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strongly recommend them. In the first place, they can never, by any possibility, touch those whose whole income is expended on necessaries; while they do reach those by whom what is required for necessaries, is expended on indulgences. In the next place, they operate in some cases as an useful, and the only useful, kind of sumptuary law. I disclaim all asceticism, and by no means wish to see discouraged, either by law or opinion, any indulgence (consistent with the means and obligations of the person using it) which is sought from a genuine inclination for, and enjoyment of, the thing itself; but a great portion of the expense of the higher and middle classes in most countries, and the greatest in this, is not incurred for the sake of the pleasure afforded by the things on which the money is spent, but from regard to opinion, and an idea that certain expenses are expected from them, as an appendage of station; and I cannot but think that expenditure of this sort is a most desirable subject of taxation. If taxation discourages it, some good is done, and if not, no harm; for in so far as taxes are levied on things which are desired and possessed from motives of this description, nobody is the worse for them. When a thing is bought not for its use but for its costliness, cheapness is no recommendation. As Sismondi remarks, the consequence of cheapening articles of vanity, is not that less is expended on such things, but that the buyers substitute for the cheapened article some other which is more costly, or a more elaborate quality of the same thing; and as the inferior quality answered the purpose of vanity equally well when it was equally expensive, a tax on the article is really paid by nobody: it is a creation of public revenue by which nobody loses.*
* "Were we to suppose that diamonds could only be procured from one particular and distant country, and pearls from another, and were the produce of the mines in the former, and of the fishery in the latter, from the operation of natural causes, to become doubly difficult to procure, the effect would merely be that in time half the quantity of
§ 3. In order to reduce as nrach as possible the inconveniences, and increase the advantages, incident to taxes on commodities, the following are the practical rules which suggest themselves. 1st. To raise as large a revenue as conveniently may be, from those classes of luxuries which have most connexion with vanity, and least with positive enjoyment; such as the more costly qualities of all kinds of personal equipment and ornament. 2ndly. Whenever possible, to demand the tax, not from the producer, but directly from the consumer, since when levied on the producer it raises the price always by more, and often by much more, than the mere amount of the tax. Most of the minor assessed
diamonds and pearls would be sufficient to mark a certain opulence and rank, that it had before been necessary to employ for that purpose. The same quantity of gold, or some commodity reducible at last to labour, would be required to produce the now reduced amount, as the former larger amount. Were the difficulty interposed by the regulations of legislators it could
make no difference to the fitness of these articles to serve the purposes of vanity." Suppose that meanswere discovered whereby the physiological process which generates the pearl might be induced ad libitum, the result being that the amount of labour expended in
Srocuring each pearl, came to be only the ve hundredth part of what it was before. "The ultimate etlect of such a change would depend on whether the fishery was free or not. Were it free to all, as pearls could be got simply for the labour of fishing for them, a string of them might be had for a few pence. The very poorest class of society could therefore afford to decorate their parsons with them. They would thus soon become extremely vulgar and unfashionable, and so at last valueless. If however we suppose that instead of the fishery being free, the legislator owns and has complete command of the place, where alone pearls are to be procured; as the progress of discovery advanced, he might impose a duty on them equal to the diminution of labour necessary to procure them. They would then be at much esteemed as they were before. What simple beauty they have would remain unchanged. The difficulty to be surmounted in order to obtain them would be different, but equally great, and they would therefore equally serve to mark the opulence of those who possessed them." The net revenue obtained by such a tax " would not cost the society anything. If not abused in its application, it would be a clear addition of so much to the resources of the community."— Rae, JVeio Principle* of Political Economy. pp. 369-71.
taxes in this country are recommended by both these considerations. But .with regard to horses and carriages, as there are many persons to whom, from health or constitution, these are not so much luxuries as necessaries, the tax paid by those who have but one riding horse, or but one carriage, especially of the cheaper descriptions, should be low; while taxation should rise very rapidly with the number of horses and carnages, and with their costliness. 3rdly. But as the only indirect taxes which yield a large revenue are those which fall on articles of universal or very general consumption, and as it is therefore necessary to have some taxes on real luxuries, that is, on things which afford pleasure in themselves, and are valued on that account rather than for their cost; these taxes should, if possible, be so adjusted as to fall with the same proportional weight on small, on moderate, and on large incomes. This is not an easy matter; since the things which are the subjects of the more productive taxes, are in proportion more largely consumed by the poorer members of the community than by the rich. Tea, coffee, sugar, tobacco, fermented drinks, can hardly be so taxed, that the poor shall not bear more than their due share of the burthen. Something might be done by making the duty on the superior qualities, which are used by the richer consumers, much higher in proportion to the value, (instead of much lower, as is almost universally the practice under the present English system); but in some cases the difficulty of at all adjusting the duty to the value, so as to prevent evasion, is said, with what truth I know not, to be insuperable; so that it is thought necessary to levy the same fixed duty on all the qualities alike: a flagrant injustice to the poorer class of contributors, unless compensated by the existence of other taxes from which, as from the present income-tax, they are altogether exempt. 4thly. As far as is consistent with the preceding rules, taxation should rather be concentrated on a few articles than diffused over many, in order that the
expenses of collection may be smaller, and that as few employments as pos sible may be burthensomely and vexatiously interfered with. 5tnly. Among luxuries of general consumption, taxation should by preference attach itself to stimulants, because these, though in themselves as legitimate indulgences as any others, are more liable than most others to be used in excess, so that the check to consumption, naturally arising from taxation, is on the whole better applied to them than to other things. 6thly. As far as other considerations permit, taxation should be confined to imported articles, since these can be taxed with a less degree of vexatious interference, and with fewer incidental bad effects, than when a tax is levied on the field or on the workshop. Custom duties are, cceteris paribus, much less objectionable than excise: but they must be laid only on things which either cannot, or at least will not, be produced in the country itself; or else their production there must be prohibited (as in England is the case with tobacco,) or subjected to an excise duty of equivalent amount. 7thly. No tax ought to be kept so high as to furnish a motive to its evasion, too strong to be counteracted by ordinary means of prevention: and especially no commodity should be taxed so highly as to raise up a class of lawless characters, smugglers, illicit distillers, and the like.
Of the excise and custom duties lately existing in this country, all which are intrinsically unfit to form
Eart of a good system of taxation, ave, since the last reforms by Mr. Gladstone, been got rid of. Among these are all duties on ordinary articles of food,* whether for human beings or for cattle; those on timber, as falling on the materials of lodging, which is one of the necessaries of life; all duties on the metals, and on implements made of them; taxes on soap, which is a necessary of cleanliness, and on tallow, the material both of that and of some other necessaries;
* Except the shilling per quarter duty on I corn, ostensibly for registration, and scarcely | felt as a burthen.
the tax on paper, an indispensable instrument of almost all business and of most kinds of instruction. The duties which now yield nearly the whole of the customs and excise revenue, those on sugar, coffee, tea, wine, beer, spirits, and tobacco, are in themselves, where a large amount of revenue is necessary, extremely proper taxes; but at present grossly unjust, from the disproportionate weight with which they press on the poorer classes; and some of them (those on spirits and tobacco) are so high as to cause a considerable amount of smuggling. It is probable that most of these taxes might bear a great reduction without any material loss of revenue. In what manner the finer articles of manufacture, consumed by the rich, tmight most advantageously
be taxed, I must leave to be decided by those who have the requisite practical knowledge. The difficulty would be, to effect it without an inadmissible degree of interference with production. In countries which, like the United States, import the principal part of the finer manufactures which they consume, there is little difficulty in the matter: and even where nothing is imported but the raw material, that may be taxed, especially the qualities of it which are exclusively employed for the fabrics used by the richer class of consumers. Thus, in England a high custom duty on raw silk would be consistent with principle; and it might perhaps be practicable to tax the finer qualities of cotton or linen yarn, whether spun in the country itself or imported.
OP A HATIOXAL DEBT.
§ 1. The question must now be considered, how far it is right or expedient to raise money for the purposes of government, not by laying on taxes to the amount required, but by taking a portion of the capital of the country in the form of a loan, and charging the public revenue with only the interest. Nothing needs be said about providing for temporary wants by taking up money; for instance, by an issue of exchequer bills, destined to be paid off, at furthest in a year or two, from the proceeds of the existing taxes. This is a convenient expedient, and when the government does not possess a treasure or hoard, is often a necessary one, on the occurrence of extraordinary expenses, or of a temporary failure in the ordinary sources of revenue. What we have to discuss is the propriety of contracting a national debt of a permanent character; defraying the expenses of a war, or of any season of difficulty, by loans, to be redeemed
either very gradually and at a distant period, or not at all.
This question has already been touched upon in the First Book.* We remarked, that if the capital taken in loans is abstracted from funds either engaged in production, or destined to be employed in it, their diversion from that purpose is equivalent to taking the amount from the wages of the labouring classes. Borrowing, in this case, is not a substitute for raising the supplies within the year. A government which borrows does actually take the amount within the year, and that too by a tax exclusively on the labouring classes: than which it could have done nothing worse, if it had supp'ieu its wants by avowed taxation; anil in that case the transaction, and its mils, would have ended with the emergency; while by the circuitous mode adopted, the value exacted from the labourers is gained, not by the state, but by the * Supra, p. 40,
«mployers of labour, the state remaining charged with the debt besides, and with its interest in perpetuity. The system of public loans, in such circumstances, may be pronounced the very• worst which, in the present state of civilization, is still included in the catalogue of financial expedients.
We however remarked that there are other circumstances in which loans are not chargeable with these pernicious consequences: namely, first, when what is borrowed is foreign capital, the overflowings of the general accumulation of the world; or, secondly, when it is capital which either would not have been saved at all unless this mode of investment had been open to it, or after being saved, would have been wasted in unproductive enterprises, or sent to seek employment in foreign countries. When the progress of accumulation has reduced profits either to the ultimate or to the practical minimum,—to the rate, less than which would either put a stop to the increase of capital, or send the whole of the new accumulations abroad; government may annually intercept these new accumulations, without trenching on the employment or wages of the labouring classes in the country itself, or perhaps in any other country. To this extent, therefore, the loan system may be carried, without being liable to the utter and peremptory condemnation which is due to it when it overpasses this limit. What is wanted is an index to determine whether, in any given series of years, as during the last great war for example, the limit has been exceeded or not.
Such an index exists, at once a certain and an obvious one. Did the government, by its loan operations, augment the rate of interest? If it only opened a channel for capital which would not otherwise have been accumulated, or which, if accumulated, would not have been employed within the country; this implies that the capital, which the government took and expended, could not have found employment at the existing rate of interest. So long as the loans do no than absorb this surplus, they
prevent any tendency to a fall of the rate of interest, but they cannot occasion any rise. When they do raise the rate of interest, as they did in a most extraordinary degree duringthe French war, this is positive proof that the government is a competitor for capital with the ordinary channels of productive investment, and is carrying off, not merely funds which would not, but funds which would, have fould productive employment within the country. To the full extent, therefore, to which the loans of government, during the war, caused the rate of interest to exceed what it was before, and what it has been since, those loans are chargeable with all the evils which have been described. If it be objected that interest only rose because profits rose, I reply that this does not weaken, but strengthens, the argument. If the government loans produced the rise of profits by the great amount of capital which they absorbed, by what means can they nave had this effect, unless by lowering the wages of labour? It will perhaps be said, that what kept profits high during the war was not the drafts made on the national capital by the loans, but the rapid progress of industrial improvements. This, in a great measure, was the fact; and it no doubt alleviated the hardship to the labouring classes, and made the financial system which was pursued less actively mischievous, but not less contrary to principle. These very improvements in industry, made room for a larger amount of capital; and the government, by draining away a great part of the annual accumulations, did not indeed prevent that capital from existing ultimately, (for it started into existence with great rapidity after the peace,) but prevented it from existing at the time, and subtracted just s0 much, while the war lasted, from distribution among productive labourers. If the government had abstained from taking this capital by loan, and had allowed it to reach the labourers, but had raised the supplies which it required by a direct tax on the labouring classes, it would have produced (in every respect but the expense and inconvenience of collecting the tax) the very same economical effects which it did produce, except that we should not now have had the deht. The course it actually took was therefore worse than the very worst mode which it could possibly have adopted of raising the supplies within the year: and the only excuse, or justification, which it admits of, (so far as that excuse could be truly pleaded) was hard necessity; the impossibility of raising so enormous an annual sum by taxation, without resorting to taxes which from their odiousness, or from the facility of evasion, it would have been found impracticable to enforce.
When government loans are limited to the overflowings of the national capital, or to those accumulations which would not take place at all unless suffered to overflow, they are at least not liable to this grave condemnation: they occasion no privation to any one at the time, except by the payment of the interest, and may even be beneficial to the labouring class during the term of their expenditure, by employing in the direct purchase of labour, as that of soldiers, sailors, &c., -funds which might otherwise have quitted the country altogether. In this case therefore the question really is, what it is commonly supposed to be in all cases, namely, a choice between a great sacrifice at once, and a small one indefinitely prolonged. On this matter it seems rational to think, that the prudence of a nation will dictate the same conduct as the prudence of an individual; to submit to as much of the privation immediately, as can easily be borne, and only when any further burthen would distress orcripple them too much, to provide for the remainder by mortgaging their future income. It is an excellent maxim to make present resources suffice for present wants; the future will have its own wants to provide for. On the other hand, it may reasonably be taken into consideration that in a country increasing in wealth, the necessary expenses of government do not increase in the same ratio as capital or population; any burthen, therefore, is always
less and less felt: and since those extraordinary expenses of government which are fit to be incurred at all, are mostly beneficial beyond the existing generation, there is no injustice in making posterity pay a part of the price, if the inconvenience would be extreme of defraying the whole of it by the exertions and sacrifices of the generation which first incurred it.
§ 2. When a country, wisely or unwisely, has burthened itself with a debt, is it expedient to take steps for redeeming that debt? In principle it is impossible not to maintain the affirmative. It is true that the payment of the interest, when the creditors are members of the same community, is no national loss, but a mere transfer. The transfer, however, being compulsory, is a serious evil, and the raising a great extra revenue by any system of taxation necessitates so much expense, vexation, disturbance of the channels of industry, and other mischiefs over and above the mere payment of the money wanted by the government, that to get rid of the necessity of such taxation is at all times worth a considerable effort. The same amount of sacrifice which would have been worth incurring to avoid contracting the debt, it is worth while to incur, at any subsequent time, for the purpose of extinguishing it.
Two modes have been contemplated ol paying off a national debt: either at once by a general contribution, or gradually by a surplus revenue. The first would be incomparably the best, if it were practicable; and it would be practicable if it could justly be done by assessment on property alone. If property bore the whole interest of the debt, property might, with great advantage to itself, pay it off; since this would be merely surrendering to a creditor the principal sum, the whole annual proceeds of which were already his by law; and would be equivalent to what a landowner does when he sells part of his estate, to free the remainder from a mortgage. But property, it needs hardly be said, does not pay, and cannot justly be required