amount is too high for a very poor population, and (b) far too low as an allowance for expenditure necessary for efficiency in the higher grades of producers. In comparing the taxable capacity of two countries it is the amount in each really disposable for the tax-collector that should be considered. In no case can this exceed a part of even so-called ‘net income.’ The poorest population must have something above bare subsistence, since there will always be persons much wealthier than the mass of the people. This question is, moreover, one, not of equity but of fact, to be ascertained by appropriate evidence, which is, in truth, very difficult to procure.1

Edition: current; Page: [296]

CHAPTER III: the distribution of taxation

§ 1. From an examination of the general and what may almost be called the necessary features of the tax system, conditions that are beyond the direct influence of human agency, we have now to pass to a problem of a very different character, viz., the determination of the proper distribution of the burden inevitable in the levy of taxation among the persons or ‘subjects’ liable to it. Instead of studying ‘what is,’ we ask ‘what ought to be.’ The distribution of taxation may be said with far more justice than the distribution of wealth in general to be ‘a matter of human institution solely.’1 Like all questions into which the conception of ‘ought’ or rightness enters, it is an ethical one; but its correct solution is so bound up with economic and financial considerations that it must remain within the field of financial inquiry. Without a knowledge of the surrounding conditions and the effects of any given tax system, the attempt to form a judgment respecting its justice is hopeless. Moreover, to obtain an approximately correct answer to the question is of great importance to the practical financier. Any error, wilful or otherwise, on the subject is apt to show itself in political difficulties that may in some cases reach an acute point. Nor is it sufficient that a tax system shall be substantially just: it ought to Edition: current; Page: [297] be generally recognised as such. The prevalence of even an unfounded belief that the public burdens are not fairly divided among the different classes and individual members of a society is a seriously disturbing force. Finance touches on the domain of general politics, and no method of fiscal administration, however successful in other respects, can be worthy of approval unless it seeks, so far as existing conditions allow, to realise the idea of an equitable division of the public charges. The establishment of general principles on this point for the guidance of financial policy and their recognition by the people in general are so eminently desirable, that the investigation of the grounds on which taxation should be distributed is a work of utility in the narrowest practical sense.

The difficulties of the inquiry are increased by several distinct circumstances. First, they are due to the changing nature of the public economy. The city state of Greece or Italy, the mediæval kingdom on a feudal basis, and the nation of modern times have so many points of contrast, their several functions are in outward appearance so different, that it seems impossible to assign a single law of distribution that can include them all and yet be more than a truism. Will it not be necessary to take each stage of political evolution and deal with it separately? Next, even confining our attention to a single type of State, it is not easy to bring the numerous public charges, and the equally numerous functions whose cost they defray, to the test of a common calculation. It is not clear on the surface that all citizens should bear all charges in an equal degree, or that all expenditure should fall on a common and indivisible fund. The text-book writers have, it must be said, created a third difficulty, as they, in too many cases, have supplied us with formulas that allow of a convenient laxity of interpretation, and give an appearance of information without the reality.

Under such circumstances it will be expedient to examine the various rules of distribution, and to note their historical Edition: current; Page: [298] application. While thus engaged we shall see how misunderstanding has often arisen from neglecting the necessary changes in public economy, and the gradual development of the State, as well as from attempts to stretch a particular rule beyond its legitimate limits.

§ 2. The first and, in one sense, the simplest principle for the distribution of taxation is that which would treat it as a payment for public services. We have already seen reason for rejecting this mode of explaining the nature of taxation,1 and thereby implicitly its value as a measure of its amount. There was, however, much in the mediæval economic system that tended to foster the belief. Private economies admittedly sold their services, but the royal economy was nothing but the largest of private economies. The King lived by his domain and by the fees that he obtained for the performance of duties. The whole feudal system was based on the idea of contract. Defence against enemies was the payment for the vassal's homage and dues. Justice was bought, and so were the few economic services rendered by the sovereign. Under such conditions the doctrine that taxation should be measured by service supplied was but the formal expression of an existing fact. The growth of the state economy made this no longer true and the doctrine thus became a survival from earlier times. It is still more important to note that the method of specific payment for public services was never a realisation of justice in the distribution of burdens. Neither in respect of national defence nor of legal administration, nor finally of general economic activity, is it possible to distribute the advantages among individuals, and to charge in proportion. The introduction of general taxation was in part a result of the defects of the older mode, and it was undoubtedly a step in advance, particularly in the direction of securing a fairer allocation of the expenses of the public powers. The theory that taxation is the price of the State's services, and finds its measure for each citizen in the amount of benefit Edition: current; Page: [299] received, is, as regards the latter part, quite unsupported by history. The system of direct purchase applied to the State's tasks was so far from being equitable that justice was only made possible by its abandonment.

Much of the plausibility of this view of the measure of taxation arises from the apparent support that it gives to the individualistic theory of the State. If the services of government are the standard by which to regulate taxation, there appears to be no essential difference between the payment of taxes and the purchase of commodities. The assimilation of the two forms is in reality a forced one. In the case of taxation the advantage given is indefinite, and the payment for it is compulsory; the modern upholders of the doctrine are consequently forced to have recourse to some other standard, which they declare brings about a substantial equality between the benefits received and the taxes paid.1 That usually suggested is the rule of taxation in proportion to revenue. It is, however, quite impossible to establish any such connexion. Limiting state functions to the minimum, viz. the protection of person and of property, there can be no doubt that the former would in general require equal payment from all. It costs quite as much (if not more) to protect a poor man's person as it does to perform the same service for a rich man. Again, as regards property, there is little ground for the belief that the cost of guarding it varies directly as its value. If security is to be sold like an ordinary commodity, there ought, on the strictest commercial principles, to be some allowance made to the purchaser of a large quantity! The natural conclusion, therefore, appears to be that the rate of taxation should, on the theory of purchase and sale, be lower on large than on small incomes; but even this result does not rest on very solid grounds, since any change in the quantity or quality of state services would alter the relations of the parties concerned.

Edition: current; Page: [300] § 3. The evident weakness of the theory just discussed makes the adoption of some other and more precise criterion necessary. Retaining the idea that taxation should be equal, but giving up as hopeless the attempt to measure the respective services performed for each person by the State, we might conceivably abandon all efforts at differentiation between individuals, and hold that equality was realised by taxing all persons (or all families) at the same rate. Such a method might be admissible in a primitive community. All are dependent on the State for certain essential conditions of social life. Why should not all pay equally for these advantages? Military service is rendered by all alike, and the same principle might seem as applicable to the contribution of commodities as to that of services. Civilised societies have, however, almost forgotten the existence of a state of things in which such an arrangement would be feasible. The annual tax revenue of the United Kingdom may be put roughly at £120,000,000, and the population at 40,000,000. Under a system of equal contribution the rate per head would be £3, or £15 for a family of five. The labourer's family, with a weekly income of £1, would be taxed about 30 per cent.; a middle class family, with £500 per annum, would be taxed 3 per cent.; where the family income was £50,000 per annum the charge would be an insignificant fraction. The method of equal contributions per head would be impossible politically, besides being extremely unjust.

Dismissing then the idea of equal taxation of persons as utterly impracticable, we come to what is the best known and most widely accepted doctrine, viz. that which takes ‘faculty’ or ‘ability’ as the measure for taxation. This view, which is found as early as Bodin,1 has been embodied Edition: current; Page: [301] by Adam Smith in the first of his classical maxims: ‘The subjects of every State ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities.’1 For the last thirty years it has been the doctrine accepted by the majority of German writers on finance. One reason for the readiness with which ‘ability’ has been adopted as the measure of taxation is perhaps its convenient vagueness. The mere statement that taxation should be proportioned to ‘ability’ does not afford much practical guidance. A measure of ‘ability’ is further wanted, and in fact different criteria have been put forward with equal sincerity and equal confidence. Property, revenue, net revenue have each been selected as the test of the taxpayer's ability.

§ 4. All the foregoing tests are more or less measurable, and present, so to speak, objective standards, but the measure of ‘ability’ has sometimes been transformed into that of ‘sacrifice,’ and this criterion has been widely accepted. ‘Equality of taxation,’ says Mill, ‘as a maxim of politics means equality of sacrifice.’2 It is apparent that the rule of equality of sacrifice is but another mode of stating the rule of equality as to ability. Equal ability implies equal capacity for bearing sacrifice. An equal charge will impose equal sacrifice on persons of equal ‘faculty,’ and where abilities are unequal a corresponding inequality in the amount of taxation will realise the aim of equality of sacrifice. There is, however, a shade of difference in the use of the two terms. Ability suggests the positive element of power to contribute, sacrifice the negative one of loss by contribution; the former is most naturally measured by some objective standard, the latter refers primarily to the sentiments of the people concerned, and is, therefore, rather subjective. The use of sacrifice undergone by the payer as the measure of taxation is probably due to a disposition to place weight on the element of Edition: current; Page: [302] privation felt by those who are taxed, instead of on the external marks that indicate ability to pay.

But when the conception of ‘sacrifice’ is substituted for that of ‘ability’ the road is opened for a further and more radical alteration. Assuming the utilitarian standard as the true one, it is forcibly argued that the proper distribution of taxation is not that which imposes equal sacrifice. The ‘greatest happiness’ of the society will be best attained by so distributing the burden as to inflict the least sacrifice on the whole, and therefore placing the heaviest pressure on those who are far above the average in resources, while exempting altogether those who are much below it.1 The same train of thought leads to more careful discrimination in the treatment of ‘equal sacrifice, since under this term equal sacrifice in the strict sense and ‘proportional sacrifice’ are frequently included. Last of all in this process of refinement is the recognition of ‘equi-marginal sacrifice’ which will lead to the realisation of ‘minimum’ or ‘least sacrifice.’

These complications in the employment of the sacrifice principle seem to justify adherence to the objective standard of ability, especially as the practical application of the criterion of ‘least sacrifice’ is impossible.2 It is clearly inadmissible to use a principle of a highly abstract character, and one limited by other important considerations, as the guide in such an essentially practical study as finance.

§ 5. But whether ‘ability’ or ‘sacrifice’ be taken as the standard, it is possible to reach very different practical results Edition: current; Page: [303] according to the amount of weight assigned to the different elements. We accordingly meet with three different forms of distribution, all avowedly based on the criterion of ability, and all claiming to realise true equality. These are: (1) pure proportional taxation, in which income is taken as the standard, and the amount of public burdens regulated by it; (2) qualified proportional taxation, where income is still the test, but is subjected to certain modifications, either by deduction of necessary expenses or by analysis of its component parts; (3) progressive or graduated taxation, which places a heavier rate of charge on large than on small incomes, since the ability of the ‘subject’ is supposed to increase in a more rapid ratio than the increase of his income.

The rule of proportional taxation has been undoubtedly the doctrine of the classical political economy. Connected on its political side with the liberalising movements of the eighteenth century, its representatives protested against all exemptions and privileges, and against none more than those granted in respect of taxation. The assertion of the justice of taxing in proportion to revenue carried with it a condemnation of the very common freedom from all personal taxation enjoyed by the privileged classes of the Continent. ‘There is,’ says Vauban, ‘a natural obligation on the subjects of all conditions to contribute in proportion to their revenue or their industry ... Every privilege that tends to exemption from that contribution is unjust and abusive.’1 If taxation should be proportional it follows necessarily that it must also be general. The French Revolution, and the changes that it led to elsewhere, so completely abolished the objectionable privileges that this side of the doctrine is often ignored, and its reference to the income possessed alone considered. Adam Smith completes his statement that taxation should be adjusted to the abilities of the subjects by adding ‘that is Edition: current; Page: [304] in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the State.’1 And since his time the rule has been quoted and adopted by most of his English and French successors.2 At first put forward as a protest against the injustice of the old system of privilege, the maxim of proportional taxation is now employed as a weapon against the newer Radical socialism.3

One great advantage of the rule is its simplicity. As M. Say puts it, ‘Proportional taxation does not need definition, it is the rule of three ... When it is said of a tax that it will be levied proportionally every one understands it.’4 The problem of taxation is reduced to its least complex form. Given the amount that must be raised by taxation, and given the sum of individual incomes, the rate per cent. can be assigned and applied to each case. It is true that there are certain practical difficulties in the way. The ascertainment of individual incomes is not a perfectly easy work, and where, as is almost universally the case, it is necessary to specialise the tax system and have a number of duly correlated charges, it is difficult to measure the exact amount paid by each citizen to the public treasury. But any other principle must either meet or evade these embarrassments, besides the additional difficulties that are peculiar to itself. Simplicity and easy application, though desirable in finance, are not the sole objects to be attained, and therefore the rule of proportional taxation has been vehemently opposed as failing to give a just distribution of the public charges. The question has, in fact, been mainly debated on the issue whether proportional or progressive taxation should be the system adopted.

§ 6. What is known to Continental writers as progressive5 Edition: current; Page: [305] —but more familiar in England as graduated—taxation includes, as we have said, any system in which the rate of taxation becomes higher, or progresses, as income increases. In this consists the essence of the principle; the grades into which incomes are divided, the initial rate of charge, and the increases at the several stages of advance, though very important, are yet matters of application.

The reasons that have led to the popularity of progressive taxation are obvious enough. The loss of a portion of wealth by a rich man is generally regarded as a very slight evil or as none at all, while to a poor one it causes curtailment of real enjoyment. The deduction of £10 from an income of £100 will in most cases prove a serious pressure, sweeping away perhaps the savings of the period, or compelling the sacrifice of all relaxation; that of £100 from £1,000, though still heavy, would not trench upon the conditions of a comfortable life; £1,000 taken from £10,000 would leave a balance sufficient to support a luxurious existence; and £10,000 from £100,000 would hardly, so popular sentiment imagines, be perceptible by the owner. Yet it is precisely these deductions that proportional taxation carries out, without recognition of the real gradations of ability and capacity for bearing sacrifices. So regarded, the levying of equal rates on all incomes has an appearance of unfairness that has given much support to the plan of graduating charges according to different scales.

Though the general current of economic opinion has till recently been decidedly against the idea of progression, the system has secured the adhesion of some eminent authorities. A passage of Montesquieu's has been often quoted in its favour, in which, speaking of the Athenian property tax, he says, ‘it was just though not proportional; if it did not follow the proportion of goods, it followed the proportion of wants. Edition: current; Page: [306] It was thought that each had equal physical necessities, which ought not to be taxed; that what was useful came next, and should be taxed, but not so highly as superfluities.’1 Rousseau and the elder Mirabeau took the same view. In the nineteenth century J. B. Say and Joseph Garnier approved of a system of moderate progression. The former ‘did not fear to declare that progressive taxation was the only equitable form’; the latter held that ‘taxation ought to be progressive without spoliation.’2 Still the weight of authority was on the other side. ‘Progressive taxation,’ like ‘protection’ or ‘a double standard,’ was an heretical tenet opposed to the true economic faith. Alike in England, France, and Germany it was rejected by such representatives of competent opinion as J. S. Mill and McCulloch, Levasseur and De Parieu, Gneist and Hermann.3

The recent change in opinion on this subject has been due partly to increased popular influence over government. The shifting in the centre of political gravity that the growth of democracy has brought about has, as one of its consequences, a tendency to alter the distribution of taxation in favour of the most powerful class, i.e. the numerical majority. This can only be accomplished by putting a heavier burden on the wealthy. The diffusion of socialistic ideas assists in this movement. Progressive taxation is one of those agencies that seem likely to facilitate the transition from the capitalist to the socialist régime, and it consequently has the support of the various sections of that party. Among the counts of the indictment that the French economists bring against the system, one of the weightiest, in their opinion, is its socialistic character.

Edition: current; Page: [307] Modern developments of economic theory have also had their share in the work. The members of the ‘historical’ school have not been bound by any undue respect to the opinions of their predecessors, and their greater sympathy with semi-socialist ideas made them inclined to favour what seemed to be a mode of relieving the poorer classes from the pressure of excessive taxation. Accordingly some moderate form of progression has generally received their approval.

Another and apparently opposed school has tended in the same direction. The more accurate study of the variations of utility, which forms the common starting-point of the researches of Jevons, Menger, and Walras, has among its other important effects given a new mode of measuring the pressure of taxation. Final or marginal utility becomes the measure of sacrifice, and if, as is plain, the utility of a shilling is more to the possessor of an income of £100 than it is to one of £1,000, it does not follow that it is exactly ten times as great. The assumption that equal percentages of income are of equal utility is a rough ‘first approximation,’ admissible, perhaps, in the earlier stages of inquiry, but certain to give place to the more accurate results of later investigation. It is noticeable that Sax and Wieser, who represent the financial studies of the Austrian school, have both declared for progressive taxation.1

The substitution of ‘least sacrifice’ for ‘equal sacrifice’ as the criterion for distributing the burden of taxation would lead of necessity to a more extreme form of progression, approximating to, if not actually attaining, a state of socialistic equality. This substitution is, however, too speculative, and, as previously explained, too much limited by the need of maintaining production, to be seriously considered. Still, even its qualified recognition may be regarded as one of the influences giving support to the movement towards the development of progressive taxes.

Edition: current; Page: [308] § 7. A system of progression may be realised in different ways, as by heavy taxes on luxuries consumed by the rich,1 or by higher duties on the finer kinds of all commodities. Duties on the transfer of property, and on commercial transactions generally, could be so adjusted as to reach the same end, while taxes on inheritance appear to supply a specially effective form of progression.2 The mode usually employed is, however, that of progressive income and property taxes. This is obviously the most direct way, since it places the increased charges at once on the larger incomes, and has not to trust to the less certain and calculable operation of taxes on ‘consumption’ or on ‘acts.’ In form the tax may be on property, or on income, or on both; but as in any case it must normally be paid out of income, the assessment of property is simply a particular mode of fixing the rate of charge.

But whatever be the form adopted, the policy of progressive taxation is open to serious objections, of which the following may be noticed as the most important.

In the first place, it is entirely arbitrary. The possible scales are infinite in number, and no simple and intelligible reason can be assigned for the selection of one in preference to its competitors. The schemes proposed vary widely. Some are of a very drastic character, aiming in fact at confiscation of all income above a certain appointed level.3 Others are more moderate, and seek only to realise a supposed equality of sacrifice, or simply to somewhat favour the poor as against the rich. But the fact that such divergent plans can be plausibly propounded is highly significant.

Edition: current; Page: [309] Actual examples of progression, as we shall see, are not of an extreme type. The highest rate of charge is fixed at a comparatively low percentage. It still remains true that there is no self-acting principle by which to determine the scale of progression. We must perforce agree with Léon Say's declaration that ‘progression is naturally arbitrary.1 Opponents of the system will hold that the mildest form is the least objectionable, and try to attain that result (unless they prefer to have an extreme measure in the hope that its hardships may cause a reaction). Reasonable supporters will recognise that a rapidly increasing rate is both unjust and economically injurious. But beyond such vague propositions nothing can be stated. All depends on the will of the legislature, i.e. in most modern societies on the votes of persons who will not directly feel the charges placed on the higher incomes, and will probably believe that they will be gainers by them.2

Edition: current; Page: [310] Another serious obstacle to a progressive system is the danger of evasion. No empirical law is better established in finance than that which states that high taxation leads to efforts to avoid it. Duties on luxuries are in part escaped by the smuggler's aid; special duties on the better kinds of goods lead to false declarations; graduated inheritance taxes are met by concealment and gifts inter vivos; progressive income and property taxes cause false returns on the part of the contributors. For this latter fact there are several reasons. The increased charge on higher incomes offers a special inducement to understatement on the part of those liable, as thereby they obtain the advantage of a lower rate, a proceeding the more readily excused to their consciences by the plea that the exaction escaped is itself unjust. Another reason is the impossibility of employing effective measures for collection. With a uniform income tax a great deal of income can be taken at its source, where evasion is impossible; with progression, as the rate varies according to the sum of income, the ascertainment of that fact is required for fixing the charge, though it is undoubtedly very difficult to get a proper answer to inquiries respecting it. Thus the motives for evasion are stronger and the means of prevention less effective in the case of a progressive than of a proportional tax.1 It is the intrusion Edition: current; Page: [311] of the personal and arbitrary element that raises this difficulty, which is accordingly unavoidable.

A third powerful argument against progressive taxation is derived from its probable effect on the accumulation of wealth. One of the motives to providence is the desire of gaining a large fortune, but a system that in its extreme forms prevents, and in any case hinders, the attainment of this desire must, it is argued, check the growth of capital. The imposition of special taxation on the larger incomes or properties is, in fact, a fine on saving, and consequently an impediment to the supply of one of the auxiliaries of production. If the legislator is to interfere at all, he ought rather to encourage the formation of new stores of wealth that will, in the vast majority of cases, be used to assist industry.

The discouragement to the growth of capital may operate in two different ways. There will naturally be a movement of wealthy persons from a district in which they are subjected to special penalties. Any existing outflow of wealth will be increased, and the influx of other wealth so far checked. Such is a very probable and serious danger in a small district from which movement is easy, and with the modern tendency to international movements of capital it may occur even in large areas. But for countries with a highly developed system of industries, another effect is more to be dreaded, viz. the stoppage of saving at an earlier period. Capital may not emigrate readily from such a country as England or France, but the annual increment may become smaller and finally cease. Considering the dependence of industry on the facilities for obtaining new capital, it would seem that any artificial check to its growth would be a grave evil and likely to react on the finances of the State.

Edition: current; Page: [312] In mitigation it may be urged that progressive taxation is not in fact likely to weaken the disposition to save. It will only affect those who possess a good deal already, and such persons save as much from habit as from conscious motive. There is, too, the further fact that the heavier taxation on the rich will leave the poor a larger disposable sum, part of which they may save, and to that extent increase the store of wealth. But though in both those ways the loss to capital under a moderate progression may be reduced, it seems clear that some loss there will inevitably be, and it is incumbent on the supporters of any measure tending in this direction to show what compensation will be gained through fairer distribution.1

In discussing this matter it is well to remember that the productiveness of a progressive tax on incomes is not as great as is popularly supposed. This failure to reach expectation is due partly to the evasions that have been noticed as incident to the tax, and also to the various devices, not absolutely illegal, that are used to escape the extra pressure. If rigorously collected the tax causes much capital to emigrate; discretion is therefore very often employed in enforcing claims, and in either case the revenue suffers. Another reason is found in the fact that in most countries large incomes do not form a large proportion of national revenue. Taxation to be productive Edition: current; Page: [313] must draw on the resources of the middle and working classes. The unproductiveness of progressive direct taxes is paralleled by the small yield of taxes on the luxuries of the rich as compared with duties on articles of general consumption.1 To obtain the funds needed by the State pressure must be placed on all classes of society, not merely on the prosperous.2

§ 8. The foregoing objections, which may be distinguished in their order as political, moral, and economical, are so weighty that a very clear proof of injustice inflicted by any other system than progression must be made out in order to sanction its use. The injustice of proportional or regressive taxation, if established, would tend to show that for the realisation of equity progression in some form must be adopted. But in support of this contention we have nothing except the appeal to equality of sacrifice as the standard, and the alleged failure to conform to it by taking equal proportions from different incomes. The deduction of £10 from A's income of £100 and of £10,000 from B's of £100,000 will, it is maintained, inflict greater suffering on A than on B. Such is the assumption of the upholders of progression, and their view accords with popular sentiment. There is, nevertheless, room for doubt. Is it really certain that A, whose income is reduced from £100 to £90, is worse treated than B, whose £100,000 is brought down to £90,000? There can be no dispute as to the wants which the latter will have to leave unsatisfied being very much slighter than those of A, when looked at from the same point of view. Edition: current; Page: [314] But the point of view is not the same. B's system of life on its material side is so differently constituted from A's that any comparison of the kind is absurd.1 £10 from A's income may mean the loss of a certain amount of alcoholic drink; B, by having to give up £10,000 may lose the chance of purchasing an estate, or may have to abandon some social scheme that he could otherwise have carried out. The economic calculus is not at present competent to deal with such comparisons. The complexity of the problem is admittedly great, and not to be solved by simple methods.2 The weightiest difficulty that the theoretical advocates of progression have to meet is the essentially subjective nature of their standard. Its translation into an objective rule of taxation can be accomplished only by the aid of assumptions as to the relations of enjoyment in different classes that must contain a large element of conjecture. The modern elements of the theory of utility fail to supply any definite practical basis on which to frame a scale of progression.

Progressive taxation has been supported by a very different line of reasoning in Cohn's brilliant Finanzwissenschaft.1 Proportional taxation is asserted by him to be the logical result of the ‘contract’ or assurance theory of the State. In accordance with that belief, it was fitting that all should pay the same proportion of income in exchange for the stipulated services. The modern or ‘higher’ conception of the State abandons altogether this theory of the social compact, and therefore its corollaries, in which is included the rule of proportional taxation. Writers who like Rau, De Parieu, and Leroy-Beaulieu reject the older view of the Edition: current; Page: [315] State's relation to its subjects, and yet maintain the justice of proportional taxation, are guilty of inconsistency, explicable only by their dread of the often-described evils of progressive taxation.

To this ingenious contention the answer is that, granting the derivation of the rule of proportional taxation from the ‘assurance theory,’ the refutation of the latter does not upset the former, since a true conclusion may result from false premises. But even this concession need not be made. It has been argued in the present chapter that the exploded doctrine of ‘assurance’ would logically lead not to proportional, but to what has been called ‘regressive’ taxation, i.e. to a lower percentage on large than on small incomes.1

§ 9. Experience of the actual working of progressive systems might be expected to throw light on the reality of the evils attributed to them and their real operation. A large amount of evidence has been collected with this object by very competent inquirers,1 but, unfortunately, the results are not decisive. Most of the cases discussed are those of Swiss cantons or the smaller German States. (The short-lived income-tax of the United States and the progressive income-tax of Prussia are the chief exceptions.) Now, the financial arrangements of small political bodies are undoubtedly full of instruction and deserve attentive study, but they belong to the domain of local rather than general finance. The conditions of working are therefore different, and there is to some extent room for the use of a different principle of distribution,1 since the public services rendered by local bodies do often allow of an estimation of their value to individuals, and, besides, have to be considered in connexion with the taxation of the State.

The peculiar economic conditions under which progressive Edition: current; Page: [316] taxes have been applied are clearly shown in the discussions respecting their operation, which are chiefly concerned with the danger of forcing capital to emigrate and that of undue discrimination against particular persons. Both are real and serious in a small area; within the wider boundaries of a nation their probability would be smaller. It is hardly conceivable that the English Chancellor of the Exchequer should arrange his scheme of taxation with reference to any small number even of the wealthiest taxpayers; nor would the emigration of capital be caused by even a fairly heavy tax. On the other hand, the facilities for assessment are much increased by having to deal with a limited district in which the income and property of each resident can be ascertained with a close approach to the truth, and as incomes are in no case very large, there is not the same room for injustice. Progressive taxation could not be easily applied in national finance. The forms of wealth are very numerous, and can be so placed as to escape the tax-collector's notice when he has to deal directly with income as a whole. We have, therefore, no evidence sufficient to modify the unfavourable conclusion reached on general grounds respecting progressive taxation.1

§ 10. The idea of securing equality of sacrifice while escaping the dangers of unregulated progression has led to the adoption of what is known as ‘degressive’ taxation, a system in which a uniform rate of tax is levied beyond a prescribed limit; but incomes under that limit are either altogether exempt, or rated only for a part of their amount. Some of the so-called progressive taxes in Switzerland are really of this kind. Thus in Zürich 500 francs are free, the excess up to 1,500 francs is rated at only one-fifth, the next 1,500 francs at two-fifths, the next 3,000 at three-fifths, and the next 4,000 at four-fifths, anything beyond being rated at its full amount, e.g. an income of 12,500 francs (£500) Edition: current; Page: [317] would only pay on 8,300 francs.1 By this method the confiscation of the higher portions of income can never happen, but there is still an arbitrary power of fixing the several scales which is inconvenient, while this form of progression is particularly open to the charge of unproductiveness, and is somewhat hard to work owing to the minute subdivisions that are usually made.

Degressive taxation may, however, like the more moderate forms of progression, be employed rather to secure than to destroy proportionality of taxation, as it affects only one part of the tax-system, and may correct inequalities in other directions. When the articles consumed by the poorer classes are heavily taxed, they would contribute more than their share to the maintenance of the State were they not relieved through the income and property taxes. This is one of the reasons for the exemption of incomes of §160 and under from income tax in the United Kingdom and the abatements on those up to §700. The duties on tea, sugar, tobacco, spirits, and corn, which chiefly affect the smaller incomes, are thus balanced, and a substantial equality (or what is believed to be such) attained. The rule of proportionality is applicable only to the whole tax-system, and it may be necessary to have several partial inequalities in order to establish that final equality which is one of the principal merits of a financial system.

§ 11. Another ground for modifying the rule of proportional taxation exists in the doctrine that net income is the sole available fund for social objects. If certain kinds of expense be necessary and unavoidable, it seems that any income which only suffices for meeting them should be exempt from taxation. On the supposition that the labourer's wages are just enough to keep him alive, the Edition: current; Page: [318] slightest extra charge will lead to his death, unless he is relieved from some other quarter. Taxation on the minimum of subsistence must, by the nature of the case, be paid by somebody else. The Physiocrats, as we saw,1 extended this argument to the interest on capital, but their successors have not accepted this extreme view. However, the doctrine known as ‘the exemption of the minimum of subsistence’ is widely spread. Among its supporters in one form or other may be reckoned Justi, Sonnenfels, Bentham, Sismondi, Hermann, and J. S. Mill, and it long received recognition in the English system of taxation, in the avoidance of duties on the necessaries of life, while, as just mentioned, incomes up to £160 per annum are free from direct taxation.2 The different interpretations put on the doctrine need to be distinguished. The primitive and most natural meaning is that which limits it to the absolute necessaries of existence, though here there is room for doubt as to the correctness of including the expense of maintaining a family under this head. The wider use of the term to cover ‘the sum of the means of support which, according to the standard of a given period, is required for the conduct of an existence worthy of man,’3 would extend the exemption far beyond the limit of physical necessaries, and would almost reach to the exclusion of whatever expenditure is necessary for the earning of the person's income from the amount to be taxed.1 By regarding the outlay requisite for the support of each grade of income and its expenses of production, Edition: current; Page: [319] we might bring the fund available for taxation down to a very small amount.

Such a construction of the doctrine may be dismissed as impracticable. The subject's outlay is determined by himself and is directed for his own advantage. The only ground for doubt would be the possibility of expenditure on these ‘necessary’ items being curtailed in consequence of the tax. This effect would be very improbable unless the rate of taxation were so heavy as to show bad administration, but even in the limited case of physical necessaries the argument for remission is not so clear as might be thought. The danger of relieving the lowest class of labourers from nearly all the burdens of the State while it holds preponderating political power is apparent. Again, there is much force in the view that public expenses are a part of necessary expenditure. ‘The State,’ argues Cohn, ‘belongs as much to the life of every civilised man as his daily food or the air; without the State a civilised existence is not thinkable. The minimum of every moral existence includes the blessings of the State. It follows that the minimum of outlay for existence must also include the necessary expense of the State.’1 Why should not the poorest citizen pay something towards security as well as purchase the bread that supports him? The practical side of the question seems rather to favour the English policy of the later years of the nineteenth century. So far as the argument from ability is concerned, it is plain that those who barely possess the means of subsistence have little or no ability to contribute. In any country where legal provision is made for poor relief it would seem that to tax those at the point of minimum subsistence would be simply to drive them into the ranks of pauperism, and to take with one hand in order to give back with the other. The Edition: current; Page: [320] cost and trouble of raising money by direct taxation from the poorer classes, added to the foregoing considerations, strongly supports the method of exemption from direct taxation of the smaller incomes with the employment of moderate taxes on the luxuries of the poor.1 When exemption is claimed for the minimum it can only be on the ground that it will be employed in buying necessaries; any other application of this amount fairly brings it under the weight of taxation.2

§ 12. The question of justice may also be raised in respect of incomes that differ not in amount but in origin. As usually debated, the point is confined to the case of an income tax, but it is really wider, and applies to all forms of taxation. To put the issue in the simplest way, let us suppose that of two persons one, A, obtains by his exertions £500 per annum; the other, B, obtains the same sum from the rent of land or from interest on capital. Is it just or expedient that A should pay the same sum in taxes that B does? The most natural answer is a negative one, and many persons have proposed that the capital values of the two incomes should be taken as the basis of taxation.3 A little reflection will, however, show that under certain conditions there is nothing unjust in the arrangement. A's income, it is true, is less durable, but so is its chance of taxation. The permanence of B's receipts involves likewise permanence of taxation. So long then as the public charges are uniform, there is no reason for complaint. Special occasions will sometimes occur in which extraordinary Edition: current; Page: [321] expenditure actually is, or is deemed to be, necessary, and then it seems that as there is an extraordinary call it ought to come from the capital rather than from the income of the community. A convenient mode of realising this end would be the imposition of an additional property tax, which, being met out of the income of the holders, would accomplish the end of taxing permanent incomes at a higher rate.1 Another mode would be to meet the increased outlay by loans to be repaid in a series of years.

In practice the difficulty is not so great; the distribution of burdens can never be accomplished with mathematical precision. The avoidance of real and serious grievances is all that can be expected, and the actual working of the financial system meets these in a tolerably satisfactory manner. Necessity compels recourse to loans whenever there is any large extraordinary outlay, and thus the particular holders of incomes from labour are in fact relieved. Again, the two categories are not so sharply divided as is supposed; they shade into each other at many points; and, moreover, the return on property (as distinct from ‘unearned increment’) is itself the result of saving, and entitled to as liberal treatment as any other form of revenue. The technical difficulties that surround any attempts to differentiate incomes belong to a later part of our inquiry.2

The foregoing considerations are helpful in considering a very different proposal, also aiming at a departure from the rule of taxation in proportion to income, viz. that which asserts that expenditure alone should be taxed, savings being entirely exempt. The reasons given in support of this privilege are (1) that saving is not enjoyment, but a useful social process that deserves encouragement; and (2) that savings, unless exempted, would pay twice over, viz. first at their origin, and again when they yield a further return after investment. It may be freely allowed that to Edition: current; Page: [322] encourage providence is desirable, but it does not follow that exemption from taxation is the proper mode for so doing. If income be the normal fund from which taxation comes, and if it is on its amount that the measurement of the burden is to be taken, an arbitrary separation of a certain part is obviously objectionable. The line between saving and expenditure is besides a thin one; the true distinction should rather be between productive and unproductive expenditure, i.e. the result of outlay ought to be the test, a plainly impossible course in practice. Further, it may be said that many forms of productive outlay are just as enjoyable as any non-productive one, and some forms of the latter are socially preferable to others. There is, in reality, no reason for a sharp division into two classes, whether we take enjoyment or social advantage as the basis. Practical finance could not deal with such shades of difference as would be the apparently fair course. The same consideration may be applied to the case of temporary and durable incomes, the former of which are very variable in character.

To the plea of double taxation it may be replied that taxation is imposed on income as such, that the wealth which is taxed as income is not identical with the extra produce that is the result of its application, and the charge on each is distinct. The income out of which savings are made cannot be the same as the subsequent income produced by those savings.1

There is, it should also be noticed, a direct opposition between the proposal to relieve temporary incomes and that to exempt savings from taxation. What is the balance of advantage in getting a premium to save, only to discover that the earnings which result from that saving will be subject to heavier payments? The broad and simple principle of taxing all incomes alike, and of taxing all that is income (allowance being made for the action of taxes on consumption in the case of the smaller incomes), appears to Edition: current; Page: [323] attain the result of just distribution quite as well as the more refined discriminations so often suggested. Should any further adjustment seem necessary in a particular system, it may be reached by a nominal property tax,1 or by duties on inheritance.

§ 13. The principal theories and contentions on the subject of the just division of taxation have now been considered, and it remains to state the general results which seem to be warranted. The attempt to measure taxation by the amount of service rendered has been recognised as hopeless and due to an erroneous theory of the State's nature, but it contains a small element of truth. Where specific and measurable advantages are rendered to individuals or groups, direct payment for those services ought to be obtained, either in the course of exchange or by the payment of fees, or, if neither method can be employed, by a special tax. Cases of the latter are very rare in general, but they hold a more prominent place in local finance. Indeed, as we shall see, the division between local and general taxation is itself a case of making those interested pay for special services, and in the detailed division of local charges the same principle can often be applied.

The use of ‘ability’ or ‘faculty’ as a measure of taxation is encumbered by the necessity of defining its true meaning. We have seen reason, chiefly on practical grounds, for rejecting the interpretation which issues in the system of ‘progressive’ taxation. Its fiscal productiveness is slight, while its economical effects are likely to be injurious. Between the system of payment as recompense for state services, which would naturally lead to regressive taxation, and the system of progression, resting on the idea that sacrifice should be equalised, the intermediate method of taxation in proportion to income is on the whole the best standard for regulation. Its true foundation needs to be carefully appreciated. It cannot claim to be a realisation Edition: current; Page: [324] of exact distributive justice; it is rather to be accepted as a convenient and fairly definite working rule of finance, or at the utmost as supplying a measure of what may be called the objective side of ability. Income, when the lower grades are passed, is, we may hold, a fairly good mark of power to contribute, provided we make abstraction of individual circumstances.

In the same spirit we can solve the problem raised by the existence of incomes at the minimum. Financial convenience combines with economic conditions to make it desirable to exempt the smaller revenues from direct taxation where the duties on articles of common consumption are productive. Where it is possible to relieve necessaries from taxation, the minimum of existence is in fact free; where the needs of the Exchequer prevent this being done, the pressure placed on the lowest class is of a kind not much felt by them unless the rate of taxation is excessive. To tax the very poorest is a sad necessity, but where the want of revenue is urgent, not inconsistent with justice; there is a real advance when national wealth has reached so high a point that the lowest class are called on to contribute only through their luxuries, but the highest stage is that in which the improvement of society is such that all classes are in a position to pay their share as citizens for the common services of the State.

Thus it appears that the distinction between temporary and permanent incomes, as also that between expenditure and savings, may, speaking generally, be disregarded in practice as involving subtleties unsuitable for fruitful application and to a great extent cancelling each other, and the result is that on the whole, and speaking broadly, taxation should be proportioned to revenue, by which a fair approximation to justice and a convenient basis of working are supplied.

§ 14. One class of revenue is so peculiarly situated that its position deserves special notice, viz. that which arises from ‘unearned increment’ in the widest sense of the term, Edition: current; Page: [325] including the growth of rent from land, monopoly profits, and the gains of speculation.1 The characteristics of this class seem to have marked it out as peculiarly suited for taxation. The physiocratic tax on land was not, indeed, due to this idea of it as yielding a monopoly gain, but the practical result was just what it would have been in that case. Adam Smith distinctly notes the fitness of unearned gains for special taxation. ‘Ground rents and the ordinary rent of land are,’ he holds, ‘perhaps the species of revenue which can best bear to have a peculiar tax imposed upon them.... Nothing can be more reasonable than that a fund which owes its existence to the good government of the State should be taxed peculiarly,’2 while later on he widens his view by declaring that ‘the gains of monopolists, whenever they can be come at,’ are ‘certainly of all subjects the most proper’ for taxation, a doctrine the truth of which as a general statement can hardly be denied. Regarded by itself, unearned wealth seems, as it were, designated to supply the public wants of the community,3 and there is no reason for surprise at the popularity of any proposals in that direction. But the imposition of taxation must be studied not simply with regard to a single general fact, but to the whole economic and financial constitution of the society. The obstacles in the way of this form of special taxation are serious enough. To begin with, it is not always easy to say what gains are ‘unearned.’ The rent of land and the receipts from pure speculation are the first examples, but the line that separates pure rent from profit rent is not so readily determined. As Adam Smith remarks in this connexion, ‘The ordinary rent of land is, in many cases, owing partly at least to the attention and good management of the landlord.’4 In a new country the gain Edition: current; Page: [326] from land is profit rather than rent,1 and as society advances the investment of capital in land improvements complicates the problem. In the case of commercial speculation it is not pure accident that determines gain. Speculation is rather, as Cohn well describes it, the struggle of intelligence against chance.2 To tax the profits of speculation would check the operation of the economising force of competition. Monopoly gains are better fitted for extra burdens, and where excessive profit is obtained, through natural or legal monopoly, there is good reason for obtaining at least some of the advantage for the public. But these cases are so few as to form but a trivial financial resource. Railways, banks, and some other companies are the principal examples of possible monopoly, and among them the amount of excessive profit is not considerable. Two further circumstances diminish still more the importance of this extra source of tax revenue, viz. (1) the existence of losses that counterbalance unearned gains. If individuals engage in a venture, be it cultivation of land or industrial enterprise, they can hardly be called on to give up their surplus gains unless they are guaranteed against possible loss. A landholder will not care to develop his property with the certainty before him that his accruing ‘producer's surplus’ will be appropriated by the State, while he has no security for ordinary interest on his outlay. The same feeling will be even stronger in industry and commerce than in agriculture. Just as weighty is (2) the fact that with a system of private ownership and a developed economic organisation the titles to these ‘unearned gains’ are in a constant process of transfer, and future values are estimated in the prices given. Edition: current; Page: [327] The anticipated future movement of rent is registered in the price of land. Premiums on shares measure the gain from speculation or monopoly. Justice could therefore be attained only by taxing each increase immediately on its existence being noticed, an evidently hopeless endeavour. For these reasons it is desirable to narrowly limit special taxation of monopoly values to the clearest and best established cases, and for the rest to rely on the increased productiveness that this unearned wealth will give to the ordinary taxes. This conclusion, it may be added, does not apply to any existing land taxes, which may be plausibly regarded as reserved rents, nor does it cover the specially interesting case of ground rents in towns, where the effect of public expenditure introduces a new and difficult element, and one which strictly belongs to the domain of local finance.1

§ 15. So far we have dealt with taxation as if it were applied to a single country or district in a state of complete isolation, and have sought to discover the just distribution of the burden between the inhabitants. This is, indeed, the most important part of the equities of taxation. But its examination does not exhaust the area of inquiry. Some interesting and difficult questions remain for discussion. One, which has lately attracted much notice, is the proper division of taxation between the several parts of a common realm. To put the issue interrogatively: Is there a rule of just distribution between districts or countries similar to that between individuals, and, if so, what is its nature? It is necessary in order to obtain a satisfactory basis for discussion to begin by distinguishing the different cases. Taking first the loosest form of connexion we find two, or more, countries under a common ruler, but with independent governments and distinct financial systems, and having to make provision for certain common expenses. Here it is hardly possible to lay down any general rule. The comparative benefit of a particular Edition: current; Page: [328] service to the countries appears the fairest standard, but this, owing to the great difficulty of estimating it, is generally replaced by some test of presumed service or comparative ability, no very clear separation being made between the two bases. Thus the diplomatic and consular services of Sweden and Norway have been met by joint contribution. The relation of the United Kingdom to India has led to more elaborate treatment of some joint services and a good deal of debate as to the justice of the particular arrangements.1 Political convenience and the spirit of compromise are the really controlling forces in such a situation.

The second class of cases is that in which a distinct financial system is formed to meet those expenses that are regarded as ‘common,’ the necessary revenue being obtained by contributions from the divisions in some settled proportion. The determination of the proportion necessarily raises the question of the proper rule to be applied, and the disputes as to the principle of benefit against that of capacity or ability are sure to make their appearance. In the most prominent actual examples a rough empirical rule has been employed. ‘The value of all land within each State ... as such land and the buildings and improvements thereon shall be estimated,’ was the standard in the United States under the ‘Articles of Confederation.’2 The respective quotas of Austria and Hungary by the compact of 1867 were 70 per cent. and 30 per cent. That any crude arrangement of the kind can realise justice is almost impossible. There is no single criterion of ability and no definite measure of proportional advantage. As Alexander Hamilton declared, ‘The attempt to regulate the contributions of the members of a confederacy by any such rule cannot fail to be productive of glaring inequality and extreme oppression.1 Edition: current; Page: [329] The most feasible course in the face of this difficulty is to provide for an automatic re-adjustment, based on the chief elements of ‘advantage’ and ‘capacity’ to take place at definite periods. It may, indeed, be said that the relation is too unsatisfactory to be durable unless in a very exceptional situation.2

In a true federal union the conditions of the problem are altered. Instead of an arrangement between separate political units there is a system of taxation operating on persons, natural or juristic, and enforced by sovereign authority. The question of equity is then reduced to the problem which has occupied the preceding sections of this chapter, viz., the just division of the charge amongst the ‘subjects’ of the tax-system. Nevertheless there may be room for complaint on the special ground that the actual taxes press unfairly on some districts as compared with others. In a federal union indirect taxation is allotted to the national government, ‘State’ governments being confined to direct taxes. By this division, which has undoubted advantages,3 the central government has the opportunity if so disposed of burdening some States to the advantage of others.4 Constitutional provisions are some slight safeguard, but, as in other cases, they prove to be inconvenient and not always effective.5

Edition: current; Page: [330] The unitary state ought, it would at first sight appear, to be free from any complication of the kind, but when several countries have been united into a single State the question of just distribution between those countries may be raised. A remarkable example is that of the United Kingdom. By the Acts of Union, Scotland (1707) and Ireland (1801) were combined in a legislative unity. From the first the excise and customs were applied to the whole of Great Britain, the land tax alone being arranged on a proportion. In the earlier years of the Irish union, in consequence of the large amount of the debt of Great Britain, separate Exchequers were retained and the unsatisfactory plan of quotas was adopted, the Irish contribution being two to the British fifteen. Owing to the real Irish contribution falling short of this proportion—it only amounted to ‘one’ out of ‘thirteen’—the Irish debt was so much increased that consolidation of the Exchequers became possible, and was carried out in 1817. One limiting principle was enacted in the Act of Union—that no higher tax should be imposed on an article in Ireland than in Great Britain, and for many years higher duties were levied in the latter country. Substantial equality of rates was not, in fact, reached till 1858.1 Since then there has been equal taxation of persons similarly situated in any part of the United Kingdom.

This, however, it has been argued, does not secure true equality. Though the rates of taxation are the same, the practical result is to impose on Ireland a charge, excessive as compared with her ‘resources’ or ‘taxable capacity.’ Deducting subsistence, which should be untaxed, the available surplus is small and is kept down by oppressive taxation imposed in contravention of the pledges given at the passage of the Act of Union.2

Edition: current; Page: [331] To this case the usual reply has been that under a common system of taxation the question of justice is one between persons, not between countries. If the several individuals are fairly treated the aggregates composed of them can suffer no injustice.1 The general principle that all taxation must fall on persons2 gives force to this plea. There are, however, some considerations in qualification of this generally sound principle. Taxation may be equal as between persons of the same class, but very unequal as between those in different classes. A large use of indirect taxes will press severely on the poorer classes of society: the income and inheritance taxes will fall chiefly on the rich. It can hardly be denied that duties on tea, sugar, spirits, and corn would be more felt by the Irish population than an equivalent increase of the income tax. Again, the articles selected for taxation may be those principally consumed in one country, while their substitutes in other countries may be free or lightly taxed. Further the tax system may injuriously affect the production of one country while sparing that of another. It is true that a well organised financial system will avoid these evils, which result from non-observance of established principles, but the fact that they come out prominently in the case of a country may lead to their speedier detection. It must also be remembered that two countries may not be suited for a common financial system. Difference of habits and institutions may be so great as to render it impracticable. On the other hand there can be no doubt that where it is possible fiscal union is an enormous benefit, and substantial unity of taxation, when once attained, is too great an advantage to be lightly surrendered. Attempts to prove inequality of taxation on the ground of supposed inferior taxable capacity rest on too indefinite a basis to be safely applied in practice3 Edition: current; Page: [332] Should it appear that one territorial part of a State is overtaxed the true remedy is a reform of the tax system; this course will have the additional merit of relieving those who are suffering in like manner in the other divisions, while not affecting those in the particular area who are not really injured. It besides keeps closely to the rule of dealing with persons as the real tax subjects.

§ 16. Another important class of problems is that connected with international taxation. The conception of a country or even a group of countries as isolated or self-contained is far from according with the actual conditions that prevail in any modern society. Owing to the development of trade and of international relations generally, the residents in a country have varied economical ties with other lands. Many of them draw part of their revenue from abroad and are interested in foreign industrial and commercial undertakings. Increasing liberality in bestowing the privilege of naturalisation and the reduction of aliens’ disabilities encourage foreigners to hold property, and thus bring themselves within reach of the taxing power of the State. This steady growth of international dependence gives much greater importance than formerly to the difficult problem of double taxation, and makes it essential to consider the chief cases coming under that title. But in so doing we need not enter into the imposition by a State of different taxes on the same object, nor into the apparent double taxation of persons. Whatever be the proper rule of distribution, any kinds of taxation, however complicated, which conform to it are justifiable. Thus the corporation tax—now being developed in the American States—is seen on analysis to be in reality taxation of the shareholders in the corporation, and is therefore to be counted in estimating the total burden on them.1

Edition: current; Page: [333] Exclusion of the cases of apparent double taxation leaves a clear road for the examination of international as distinct from domestic taxation, or—to put the distinction more accurately—the conflict between different tax jurisdictions. One instance may be easily disposed of, viz. that in which a citizen removes himself and his property from one country to another. Here the country that he leaves has no right, and in fact no power, to exact contributions from him. He belongs altogether to the country of his adoption. More difficult in practice is the case in which the owner of property resides abroad and draws his revenue for use in the country in which he dwells. Here it may be asked, how shall the charges of the two States be distributed in an equitable manner, or what guiding principle should be employed? On the old protection or assurance theory, it would follow that the country of residence should be paid for protecting the person, and that where the property lies for guarding it; but as this doctrine is now exploded, we must look elsewhere for an answer. It would seem reasonable that special taxes on property or local rates should be assigned to the country of situation, while the general income tax and indirect taxes on commodities consumed by the person would accrue to the country of residence. But this course is not free from difficulties. In the first place, it is by no means easy to draw a clear line between the general income tax and the special produce taxes. Then, certain forms of income derived from abroad, e.g. rent of land, may claim exemption. A still greater difficulty is found in the attempt to deal with those diverse forms of immaterial property which pass so often from hand to hand. The foreign stockholder and still more the foreign company give rise to almost insoluble puzzles.1 Finally the treatment of wealth passing at death when the Edition: current; Page: [334] deceased possesses property in two or more countries requires careful consideration.1 One broad principle—that of reciprocity—might seem to afford a satisfactory solution, but where the countries are very differently situated even this method fails. Taxation of colonial property when held by residents in the United Kingdom would not be counterbalanced by similar taxation of British property owned by residents in Australia. It becomes necessary to obtain fairness as well as nominal equality, and this can only be reached by international agreement.2 In a federal State such problems should, it seems, be decided by the central authority, or by constitutional provisions. In the analogous case of local taxation, another method—the separation and limitation of the forms of revenue used for local purposes—is advisable.3

§ 17. Our judgment as to the equity of any particular distribution of the pressure of taxation will depend on the view that we take of the results to be attained. Even when taxation is limited to the supply of the public wants the proper division of its weight may vary according to the amount and character of the services supplied by its employment. Where state functions are confined to the narrowest possible field, the poorer classes may claim to bear a smaller share than if—as in many modern societies—they were largely benefited by public expenditure. But from the difficulty of discrimination it seems better to adhere to the general rule of distributing taxation without direct Edition: current; Page: [335] reference to the results of expenditure on the different classes. Injustice of this kind ought to be corrected, not by redistribution of taxation, but by alteration of outlay.

There is a tendency in recent years to take a wider view of the functions of taxation than the purely financial one. Its agency is regarded as valuable, not solely for the resources that it brings into the State, but for the effect that it produces on the distribution of wealth. By the use of a properly adjusted tax-system the inequalities of wealth may, it is thought, be reduced, if not entirely removed, and one of the aims of Socialism approached without revolution. Such is Wagner's position when he declares for the ‘politico-social’ conception of taxation in opposition to the ‘pure financial’ one. This change in standpoint must of necessity change the mode of estimating the justice of taxation. What is wise and prudent when we aim simply at supplying the requirements of the public powers in the fairest and cheapest way ceases to be such when it is sought to bring about a supposed better distribution of wealth. Proportional taxation, caution in taxing unearned wealth, and moderation in expenditure may be admitted to be the logical results of the ‘financial’ conception: progressive taxation with a high rate of increase, rigorous fiscal supervision of all gains except those from labour, and bold attempts at improving the condition of the poorer classes by state outlay in various directions will be the natural outcome of the ‘social’ attitude.1 The change of aim necessitates a corresponding change in the methods adopted.

The general arguments on the subject of socialistic interference do not concern us here, but the results of financial experience are of some value in respect to the use of taxation for other than fiscal purposes. The taxing power has been often employed to encourage industry, Edition: current; Page: [336] to improve taste, to benefit health, or to elevate morals, but in none of these applications has the desired success been obtained. There is, therefore, a strong presumption against its use as an agent for remedying the inequalities of wealth. Its definite and universally recognised function is the supply of adequate funds for the public services. To mix up with one very important object another different and perhaps incompatible one is to run the risk of failing in both. It is within the power of financial skill to so select the forms and rates of taxation as to secure the requisite amount without unfair pressure on any class, but if the ulterior effects on the distribution of wealth have to be considered, and adjustments made to attain particular ends in that respect, the difficulties of the task are enormously increased. If the socialistic régime is the goal to be sought, there are more direct and more effective modes open than the manipulation of taxation.1

§ 18. At the opposite pole to the doctrine that finance should aim not solely at preserving justice, but at remedying injustices already existing in the social system, is that which refuses to see anything of justice in financial problems.2 For the upholders of this view the distribution of taxation is reduced to placing the burden where it will give the least trouble and friction in collection. McCulloch's often-quoted statement that ‘the characteristic of the best tax is not that it is most nearly proportioned to the means of individuals, but that it is easily assessed and collected, and is at the same time most conducive to the public interests,’3 is a sufficiently clear expression of the view which is a very natural feeling among practical administrators. Edition: current; Page: [337] An escape from the difficult questions that the problem of justice must always present is a pleasing prospect, though unfortunately based on illusion, since injustice in distribution is certain sooner or later to show itself in the very difficulties that the practical financier wishes to avoid. All the conditions of a good system of taxation are interdependent and the breach of one reacts on the others.1 The observance of the mere technical rules at the expense of justice will not be successful, any more than the utmost straining after fairness without regard to the other conditions which we proceed to examine in the next chapter.

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CHAPTER IV: the tax system: its forms

§ 1. The construction of a system of taxation, like all works of art, is the result of a combination of materials derived from different quarters. To attain success it is necessary to bear in mind certain general facts respecting the economic structure of society; the important aim of realising substantial justice in the apportionment of burdens must never be lost sight of, and in addition the technical and financial conditions require to be duly considered. It is to this latter class of problems that the present chapter will be devoted, and we shall see what form the tax system ought to take in order to satisfy these various requirements and be at the same time effective for what is after all its primary function—the supply of adequate resources for the public service.

The facts of past and existing financial institutions, when compared with the general principles discussed in the preceding chapters, present at first sight a curious contradiction. Taxation, we discovered, was normally a deduction from the national income, and ought to be divided among the citizens in proportion to the share of that income possessed by each. Though some qualifications of this statement were made,1 such was the broad general result: from which it would seem to follow that the amount needed should be levied from the taxpayer in a single Edition: current; Page: [339] payment in proportion to his ascertained income. In fact, the single tax would, we might think, be the necessary deduction from established principles.

On turning to the facts of practical finance the state of things is very different. No country possesses this simple and logical arrangement. Instead of a single tax we find a considerable number of imposts varying according to place and time, and very hard to reduce to any reasonable classification. Taxes on every form of production, on nearly every commodity, and on most of the transactions of life, may be found in the history or statistics of finance.

One partial explanation is that which attributes the complexity of the public charges to ignorance or love of routine on the part of practical financiers. The beginning of the tax system, obscured as it was by the other forms of state receipts, was due to fiscal necessity. Extraordinary levies were made by the sovereign on the wealth most easily reached and owned by the feeblest members of the community. ‘To raise the largest sum of money with the least trouble’1 is an inadequate description of the functions of a modern finance minister, but it was the chief aim of his mediæval predecessor.2 It may then be thought that the immediate pressure of the public wants has been the cause of the undue complication in the methods of taxation.

Such, however, is not the case. There is no doubt an element of truth in the assertion that it was want of funds that led to the creation of so many different forms of taxation. A war period is usually a time of financial pressure, and most new taxes owe their introduction to occasions of this kind.3 But when the pressure is removed and the work of financial reform made possible, though great consolidations of duties are effected, there is no example of recourse to Edition: current; Page: [340] that simple method that appears so natural and appropriate in the light of some elementary principles. It is, therefore, necessary to examine the grounds on which a multiple system of taxation is retained, notwithstanding the apparent advantages of the single tax system.

§ 2. In the face of the general, indeed universal, policy of employing diverse forms of taxation, there has been at times a strong disposition on the part of students of finance to propose some particular kind of impost that should tend to supersede all others and be the principal resource of the Exchequer. Prominent amongst such plans is that promulgated by the famous engineer Vauban in his Dîme Royale. He does not, as has been sometimes supposed, advocate the complete abolition of all other charges. Among the duties to be retained were a moderate salt duty, the customs, and some of the taxes on acts: but the taille, the capitation, the aides (internal duties chiefly on drinks), the provincial customs, and the miscellaneous sources of revenue classed as ‘extraordinary’ were to give place to a single tax—the ‘Royal tithe’—imposed on the product of land, industry, and, in short, all revenue, its amount to be five per cent. or ten per cent. according to necessity.1 His contemporary Boisguillebert, with whom he had so close an intellectual affinity, put forward the same idea of a single tax of one-tenth of the product of land and industry.

A similar tendency is shown in Sir M. Decker's plan2 (referred to and criticised by Adam Smith) of a licence for the consumption of luxuries as a substitute for the excise and customs, a scheme which, in spite of its obvious difficulties, has been reproduced in a modified form in later Edition: current; Page: [341] times.1 The popularity of duties on consumption favoured the growth of plans like this. Still more significant was Vanderlint's scheme for a single tax on land and its products, perhaps suggested by some remarks of Locke. The pamphlet in which Vanderlint stated his plan is a distinct anticipation of the physiocratic idea as to the true system of taxation.2

§ 3. The proposals already described came from individual thinkers, and had little or no influence on competent opinion or on financial practice. But in the circle of economists who regarded Quesnay as their master the dogma of a single tax—the Impôt unique—became an accepted article of belief. This doctrine was the natural result of their theory as to the limits of net produce. The rent of land was, they thought, the only ‘source’ of taxation, and it was therefore convenient that it should be its only ‘object.’ Vauban's idea of a Royal tithe was good so far as simplicity went, but it was unequal,3 inasmuch as it fell on capital employed in cultivation, which, in the physiocratic dialect, was not ‘disposable.’ In the application of their principles the Physiocrats were more inclined than is sometimes believed to admit modifications. The elder Mirabeau was prepared to raise two-thirds of the requisite revenue by an income tax, leaving only one-third for the land tax, and Turgot frankly concedes that the time had not come for an abolition of octrois.4

Besides the plan of a single tax on land rent, which has recently received support on different grounds from that of Edition: current; Page: [342] its originators, other forms of single taxation have been suggested in the nineteenth century. One is the general income tax, which would directly attack the normal source of taxation, and secure whatever distribution seemed desirable to the legislator. In the form suggested by some economists it would be proportional to receipts, and might be so framed as to cover acquisitions by gift or inheritance.1 Radical democrats would prefer that the single tax on incomes should be more or less rapidly progressive.

The plan of a single tax on ‘realised property’ has also received much support. It would be confined to property not engaged in production, ‘as land, the public funds, money lent on mortgage, and shares ... in joint-stock companies,’2 and was believed by its advocates to escape the inequalities of the income tax, and to present greater facilities for collection, since the objects of assessment would be definite and open to observation.

Of rather wider scope is the plan for a single tax on capital, put forward by De Girardin and Menier, and approved by M. Guyot. Under it taxation is to be imposed on ‘fixed’ capital—i.e. on ‘all such utilities as yield their products without changing their nature,’ to wit, ‘land, mines, buildings, machinery, implements, ships, carriages, animals employed productively, furniture, and works of art.’3 Raw materials and goods for sale would be exempt from charge. The basis of assessment proposed is the selling value of the taxable capital, one per cent. of which would, it was believed by Menier, be sufficient in the case of France to meet the public expenditure.

§ 4. These several plans have certain elements in common, and appeal to the very natural desire to secure a simple and inexpensive form of taxation. Were there no obstacles in Edition: current; Page: [343] the way, it is plain that direct imposition on the source of taxation would be preferable to the complicated methods actually employed. The cost of collection would be materially diminished, and the immediate incidence on the several individuals and classes precisely determined. Moreover, the community, as distinct from the State, would gain by the removal of restraints on industry, and it could measure definitely the cost of the public services.

Against such plain and obvious advantages there are weighty considerations to be set, which militate against the adoption of a single tax in any form. (1) The danger of a single tax, no matter how skilfully estimated, not being duly proportioned to revenue is a serious one to which any other proposed base, e.g. capital or expenditure, is equally open. With a combination of different taxes the errors in any one case will be small, and probably compensated by the operation of other taxes, but with a single tax there is no possible room for correction. Experience shows that what is in appearance a perfectly fair tax may be practically very unequal in its operation. Evasions and false returns may destroy the proportionality of the best arranged income tax. (2) The pressure of taxation in most modern States is by no means a slight one. On the average it exceeds ten per cent. of the national revenue. Now it is evident that ‘the ignorant impatience of taxation’ would prevent this amount being raised without much irritation through any single tax. To disguise the burden is, so far as sacrifice is concerned, to reduce it, and the breaking up of the system into several distinct forms undoubtedly has this advantage. (3) The use of a single tax would remove the advantage that is obtained at present by reaching the different forms of taxable capacity. Consumption, income as returned or assessed, property inherited, are all so many indications of the capacity arising from the possession of revenue, which, when duly considered, enable a better proportional rate of taxation to be maintained. Besides, in certain cases it is, as we saw, necessary to separate the tax-payer's contributions, Edition: current; Page: [344] and treat some as given for special service, or to assign the total amount between different countries and districts. A single tax would fail altogether in this respect. (4) It is, moreover, important to note that a so-called single tax is not necessarily a simple one. Thus a general income tax is often a combination of several special taxes, and may often prove just as troublesome and complex. A tax on fixed capital would be in fact a tax on land, mines, factories, furniture, works of art, &c., which would be so many separate categories for distinct assessment. A general tax on consumption or expenditure would be even more involved. The simplicity of such plans is therefore often only apparent, and covers a real complexity. (5) The results of the shifting of taxation increase the force of the preceding argument. A proportional tax in assessment may in the ultimate incidence be a very one-sided charge. Taxation in the simplest shape introduces a complicating element into the economic system, the effects of which are hard to follow and often very far removed from what first appearances would suggest.

§ 5. The foregoing considerations and actual fiscal practice have given countenance to the directly opposite doctrine, which has been perhaps most precisely enunciated by Arthur Young. ‘The mere circumstance of taxes being very numerous, in order to raise a given sum, is a considerable step towards equality in the burden falling on the people; if I were to define a good system of taxation, it should be that of bearing lightly on an infinite number of points, heavily on none. In other words, that simplicity in taxation is the greatest additional weight that can be given to taxes, and ought in every country to be most sedulously avoided.’1 This passage has at least the merit of placing the issue in a clear and definite form. To attain equality in distribution there ought on this theory to be an almost Edition: current; Page: [345] universal system of taxation touching the people at every point. Property, income, consumption, transactions, inheritance should all be moderately taxed in order to make the burden as even and as light as possible. Young's views were, beyond question, produced by repulsion from those of the Physiocrats, and went even farther in the opposite extreme, but they do not inaccurately describe the characteristic feature of the finance of the eighteenth century. As a standard for modern times they are evidently inapplicable and opposed to the most important and valuable reforms of the nineteenth century. To secure the placing of pressure ‘on an infinite number of points’ would require the interference of the revenue authorities in most of the industrial processes and the private life of the community. Taxes on all commodities, on transfers of goods, and on the different forms of production would be extremely prejudicial to the development of industry, irksome and inconvenient to the payers, and very costly in collection. Financial history affords abundant examples of these evils. The Alcavala, a duty levied on all sales, has been regarded by Adam Smith as the cause of the ruin of agriculture and manufactures in Spain.1 The English customs before the first reforms of Huskisson exemplified the evils of undue multiplicity in one branch of taxation, and the United States revenue system during the Civil War was an even more striking instance of the same defect.2 To properly arrange and combine a great number of duties is too difficult a task to impose on administrators, who are sure, even with the utmost care, to inflict much injustice and cause heavy losses.

§ 6. The defects of the opposed systems of single and of multiple taxation tend to countenance what may be called ‘plural taxation,’ in which the revenue is not on the one hand collected by a single form of duty, nor, on the other, Edition: current; Page: [346] divided into a great number of trifling charges. Under the existing conditions of society this is the course that has most in its favour as being at once most productive, least inconvenient, and on the whole approaching nearest to justice. But it is necessary to remark that this conclusion is limited to present circumstances. It does not follow that it may not be possible at some future time to adopt a single tax system, or at least a very close approach to it. Among the arguments urged against the single tax is that of the actual weight of taxation and the risk of exciting discontent by raising the required sum in a single payment. Suppose, however, that public expenditure were greatly reduced, so that, instead of eight, ten, or fifteen per cent. of national revenue, only three or four per cent. were required; it might well be that the relief to industry and the facility of collection would make an income tax advisable as the sole agent for raising revenue. So large a reduction of expenditure is hardly to be expected. When dealing with that part of our subject we saw that the tendency was towards increase, but it is not difficult to conceive how a very different state of things might have come into being. Let us suppose that England had never engaged in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, and that her foreign policy had been for the past century that of rigid ‘nonintervention.’ Were such the case the financial results would certainly be (1) the entire absence of the national debt with its charge of £23,000,000 and whatever surplus may actually exist; and (2) the reduction of the army and navy estimates to probably one-quarter of their normal figure. Moderate reductions in the Civil Service would allow of further curtailment of expenditure, with the result that not more than in round numbers £25,000,000 would have to be provided by taxation. An income tax of 8d. in the pound (including as it should the smaller incomes now exempt) would be the most direct mode of procuring that sum. The position of the United States, if the Civil War had been obviated by prudent statesmanship, would be even Edition: current; Page: [347] more favourable. A very moderate income tax would have met all the expenditure of the years 1850–1860, as the low customs duties actually did.1

It thus appears that the form of taxation depends in a great degree on the amount of expenditure. With moderation in outlay it is possible to have simplicity in taxation, and the difficulties of the problem of expenditure, already hard enough, are increased by the need of weighing the greater difficulties of heavy taxation. It is eminently true that wise policy is essential for sound finance.2

§ 7. Financial pressure makes the retention of different forms of taxation, if not an absolute necessity, at all events highly advisable in the interests both of the State and of the payers. And this being so, we have next to examine the comparative merits of the different forms in use. The first broad distinction—that between direct and indirect taxes—has some connexion with the controversy as to single against multiple taxation. The most popular forms of the single tax are direct, while most of the charges in a multiple system are indirect. There has been accordingly a not unnatural tendency to confuse two separate issues by identifying singlewith direct and multiple with indirect taxation. This confusion is increased by the fact that the great advocates of the single land tax laid particular stress on its being direct. ‘The essential form of taxation,’ says De La Rivière, ‘consists in taking taxation directly where it is, and not wishing to take it where it is not.... To change that direct form of taxation in order to give it an indirect one is to reverse a natural order from which we cannot depart without the greatest inconvenience.’3 The idea that taxation should not lead to shifting and repercussion was one of the strong points of his school. The original conception of direct taxation as being that which is imposed immediately on the Edition: current; Page: [348] ultimate source from which it comes was, as we saw, altered for administrative convenience, and applied to cases where recurring payments were made and lists of tax-payers kept.1 But this use of the term, whatever its technical advantages, obscures the broad line of division that the older meaning gave, and which really possesses so much scientific importance. Whether a duty is assessed directly on the ultimate bearer or is passed through various intermediaries before reaching him, may not be capable of being precisely determined in all cases. There are no hard and fast lines in fact, and the instances on the margin may be numerous, but if we take the terms, not as giving a complete classification of taxes, but as marking the presence or absence of a certain characteristic, they may be employed with advantage, but rather to suggest reasons for discrimination than to definitely settle results.2

The expressions ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ have received a further alteration which makes it more difficult to employ them without careful explanation. Taxes on property and income form a very large part of the direct taxes; those on commodities, collected from the producer or dealer, an equally large part of the indirect ones. These are, besides, the special forms of the two kinds of taxation that are usually selected as types in discussions about them, so that it is not difficult to understand how the comparisons between direct and indirect taxation have become for the most part an inquiry into the relative merits of taxes on income and property as against taxes on commodities.3

Edition: current; Page: [349] This employment of the terms is supported by the distinct origin of the two forms. ‘Taxes’ on property and persons (Steuern) present a marked contrast to the ‘duties’ on goods and commerce (Abgaben und Auflagen), in the fact that the former were direct, the latter indirect. A feeling of this original separation is at the root of much of the discussions on the merits of the two classes, and helps to make the issue more obscure.1

Still, the contrasts between the two groups of taxes that are usually regarded as being direct and indirect, quite apart from the question of incidence, has a sufficient value to make it convenient in estimating the merits of a given system. The peculiarities of the separate taxes that a more scientific arrangement exhibits may fitly be treated in dealing with particular taxation, but the broad general separation that is so familiar in financial discussion serves better for the purpose of showing the requisite conditions of taxation as a whole.

§ 8. Starting, then, with the conception of direct taxes as those levied immediately on the ‘subjects,’ or ultimate bearers of the charge, and therefore embracing taxes on income and property, or on their component parts, in opposition to duties on commodities and on exchange, where there is a shifting of the burden from the immediate payer to the ‘subject’ which justifies the name of ‘indirect,’ we have to consider the merits and defects of each class, and the most desirable mode of combining them.

At the outset the advantages of direct taxation seem to predominate. As income is the ultimate source of taxation, its immediate imposition is the most obvious and rational way of claiming a share in the produce for the State. The taxes on the different components of income have the same merit. Rent, interest, and earnings are the natural objects on which to place the charges of the State. Where it is thought desirable on grounds of justice to tax property, the direct mode of doing so seems the simplest and least involved. As a single tax appears better than a multiple Edition: current; Page: [350] system, so does direct taxation seem superior to indirect, and for much the same reasons. There is the greater facility and lower cost of collection, and the power of knowing the exact amount paid by each person liable. The drawbacks are also of the same kind. The greater dislike to direct levies of taxation is notorious; the demand for payment is more disagreeable than the fact of paying, as it brings home the existence of the charge without any possibility of escaping notice. Formerly financiers were too anxious to avert popular resentment to have recourse to this form, unless in extremities, and in modern days taxation must be suited to the taste of the voters. Another difficulty is the necessity of assessment in all direct taxes. If imposed on income, on property, or on any separate part of produce, there must be a valuation of the object which is charged, affording opportunities for evasion and for arbitrary official action. It is true that the progress of society may be expected to reduce these objections. As acquaintance with the operation of taxation becomes greater the payers form a more accurate estimate of the amount that they pay, and will feel that direct levy is really no worse than taxation through the enhanced price of commodities.

Moral progress may also diminish the disposition to evade payment by creating a higher standard of social duty, and the better organisation of the financial service will reduce the risk of undue official pressure. Still, these evils actually exist, and the extent to which they are likely to occur must limit the employment of direct taxation.1 Again, under a system of pure direct taxation it is very difficult to obtain their due proportion from the poorer members of society. The attempt to carry the income tax at a high rate down to the smaller incomes now exempt would be both costly and irritating, and the only produce tax that would much affect them—that on wages—would be still more obnoxious. No doubt with moderate expenditure Edition: current; Page: [351] and an improved standard of social morality the difficulty would become manageable, but we cannot assume the existence of these favouring conditions without adequate proof.1

It is, moreover, alleged that direct taxation is inexpansive, that it does not grow in proportion to the increase of national wealth. This, however, is not altogether correct, and so far as it is true can be accounted for without difficulty. The growth of so important a direct tax as the English income tax since its re-establishment in 1842 has been very remarkable. The yield per penny for the first year was only £730,000; in 1901–2 it passed £2,500,000, or far more than a threefold increase2 in sixty years. Indeed, the only explanation that can be given of a slower increase in an income tax than in income is that of evasion by the payers, an objection already considered. But in fact there are special reasons for the slow growth of certain direct taxes. A tax on rent will not increase in proportion to the growth of income, as it is generally fixed for a period of some length. The French land tax cannot increase, since it is apportioned and therefore fixed in amount, and in all cases of valuation it is not easy to keep the assessments up to the actual gains.3 The counter-advantage that, in a progressive society, these taxes tend to become lighter while yielding a definite amount ought not to be overlooked. It is a benefit to have one part of the revenue that can be depended on even in times of crisis. Taking the defects and merits together, we believe that direct taxation ought to be a part of every modern financial Edition: current; Page: [352] system, and that the extent to which it can be carried will depend on the particular conditions.

§ 9. The weak points of direct taxation are the strong ones of the opposed form. Indirect taxes are not felt by the payer in the same degree, and therefore cause him less annoyance. A tax mixed up in the price of wine, tea, or tobacco is not brought so clearly to his mind: it seems to be a part of the expenses of production, and to be due to purely economic causes. If ‘the best tax is that whose forms most effectually disguise its nature’1 there can be no doubt of the superior merit of indirect ones. A second advantage is the facility that they supply for taxing the smaller contributors. Duties on articles of general consumption touch all classes, though if necessaries are exempt they leave the minimum of subsistence unaffected, but only on the condition that the minimum revenue is expended for that object. Thirdly, they are both productive and in times of prosperity elastic without undue pressure. The growth of the English excise and customs, in spite of great reductions, has been remarkable. Again, it has been often pointed out that taxes on commodities are collected at a convenient time, since the contributor ‘pays them by little and little as he has occasion to buy the goods.... he is at liberty, too, to buy or not to buy, as he pleases.’2 This remark of Adam Smith's has been extended to the assertion that indirect taxation is preferable as being ‘voluntary.’ There is no necessity to pay unless the contributor is willing. This, if true, would be a disadvantage, but, as Mill has shown,3 it is untrue. A citizen can, indeed, escape a wine duty by not consuming wine. That course, however, has the double disadvantage of depriving the State of revenue and of diminishing his own enjoyment. In the case of a direct tax of equal amount the same saving would be made by giving up the use of wine, and the Edition: current; Page: [353] revenue would not suffer.1 The possibility of checking consumption is a bad rather than a good feature in taxes on commodities. Other defects are easily discoverable. The rule of equality appears to be frequently violated. Articles of general consumption are used in much larger proportion by the poor than by the rich, so that in any modern fiscal system the pressure of indirect taxation comes chiefly on the working classes. Expedients may be suggested to diminish this evil. Articles of luxury may be subjected to heavy taxation, and the rates of duty may be fixed according to the quality of the articles taxed. Such measures, however, give rise to further difficulties. Articles of luxury are easily smuggled, and ad valorem duties lead to evasion. In spite of any possible alleviations, the remaining inequality must be considerable. The elasticity of indirect taxes has its unfavourable side. At times of depression their yield cannot be relied on; as they grow in prosperous years so do they shrink in bad ones. Nor are they easily extended. Increased duties may possibly give stationary or even diminished receipts.2 Reliance on indirect taxation alone Edition: current; Page: [354] will therefore sooner or later cause financial embarrassment.

Expenses of collection are probably somewhat larger in the case of indirect taxes, though the difference is not so great as is often asserted. The cost of collection of the English Inland Revenue (about one-half of which is direct) is less than that of the customs, but so much depends on special conditions and the amount of revenue to be raised, that a general conclusion on the subject would be misleading.

By far the most formidable objection to the indirect taxation of commodities is the loss to the society through disturbance of industry. The evils of both customs and excises in this respect have been forcibly shown by Cliffe Leslie.1 The former close some ports altogether on the ground that there is not trade sufficient to justify the expense of maintaining custom-houses at them, and limit the imports of taxed articles at others. Towns without bonded warehouses are at a disadvantage in competing with those that possess them. Industries are either prevented from coming into being, or have their development retarded by such regulations and restrictions. The excise system is injurious to the industries under its supervision, as it controls the processes to be employed, and hinders the introduction of improvements. Routine is necessary for effectual regulation, but it is fatal to the spirit of enterprise that is the main cause of industrial advance. The various items of this indictment are supported by specific allegations,2 and there can be no dispute as to the gravity of the issue raised, nor as to the existence of the grievances stated. None the less are we compelled to hold that the retention of taxation on commodities is at present a necessity, and that by judicious measures it is possible, not indeed to remove, but to reduce the evils complained of. There are considerations other than those noticed by the Edition: current; Page: [355] assailants of these duties. All taxation is, it must be remembered, evil in its deduction of wealth and in the restrictive measures that must be used to make it effective. Direct taxation has its own inequalities and injustices, and is, besides, often vexatious and inquisitorial. A presentation of the faults of one particular form of tax-revenue is impressive, but should be qualified by considering the difficulties of any alternative method. In economics and finance we have always to be on our guard against the ‘fallacy of objections.’ Again, it is not clear that the taxation of a small number of articles has the very serious influence ascribed to it. Most of the instances of interference with industrial processes are taken from cases that no longer exist. The duties on salt, and glass, may have hampered invention, but in this country they are things of the past.1 Apart from intoxicating drinks and tobacco, the industry of the United Kingdom may be said to be free from control for fiscal purposes. A further point may be noticed. The customs staff is not purely a revenue agency; inspection and supervision of the shipping industry is, or is generally assumed to be, needed for sanitary and police reasons. It is but one part of the system described in an earlier chapter,2 and its whole cost should not be ascribed to the need of revenue. So far as the duties on stimulants seek to repress consumption, whatever hindrances they cause to the industry cannot be looked on as evil, since they conduce towards the object aimed at. The value of industrial liberty is doubtless great; whatever represses or diverts the economic forces that tend to increased production of wealth should not be allowed without adequate reason, and should be carefully watched; but on striking a balance it seems that the advantages outweigh the evils wherever a large revenue has to be obtained and where the system of indirect taxation is kept within narrow limits.

Edition: current; Page: [356] § 10. On the borderland between direct and indirect taxation lies a large class, or rather several classes, of taxes, such as those on transfers of property, on ordinary contracts, on communication and transport, and in short the numerous charges on acts. All of them belong to the category of indirect taxes in the administrative sense, as do most of them in any sense of the term. They stand on somewhat different ground from duties on commodities, inasmuch as they in some cases approximate to fees for special services rendered, and in others are directly levied from the ultimate payers. They do not so much interfere with industry as with commerce in the strict sense, but they are open to the same kind of objections as those urged against the taxation of commodities. To hamper exchange is to prevent the passage of productive agents into suitable hands; a tax on communications is a check on commercial intercourse, and duties on legal transactions, if widely extended, prove very troublesome and annoying to the most active and intelligent members of a community. For these reasons it is desirable to keep taxation of this kind as a subordinate resource applied only to a moderate extent, and chiefly with the aim of completing gaps in the financial system. The difficulty of making the pressure of these taxes at all proportional, or even of analysing their incidence, ought of itself to prevent their being made a principal source of revenue. But when used partly as fees for special services, partly as affecting forms of wealth that are very likely to escape their due share of taxation in other ways, and finally as affording valuable tests of the correctness of the returns to direct taxation, they have a good claim to continue as a subsidiary means of revenue, and as a relief to the pressure on visible income of the purely direct taxes, and on the general consumption of the community from taxation of commodities. The extent of their application must be decided with reference to the particular circumstances of the country and the opportunity for employing direct taxation.

Edition: current; Page: [357] § 11. The system of finance best adapted for a modern society is accordingly one in which the objects of taxation are judiciously diversified in such a manner as to realise the ends desired. The usual source of taxation is national income, the mass of fresh production during the period under notice, and one most desirable part of the revenue system is that which directly receives from the shares of this fund a contribution towards the maintenance of the State. The rent of land, the interest on capital, the earnings of management, and the wages of labour may all, as the component parts of income, be rightly made contributory. Whether they should be imposable in their separate forms, or simply as income, is in principle immaterial, but the method of distinct taxes on each share seems to belong to a lower stage of development than the general income tax. To escape the difficulties—partly technical, partly political—that direct taxation by itself creates, the taxation of various ‘objects’ on which income is expended must generally be adopted. Instead of attacking wealth as it is acquired, its use is made the object of charge. The method of taxing producers and dealers, in order that they may pass on the charge to consumers, is a recognition of the tendency of certain taxes to shift their weight, and an effort to utilise that tendency in facilitating the collection of revenue.

Taxation of income and of commodities are the two great forms of revenue receipts whose importance overshadows all others; but while this is apparent in every budget, it is equally true that a certain proportion of revenue can be obtained by the operation of other charges that cannot easily be brought under either of the leading categories. Some transactions are well suited for the imposition of moderate duties. Communications may be made to yield no inconsiderable resource to the State, and above all the inheritance of property is at once a means of testing the accuracy of returns as to income and an opportunity for taxing masses of accumulated wealth.

Edition: current; Page: [358] These ingredients of a well-ordered system require to be combined in very different proportions at the several stages of development. In a new country, with sparse population and little capital, a direct income tax would be a very defective instrument. Where there is little foreign trade, and most commodities are produced and consumed at home, taxation of commodities is not, and cannot be, productive. Peculiarities of social organisation have, too, considerable influence. Taxation of inheritances is unsuited for communities such as India, where the family is the unit of society and property is rather corporate than individual.

How important the special circumstances of social life may be in this respect can be better realised if we consider how much of existing English taxation rests on the circumstance that wine, tea, and tobacco are not native products.1

§ 12. We thus get a well-defined system of taxation comprising the three departments specified in the preceding section, and it seems beyond question that this will for a long period be the prevailing type. So far as any general course of development can be traced, the movement is towards a greater use of direct taxation. The income tax—a product of the nineteenth century—is on the whole increasing in favour, and the imposition of higher duties on inheritance is also probable.2 The great importance of both excises and customs is nevertheless a prominent feature. We cannot see how the existing outlay of any modern State could be maintained without their aid, though we shall indeed discover that they are confined to central finance, and are unfitted to be local resources.3 Still, the general conclusion is clear, that the great divisions of the tax system are likely to remain in active use, partly no doubt in consequence of their suitability to the existing Edition: current; Page: [359] financial organisations, but far more on account of their serviceable qualities.

A further advantage of this combination should be noticed—its elasticity. In modern finance it is desirable that receipts shall be capable of easy adjustment to expenditure without inflicting undue inconvenience on the contributors. The employment of different forms of taxation tends to realise this object. The steady growth of the receipts from commodities in times of prosperity, the definite yield of direct taxes, and the power of altering the rate of the income tax, taken together, provide the conditions for securing such growth or contraction of receipts as may be thought most desirable.

Edition: current; Page: [360]

CHAPTER V: the shifting and incidence of taxation1

§ 1. Up to the present we have avoided all but the most incidental mention of the difficult problems connected with the real as opposed to the apparent pressure of taxation. This course has the great convenience of allowing an acquaintance to be made with the leading features and general guiding rules of the system, free from the complications that are inherent in any discussion of the question of incidence. The omission must now be remedied: we have to consider the nature and consequences of the series of processes usually known as shifting or repercussion of taxation, and to study the effects produced by them on the financial organisation. A correct solution of the problem is indispensable for full knowledge of the subject. Our judgments on every part of the tax system will be affected by our theory of incidence. Take, e.g. the question of Edition: current; Page: [361] justice. How can we say that any given arrangement of taxation is fair unless we know its real, not merely its apparent, incidence? The extent and limits of the shifting of taxation are elements in estimating the expediency of exempting the minimum of subsistence, of imposing a progressive income-tax, or of taxing articles of consumption. Instead of confining our attention to surface appearances, we must examine the underlying conditions, and estimate in their entirety the effects of fiscal regulations.

This complicated investigation will occupy the present chapter. We shall seek to establish the general laws of repercussion and their most important results, reserving the treatment of the several taxes for the appropriate place.1

Here a question as to the proper use of terms arises. Most writers distinguish between the ‘incidence’ and the ‘effects’ of taxation, employing the former to denote the falling of the actual burden, and reserving the latter for the various economic results. This is the position of Professors Seligman and Adams. But the latter at least appears to limit the burden to the actual payment to the State.2 It seems more in accordance with language and principle to treat the loss incurred by the citizen as coming under the head of incidence even though the State does not obtain revenue. The burden of many taxes is greater than their yield, but it is hardly admissible to cut up this burden into two parts, one, measured by state receipts, belonging to the topic of incidence, while the balance is treated as the ‘effect’ of taxation. Mr. Cannan proposes the heroic measure of discarding the term ‘incidence’ altogether.3 But the expression is far too well established, and also far too convenient to be thus summarily abandoned.

§ 2. Popular discussion of financial matters has always Edition: current; Page: [362] given a large place to this special topic. The real incidence of tithes, of import duties, and of local rates has been hotly debated at many a dinner-table and in many a tavern, and very positive conclusions have been reached in entire ignorance of the grave difficulties that surround any attempt to determine accurately these and similar points. It takes some training to see that confident decisions as to the division of rates between landlord and tenant, or of duties between producer and consumer, cannot be made in a ready and off-hand way. Such is, however, the case. The complications are too great; the subtle modes in which pressure applied at one point is diffused over a wider area are too hard to be followed without a clear appreciation of the general conditions and a careful use of the slippery instrument of abstract deduction. In dealing with the problems of incidence we are at that part of finance that touches most closely on economic theory in its hardest form.

Scientific students have long recognised the fact, and the earliest efforts of financial inquiry have been directed to the question of the incidence of taxation. In some instances it was apparent that duties temporarily paid by the seller of a commodity were only advanced by him, to be obtained later on from the buyer in the form of increased price.1 The extension of this result to all cases of taxation on producers or dealers was so plausible that it became an accepted doctrine of practical finance before passing into a theoretical form. This particular position dealt only with readily observed facts, and was confined to outward and apparent effects of taxation. A far more important step was made when the fruitful idea of a single source from which all taxes must, in the last resort, come suggested itself. The doctrine found a definite expression in Locke's statement ‘that taxes however contrived, and out of whose hands Edition: current; Page: [363] soever immediately taken, do in a country where their great fund is inland for the most part terminate upon land.’1 Put forward tentatively by Locke in connexion with his controversy as to interest, the conception of land as the true source of taxation was made the basis of a practical plan by Vanderlint,2 and more fully developed by the Physiocrats as a part of their view of the ‘net product.’

This earliest scientific theory of shifting rested on certain general assumptions, some of which we have already noticed.3 They are (1) that wages are at the minimum point of subsistance, (2) that taxation of profits will drive capital out of industry, and by thus reducing the supply raise the rate to its former point, the tax excluded, and (3) that expenditure for consumption is simply the employment of income, and that increased prices through taxation will compel a compensatory increase of money wages and profits. By aid of these propositions it was easy to establish that taxation of wages or profits or their outlay must be passed on to some other class in society. The gains from commerce and professional avocations were brought under the same principle by the ingenious argument that they also were necessary to secure the continuance of the particular trade or profession.4

We thus obtain a rigorously complete theory of incidence accompanied by a description of the mode in which the shifting is carried out from the points of initial pressure to the ultimate resting-place. The equalising agency of competition and the necessity for normal wages and profits are the forces that push the burden of taxation on to the landowner's revenue. This conception of society as a mechanism in which strains were distributed in obedience to general laws, quite independent of legislation or intention, was Edition: current; Page: [364] thoroughly grasped by the physiocratic school, and was applied by them to the incidence of taxation as well as to economic distribution in general.1

The contrast so often noticed between Adam Smith and his French contemporaries, appears clearly in his treatment of the question of incidence.2 The sharp and definite theory that regards all taxation except that on rent as necessarily shifted is changed into the broader doctrine that transference may or may not take place according to circumstances, and may fall on any one of the three constituents of income. In the application of these general positions several qualifications are introduced. Taxes on wages are always, Adam Smith holds, transferred, partly to the consumer in higher price, partly to the landlord in lower rent. The employer must have his ordinary profit, and he recoups himself for his larger wages’ bill by increasing his sale price, or, if a farmer, by giving his landlord a smaller amount of produce. The share of profit known as employers’ gain is also unamenable to taxation, as being merely the necessary reward of the entrepreneur.3 Interest, though capable of bearing some of the public charges, is difficult to estimate, and its root, capital, is apt to emigrate when placed under exceptional charges. Taxes on necessary articles of consumption tend to raise the wages of labour, and therefore are, like direct wages taxes, passed on to the consumer or the landlord. A house-tax tends to fall partly on the occupier, partly on the ground-landlord, the builder in the long run always receiving his normal profits.

The result of the inquiries on incidence in the Wealth of Nations is a modification of the Économistes’ view. Though the landlord is still the chief bearer of public charges which are shifted on to him from various points, while his special Edition: current; Page: [365] burdens are not transferable, he is not the sole bearer: the capitalist has to contribute a share, and the vague class of consumers has to pay on the taxed forms of expenditure which may come from rent, profit, or even (in the case of taxes on luxuries) wages. The landlord has, nevertheless, as Falck remarks, the ‘lion's share of the payment of taxes,’ and therefore in part Adam Smith occupies the physiocratic position.1

The title of Ricardo's treatise marks taxation as one of its subjects, and it may be said that the space devoted to that topic is altogether occupied with the question of incidence. Adam Smith's positions are corrected in the light of the newer theories of population and rent. In fact, Ricardo's doctrine of taxation is a development of his theory of distribution. Notwithstanding the generally loose form of his writings, there is an amount of precision about his statements as to the movement of taxes that has made him the leading representative of economic orthodoxy on these points. Reduced to a definite form his views are represented in the following propositions, resting, it must be noted, on the assumptions of (1) self-interest as the motive power of action, and (2) the complete mobility—at least within the same country—of labour and capital.

(1) A tax on economic rent is not transferable; it remains on the landlord. (2) A tax on the wages of ordinary labour is transferred to the employer, and is in reality a tax on profits. (3) A tax on profits in general is not transferable, and must remain on the capitalist; but (4) a tax on the profits of a particular employment will be transferred to the consumers of its product. (5) Taxes on commodities paid by the producer are passed on to the consumer, as in the case of taxes on particular profits. (6) In the case of commodities consumed by the labourers there is a further Edition: current; Page: [366] shifting from the consuming labourers to the capitalists who employ them.1

The main outlines of this theory of incidence reappear in J. S. Mill's Principles, with some not unimportant amendments. For example, the higher classes of wage-earners are admitted as possible bearers of taxation. In their case a tax on wages may or may not be shifted. The results as to tithes and profits are somewhat altered, and greater emphasis is laid on the tendency of profits to a minimum. But these are special points: speaking broadly, there is no part of Mill's work which so fully deserves the description ‘a readable Ricardo’2 as that which deals with taxation.3

§ 3. The very general adoption of the Ricardian theory in its developed form as the sole and exclusive scientific doctrine makes it advisable to note some of the objections that prevent us from accepting it as a complete interpretation of the phenomena of incidence.4 Some of these criticisms have been forcibly urged by Cliffe Leslie and Held, but they may be put in a more general form. The first weak point in Ricardo's position is his ambiguous treatment of consumption and consumers. In his general scheme of distribution there is no place for the consumers as a class, but we often find him asserting that a given tax does fall on ‘the consumer.’ How are we to explain this apparent discrepancy? The most natural answer is that landlords and capitalists make up this class, the labourers being normally outside it, as their consumption is a part of the expenses of production. This explanation is not completely satisfactory, for it is plain that all landlords and capitalists are not affected by particular taxes falling on consumers, and yet no criterion for distinction is suggested. Edition: current; Page: [367] The necessity for studying the forms of expenditure as a department of economics seems clear from this consideration. Besides the pressure that falls on the primary divisions of income, there is the additional one on the employment of that income, and differences in its employment produce differences in pressure. A doctrine of incidence that is confined to the receipt of income without regard to its expenditure is so far defective. A second objection to the theory is its dependence on a few unduly simplified conditions. Social forces are regarded as definite and precise in their action, and very positive statements are made on the strength of this insecure foundation. Thus taxes on wages and on labourers’ necessaries are regarded as being always transferred to the capitalist, a proposition true only on the assumption that wages are at the minimum, and that any change in them will at once act, and act proportionately, on population. In the same way the equality of profits and the complete dependence of rent on the margin of cultivation are made to support very sweeping propositions as to the incidence of taxation. If we allow that the economic forces of population, of competition in regard to the employment of capital, and the movement of cultivation are not quite so regular in their action, the deductions made from them must be qualified. Thirdly, the theory exaggerates the simplicity not merely of economic forces, but also of the forms of taxation. Taxes on rent, on profits, or on wages are not all the same, and the particular mode of imposition often affects the incidence. There is need for much care and discrimination in using those results of deduction that depend on the identification of so many different taxes. Finally, far too little notice is taken of the actual facts and of the unavoidable limitations in the application of theoretical principles. The orthodox theory of incidence professes to explain what will happen in the long run, ‘but taxes,’ as Leslie well remarked, ‘are paid immediately under the real conditions of life and out of the actual wages and profits or other funds of individuals, not out of hypotheses or abstractions Edition: current; Page: [368] in the minds of economists.’1 Knowledge of what will happen when the limit is reached is, no doubt, desirable, but what takes place during the process of adjustment should also be noticed.

The existence of these imperfections does not destroy the great service of the doctrine as a preliminary or introductory inquiry (Vorstudium). Without some such attempt the intricacies of incidence could never be explained, and it is by expansion and correction of the Ricardian procedure that advance can best be made in the explanation of these problems. As an intellectual exercise the abstract theory of the shifting of taxation has a high disciplinary value. The root-error of its followers lay in taking a part for the whole.

§ 4. The course of development in the preceding theories is clear enough. From the first suggestion of Locke to the compact exposition of J. S. Mill there can be traced a series of connecting links and alterations in consequence of wider knowledge. Adam Smith has the French theory constantly in mind, as Ricardo in turn has the ideas of the Wealth of Nations. All have in common the recognition of certain points on which the pressure of taxation ultimately rests, and all, it may be added, suggest the wisdom of adapting legislation to the conditions of incidence in order to secure a fair distribution, or at least to prevent unnecessary waste through friction.

Another group of doctrines has a quite different tendency. In place of investigating the complicated shiftings that settle the ultimate incidence, it either denies the possibility of ascertaining them, or assumes that they bring about a general diffusion of the burden over the whole society. The natural conclusion is that the particular forms of taxation are altogether immaterial, as, whatever be the immediate charges, the burden is finally distributed in an equitable, or inequitable, manner.

The first scientific statement of this view is ascribed to Edition: current; Page: [369] N. F. Canard, whose essay, attacking the theory that all taxation must fall on the owners of land, obtained a prize from the French Academy. The gist of his argument is that there is surplus product in labour and commerce as well as land, and that taxation falls on all of these ‘net products.’ The process of diffusion is carried out by exchange, buyer and seller in each transaction dividing the amount of tax imposed, and at every fresh exchange a division of the part of taxation transferred takes place until ultimately the charge is spread over all the parties concerned. Extending this conception to the whole society, taxation comes to be regarded as after a time diffused equably among all its members. The qualification as to time is important, for the process of diffusion is not complete at first; consequently old taxes are the best, and all new taxes, or even changes in existing ones, are to be deprecated as disturbing the beautiful and harmonious distribution which relieves the legislator of any trouble respecting the apparent merits or demerits of existing taxes.1

The comfortable nature of this theory has made it a popular one. Without adopting Canard's peculiar explanation of the mode of diffusion, Thiers asserts the general diffusion of the public charges; Stein, from a still different point of view, reaches what is practically the same result. In his opinion the whole theory of shifting is an error arising from imperfect comprehension of the real nature of the process, which in reality contains two different parts. For, first, a tax is a part of the cost of production similar to the expense of raw materials or labour, and like other expenses must enter into price, and taxation is through Edition: current; Page: [370] this medium ‘diffused from one to another’ until it extends to all. Again, from a higher point of view, the portion of product paid in taxes is a surplus product, the result of the services of the state administration, which pays back at least what it receives. The conception of incidence of taxation has to be replaced by that of the ‘production of taxes.’1

This theory has also had a good deal of vogue in England amongst members of Parliament and officials, but is often held along with other and inconsistent theories. Thus, Sir E. W. Hamilton, after discussing at considerable length the incidence of certain taxes, finally comforts himself with the reflection that ‘perhaps there is more truth than is popularly supposed in the optimistic theory of general diffusion, which is that “taxes equate and diffuse themselves, and if levied with certainty and uniformity they will, by a diffusion and repercussion, reach and burden all property with unerring certainty and equality.”’2 Sir R. Giffen expresses his full agreement ‘in the opinion that all old taxation tends to become equally diffused over the whole community.’3 So Lord Avebury makes the same quotation as Sir E. W. Hamilton, and approves of it in similar terms.4 This does not hinder him from asserting that ‘the Commissioners make out a very strong case for further relief to real property, especially after the additional burden thrown on it by Sir W. Harcourt's budget.’5

Closely allied to belief in the theory of diffusion is the disposition to regard the problem of incidence as insoluble, and at the same time to treat all questions of taxation as Edition: current; Page: [371] if it were non-existent.1 To deny that the incidence of taxation is discoverable seems to be the first step towards believing that it is unimportant.2

No lengthy criticism of the negative theory of incidence is needed.3 Facts speak for themselves: if the incidence of the public burdens be really so settled that legislative action has no effect, how comes it to pass that some forms of taxation are much more oppressive than others? It is impossible to escape entirely the weight of a load by judicious arrangement of it, but it is quite feasible to diminish the fatigue it produces. Canard's doctrine is contrary to experience, and is not established by abstract reasoning. There can be no doubt that taxes are not always a part of cost of production, but in any case the real question is whether they can always be shifted by the immediate payer, and to this the answer must be a decided negative. Edition: current; Page: [372] The desire to pass on the burden may be universal, but the capacity to do so is limited. Even in the special case of taxes on commodities it is not always open to the producer to shift the duty to the consumer. As regards other taxes, the very idea of cost of production is quite inapplicable.

§ 5. In proceeding to examine more closely the conditions of our problem, it is well to remember that the total denial of the existence of shifting and the assertion of its universal existence are both unfounded. That, e.g. taxes on commodities are sometimes transferred by the immediate payers is an obvious fact. No one can believe that the distillers bear the whole burden of the English spirit duties. On the other hand, it is just as incredible that a landlord could entirely shift a tax on rent to his tenant or any other class, or that the payers of income tax could completely relieve themselves at the expense of others. The existence and the extent of the process of transference must depend largely on the conditions of the case, and it is these conditions that a general theory of incidence has to consider and explain.

The course of transference may be in different directions, and according to its starting-point and direction it is necessary to distinguish. Where the movement is from the producer to the consumer, or, more generally, from the seller to the buyer, there is ‘forward shifting’; where it is from the buyer to the seller, there is ‘backward shifting’; where the process of shifting affects more than two parties, it leads to ‘diffused incidence.’1

The simplest instance of shifting is, as more than once mentioned, that in which the producer of a commodity passes on the charge in increased price to the consumer. A closer examination of this familiar case will suggest some important conditions. Why does the buyer submit to this Edition: current; Page: [373] additional charge? An increase in price tends to reduce demand, and will not the falling off bring about a return to the old level? The usual reply would be that the dealer or producer had been obtaining normal profits before the imposition of the tax, and that without an increased return sufficient to compensate for the new charge he would not, or could not, continue in the business. The doctrine of average profits resulting from the effective mobility of capital is thus the foundation of the proposition that taxes on commodities levied on the producer are shifted to the consumer. The reason for the proposition also shows its limitations; wherever an industry is yielding such exceptional gains that taxation will not reduce them below the supposed normal level, the motive for abandoning the employment not being present, the force that produces shifting will not be in operation. It may therefore be allowed that, so far as producers’ gains are at all of the nature of monopoly, taxation will specially affect them. But here a further qualification is presented. Exceptional gains may be made by some producers, but not by others; in fact in nearly every industry some of those engaged in it can barely hold their ground. This unfortunate class must, on the increase of taxation, either raise their price or leave their business; if they can succeed in the former attempt, their successful competitors will gain by it, and shift their charge to the consumer; if they fail, the margin of pure profit is raised, and the burden will remain on the producers. It is possible, and indeed likely, that the actual result may be a compromise. Some of the weakest producers may be driven out, but the price may also be somewhat raised, in which case there will be division of the charge. Therefore the true conclusion is, that when there is complete mobility taxation will be shifted from producer to consumer. Again, the possibility of shifting taxation of the kind under notice does not depend simply on the elasticity of supply; the effect that changes in price will produce on demand must be considered. Taxation imposed Edition: current; Page: [374] on a necessary article, or one which forms a very small part of the total outlay of the consumer, will, since demand is inelastic, be more likely to pass on at once to the consumer than if the commodity belonged to that large intermediate class, the demand for which is speedily checked or increased by an upward or downward movement of price.1 Again, if increased expenditure has to be devoted to taxed articles, less remains to be applied in the purchase of other goods; the consequent reduction may lower prices in other industries from which withdrawal is not economically expedient, and accordingly diffuse the indirect incidence of the tax to a different set of producers. Further, it must be remarked that as all industrial processes are really complex, it is quite possible that a tax may not affect the holder of floating capital who is ready to seek other investments, but may fall entirely on the owners of land, or specialised capital suitable for the production of the article. Both land and fixed capital are indeed capable of different uses, but the alternative ones are necessarily less profitable than that in which they are actually engaged. Hindrances to mobility are hindrances to shifting of taxation. The very application of a tax of itself produces disturbing effects. Additional capital has to be employed, restrictions, which mean the sacrifice of time and money, come into force, both tending to reduce the number of producers and to concentrate industry. The production approaches to a qualified monopoly, and thus the weight of taxation falls, so far as actual receipts are concerned, on the consumers, with a further loss to the small producers excluded from the business.

The case of a strict monopoly is of sufficient theoretical importance to receive some special notice. Starting from the admitted fact that the normal monopolist endeavours to make his net return as high as possible, it follows that a tax on the commodity that he produces will, by increasing his expenses of production, tend to reduce his net receipts, but whether the whole or even the greater part of the tax will Edition: current; Page: [375] be borne by him or by the consumers will depend on (a) the conditions of demand, and also (b) on those of supply. If a slight rise of price seriously checks consumption, or, in other words, if the demand is elastic, the monopolist suffers more than in the case of inelastic demand. Again (b) if the condition of diminishing return operates, the tax may, and probably will, be in part compensated by the cheaper production of the marginal portion of the reduced supply. The condition of increasing return makes a tax more oppressive, since the cost will rise with contraction of supply.

But the theoretical conception of a pure monopoly is of little direct service in dealing with the question of incidence; for in very few cases is a monopoly strictly so called to be found. There is in truth rather a number of instances of limited or qualified monopolies, arising in part from natural, in part from legal limitations. Both monopoly and competition have to be considered, and in particular the interaction of these opposed conditions as well as the effect of financial changes in readjusting these areas.1

The precise method of taxation employed will have an important influence; whether the duty be imposed at an early stage or allowed to lie over till the article is ready for the consumer; whether the measure adopted is supposed capacity of production or actual product are very material circumstances in deciding the exact incidence.

Thus the apparently simple case of taxation of commodities appears to be really surrounded with complications that need close and careful study. The same questions would arise if the tax were levied directly from the consumer; there would be the possibility of a backward shifting, just as there is of failure of the forward one. In fact, as the position is sometimes explained, there is a struggle between producer and consumer, each striving to Edition: current; Page: [376] throw the loss on the other, and much will depend on the relative strength of the parties. As a rule producers are a smaller and better organised class, and therefore have the chances in their layout, though where they possess any differential gain, this advantage is lost to them. Fresh increases of taxation are passed on to the consumer more readily than reductions are restored to him. This element of friction has another effect. Small additional amounts of taxation are not easily shifted; a few pence on or off the gallon of spirits cannot directly influence retail price. The initial shifting always implies an effort, which, however, very readily takes place in industries accustomed to alter prices as the various expenses of production change. Additional taxation and a rise in the price of hops are events of exactly the same kind to the brewer, and their final result is distributed in the same way.

The diffusion of the burden may be still more complicated. In modern society products pass through the hands of several distinct classes before reaching the consumer, and the struggle of buyer and seller will be repeated at each separate stage. The existence of monopoly or of some form of limitation at any point may prevent the shifting passing any further. An economically strong intermediate group may throw a charge back to the producer, send it forward to the consumer, or divide it between both.

The foregoing analysis of the actions and reactions that may accompany or result from the imposition of a tax on a commodity shows the general conditions that are influential.1 They are (1) the presence or absence of mobility; in the former case, the normal shifting to the consumer will take place; in the latter it is retarded: (2) the law of demand for the particular commodity; on this depends very much the extent to which there will be a reflection of the burden either back to the producer or to Edition: current; Page: [377] other industries: (3) the presence or absence of monopoly: (4) the method of taxation as affecting the preceding conditions: (5) the organisation of the industry and its division, and (6) the amount of taxation. In regard to this last circumstance, it may happen that additional taxation will increase the force of competition. The new element may be just the last thing wanting to break up the existing settled conditions. This will be easily understood by considering the effect of successive very small additions to the duty on a given article. Each of these will tend to remain on the payer, but as soon as the additions are sensible, or easily distributed, the shifting movement will begin to act. Even in the case of the most rigid and gainful monopoly, the producer must, if taxation be carried sufficiently far, either pass on the weight or abandon the undertaking.

§ 6. The comparatively easy case of a tax on goods enables us to perceive the general character of the changes in incidence produced by the process of shifting. We have now to deal with the more important and interesting question of the movements of incidence in respect to the incomes of the different economic classes. The whole tendency of modern economic science has been in the direction of emphasising the fundamental similarity between the departments of exchange and distribution.1 Rent, wages, interest, and employers’ earnings are exhibited as the prices of the respective services of land, labour, capital, and business ability. Might we not say that a tax on any of these commodities would be amenable to the same reasoning as that already applied to material goods, the consumers of each of the factors of production being those other factors that need its co-operation? This mode of treatment is, we believe, unsuitable, owing to the distinguishing pecularities of the shares in distribution. Their production is not in Edition: current; Page: [378] the same form or subject to the same conditions as that of ordinary commodities. Nor is the nature of demand the same in respect to them. The attempt to bring commodities and services under a common heading seems to be an undue straining of the analogy that undoubtedly exists. A better mode of dealing with the question is rather to consider it in the light of the theory of distribution, while availing ourselves of whatever is applicable in the case of taxation of material commodities.

There is no need for attempting here to re-state the economic theory of distribution. The work of Ricardo has been filled in and placed in closer relation to actual conditions by the ablest workers of the past and present generations,1 who have carefully elaborated the originally fragmentary doctrines on the subject. The main conditions affecting changes in distribution must, however, be noticed; for the effect of taxation is plainly a deduction from the total produce—i.e. so much loss to be re-distributed among the parties concerned.2

Assuming competition, the main circumstances on which the amount of rent depends are the position of the margin of cultivation, and the several qualities of land that lie above it. Change either the worst land in cultivation, or the relation to it of the superior soils and the quantity of rent will be altered.3 In estimating the incidence of a tax on rent, its effect on these conditions is the first consideration. The usual way of showing that a tax on rent cannot be shifted is to point out that it does not affect that particular Edition: current; Page: [379] land that pays no rent, and consequently leaves the determination of the total amount, including the tax, as before. Ricardo and some of his nearest disciples differed as to the incidence of tithes or proportional taxes on the raw produce of land. The former maintained that such a tax must fall on the consumer, since in the case of produce from the worst land in cultivation there was no rent on which it could be placed, and it was the yield from this land that determined price; as the cultivator would need his average profit, the shifting to the consumer was necessary. Senior and McCulloch, on the other hand, held that the rise of price would check demand, and therefore by changing the position of the margin in an upward direction would reduce rent.1 Without discussing the special point at issue, which belongs to the group of land taxes,2 we see that the criterion used by both is the effect on the general condition of agricultural industry. That on the hypothesis of perfect competition a tax on rent must remain on the payers is an indisputable truth, but for the cases of actual taxation it is important to bear in mind that economic rent is mixed up with other elements. The investment of capital in land yields a return in many instances indistinguishable from economic rent, but at the same time it is ‘really the profits of the landlord's stock.’3 So far as no discrimination can be made between these components, the incidence of a tax will fall to some extent on the return to capital, and, if sufficient to discourage its investments, will tend to be passed on to the consumers of agricultural products, since land of inferior natural quality must be cultivated in order to supply the required quantity.

The opposite cases of taxes imposed elsewhere falling on rent is much more probable. The class of differential gains of which rent is one very conspicuous instance is peculiarly liable to be affected by taxation. The influence of competition Edition: current; Page: [380] is, speaking generally, effective in distributing special burdens on a particular industry; but where special gains have been obtained an equivalent tax is the restoration, not the destruction, of equality. This is the kernel of truth in the Physiocrats’ belief, and on it their exaggerated doctrine was based. No kind of actual tax can be imagined which might not under certain conditions diminish the fund that goes to the landowner. Wages, interest, employers receipts, duties on goods, or on acts, all supply such examples, and they all accomplish their effect by operating on the margin of cultivation in the widest sense. The complicated working of the tax-system is very well shown by this circumstance. It is, as we discovered, very difficult to single out differential gains for exclusive or extra taxation, but the ordinary agencies of economic life are tending to that object, though of course in a very limited and imperfect way. They strike alike the earned and the unearned increment, the investment profitable through the foresight of the prudent employer and the lucky chance of the rash speculator, the rents of careful and improving as well as of inattentive and tyrannical landlords.

§ 7. Taxation of the capitalist's share of the national income gives rise to more difficult problems than those connected with rent. Between the doctrine of Turgot, that a tax on profits is always, and that of Ricardo, that it is never, shifted,1 we have to take an intermediate position. A general tax on interest, as it affects all employments equally, would appear certain to remain on the payers. The mobility of capital cannot here, so long as we confine our attention to a single country, have any effect. Where the tax does not extend to capital invested abroad it is evident that it would discourage home investments and lead to the emigration of wealth to other places. ‘The proprietor of stock,’ as Adam Smith tells us, ‘is properly a citizen of the world, and is not necessarily attached to any Edition: current; Page: [381] particular country.’1 Even within a limited area another feature of capital will affect the incidence of special taxes imposed on it. Unlike land, it can be indefinitely increased by human foresight and providence, having as a chief inducement the return to be obtained by investment. Taxation on interest lowers that return, and is therefore a direct discouragement to saving.2 So far as it is effectual, the diminution in the supply of available capital tends to raise the rate of interest and transfer the incidence to the consumers of capital, i.e. the other factors in distribution, and as rent is not likely to be much affected, in reality to the producers, including both employers and labourers. How far the check to production will show itself in a higher cost of production and therefore fall on the consumer is not easily determinable; if there were to be a substantial check to the investment of capital this would be a probable result, causing a diffusion of the incidence, some of it returning to the capitalist in his capacity of consumer.

For most purposes of economic reasoning there is an advantage in neglecting the differences between the different forms of capital and dealing solely with the characteristics common to all. But in handling the problem of incidence, it is necessary to see that there are two broad classes of reproductive wealth, the one free and capable of being turned in any direction, the other fixed in some particular industry. It is primarily to the former that the arguments from the mobility of capital apply. Capital once invested, the difficulty of withdrawing it places the possessor for the time being in the same position as the landlord. A tax on fixed capital would thus seem to resemble in its effects a tax on rent, and to be equally untransferable. One instance Edition: current; Page: [382] —that of land improvements—has been already discussed, and in considering it we saw that the mode of relief to the capitalist was simply by reducing future investments. The single tax on fixed capital in the sense used by Menier and his followers would be at first a heavy burden on the owners of those forms of wealth, that would show itself later on in reduced investment and retarded production. Free capital, if separately taxed, has much readier modes of escape. Employment outside the particular tax area makes it very difficult, even if the law enacts it, to enforce collection; consequently the chance of placing an effective tax on movable capital is much reduced by both economical and technical circumstances.

The chief condition, then, on which the incidence of a tax on interest depends is its effect on the accumulation and investment of capital, including its action on the saving propensities of the inhabitants and their disposition to move their wealth to escape taxation. If the rate of interest is determined by what Jevons calls the ‘final utility’ of capital, it is plain that the possibility of shifting the tax will depend on the effect produced on this margin of investment. If it is forced up the weight will be transferred from the recipients of interest to that intermediate class which gains by the cheapness of capital.1 A tax on the returns of fixed capital will at first rest on the payers, and only be transferred with difficulty, but it will ultimately, when the old supply is sufficiently contracted, come under the same influences.2

Mixed up with the interest of capital in Ricardo's treatment of taxes is that element of profit variously described as ‘wages of superintendence,’ ‘earnings of management,’ or ‘employers’ gain.’ It has, however, strong claims to separate treatment. The profit of the entrepreneur has Edition: current; Page: [383] some points of resemblance with wages, as it has others with rent, and we must therefore be prepared to find that the movement of taxation is different in its case from that of ordinary interest. The analogy of rent would lead us to believe that a tax on the gains of the employer could not be transferred, since there would be no opportunity for escape on the part of the immediate bearers. A tax on this very indeterminate element of the gross profit of business would, however, be certain in practice to trench in some degree on the other constituents. It is almost impossible to avoid levying such a tax on that minimum ‘employer's return’ which is sometimes regarded as equivalent to ‘no profits.’ The struggling marginal producer will then need an increased price in order to recoup himself for the tax, and unless he obtains it will have to yield to the pressure of the ‘last straw,’ and therefore abandon his business. Taxation of this kind would operate somewhat as taxation of commodities. It may be urged that when the gains of all industries are taxed there is no reason for the weaker employers giving up business. They can, however, pass down to the class of labourers, as others by taxation may be hindered from leaving it.1 The effect on the marginal employer appears as the condition determining the shifting of taxes on the employer's gain.

This share of national income may also suffer through the operation of taxes on commodities. When such a duty is not transferred to the consumer the burden is likely to fall on the differential element in profits; the tax has to be paid without the compensation of a rise in price, and there is no way of shifting the burden, unless in the case of raw materials, where rent may be curtailed. It is quite in accordance with the analogous case of rent that taxes should be shifted to the peculiar gains of the employer. It is, Edition: current; Page: [384] besides, possible that a tax on interest may be transferred to profit in the limited sense. When the rate of interest is raised, as we have seen that it may be, by taxation, the employer has to pay dearer for his borrowed capital, and, so far as what he works with is his own, loses on one hand what he gains with the other. On the whole we may confidently say that the broad and simple statement that taxes on profits fall on the capitalist, who can in no wise transfer them to others, requires to be very much limited before it can be accepted as correct. We must separate the two essentially different elements of interest and employer's gain, and recognise that while the one is affected by changes in the point of final utility of capital, the other is connected with the opportunity for profitable industrial effort.

§ 8. If the older theories on the subject of incidence assumed too hastily that rent and profits had to bear their own immediate burdens and under certain conditions those of others, they made amends when dealing with wages. The transference of taxes on this part of revenue was asserted in the most positive manner.1 The landlord, the capitalist, the consumer might all be affected by a tax on wages, but the labourer was always exempt from contributing to the requirements of the State. This immunity was believed to extend to the higher kinds of wages and salaries, since they had a fixed relation to the ordinary rate.2

The historical explanation of this belief is afforded by the evolution of the system of hired labour from the earlier condition of serfdom. The slave as an instrument of production received what was needed for his maintenance; any reduction in its amount would reduce his efficiency. Taxation Edition: current; Page: [385] was paid altogether out of his master's income, it did not concern the living machines engaged in the creation of wealth. This conception survived in the earlier period of free labour, and gained support from the doctrine of a ‘natural’ rate of wages common to the French and English economists. Any reduction in the rate would, it was held, act on population, and by diminishing its number restore the former real reward of the labourer. In spite of occasional concessions, such was the opinion of Turgot, of Adam Smith, and of Ricardo,1 and, given the premise, the conclusion was sound enough. It is also true that in both the France of the eighteenth century and the England of the Napoleonic war wages did seem to have touched the subsistence point, and to give a direct verification of the economical doctrine. But, strange to say, no notice was taken of the fact that one of the causes of this deplorable situation was the heavy and unequal pressure of taxation. The French peasant and the English labourer were the greatest sufferers by the fiscal systems under which they lived, and financial reform was one of the means of their relief.

No account of the incidence of a tax on wages can be satisfactory that does not fully recognise the existence of varying standards of comfort, even among the lowest unskilled labourers at different times and places. Beside and above the physical minimum, there is what Mill calls a ‘moral’ minimum. The conditions must be exceptionally unfortunate that do not allow the labourer something above mere subsistence, and, when that minimum point is exceeded, there is something on which taxation may fall. To estimate the incidence of taxation we must know its effect on the standard of life. If that is maintained unaltered there will be a transference of the tax to the capitalist or employer; if it is lowered the labourer bears the tax himself. This consideration applies to each industrial grade, but it is evident that the higher the usual scale is placed Edition: current; Page: [386] the less is the probability that it will be readjusted to suit taxation. When a group of labourers possesses a monopoly, it, in common with all holders of differential gains, has no power to throw off the burdens imposed on it, and, as most skilled labourers have more or less special advantage, the shifting of taxes is in their case beset with difficulty.

Thus, as in the case of rent, interest, and profit, we find that the ultimate incidence of a tax on wages will vary according to the special conditions under which it is imposed; and of these the most important are the effect on the usual standard of living, and, so far as the higher kinds of wages are concerned, the extent to which their receivers are privileged through natural or artificial causes. Peculiar gains of labour are just as much at the mercy of fresh taxation as any other differential advantage. The process of shifting requires the actual exertion of force to carry it out, and those forces can only be the agencies that work through supply and demand. If the same supply of labour of any particular kind is forthcoming with an unchanged demand, then direct taxation of labour will not be transferred. The great difficulty of adjusting the supply of labour is a reason for believing that any shifting of taxes imposed on it must be a slow and uncertain process.

A similar conclusion applies to the case of taxes on the labourer's consumption. We do not find that duties on food produce higher wages; they only bring the starvation point nearer, as the history of the English Corn Laws shows. When Ricardo argued that taxes on articles of the labourer's consumption are exactly the same as a tax on profits he assumed far too rigid a connexion between the cost of living and the supply of labour. A tax on the food of animals used in production would increase cost, because food so given is regulated to secure efficiency, but the labourer seeks to procure the best terms for himself. The element of free contract present in the latter case entirely alters the position. For completeness of statement it is desirable to add that a great deal of wages is really the Edition: current; Page: [387] return on capital invested in the education of the workers, but in reality this does not produce as much practical effect as might be expected. A tax on wages, unaccompanied by an equivalent tax on the yield of material capital, would apparently discourage expenditure in the formation of personal or immaterial capital, and turn it towards the production of goods. This check to the supply of trained workers would tend to raise the price of their services, and shift the pressure to the consumers of the goods produced by them or to the employers. In practice the calculations of parents and others who make the investment in the education of the young are not so carefully worked out as to be influenced by the existence of a tax on the wages of the higher employments. Still, even with the actual imperfect estimates, some effect would probably be traceable if the tax were a heavy one. The necessary expenses of living in a suitable way and the cost of training are the two agencies that give some justification for Adam Smith's doctrine of a balance not to be disturbed by taxation between the different employments.

§ 9. Our examination of the general conditions that help to determine the true incidence of taxes on the different constituents of income, though necessarily brief, at least makes it plain that the theoretical explanation of the subject is not the simple process sometimes imagined. The movement of a given tax is not invariably in the same direction: its course will be guided by the surrounding circumstances. Without knowing what these are we cannot tell the direction, much less the precise extent, of its incidence. To pretend to say where, e.g. a tax on profits will fall, without possessing further data, is as vain as to seek to determine the space traversed by a moving body whose initial velocity and period of movement are both unknown.

The difficulty of estimating the incidence of taxation is increased by the complementary alterations that take place in the economic system. A change in rent implies changes in the amount and probably in the relations of the other Edition: current; Page: [388] shares in distribution; a rise or fall in the price of one article leads to other changes of price, and we may therefore expect that even in the most precise and determinate cases of incidence some additional diffused effect will be produced.1

At the best, and after the exercise of the utmost care, there will remain some obscurity as to the exact extent to which shifting takes place, owing chiefly to the difficulty of employing statistical verification.2 Deduction from general propositions cannot overcome this obstacle, and special vigilance is therefore necessary to avoid errors arising from the want of a check such as the process of verification provides. The earlier theories are so many warnings of the danger of hasty deductions from insufficient premises.

But, subject to these cautions, the use of the theory is by no means slight. We may not be able to give confident answers to general questions on the subject, but in dealing with particular instances we shall have the advantage of knowing what conditions we ought to notice and what effects we may reasonably look for. So understood, the theory of incidence is an indispensable part of financial doctrine.

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CHAPTER VI: the principles of local taxation

§ 1. Besides the system of taxation intended for the support of the central government, and therefore usually described as ‘general,’ or ‘imperial,’ the compulsory revenue needed for the due maintenance of local authorities requires to be considered. This latter class of charges is just as much entitled to the name of taxation, and in many respects exhibits the same features, as the imperial tax revenue. Local and central government are simply different forms of the state organisation, and clearly show their fundamental resemblance in their financial systems. The need of revenue, the general characteristics of that revenue in respect to its origin, and the influence that it exerts on individual and national wealth are the same in the case of central and local bodies, and thus it might almost seem that no necessity existed for a separate treatment of the tax receipts of those smaller units that historical circumstances or the needs of social life have called into being.

But, notwithstanding this general similarity, there are certain peculiarities in the methods of local finance that make it desirable to devote a separate chapter to the consideration of the principles that should guide its working. Without in the slightest abandoning the conception of the unity of all taxation, we may examine those aspects of local taxation that give it in some degree a distinct and Edition: current; Page: [390] special character, and enable us to contrast with advantage the two categories of revenue belonging respectively to supreme and to subordinate political bodies.

One very obvious though rather superficial reason is found in the great magnitude of each class. The British Imperial revenue for 1898–9 was, in round figures, £108,000,000; that for local purposes (excluding loans) was £80,000,000. In other countries there is the same possibility of opposing the two sets of charges without finding any such difference as to warrant us in regarding either as entirely insignificant. When we add that local charges are, on the whole, increasing more rapidly than imperial ones, it is easy to understand the interest that has been excited respecting them.

There are other and deeper reasons. Local institutions have a special function as representing the interest of particular districts; they are confined to a somewhat narrow range of duties, and as a consequence their revenue system is simpler and less involved than that of the State. A rural commune must have a comparatively primitive form of financial organisation, and even in the case of the largest subdivisions the absence of military and naval expenditure and the large portion of other public duties discharged by the agents of the central government keep down their requirements. The expenditure of a great municipality or a large American State is no doubt considerable and for very varied objects, but cannot compare in extent or in comprehensiveness with any national budget. Moreover, the restraints imposed on their financial action, either by legislation or (in federal States) by constitutional limitations, are a serious check on the power of local bodies.1

Another reason may also be assigned: the subjects with which local administration has to deal are mainly of an Edition: current; Page: [391] economic character, and very often admit of rather definite measurement. Water-supply, lighting, drainage, and the care of roads are instances. The conduct of such matters, if it has some resemblance to the duties of the national government, has others no less strong to the management of an industrial company. The propositions that ‘contributions should be proportional to advantages received,’ and that ‘political power should depend on the amount contributed,’ are much more plausible when applied to local than to general government. The extent of this resemblance will, of course, depend on the special character of the subdivision. A rural parish, or commune, is in this respect very different from London or Paris, but the prominence of economic interests in the widest sense is traceable in all forms of subordinate governments.

§ 2. The history of local institutions has already been briefly noticed in connexion with expenditure,1 and it throws light equally on their receipts. One prominent class of these bodies is really a ‘survival’ of what were at one time sovereign powers.2 The ‘States’ of Germany and America and the ‘cantons’ of Switzerland are well-known examples. Lower down in the scale the commune is the primitive political ‘unit’ whose importance has decayed with the growth of the State. In all of them the taxing power has been limited by the pressure and competition of the national government, and in the earlier forms by the slow development of taxation. The manor or village community depended on economic revenue not on taxation in the modern sense. One striking feature in state development has been the absorption of the more productive forms of compulsory revenue by the central financial system. It was only natural that the monarchical State, with its hostility to feudalism and to local privileges and immunities of all kinds, should endeavour to take into Edition: current; Page: [392] its own hands the customary taxes of districts and municipalities. The centralising movement of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was specially noticeable in respect to taxation.

Motives of convenience assisted in promoting this change. Some of the principal forms of revenue were manifestly unsuitable for small territorial divisions. The taxation of commodities or of income was far better fitted for the control of the central government. Thus both political and economic reasons existed for the failure of the older tax revenue of towns and localities.

The existing systems of local administration have in many cases a quite different origin; instead of being older than the State, they are its direct creation. In France, for example, the whole tax-system of the ‘departments’ and ‘communes’ rests on legislation not a century old, and though English institutions have a longer history, they are equally the expression of the State's will.1 Thus local institutions are not always survivals, or even revivals, of the past; they are often entirely new formations, devised to satisfy the needs for which devolution of authority has been deemed expedient.

In such instances their power of taxing is a concession strictly limited by the terms of the grant. The adoption of new expedients is precluded, so that very often merely the amount of one particular tax has to be settled, and that only within definitely fixed limits. Local taxation becomes, in fact, a kind of supplement to the general system, admitting of little independent movement. The two opposing tendencies that affect local administration are in full operation here. On the one hand there is the desire of skilled financiers to keep the errors and mistakes of the smaller bodies under supervision. Party spirit and class-interest Edition: current; Page: [393] are intensified when confined to a small area, and are but too ready to employ taxation as an engine of oppression; and even when no injustice is intended, the ignorance of the real working of taxation that is so common amongst local administrators would, if unchecked, prove disastrous to the national interest. Hence the limitations on the form and amount of taxation as well as on its application. The citizen who is unfairly burdened by his local taxes has as legitimate a claim to relief as if the general charges were too heavy in proportion to his income.

Side by side with this idea of more careful control there is the disposition to extend the sphere of action of local authorities. It is felt that political education is promoted by inducing citizens to manage their common affairs in an independent manner. To awaken or to strengthen the feeling of responsibility is impossible unless power to act is also bestowed. A local body cannot be expected to feel any great interest in its work if all the important parts of the system are predetermined. To secure a vigorous municipal life there must be a good deal of latitude given to the corporations engaged in its management. Wider taxing powers and new forms of local revenue are, therefore, often suggested as indispensable steps in reform. To understand the position of the question, we must bear in mind the existence of these apparently contradictory sentiments, both, in some cases, vehemently held by the same persons.

§ 3. The first step in an examination of the principles of local taxation is the determination of the proper line of division from the general state revenue. We have seen that the distribution of duties between central and local administration conforms on the whole to certain general principles,1 and the most natural course would be to apportion the charges on a similar system, but, in fact, there is no real correlation between the two: the division of duties is largely independent of the division of taxes, just as Edition: current; Page: [394] both are distinct from the distribution of public property and quasi-private receipts. The partition of taxes between the two classes must depend on, or at least be guided by, financial and economic considerations.

Some important taxes are at once on sound principles shut out from use as local resources. The customs are only levied at the national frontier; any attempt to restore the provincial customs boundaries that hampered the trade of France before the Revolution, and in the 19th century that of the German and Italian States, would be a retrograde as well as an unpopular step in finance. The taxation of commodities in transitu is only legitimate when exercised in a way calculated to cause the smallest amount of delay and inconvenience. To regulate trade between small areas for fiscal purposes would be at once costly and unproductive, and therefore uneconomical.1 The earliest step towards federation between independent States has been the abolition of custom-houses at their frontiers, and there is no probability that a reversal of this salutary process will be witnessed. Octroi duties are, indeed, an exception, but their continuance can be readily explained. They are confined to towns, and therefore are regulated with comparative ease, having, in fact, some resemblance to the market dues once so common in British towns. They make as near an approach to direct taxes on local consumption as can well be devised, with some additional incidence on the surrounding country through their effect on demand. Besides, they are unquestionably a decaying form. France and Italy are the only countries where they are in full force, and even in these they are looked on as a necessary evil. It is almost certain that in the progress of reform they will ultimately disappear. On the same grounds local excise taxes are practically prohibited. To Edition: current; Page: [395] impose a duty on an article without having the power of levying an equivalent customs duty would mean the sacrifice of local producers, unless they had a strict monopoly up to the amount of the tax: such a tax would be easily evaded by moving outside the boundary. Thus the great forms of indirect taxation on commodities are withdrawn from the list of local resources. Direct duties on consumption might be used, but, as will appear,1 they are difficult to manage and only moderately productive.

Income and property taxes are equally unavailable, though for a different reason. Both are essentially personal and apply to a given individual. Now to tax a person on his income for the service of the locality in which he resides is open to the double objection that it is likely to be evaded and is grossly unfair. Local authorities have no efficient machinery for detecting concealed income: they are in a worse position than the English revenue officials in regard to foreign investments, where failure is admitted. The mere moving from the area for part of the year would upset the arrangements. As to unfairness, Lord Goschen's view seems conclusive: ‘It appears to be impossible to devise an equitable local income tax, for you cannot localise income. An attempt was made in Scotland, and it broke down when an English Lord Chancellor, who drew his £10,000 a year in London, but had a small place in Scotland, was made to pay income tax on the whole of his income in that country as well as in this.’2 No real correction could be made without exempting all income earned outside the district, or, in other words, changing the income tax into a partial produce tax. No matter how large the local division may be, the same objection lies. American States and Swiss cantons are as little suited for the application of separate income taxes as England, Ireland, and Scotland. Owing to the variety of modern incomes and the trouble of following them to their sources, Edition: current; Page: [396] the income tax should always be general. A property tax is in much the same position in local taxation, though its defects as a part of any tax-system are so great that it is doubtful whether it should be admitted even into the list of good national taxes. It appears to have the two great faults of injustice in distribution and liability to evasion.1

The reasons for the removal of taxes on income, property, and commodities from the list of local resources are in a great degree technical, and rest on the difficulties of their fair or economic application. But it is further plain that there must be a large body of productive taxation reserved to the central government. Even if all the taxes mentioned were eminently fitted by their nature to contribute to local revenue, they would have to be kept for the still more important services of the national administration. So much depends on division of duties between the two sets of organs and their relative cost, that it is hardly possible to lay down any general rule on this part of the subject. We may, perhaps, fairly assume that at lowest one-half of the total sum collected in taxes will have to be taken by the central government.

§ 4. On the other hand, there is a different class of taxes well fitted for local treatment. Such are those levied locally on fixed property and permanent occupations carried on in the locality. First in natural order is the land tax. Both abstract reasoning and experience tend to show that a large proportion of local taxation must be obtained from this important ‘object.’ In rural districts there is little else to be taxed, and in the case of towns the value of land is so much increased by the action of social conditions that it forms a most suitable mark for the larger taxation that the wants of urban societies make necessary. The theory of incidence also supports this view. Other charges are often shifted to rent, while it can hardly ever transfer its peculiar burdens. As a land tax tends to become a tax on Edition: current; Page: [397] rent, and can generally be so regulated as to take that shape, it has definiteness of incidence in its favour; while its pressure falls on a form of wealth that is likely to grow without effort on its owner's part. The doctrine of taxation in proportion to service, though untenable in general, has here some force. The chief gain of local expenditure accrues to those who own property in the district. Some advantages may be more evident in their effects than others, but in a broad general way the advance of a locality means an advance in the rent of its area. There are, no doubt, exceptions: unfortunate proprietors have sometimes had to pay for ‘improvements’ that lowered the value of their land,1 but on the whole the opposite effect is more common.

Next to the land tax we may place the house tax as a convenient form of local impost. It is, indeed, somewhat more complicated in its operation; its incidence, which by regarding houses as a particular manufactured commodity, would appear to be on the occupier, really varies according to the method of imposition and the particular local conditions, and it has the disadvantage of affecting one of the most important elements of necessary expense,2 but on the other hand it is easily collected, tolerably proportional to income, and does not touch those unconnected with the district. If houses are to be taxed the revenue thence derived should, we believe, go to local, not to general revenue. The same reasons that have been noticed in the case of land apply, though with less force, to that of houses. This form of property gains in value by expenditure, but it also deteriorates through use, and therefore the indeterminate portion of the tax that falls on the house-owner should be kept within moderate bounds.

A third form of local taxation is discovered in the taxes on the exercise of occupations known as ‘licenses.’ These are better suited for local than for general taxation. Edition: current; Page: [398] They can be readily collected, and, if properly chosen, do not hamper industry. The system of low license duties on most trades and employments has the chief attributes of a fair local tax. The English method of appropriating the spirit licenses to the local bodies might with advantage be further developed.

Very similar in outward appearance are the licenses for direct enjoyments, and, though they differ in their essential character, they also may without impropriety be assigned to the several localities.1 Certain difficulties do indeed arise in this connexion. A license taken out in one place may be required for use elsewhere, or may even be exercised in several different localities. In practice the right of transfer may be allowed, or, better still, such cases may be reserved for the central revenue, leaving only the localised privileges to the smaller bodies. As a further resource, some of the taxes on acts may be usefully employed by localities. Thus the transfer of property, registration of companies, and other charges on legal transactions would provide a fund for the payment of the expenses connected with these administrative functions. Those taxes that closely resemble fees will come under the same rule as to their division.2 Each administration will retain for itself what it collects.

The foregoing suggested distribution must necessarily be modified to suit the needs of particular financial systems. Thus the house tax forms a part of general taxation in several countries: its complete surrender to the local authorities when proposed in England was made contingent on the position of imperial finance, and has not yet been carried out.3 We can hardly imagine the Indian Government Edition: current; Page: [399] yielding up the land revenue to the provinces. The line of division has to be varied, but it is nevertheless well to know the general principles that should assist in determining it.

§ 5. But given the partition of revenue between the two forms, we have next to see whether the rule of justice that we accepted for general taxation can be applied without reservation in local finance. Taxation in proportion to income gives a substantially just division of general burdens, but in the case of smaller districts the burden is not a general one. Many important local services are specific, and can be dealt with on the rule of payment for benefit received. A large part of the so-called English ‘rates,’ such as those for water supply, lighting, cleaning, drainage, &c., may be best measured for each payer by the advantage, or rather the quantity of the service. The citizen, in fact, pays for the supply of certain useful commodities. The local authority is performing a strictly economic duty. Taxation so far should be in proportion to advantage. Difficulties, however, soon arise in the attempt to apply this principle. In addition to the direct service rendered there is a margin of advantage accruing to the whole society, some of the service is not done for specified persons and some of the duties of local governments are of national advantage. The necessity of investing capital, the repayment of which is spread over a long period, complicates the case. To get a fair division of the charge between owners of land, possessors of fixed capital, including houses and the immediate users of these public services, is no easy task. It involves (1) a determination of the real incidence of the different modes of taxation, and of the extent and rapidity of the process of shifting; (2) an estimation of the truly equitable division between the several interests; and (3) a full recognition of the practical limits that any effective system must observe.

As regards the first head the general principles of incidence have to be considered, but the special incidence of Edition: current; Page: [400] land, house, and capital taxes are of particular importance. For convenience we may here so far repeat and anticipate the result elsewhere stated.1 The immediate consumer, i.e. the occupier of a house, or the user of other taxed convenience, looks on local taxation as simply a part of the price of the utilities he receives. So far as the outlay benefits him directly, he bears it as payment for increased advantage, and taxation is only shifted by him when the sacrifice it imposes reduces demand; heavy local taxation, unaccompanied by corresponding increase in utility, tends to diminish demand for the services so charged, and gives a backward shifting on the producers, i.e. the house-owners or other holders of the articles. The check to these particular forms of industry will ultimately reduce the capital and labour employed in them, and thereby pass the pressure on to the landowners in the shape of lowered ground rents so far as land entered into the supply of services. Such seems to be the process by which the ‘orthodox’ views on the incidence of rates were reached, the burden being ultimately distributed between the owner of land and the consumer. In respect to taxes on agricultural tenants, the same train of reasoning suggests that the incidence is ultimately on the landlords, as outside competition hinders any forward movement to the consumer of produce.2 It is hardly necessary to say that this doctrine assumes a uniformity in the course of shifting that has no real existence, since it omits some circumstances that are essential elements in the problem. Amongst these are: the long duration of the arrangements between owners of land and of capital; the position of qualified monopoly that owners of land in towns possess, Edition: current; Page: [401] and which with its advantages has the disadvantage of exposing them to the action of shifting; the slowness with which adjustments are made, which hinders much reliance in matters of legislation being placed on the operations of shifting in securing a proper division of the burdens.

The second head, that respecting the true interpretation of the rule of just taxation, is made more difficult by the complicated interests, some present, some future, that modern society is ever creating. In apportioning taxation between occupier, house owner, and ground landlord, we may discover that each of the two latter interests is divided into three or four parts, all in equity bound to share in the burden for the common advantage. Still greater difficulty is caused by the manifold duties of local government, some of which are merely delegated for convenience, not because they are solely of local interest. Police, prisons, poor-relief and education may be cited as examples. We cannot with any reason maintain that owners, whether of land or other property, and ordinary householders, are alone interested in the efficient management of these important matters. The policy of defraying all these charges out of particular funds with the practical exemption of others no less liable is a grave injustice. The cost of expenditure that is in essence for general purposes should follow the same distribution as that of general taxation.1

Thus the rule of taxing according to interest affected is not a complete and absolute principle for the distribution of Edition: current; Page: [402] local finance. Certain forms of direct public services can be so dealt with. Another portion may be fairly placed on the owners of durable property, as those who benefit most by an active and judicious local administration. A third and not inconsiderable share may be levied from the community generally by the agency of local licenses and taxes on transactions, and still more by a tax proportional to house rent, which is a good rough measure of taxable capacity.1

§ 6. The especially economic character of local administration is particularly noticeable in its direct effect on the value of portions of private property situated within its jurisdiction. The opening of a new street or the removal of insanitary buildings may add greatly to the utility and even the selling price or rent of adjacent property, and the fortunate owner discovers that his wealth is increased by the action and at the expense of the local governing body. Here there is at all events a seeming unfairness. It may be plausibly urged that where there is special gain there should also be special contribution. When property is improved, or, in current language, ‘bettered,’ there is some reason in calling on the owner to pay a part of the cost of that improvement, as otherwise the rule of just distribution of the burden would be violated. Notwithstanding the very plain and simple reasons which would appear to dictate this method of providing some of the revenue necessary for important improvements, it is noteworthy that there are very few traces in Europe of any such expedient.2 It has been reserved for the state legislatures of the American Union to give it a wide development under the title of ‘special assessments,’3 by which a special charge Edition: current; Page: [403] is imposed on property that has gained through municipal action. The particular machinery by which the amount of the assessment is determined varies from state to state (and even from town to town), and need not be considered here; but the general principle deserves some consideration. On the one hand there is very strong ground for believing that where outlay is incurred for the advantage of a limited class of owners they may justly be required to pay for the peculiar advantage that they have obtained. Besides, there can be little doubt that the wide use of special assessments makes the work of improvement easier. The ordinary ratepayer will not feel the same hostility that he does at present to costly but necessary alterations. But on the other hand these very advantages suggest some serious objections. The local administrators and the owners of the ‘bettered’ property may form widely different estimates as to the value of the improvements in question, and in such cases the latter will not always be mistaken. Again, the relief given to the general ratepayer is not wholly beneficial; it tends to weaken his vigilance—at best not very keen—in respect to unprofitable schemes, and to foster the undesirable feeling that the voters should support extensive municipal works, leaving part of the bill to be paid by a limited, and perhaps politically powerless, class. Rigid limitation as to the share of cost to be assessed on the owners1 will greatly reduce, but cannot altogether remove, this evil. A further difficulty arises in connexion with the fixing of the properties to be assessed, and the amount of ‘betterment’ given to each. To attain any satisfactory result a careful judicial inquiry before a competent and impartial tribunal is an essential condition. On the whole, it seems most in accordance with the evidence to conclude that the employment of special assessments, while justifiable in principle, and in some important instances desirable, Edition: current; Page: [404] needs to be carefully controlled; the proof of benefit bestowed must be very clear and well established, and the amount diffused over the general community, and therefore, even on the strict ‘benefits’ principle, payable from the rates, must be taken into account. With the observance of such precautions it is possible to secure a contribution out of the fund created by the direct action of the local government, and at the same time to avoid unfair pressure on individuals.1

§ 7. After all these different expedients have been carried as far as circumstances will allow, it may be necessary to readjust the balance between the central and local governments, either (1) by a transfer from the funds of the former in the shape of (a) payments for certain services, or (b) assignment of revenue, or (2) by the employment of its taxes as a base on which to raise additional local resources. Most financial systems have adopted one or both of these expedients. To begin at home: Complaints as to the pressure of local burdens led by degrees to payments from the central government for various services that appeared to be of a general character. This process began in 1835 by small payments in connexion with criminal administration. It was later on applied to the support of the police force, and gradually extended to other services, until in 1885–6 the total amount came to £5,775,523.2 The objections to this hap-hazard system were obvious. Additional grants were made to buy off opposition in Parliament Edition: current; Page: [405] and were always arranged on the basis of a compromise. The Imperial Exchequer was burdened and there was confusion between the two classes of revenue and expenditure, as what was outlay on one side was income on the other, the same sums being counted twice over. Accordingly the extensive reform of local government by the establishment of County Councils in 1888 was accompanied by a change in the relations of the Exchequer to local finance. The Grants-in-Aid were, speaking broadly, abolished, and a separate local taxation account created to which certain portions of the central revenue were assigned.1 The aim of this reform was to secure the complete separation of local from central finance, thereby restoring simplicity to the national budget, and also to prevent the further demands on the part of the localities, while by the assignment of a part of the Probate Duty the alleged unequal treatment of real property was at least reduced.2 Unfortunately the new scheme was imperfectly carried out, and the old policy of grants was revived in a new form. The large grant in relief of rates on agricultural land, introduced by the Act of 1896 and extended to Ireland by the Local Government Act of 1898,3 placed an annual burden on the Exchequer of over £2,200,000. A further difficulty arose in the distribution of the funds assigned to the local taxation account. As the automatic rule of payment in proportion to expenditure or efficiency had been abandoned, it became necessary to take some arbitrary basis of distribution, which must from Edition: current; Page: [406] the nature of the case be unsatisfactory.1 There is an entire absence of equity in the actual system of distribution, either as between localities, or between the several countries that make up the United Kingdom. The effect of these contributions on local finance was not encouraging to either economy or administrative efficiency. Finally, so far from improving the form of the public accounts, the system of assigned revenues has made budget statements more complicated, and has, to some extent, obscured the real growth of important branches of revenue.2 Still, on weighing the two systems, there is a slight balance of advantage in favour of the assignment of revenue, provided (a) that suitable taxes are selected, and (b) that the true relations of local and central finance are properly explained.

An analogous policy has been pursued in Belgium, where the octrois were removed in 1860 and replaced by parts of several indirect taxes.3 Prussia has also used the system of subventions.4 This method receives an extension by making the local taxes merely additions to the general ones. Thus the French communes and departments draw important tax revenues from the ‘Centimes additionnels,’ i.e. charges added to the four direct contributions. The same plan has been used in the German States and Austria Edition: current; Page: [407] though under the reforms of the ‘Miquel’ laws independent communal taxes are now developed in Prussia.1

Some high authorities approve of this policy of making local taxation a mere appendage to general taxation. ‘It is rightly asserted,’ says Leroy-Beaulieu, ‘that the French system of movable additional charges on the existing direct contributions, of uniform accountability, and the collection of direct local taxes by the agents of the State, makes the management of local finance simpler, clearer, and less costly, and gives the taxpayers much greater security against peculation and exaction. We do not hesitate for our part to declare for that system.’2 But notwithstanding this weighty judgment we are forced to believe that there is an advantage in having a separate system of local taxation. The aims of the two classes are so different and the rule of distribution varies so much, that a decided boundary between them is rather desirable. Both will naturally avail themselves of such material and agencies in the shape of valuations and officials as exist, but this does not necessitate the treatment of local taxes as merely added percentages to established general taxes. The success of local government depends on the energy and vigour with which it is worked, not on restraining its action within the narrowest limits. ‘The ideal condition of finance in a perfect system of local self-government’ has been described as ‘one in which each local authority levies its own taxes upon its own subjects within its own area; in which it has the power of applying the proceeds of these taxes within certain limits fixed by Edition: current; Page: [408] the general law, for the local advantage of its own citizens; and in which it has power to increase or diminish its taxes at its own discretion, according to its means and its wants.’1 The benefits of fiscal autonomy may perhaps not be so great as in certain conditions to compensate for the want of the harmony and regularity that state intervention secures; they are, however, sufficient, in conjunction with the reasons already given, to justify strenuous efforts for securing a distinct tax-system, and this is possible without any sacrifice of the guarantees for good government.2 At the same time we may fully recognise the convenience of supplementing local revenue from general taxation with the double object of securing adequate funds and more equitable distribution of burdens, though, while granting this, we must also insist that the extent to which the process is applied ought to be confined within the narrowest limits consistent with attaining the end in view. The allotment of part of the taxation available to meet the general expenditure is a measure that always stands in need of justification; it has a presumption against it which must be rebutted by sufficient evidence.3

§ 8. The relations of local and general finance suggest another closely related point, viz. the extent of the fiscal liberty to be bestowed on the local financial powers. Between Edition: current; Page: [409] the extremes of complete regulation and almost complete independence we may discover a series of steps corresponding to the size of the bodies and the political training of the people. The national government may fix the particular taxes and their amount, or it may, as with the French communes, let the latter be varied if its permission is sought. Again, it may lay down the forms of taxation and place bounds to its amount, either definitely determined or variable. Or, finally, the duty both of selecting the taxes and determining their amount may be given up to the local government. The first mode means the reduction of the local authority to impotence so far as taxation is concerned; it simply executes the Sovereign's orders. The other extreme approaches closely to independence. The taxing power is always an attribute of sovereignty: a body that had full taxing power would have got very near that position. Accordingly, we find that the customs duties in all Federal States come under the control of the central government. The extent to which the right of independent taxation has been restrained is a mark of the progress of the State towards unity. Co-ordinate fiscal authorities have to be kept within bounds by constitutional rules, but we may safely conclude that in a durable State the supreme power in financial matters will sooner or later be vested in the central government.

The extent to which the liberty of experiments in taxation should be conceded to the subordinate bodies must, we believe, be carefully limited. For the smaller units the taxes should be absolutely laid down, and also the maximum to be raised, but the opportunity of economy should not be denied them on the condition that they duly discharge their necessary functions.1 The larger circumscriptions are fairly entitled to greater latitude. A higher standard of intelligence may be expected from their representatives, and their economic resources are more varied. But even with them the need for supervision cannot be said Edition: current; Page: [410] to be absent. They may impose taxes that press heavily on unpopular sections in their district; they may deal unjustly or ignorantly with important economic and social interests, or they may go counter to the financial policy of the State. For these reasons the unitary form of government is in its financial aspects superior to the federal one, even though the larger liberty of levying new varieties of taxation is a certain advantage in the latter.

Edition: current; Page: [411]

CHAPTER VII: the canons of taxation

§ 1. In the general survey of the problems of taxation contained in the preceding chapters of the present book, we have implicity given the rules that should govern the management of this part of state revenue. The mere statement of a general maxim is of little use unless its real bearing and its actual value are realised by acquaintance with the facts of taxation as shown by history and present fiscal practice. It may even reduce to a dead formula what should be rather a matter of vivid experience. But it must at the same time be allowed that the condensation of results into the precise shape of general canons may prove of service to the theoretic student by enabling him to estimate exactly the effect to be ascribed to the conclusions that critical examination of the revenue system has tended to establish. And such a course, we may add, has been almost invariably followed by writers on finance, who have devoted their best efforts to the framing of rules which should be regarded as imperatively binding on the statesman and administrator. High support may therefore be claimed for an attempt to exhibit in a stricter form the results that emerged from our previous inquiry, even though no special authority can be ascribed to the particular shape in which generally recognised principles will be formulated.

§ 2. When finance was regarded as purely a matter of practice, it was natural that those concerned with the Edition: current; Page: [412] collection and disbursement of the public revenue should have felt the advisability of framing general rules by which to guide their mode of procedure. Unfortunately the limited view taken by the earlier administrators as to their proper function, which led them to consider almost exclusively the immediate returns obtained, the prevalent ignorance of economic principles, and the immature condition of the state economy, all combined to hinder the establishment of even sound empirical rules. The most famous financiers of so relatively modern a period as the seventeenth century—Sully and Colbert—have left little material of this kind. It is rather by theorists or officials of speculative tastes that the earliest canons of taxation have been produced.1 The students of economics and finance in the eighteenth century supplied the first really meritorious collection of general rules. In Germany, Italy, and France we find instances of very varying merit, but all affording evidence that the time for the enunciation of maxims had come.

Amongst the more remarkable rules are those propounded by Vauban, Justi, and Verri, partly on account of the reputation of their authors, but also for their indication of the really important points. Nevertheless they can at present only lay claim to importance on historical grounds.2 The physiocratic maxims were vitiated by the undue prominence given in their system to the rent of land as the sole net product, and therefore the only source of taxation. This fundamental error prevented the great French school from leaving a durable heritage in this respect to their successors.3

Edition: current; Page: [413] § 3. Very different is the position occupied by Adam Smith. The maxims inseparably associated with his name1 were in his own day accepted by theorists and statesmen, and have by constant repetition become an indispensable part of any exposition of finance. Though fully in harmony with the spirit of the 18th century, they have not been found inapplicable to modern conditions, and in spite of much hostile criticism bid fair to hold their ground in the future.2

These famous maxims—to once more repeat them—are four in number, and run as follows:

  • (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—that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the State.’
  • (2) ‘The tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be certain and not arbitrary. The form 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.’
  • (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 both to take Edition: current; Page: [414] out and to keep out of the pockets of the people as little as possible, over and above what it brings into the public treasury of the State.’1

One obvious comment on these rules is that which notes a difference between the first canon and the remaining ones. The former is a rule of taxation; the latter are rules respecting taxes. The first canon is therefore applicable only to the tax-system, as a whole, while the second, third, and fourth should be observed in the case of each separate tax. Mill, therefore, has some justification when he declares that they belong to ‘the discussion of particular taxes,’2 since every tax must be separately tested by them, though of course this circumstance does not remove them from the category of general rules.

Another feature that has been often noticed is the mixture of different classes of considerations. Thus they have been described as ‘partly ethical ... and partly economical in the strict sense’;3 and it seems unquestionable that the second has chiefly a constitutional significance, as prescribing the taxpayer's immunity from arbitrary exactions, but more generally the three last may be regarded with Wagner as administrative precepts.’4

This attempt to separate the Smithian rules according to their character, though in appearance plausible, tends to obscure their really compound basis. The first maxim is, it may be said, undoubtedly ethical, since it refers to the justice of taxation. Granting this, it should also be remembered that inequality in taxation diminishes its productiveness and impairs industrial energy; and so viewed, the canon is an economic one. Violations of the rule of equal treatment are, again, offences against constitutional liberty quite as much as absence of certainty. In like manner each of the remaining rules has an economic side; the certainty, the convenience, and the economy of taxation, like Edition: current; Page: [415] its equality, are highly promotive of a well-filled treasury and a prosperous industrial system. The true point of view for understanding these maxims is to regard them not as economic, ethical, or constitutional, but as essentially financial; they therefore rightly combine the different elements that must enter into problems connected with that subject.

With reference to the first maxim, it is plain that Adam Smith regarded revenue as the index of ability to contribute, and it may be conjectured that the words ‘under the protection of the State,’ regarded by Walker as either irrelevant or inconsistent, refer to the case of persons having property in different countries, and therefore imply a prohibition of double taxation.1 For it must be remembered that international problems were much more prominent in the thought of Adam Smith and his contemporaries than is usually supposed.2

§ 4. One natural consequence of the lofty position given to the Smithian canons is the depreciation of rules formulated by other writers. Variations of, or additions to, the four established maxims were regarded as peculiarities or vagaries of the propounder, which, if noticed at all, were rightly to be placed in a very subordinate situation. Nor, indeed, was there anything very novel in the formal contributions made by the successors of Adam Smith. Perhaps the most noticeable exception is that of the eminent historian Sismondi, who, beginning his career as a rigidly orthodox economist, showed in his latter work tendencies of a very different character.3 But his revolt did not extend to the subject of finance. Like, and probably in imitation Edition: current; Page: [416] of, Adam Smith, he prescribes four rules dealing with other points than those already covered by the accepted maxims. He asserts (1) that every tax should fall on revenue, not on capital; (2) that in the assessment of taxation gross produce should not be confounded with revenue; (3) that taxation should never touch what is necessary for the existence of the contributor; and (4), that taxation should not put to flight the wealth which it strikes.

The mere statement of these rules suffices to show their substantial accordance with the ideas of Bentham and Ricardo.1 They are evidently intended to carry out the principles of saving capital from taxation, of confining the area of imposition to net revenue, and of relieving those who only possess the physical minimum of existence. Though not as fundamental as the rules given by Adam Smith, they yet, taken together, make no inconsiderable addition to the prescriptions of practical finance, even if, as we have seen, it is not always possible to secure their complete observance.2

Other expositions may be passed over with still slighter notice. Of French writers Garnier, with a formidable list of sixteen rules—twelve general and four special—is the most elaborate,3 and also probably the most confused. Among the Germans of the older school Von Hock of, the later writers Held and Wagner, are most important.4 The last-named in his elaborate examination groups his canons under different heads according to what he regards as their primary character, a course which, whatever be its disadvantages, enables him to lay special emphasis on the purely financial Edition: current; Page: [417] element.1 But in truth the whole tendency of modern German financial study has been rather towards description and analysis than the formulation of rules of supposed universal validity. Thus Wagner, while stating his elaborate canons (Grundsätze), takes the utmost pains to insist on the need for careful discrimination in each particular case.2

§ 5. The foregoing survey of the most prominent attempts to supply a series of precepts gives sufficient material for selection. It is only necessary to place in their proper order and connect with each other the rules that seem to possess the generality and weight required for inclusion in the list. First and most important of the principles that should guide the practical financier is that which declares that ‘taxation should be productive.’ The very object for which the revenue system exists is to provide for the maintenance of the State, and therefore the minister in charge of the finances naturally estimates the merits of a tax by the amount of its yield. Other considerations will no doubt occur to him, but this is after all the one that can never be neglected. And it is on this point that the amateur in such matters is most likely to fail; he will be attracted by the equity, popularity, or some other pleasing feature of imposts which nevertheless want this primary quality. It is here, too, that the masters of finance Edition: current; Page: [418] have won their greatest triumphs. To keep steadily in view the idea of productiveness, and select the objects most suitable for that purpose, requires firmness, as well as wide and accurate information.

Next in value we should place the rule that ‘taxation should be economical’—and this, as we have seen,1 includes much more than mere saving in the cost of collection. Undue outlay on the official machinery of levy is but one part of the loss that taxation may inflict. It is a far greater evil to hinder the normal growth of industry and commerce, and therefore to check the growth of the fund from which future taxation is to come. Thus the rule of ‘economy’ is naturally subdivided into two parts, viz. (a) ‘taxation should be inexpensive in collection,’ and (b) ‘taxation should retard as little as possible the growth of wealth.’ It may also be remarked that there is a close connexion between ‘economy’ and ‘productivity,’ since the former aids in securing the latter.

Our third rule is no other than the famous one that ‘taxation should be justly distributed,’ a vague and plastic proposition, which we may further explain by the interpretation that it should be measured by the comparative abilities of the contributors, and this again may be taken in general to mean ‘taxation in proportion to income.’ The many explanations that such a maxim requires have been already given and need not be repeated.2 But here we may add that so far as the ‘benefits’ or ‘service’ principle is applied, it excludes the rule of taxation according to ability.

‘That the tax system should be elastic’ is a further canon, the observance of which is very desirable. It may, indeed, be regarded as the agency for realising at once ‘productivity’ and ‘economy.’ Where the public revenue does not admit of easy expansion or reduction according to the growth or decline of expenditure, there are sure to be financial troubles.3 For this purpose some important Edition: current; Page: [419] taxes will have to be levied at varying rates. In the British system the income tax is selected to perform this service; but some article of general consumption might be placed under a sliding scale duty for the same reason. The particular taxes chosen will vary according to circumstances, but the general principle of flexibility should be recognised and adopted.

Of high importance in earlier times, but now requiring less emphasis owing to its general observance, is the canon that ‘taxation should be certain.’ When arbitrary power was able to alter imposts at its will, the uncertainty connected with the demands of the tax-collector was a great aggravation of the evil of the heavy burdens imposed. That the citizen in his dealings with public officials should be under the rule of settled law, not of caprice, is not only a financial but an important constitutional maxim.

Regarded from a somewhat different standpoint, the rule of ‘certainty’ or ‘stability’ is one that still needs enforcement. Frequent changes in the tax system have a disturbing effect. The economic arrangements of society are adjusted to the actual state of things, and reasonable expectations are formed, which are disappointed by sudden and unforeseen changes. Hence the strong objection that business men feel to even beneficial tariff changes, though the rule of stability is of comparatively little weight in the case of taxes on commodities. But where, as in the case of a long-established charge, such as the French land tax or the English local rates, contracts for lengthened periods have been concluded in the belief that the existing arrangements are permanent, then so-called reform is often a violation of security. It is in relation to this rule of stability that the popular maxim ‘an old tax is no tax’ finds its proper application. This conception of stability, Edition: current; Page: [420] moreover, comprises the fragment of truth wrapped up in Canard's erroneous doctrine of equal diffusion.1

‘That taxation should be convenient’ is another of the accredited maxims, which almost carries its justification on its face. It includes the selection of suitable objects for taxation, and also the choice of convenient periods for requiring payment. This rule of convenience is but the expression in a special form of the general principle that the public power should as far as possible adjust its proceedings to the habits of the community, and avoid any efforts at directing the conduct of the citizens in order to facilitate its own operations. The sacrifices that inconvenient methods of fiscal administration impose may indeed be treated as violations of both economy and equity.

§ 6. Such are the general canons that experience seems to prescribe, and which should be observed in a well-ordered State. They are, it is true, of a rather elementary character, but general and comprehensive maxims could hardly be anything else. Besides, their simplicity has not saved them from frequent violation. Their value lies in their assertion of truths ‘plain and intelligible to common understandings,’2 but for that very reason too often passed over. A system of taxation which conforms to them may without hesitation be pronounced a good one. Where they are neglected and broken through, the evil consequences will be almost certainly conspicuous.

A further point deserves notice. There is at first sight a probability of conflict between the several canons. A productive tax may be inconvenient, as a convenient one may be unjust; and how, it may be asked, is a solution of the difficulty to be reached? The plain answer is, By the surrender of the less important rule. The successful Edition: current; Page: [421] administration of the State is the final object, and therefore convenience, or even equity, may have to yield to productiveness. But though opposition is possible, agreement is on the whole the ordinary case. We have seen that economy increases productiveness, but so do certainty and convenience. Elasticity aids both productiveness and economy, while growing productiveness in turn permits of better observance of all the other canons. There is thus a harmony in a properly administered financial system that tends to promote its improvement in the future.1

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BOOK IV: public revenueConcluded the several kinds of taxes

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CHAPTER I: taxes on land

§ 1. In the preceding book we have dealt with the subject of taxation under its general aspects as the principal element of the financial system. We have now to complete our inquiry by examining the characteristics of the different kinds of taxes, and we may begin this discussion with one of the oldest and most widely employed forms of compulsory contribution—that levied on land. The interest and importance of this kind of taxation need not be insisted on. Perhaps some capitation taxes or a rude form of the property tax can claim a higher antiquity, but in ancient, mediæval, and modern times, in backward and in progressive societies, we meet with something in the shape of taxation on land as one of the primary agents of production. The economic nature of the impost and the particular methods adopted vary; the existence of some form of public charge on land is almost universal, and shows no sign of decrease. Greater financial knowledge and more efficient regulations produce considerable changes. Indeed, it is this development that chiefly needs our attention. From the first feeble attempts of early societies up to the elaborate processes of modern administration, we can trace progress through a series of stages which illustrate the historical movement.

§ 2. Regarding land itself as the ‘object’ to be taxed, the most obvious ‘unit’ in a new community would be that Edition: current; Page: [426] of a given area. Assume that none but very fertile land is cultivated, and that only in a simple manner, and the tax by area will be also the just one. Each unit is of about the same value and employs about the same amount of capital and labour. The early taxes on Jugera in Rome and on ‘hides’ in England were probably at first based on this system, though they soon departed from it, and at present a few of the English dependencies retain it.1 But as soon as differences in qualities of soil and in modes of cultivation become noticeable, the method ceases to be fair.

Another form of land tax, that in proportion to the produce, is of greater antiquity. Eastern sovereigns receive their revenue usually in this manner. One-fourth, as in India, one-fifth, as in Egypt, or more frequently one-tenth of the yield was claimed by the monarch. This ‘tithe system,’ as it may be called, arose out of the ruler's part-proprietorship of the soil. The proportional tax on produce was closely analogous to a métayer rent. It was partly adjusted to the fertility of the land, and did not press so heavily on the poor soils as the area tax. Under a competitive system its immediate burden would fall on the consumers of agricultural products through the rise of price, though the ultimate effect would be to check cultivation, and therefore to lower rent. As the system has been generally applied to societies in the customary stage the pressure came on the cultivator, who is at once the producer and the chief consumer of those commodities.

These primitive methods are improved, either by arranging land in classes according to its quality and applying a different rate to each class, or by varying the proportion of produce taken according to the method of cultivation. As soon as the elements of fertility and proximity to market begin to tell, it is evident that a uniform rate falls Edition: current; Page: [427] with undue severity on the poor and distant lands, either hindering their cultivation or raising the value of all produce. Consequently we meet efforts at differentiation in various countries. Under the Roman Empire land in some provinces was divided into that of first, second, third, or other fertility, and the rate was adjusted accordingly; in others one-fifth or one-seventh of the yield was taken.1 In later times the Duchy of Mecklenburg had its land graded into three classes, with a different rate on each, and some of the Indian assessments have a like idea as their base.2 These modifications show some consciousness that the real value of the agent, land, is not to be measured either by its surface area or its gross produce. They are, however, but imperfect attempts at reaching the true aim of a land tax, the value embodied in the object. A tithe or other proportional produce tax does not allow for the expenses of production; as equal amounts of produce are often due to very different quantities of outlay, such a tax discourages the employment of capital and is practically inconvenient in the form of assessment.3 A classification of soils gives some, though insufficient, recognition to the influence of natural fertility. Far more is required. The effort to get at the true value of the ‘object’ is attained in respect to the land tax when it is levied on the net yield. The capital of the cultivator and the profits due to it have to be estimated in order to ascertain the income derived from the soil itself. Political equity and financial expediency have both contributed to this result; the fairest and most productive land tax is, on the whole, that which takes the net return as its standard. Fiscal practice tended in this direction. The financial reform of Diocletian seems Edition: current; Page: [428] to have adopted a unit of value, not of area (Jugum), as the base for taxation of land. The English ‘hide’ came to be regarded as the ‘carucate’ of variable area but constant value.1

The mediæval land taxes are so much mixed up with rent and the incidents of tenure that little stress can be placed on their form; they are often parts of the older property tax, and only disentangled from it by degrees. Early English taxation ‘reached the landowner through his cattle, farming stock and corn and other produce of lands,’2 and the later subsidies had a rate on land as one of their component parts. In France the Taille was developed from the feudal dues and became permanent in 1445. But wherever the system of taxing land had to be applied, the idea of taking its value as the real object of taxation came to the front, though the difficulties in carrying it out caused the frequent adoption of the ‘apportioned’ tax, as in the case of the Taille, both the English 'tenths and fifteenths, and the subsidies, and, too, in the German and Italian land taxes.3 The defects of these systems, with their exemptions and inequalities, made reform essential.

§ 3. It is far easier to point out the conditions of theoretic justice than to overcome the practical obstacles to arriving at the true net yield. The land tax system requires as its basis a valuation, and in the attempt to furnish this requisite various methods have been tried. Perhaps the simplest is that which follows the indications of the market, and uses as its guide the rent at which land is let. There is an obvious advantage in keeping close to the facts, but there is also great difficulty in ascertaining them correctly and following their successive changes. Adam Smith approved of the use of registers of leases, which he would make compulsory, and by their aid assess the land Edition: current; Page: [429] of occupying owners.1 The selling value is another possible criterion; it is evidently related to rent as principal is to interest, and for short periods the proportion is steady. A tax directly based on the selling value of land is, however, a tax on property rather than on income.

The difficulties in ascertaining the actual rents, and in some countries the large proportion of occupying owners, have popularised the system of determining the value of land for taxation by official assessment based on survey and valuation. This method is evidently the older one. Thus the Roman provincial land tax had a survey as its foundation followed by valuation.2 Domesday Book is a less perfect example of the same kind in England, and in one form or another valuations were common enough in the Middle Ages, but were in general used only for the ruder forms of land taxation, and dealt with the gross produce from the soil or its supposed capital value.

Refinements in fiscal methods require a corresponding elaboration in the valuation, or, to use the serviceable French term, cadastre,3 on which they depend. Most of the controversies about the land tax turn on the method of cadastration, and the expediency of its revision at stated periods. For the completion of a cadastre a series of processes is needed; there must be the measurement of the surface, and its delineation by maps; the boundaries of properties must be marked, and the ownership specified. To this technical work the economic task of valuation succeeds. Estimates of produce and prices and of the cost of cultivation form the data on which the ‘net annual value’ is calculated. Each of these steps involves much labour, and is liable to error, more particularly in the economic part of the work. Produce must depend on the method and skill employed in cultivation, prices on many different conditions, and both, especially the latter, are fluctuating. Besides, to be really useful, a fiscal survey must deal with Edition: current; Page: [430] minute portions of the soil; each distinct piece (or parcelle) should be valued and revalued at intervals. Such an inquiry takes a long period to accomplish for any country, and by the time it is completed the results for the districts first treated have become antiquated.1 However perfect when first started, a valuation must soon fail to represent the actual position of the land it deals with. The opening of new lines of communication, the adoption of a different style of farming, and the growth of towns will completely alter the old results.2 The imperfections of the cadastre are grave enough from a theoretical point of view, but they also entail much hardship and injustice. Some persons and districts are unduly favoured, leaving to others to make up the amount that they have escaped paying. For example, in France (where the land tax is apportioned), some proprietors are taxed four times as heavily as others. The differences in Italian taxation were still greater, owing to the use of different cadastral bases for different districts.3 Between the difficulties that adherence to an old valuation causes, and those due to the expense and confusion of incessant renewals of the cadastre, it appears that the safer course is to keep the original valuations checked by the actual letting values of land. Apart from the expense of continual revaluation, it is also true that the ‘net annual value’ or the ‘net income’ of official estimations is in a sense hypocritical, as it depends on the accuracy of Edition: current; Page: [431] the assumptions made for the purpose. There is, however, the qualifying fact that a well-executed cadastre is of use for other purposes. A careful survey is essential for facilitating the transfer of land, so that it is merely the economic part that could in any case be dispensed with. There seems to be no great obstacle to a gradual revision of the general valuation, supplemented by local valuations strictly on the letting value. In this way the former would be a slowly changing norm, while the latter would recognise the actual movements of land value.

§ 4. But whatever may be the hindrances in the way of securing a perfect adjustment of the land tax, there is no doubt that most financial systems use it as a substantial resource. The so-called English land-tax has really been converted into a rent charge;1 but Schedule A of the income tax comprises land and houses, the former in 1899–1900 being £52,814,000 in value, yielding at the rate of 8d. less than £1,800,000. To this sum has to be added the portion of local rates falling on land. Using the proportion of land to houses under Schedule A as a guide to the division of rates between the two classes, we would get about 23 per cent. for the share of land. As the rates for 1898–9 were over £38,600,000 this method would give £9,070,000 as the local charge on land for England and Wales.2 As, however, the poor rate valuation differs materially from that employed for income tax, it becomes necessary to consider the estimated distribution of local burdens. According to Sir H. Fowler, land in 1891 bore a little over 15 per cent., while houses contributed nearly Edition: current; Page: [432] 85 per cent.; or, to put the matter in a simpler form, land paid only one-sixth, against five-sixths derived from houses. Thus the true contribution from land in England and Wales would be somewhat over £6,400,000.1 Scotland and Ireland show a larger proportion; 50 per cent. would in their case be the share of land, and, we may say that, of the total £7,000,000, £3,500,000 would fall on land. The extent to which the taxation of houses falls on ground rent is—at least for statistical purposes—an insoluble problem; but, omitting it for the present, we get a total taxation of nearly £10,000,000 on land for the United Kingdom. How far this represents a charge on pure land value, as distinct from that on investments of capital, is questionable. We need not in any case hesitate to ascribe the greater part to the value of the land, not to the improvements. When we add to the above the tithes and tithe rent charges, so far as they are devoted to ecclesiastical or other public purposes the total reaches £12,500,000. Allowing for considerable under-valuation in the figures of Schedule A,2 it is nevertheless beyond doubt that land contributes largely to the public requirements.

At the same time we must remember that a great deal of this burden is of long standing; the income tax has been for sixty years in continuous operation, and, in the early part of the century, the poor rate was excessive. There is no evidence of new and oppressive charges being imposed. The growth of local taxation, as Lord Goschen has shown,3 has chiefly affected the towns, while, until recently, the rent of land was rising.

§ 5. On passing to France we meet with a very different system of land taxation. The old Taille, whose defects were universally recognised, was supplemented in 1710 by the Dixième, and from 1748 a Vingtième was levied. These Edition: current; Page: [433] ‘tenths’ and ‘twentieths’ were rather income, than pure land taxes, but were abolished at the Revolution along with the Taille, and the modern system was inaugurated.

The decree of December, 1790, established the Impôt foncier, which was to be apportioned on all landed property in proportion to its ‘net revenue.’ This phrase is evidently due to physiocratic influence, and was explained to mean what remained over after all expenses were deducted from the gross produce. The tax was to be a fixed sum apportioned among the contributories, and to be payable in money. It was not to exceed one-sixth of the net revenue, and, on the loose estimate that 240,000,000 francs would be one-sixth, the contribution was fixed at that amount, with an additional 60,000,000 francs for local taxation. The disturbances of the Revolutionary period hindered the collection of this impost, and the unequal pressure, owing to the absence of proper valuations, was the ground of successive reductions, by which the total amount, from being 240,000,000 francs in 1790–6, fell to 150,000,000 in 1821. In 1835, the increased value of house property, which is included by the law of 1790, was taken into account. The additional centimes—really an increase of the tax—were given up in 1850, and by 1880 the total amount was almost 174,000,000 francs (£7,000,000). The extra centimes for the departments and communes were very nearly trebled in amount since 1820; in 1880 they were 94,000,000 francs and 82,000,000 francs respectively.1 The loud complaints of agriculturists as to the inequalities Edition: current; Page: [434] and unjust pressure of the Impôt foncier led to a reform in 1890, by which the house tax was separated from the land tax, and the latter, which had been 118,000,000 francs, was reduced to 103,000,000 francs. By a law of 1897 the smaller properties were relieved. The result has been that, in 1900, even with an extra charge of 8 per cent. on the original general tax, the total taxation on land stands at 253,000,000 francs or £10,120,000. The increase of house property and buildings has supplied a new object for the heavier taxation, as in the case of England. The land tax remains one of apportionment, while the house tax, or more strictly that on land with buildings (Propriété bâtie), has become rated, and is fixed for the present at 3.20 per cent. The next step in reform will probably be the abandonment of the apportioning of the land tax in favour of the more suitable rated system.1

§ 6. The Italian land tax is a development from the taxes of the several Italian States. As the simplest course, 110,000,000 lire was the amount fixed for apportionment among the different divisions. Measures of reform have been since attempted. The tax on buildings was separated in 1865 and made a rated tax, and redistributions of the total charge among the provinces were carried out. The defective scheme of the old cadastres has led to the enactment of a law prescribing the preparation of a new and uniform one for all Italy. The variations in amount of the land tax have been from 125,000,000 lire to about 96,000,000 lire, i.e. speaking generally, from about £4,000,000 to £5,000,000, but the local taxation has to be added. Thus for the year 1886–7 the provincial tax was 53,000,000 lire and the communal one 76,000,000 lire, which, with 110,000,000 lire, the general land tax for that year, made a total of 240,000,000 lire (£9,600,000)—a much higher charge than that of France. In qualification it must, however, be noticed that the whole taxation of Italy is far heavier. The most serious grievance is found in the Edition: current; Page: [435] instances of heavily taxed communes, where the greater part of the value of land is absorbed in taxation. So far has this been carried that there have been many cases of evictions by the State.1 Inequality in distribution and excessive weight in amount are the gravest possible defects in any tax. The new valuation, though costly, will remedy the former, but the latter is a question of policy as well as finance.

The Spanish land tax, which received its present form in 1845, includes stock, and is therefore more primitive. Owing to the want of a correct valuation, the charges are very imperfectly distributed. The proportion fixed for 1890–1 was 15½ per cent. on those places that have given a satisfactory declaration of value, for others 17½ per cent. The yield for 1900 exceeded 160,000,000 pesetas (£6,680,000), with over 17,000,000 pesetas (£680,000) for local purposes. The law of March, 1900, makes provision for a proper valuation of houses, land, and cattle, which will increase the efficiency of the land tax.

The Portuguese land tax is closely on the lines of the French Impôt foncier. It was originally rated, but since 1852 has been apportioned; it, is however, proposed to return to the rated method. The yield is nearly 3,000,000 milreis (about £650,000), after paying assessment expenses.

Belgium has a rated tax based on an elaborate valuation. Up to 1867 the method of apportionment was employed. The annual amount for national purposes for 1900 was over £1,000,000, with additional centimes for local government of nearly £700,000.2

Greece, which possessed the tithe system till 1800, has Edition: current; Page: [436] now a rather primitive but yet complicated group of ‘land taxes’ on labouring animals, on area, and certain products, yielding altogether about £500,000.

§ 7. The land taxes are confined to the several States of the German Empire, the imperial revenue being derived mainly from indirect taxation. With numerous differences in detail, there is the general system of basing the tax on official valuation. The Prussian land tax, inherited from the 18th century, was reformed in the period 1810–20; a new valuation was arranged, and inequalities in the distribution between the different provinces modified; but the survivals of the older system of privilege prevented complete success in this object. In 1821 its yield was under £1,500,000. These inequalities were dealt with by the legislation of 1861. The house tax was separated, and for the land tax the amount was fixed at 10,000,000 thalers (£1,500,000) from 1865, and a fresh valuation carried out The new Prussian provinces, acquired in 1866, added 3,200,000 thalers (£480,000) to this fixed sum, giving a total of £2,000,000. The amount of the additional local charges was somewhat uncertain, but for the year 1880–1 the communal and provincial extra land taxes were equal to those of the State in amount (£2,000,000), giving a total burden on land of £4,000,000, independent of the action of the income tax.

Under the legislation of 1893 the state land tax, in common with the house and business taxes, has been surrendered by the Prussian government in order to provide the local subdivisions with adequate objects of taxation. This long-proposed transfer only came into effect for the financial year commencing April 1, 1895.

Each of the smaller German States employs some form of land tax. Bavaria shows a less developed form in its reference to gross produce as the basis of calculation. The cadastral surveys are in most cases elaborate, and serve other than fiscal purposes, such as facilitating the transfer of land. The communes of the several States also Edition: current; Page: [437] receive contributions through additions to the land tax.1

Austria has developed a land tax on a similar type. By the reform of 1817 the valuation of the 18th century was to be replaced by a new one completed in 1856. The house tax was separated in 1820. In 1879 a law for revision was passed, and in 1881 the annual amount was fixed at 35,190,000 florins for fifteen years, a new valuation to be then made. The Hungarian land tax was almost the same sum (35,000,000 florins), and the local charges in Austria levied on land were believed to reach the like amount. Thus the burden on land in Austria proper is under £7,000,000.

Taxation of land in the United States is imposed through the general property tax, which, as we shall see, presses with undue weight on real property, but its discussion belongs to a later chapter.2 Nor need the Indian land revenue be again considered.

§ 8. The foregoing notices of the land taxation of some of the principal countries bring out its characteristic features Specially worthy of observation are: first, the considerable amount contributed on the whole, and to both general and local revenues. The absolute amount appears to be highest in England, but everywhere a good percentage of the net annual returns is taken for public use.3 Another very common circumstance is the employment of the system of apportionment. A total fixed sum is thus secured, and as each district must pay its part, it has a manifest interest in making all contribute fairly; nevertheless, the method has the great defect of rendering an important part of the tax revenue inelastic, and it is likely to reduce the land tax to a rent charge, as has happened in the case of England. The rated or percentage system is free from these faults, and is therefore the best suited for modern Edition: current; Page: [438] finance. A third question intimately connected with the land tax is that of valuation. If the ‘rated’ system be used, it is necessary in the interests of justice that the basis on which the estimate of value is made should be uniform. Thus e.g. the English valuation of land is believed to be closer to the true value than the Irish one, from which it follows that the income tax in its A schedule is not the same in the two countries.1 The Italian land tax affords a more extreme instance of the same evil. In all countries this inequality must in some degree exist between individuals and smaller districts, but this fact only strengthens the claim for all practicable efforts to secure the removal of proven injustices. Even if it be impossible to alter quickly the particular forms of the tax, there is an advantage in knowing the amount of inequality, which can then be compensated by the adjustment of other taxes.

Finally, the land tax is what has been called a ‘real’ tax; it deals with the object, land, and takes no note of the position of the proprietor. When properly developed it is proportioned to net produce, and therefore allows for the expenses of working the soil. For the same reason it should not take indebtedness into account.2 Charges on land are a part of the net return, and have no claim to deduction. A variable land tax may therefore press with great severity on encumbered proprietors who have to pay the tax on the interest of their debts. Any attempt to remedy this evil has the necessary result of creating a partial tax on interest of capital, and, if unaccompanied by taxation of other forms of capital, would either discourage loans to owners of land or raise the interest on mortgages. The conclusion suggested by these facts is that the land tax had best be absorbed in a general income tax, Edition: current; Page: [439] when part of the burden would, as under existing English arrangements, be paid by the creditors. If, on the other hand, the distinct land tax be retained, two courses are open: either to retain it at a fixed amount, when it becomes a rent charge, an undesirable proceeding, or to give it up to local bodies. We have seen that taxes on real property are a good form of local revenue,1 and both in France and the United States this treatment, which is in accordance with British practice, has been proposed. The actual condition in Germany with its numerous smaller States partly attains this result, which has been reached in Prussia by the reforms of 1893.2

§ 9. The incidence of the land tax is a final question for consideration. In its ruder forms the pressure fell chiefly on the actual cultivators, though the ultimate effect of heavy taxation must have been felt by the proprietors in the check to agricultural improvement and the diminution in their dues. On the hypothesis of competition, a proportional tax on produce, e.g. a tithe, would tend to raise prices, and thus at first fall on the consumer, unless there was free importation of the article from abroad. Such was Ricardo's reasoning in respect to tithes, which had to be paid from land at the margin of cultivation, and which consequently yielded no rent. He failed to see the inevitable effect of dearer food in retarding the progress of the community, and thereby preventing the increase of rent. The pressure of a tithe is surely, as time elapses, in greater degree passed on to the landlords.3 As soon as net return is taken as the standard for taxation, rent is the element affected. A land tax, therefore, in its developed Edition: current; Page: [440] form, may not inaccurately be regarded as a tax on rent, and the general principles of incidence applied to it. In actual working, however, various complications arise. The action of competition is not always found in full force, and so far as any portion of the pure economic rent is held by the immediate payer—tenant or other—he has to submit to the burden.1 A land tax may also affect the interests of labour. If investment of capital in agriculture is checked, and if the rate of wages is easily affected by the action of employers (as has been often the case), taxation on the cultivator may be shifted, not to the landlord by lowering rent, but to the labourer by lowering wages, or in a time of rising prices by preventing their proportional increase in money.2 Again, the fact that the land which is the object of taxation often owes its value to the capital sunk in it makes the burden fall on the yield of fixed capital, a point which has been already considered.3

A more difficult and disputable point arises in connexion with the incidence of a long-continued land tax. Here it is said that the tax is really a deduction from property. As land is sought for its revenue, whatever lowers its revenue lowers its selling price, and therefore a land tax falls altogether on the possessor at the time of its imposition. Subsequent acquirers take the land subject to the burden, and pay a lower price in consequence. This process of ‘amortisation,’ as it has been called, makes the subsequent removal of the tax undesirable; the persons who have lost Edition: current; Page: [441] by its establishment are not the same as those who gain by its remission. A purchaser buys land at a lower price in consequence of the tax, and gains a like advantage by its removal; in fact, he is allowed for it twice over, once at the time of purchase and again at that of remission.

The elements of truth in this theory, which has received much favour, appear to be the following: (1) as previously pointed out,1 when a land tax becomes definitely fixed, so that it can be foreseen, or even capitalised and redeemed, there is no inaccuracy in speaking of it as a charge on land which lowers its selling price; it is just the same as a mortgage, and is so regarded by purchasers; (2) a stable tax of any kind has some of the advantages to which Canard gives such exaggerated importance. Its pressure is more regular, and therefore less felt. An invariable land tax undoubtedly has this in its favour. On the other hand, there is no reason for regarding the modern land taxes as perfectly stable and fixed. In transactions with respect to land there are not merely the existing but the prospective burdens to be taken into account. To assume, e.g. that the French ‘centimes additionnels’ or the English local rates have been ‘amortised’ would be an obvious error. We cannot foresee the future movement of taxation in respect to land, and we cannot expect that the present systems will always continue. Another important consideration is the relation of land taxation to the other forms. If it should happen to be unduly heavy there would be a tendency to depress the value of the land so taxed, just as if it were too light its effect would be the opposite; but this is characteristic of all taxation. Tea, sugar, or any other commodity will have its value for the time being affected by the creation or remission of a special tax on it. But where there is a due proportion of taxation to the several forms of income, the investor in land will only receive the same proportional return as he would obtain in other directions. Any alteration in the land tax ought to Edition: current; Page: [442] have as its motive the effort to secure a more equal distribution of burdens, and to this there can be no valid objection. At the same time, where a tax has been recognised as at once special and definitely fixed, it seems to pass out of the ordinary category of taxes and into that of charges, a transformation only possible in the case of durable productive wealth, and most prominent in respect to land.

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CHAPTER II: taxes on capital and business

§ 1. For fiscal purposes durable capital has the closest resemblance to land—the two are indeed sometimes inextricably mixed up together—and of its different forms houses and buildings generally are the most important from the same point of view. Sometimes as an integral part of the land tax, but more often with a distinct position, we find the charge on houses used both for local and general purposes. The reasons for its employment are to be found, partly in its connexion with land, partly in the universality of the use of houses, which extends taxation to all classes, partly in the convenience and readiness of assessment, and finally in the belief that the value of a person's house was a satisfactory test of his income. These considerations have very different weight at different periods. In early times the one object was to secure receipts, and for this purpose houses, or something connected with them, were convenient objects of imposition.

As in the case of land, the precise form adopted varied; at first houses were taxed simply as part of the land on which they stood, being treated as a particular kind of improvement. The hearth or chimney tax was in use in the feudal period. The substitution of windows for chimneys made another variety, to be succeeded by taxation assessed according to the class of house, or the letting value. The problems and course of development of Edition: current; Page: [444] the land tax reappear with modifications in the case of the house tax.

§ 2. England shows this development. The hearth tax, established in 1662, was so unpopular that it was abolished in 1688, but soon replaced by the window tax, under which a scale of payment was fixed—ten windows and under, 1s., increasing at a higher rate for a larger number. With several changes in the rates, and with additional stringent provisions to check evasion, the tax continued all through the eighteenth century. In 1815 its yield was about £2,000,000. Sounder ideas of taxation led to its repeal in 1851. Adam Smith's suggestion that inhabited houses should be taxed on their annual value was adopted in 1778, in addition to the existing window tax. Houses under £5 value were to be free; those between £5 and £50 to pay 6d. in the pound (2½ per cent.); those over £50, 1s. (5 per cent.). Several increases of the tax were made for war purposes, till in 1808 the rate on houses of £40 and over was 2s. 10d., or nearly 15 per cent. By a curious selection the house duty was repealed in 1834 instead of the window tax, but on the repeal of the latter in 1851 it was reimposed. Houses under £20 were exempted, and business premises paid only two-thirds of the rate on ordinary houses, i.e., 6d. and 9d. per pound respectively. The last change has been made in 1890, when Lord Goschen restored the old system of grading. Houses between £20 and £40 pay only 3d., and those between £40 and £60, 6d., the corresponding rate on business premises being 2d. and 4d. The yield of the tax was by those changes somewhat reduced from its highest point of £2,000,000; in 1900–1 it amounted to £1,700,000.1

To arrive at the total pressure of taxation on buildings we must add (1) the income tax in schedule A, amounting at 8d. to about £4,850,000, and (2) the great mass of local rates. Taking the figures in the last chapter, if the balance of rates can be assigned to buildings, we would get the Edition: current; Page: [445] enormous sum of £35,700,000, as their local taxation.1 The occupier, the ground landlord, and, in the case of business establishments, the consumers of the commodities are all participants in the burden, but we must again note that a great deal of this expenditure is economically reproductive, so that the taxes are paid out of a fund created by their employment.

§ 3. France has not reached the same stage of development as England in regard to this form of taxation. The separation of the land and house taxes has only lately been accomplished, and the door and window tax still exists. in addition to the Mobilier, or tax on letting value. The latter, suggested under the monarchy as a substitute for the personal Taille, was in its origin, as established by the Constituent Assembly in 1791, a tax on income, based on the presumption that house rent was a measure of its amount, but owing to the belief that income increased more rapidly than the cost of housing, the tax was on a progressive scale so calculated as to be proportional to income, and some qualifications were made by using other elements. In 1798 these refinements were abolished, and the Mobilier became a house tax. The tax (which is combined with the personal tax, to be discussed in the next chapter) is apportioned, and amounts to about £3,500,000, of which nine-tenths come from the house tax part.2 The contributions to local taxation Edition: current; Page: [446] through the additional centimes1 are of an even larger amount.

The door and window tax was established under the Directory in 1798. At first a rated tax, it was apportioned in 1802, and, with the exception of 1831–2, it has so continued, with a steady increase in amount. From a little over £500,000 in 1830 it has risen to nearly £1,600,000 in 1885, and £1,900,000 in 1900, while the additional centimes, that were only £100,000 in 1830, exceeded £2,000,000 in 1900. The total may therefore be regarded as about £4,000,000, obtained by an inconvenient and vexatious method.2 To the foregoing the building tax, now separated from the pure land tax, adds a sum of £3,000,000 for the principal, with additions coming very close to £3,600,000 (£3,150,000 of that amount being for the communes and departments in about equal proportion). As the tax is now a rated one the increase in value of house property, even if the present rate is maintained, will add to the yield. The total burden on houses is therefore, speaking broadly, about £17,000,000.3

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Italy had, as we saw, established a distinct house tax in 1865. The amount obtained by it in 1866 was £1,300,000; by 1886 it had more than doubled, being nearly £2,650,000. Moreover the local charges, superimposed on the principal, came to almost the same amount. For the year 1892–3 the total State taxation amounted to £3,435,000. Though the absolute amount is much less, the pressure is probably greater than in England or France.1

Belgium, Spain, and Portugal do not separate their land and house taxes; it is therefore impossible to deal with them under this head.

The Prussian house tax was made distinct in 1861, and separately collected since 1865, being proportioned to value—2 per cent. (or 4 per cent. in the case of houses let to tenants). It grew with the increase of wealth from £850,000 in 1878 to over £1,500,000 in 1889–90. The local charges came to less than half that amount, giving a total of about £2,200,000.2 Like the land tax it passed from the State to the local bodies in the financial year 1895–6.

In most of the smaller German States the house tax is a part of the land tax. Bavaria, as in the case of land, applies the ‘area’ and ‘productive power’ principle to the taxation of houses.

The Austrian house tax, in existence since 1820, yielded for 1893–4 about £3,000,000, and that for Hungary, about £1,000,000, not including the local charges.3

§ 4. From the facts just given, we can see that the course of development in respect to the taxation of buildings is towards taking their value, or, if possible, their annual yield, as the basis of assessment, and at the same Edition: current; Page: [448] time towards separating them from land. The French door and window tax may, therefore, be at once condemned as a pernicious survival of an antiquated method: its abolition, or absorption in the mobilier, is merely a question of time.

The problem of assessment has usually been dealt with in the way approved by Adam Smith, but with a large allowance for expenses and repairs, varying in the different countries. On the whole, it is easier to ascertain the letting value of houses than of land, and there is, besides, the element of cost of construction to be used as a corrective. Some difficulties, however, certainly exist. It is not easy to deal with deterioration and the resulting loss of value, more particularly in respect to buildings employed in production. Revaluation at short intervals is the only suitable way, but it is both troublesome and expensive. The opposite case, i.e. where improvements have been made, is also complicated. Increased value ought certainly to be taxed, but the effect in checking improvements is serious. The usual course of allowing a period to elapse before rating new constructions affords the best practical solution.

The taxation of expensive private dwellings, such as noblemen's mansions, has attracted more attention than its intrinsic importance warrants. In England such houses have been rated at a nominal figure on account of the supposed expense of maintaining them, which is thought to reduce their letting value. On the other hand, the cost of construction, or again that of reconstruction, has been proposed as the basis for valuation. Neither is, however, adequate. Letting value fails where the objects are not really and in fact let to tenants. Cost would give much too high a value in some cases, as expenditure is not always represented by additional value. The true test in such cases lies in the utility of the house and surroundings, which selling or market letting value would measure, but which, in its absence, must be estimated, either by reference Edition: current; Page: [449] to similar dwellings let elsewhere,1 or by the probable expenditure of the possessor on his house accommodation. The modern tendency to apply commercial principles, even to aristocratic residences and estates, will afford a means of readily gauging value in these instances.

§ 5. Far more important is the very difficult question of the incidence of house and building taxes.2 So many elements are combined that the assignment to each of its separate share is a task of some complication. The value of the ground on which the buildings stand is determined by the law of rent, and a tax that falls on it would, therefore, appear to be untransferable. A house is a particular kind of commodity, and its share of taxation may be supposed to come under the laws that determine the incidence of taxes on commodities. Accordingly, Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Mill have agreed in asserting that taxes on ground rent fall on the landlord, while those on building rent fall on the occupier. The builder must, they thought, get his fair profit and will therefore escape taxation. The solution is unluckily not quite so simple. First, as to ground rent, wherever there is an alternative use for land, it is plain Edition: current; Page: [450] that a tax on it, if employed for building, is strictly limited by that other use; thus until the rent of land for building exceeds that of agricultural land by the amount of the tax, no landlord will let it for that purpose. The tax on this minimum ground rent would be passed on to the builder, and by him to the occupier; but once it is reached the ground landlord has a differential gain, and cannot escape by withdrawing his land, as he would thereby lose still more. We can, therefore, accept the doctrine of the non-shifting of a tax on ground rent as generally true. The other part of the doctrine requires more consideration. The rent of houses depends proximately on the conditions of supply and demand; taxation levied from the occupier is equivalent to so much additional rent; it resembles a rise of price in the case of an ordinary commodity. The consequent check to demand tends to take off part of this increase, and therefore the initial effect is to throw some of the tax on the house owner.1 As houses are a very durable commodity, the adjustment of supply to the altered demand may take a long time to accomplish. It will largely depend on the economic position of the locality; if it is progressing, the tax will hinder building until rent rises to its old level; but if it happens to be stationary or declining the burden remains on the house owners, who are the possessors of a particular kind of fixed capital. Even in an advancing locality the shifting may be on the ground rent. The increase of house rent that checks building thereby reduces the demand for building ground, and consequently lowers its value. It is highly probable that some at least of the burden will be so distributed. Or, again, it may happen that, owing to their situation, the premises command a specially high, or what is popularly called a monopoly value, in which case the owner, having obtained the highest possible rent, must submit to pay the public charges; the Edition: current; Page: [451] mere building owner will recoup himself at the ground landlord's expe