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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/57

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PRINCIPLES OF TAXATION.

lation—small and big, city, town, or hamlet—swarms with petty-officials, who are paid to see that not an item of agricultural produce, of manufactured goods, or an operation of trade or commerce or even a social event, like a fandango, a christening, a marriage, or a funeral, escapes the payment of tribute.

In fact, trade has been so hampered by this system of taxation that one can readily understand and accept the assertion that has been made, that people with capital in Mexico really dread to enter into business, and prefer to hoard their wealth, or restrict their investments to land (which, as before pointed out, is practically exempt from taxation), rather than subject themselves to the never-ending inquisitions and annoyances which are attendant upon almost every active employment of persons and capital, even were all other conditions favorable. Mexico, from the influence of this system of taxation alone, must, therefore, remain poor and undeveloped; and no argument to the contrary can in any degree weaken this assertion. Doubtless there are many intelligent people in Mexico who recognize the gravity of the situation, and are most anxious that something should be done in the way of reform. But what can be done? If autocratic powers were to be given to a trained financier, thoroughly versed in all the principles of taxation and of economic sciences, and conversant with the results of actual experience, the problem of making things speedily and radically better in this department of the Mexican state is so difficult that he might well shrink from grappling with it.

In the first place, the great mass of the Mexican people have little or no visible tangible property which is capable of direct assessment.

Again, in any permanent system of taxation, taxes in every country or community, in common with all the elements of the cost of production and subsistence—wages, profits, interest, depreciation, and materials—must be substantially drawn from each year's product. Now, the annual product of Mexico is comparatively very small. Thus, for example, the annual product of one of the least developed States of the Federal Union—South Carolina—was in 1888 absolutely two and a half times—or, proportionally to area, twenty-five times—as valuable as the then annual product of the entire northern half of Mexico; and the Argentine Republic of South America, with only one third the population of Mexico, has a revenue twenty per cent greater, and double the amount of foreign commerce. Product being small, consumption must of necessity be also small. "The average cost of living (food and drink) to a laboring man in the city of Mexico is about twenty-five cents per day; in the country, from twelve and a half to eighteen cents. The average annual cost of a man's