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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/208

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

and banking—in relation to which the function of the state has always been recognized—we are lamentably in need of reform. But if the state can not overtake those duties which are so necessary and persistent that they were forced on the attention of the strongest supporters of laisser faire, how can we possibly justify the assumption of new functions which rest upon no better principle than the vague idea that the state ought to do something? Not only theoretically but practically signs of a reaction in favor of the old position are rapidly increasing. The experiments already made at playing the rôle of omnipotence and omniscience, against which governments were so emphatically warned by Adam Smith, have begun to bring forth thorns instead of figs. A government which lends its power and assistance to one set of people must be prepared to act in a similar manner in all similar cases. If once this principle is abandoned, governmental action becomes either a matter of chance or depends upon clamor and jobbery. It is wonderful how quickly the human mind discovers analogies in grievances, and how soon one cry leads to another. How can we justify the use of state credit for the purchase of lands in Ireland and fishing boats in Scotland if we are not prepared to give similar aid to the poor of England who are similarly situated? If we grant judicial rents in the country, why not in the towns, and if we fix by law one set of prices why not all prices? We must not be content with looking at the immediate effects of legislation; we must consider also the secondary and more remote consequences. The British Government is beginning to find that the camel is getting too far into the tent. The admission of a single ear is nothing to the admission of the hump and the knees and the rest of the beast. Now the ear may be interpreted to mean the grant of a few thousand pounds to Scottish fishers, the hump is universal old-age pensions at a cost of some fifteen or twenty millions a year, and for the knees you may take the nationalization of land at a cost of some two thousand millions, and for the whole beast you have the complete socialist programme. The conclusion that when the beast was in the Arab was out needs no interpretation. We have not yet reached the limits of tolerable taxation, but at the present rate of growth of imperial and local expenditure we are rapidly approaching those limits. It has been firmly established in theory, and confirmed by the experience of many nations, that excessive taxation is ruinous to a country. It may be replied that those who demand a large increase of expenditure for public purposes do not propose to tax the poor, but only to take the superfluities of the rich—to take, as is sometimes said, twenty shillings in the pound from that part of every income which extends above four hundred pounds a year. The certain effect of this kind of taxation would be that in a very