Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/600

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
578
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

of effects to warrant the drawing of general and correct inferences, it is nevertheless probably true that there is not, at the present time, a single existing tax, decreed by despotism, or authorized by the representatives of the taxpayers, which has been primarily adopted, or enacted solely with reference to any economic principles, or which has sought to establish the largest practical conformity under concurrent circumstances to what are acknowledged to be the fundamental principles of equity, justice, and rational liberty. But, on the contrary, the influence of temporary circumstances, as viewed, in most instances, from the standpoint of a governmental administration—despotic or republican alike—desirous of retaining power, has ever been the controlling motive in determining the character of taxation; or, as Colbert, the celebrated finance minister of Louis XIV, is reported to have expressed it, in saying that "the art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose [i. e., the people] as to procure the largest quantity of feathers with the least possible amount of squawking." Hence, apart from its methods of distributing power and patronage, the popular idea of evil, as connected with government, may almost always be referred back to unequal or excessive exactions; and to the reality of which, as evils, more than to any other one agency, may be referred most of the world's political revolutions, and the ferocity with which, as was notably the case in France, they have been often conducted. Hence,


    revenue—cats. The horse, the ass, the goat, the hog, the chicken, the dog, the goose—all contribute their mites to the support of the state, said this financial reformer. The cat alone is a parasite, paying nothing to any one and preying upon every one. But is the project really practicable? Certainly it is, replies its author, and he forthwith sets himself to prove it. Every cat for which the tax—a rather heavy sum—is paid, would receive an official colored ribbon for its neck, with a number and a government stamp. Every feline defaulter found without this ribbon would be seized and temporarily confined in the Cats' Home. If not redeemed before the lapse of a fixed terra—say eight days—it would be sold or poisoned by the state." "A tax on beards was in operation for a long time and under various forms in Russia. Peter the Great, knowing the attachment that his subjects had for the hirsute adornment of the face, introduced a tax upon the beard in his empire. The beard is a superfluous and useless ornament, said he, and, starting from this principle, he imposed a tax upon it as an article of luxury. This tax was proportional and progressive, not in proportion to the length of the beard, but to the social position of those who wore it. Each person upon paying his tax received a token, which he had to carry upon his person, for the guards were inexorable, and, always provided with scissors, ruthlessly cut off the beard of those who could not show their badge." "Catharine I confirmed this tax. In 1728 Peter II allowed the peasants to wear a beard, but kept up the tax for the other classes under the penalty of work on the galleys in the case of non-payment. Czarina Anne rendered life still harder to bearded men, for not only were they obliged to pay the special contribution imposed upon them, but also had to pay a double tax upon everything else for which they were assessed. This tax was not abolished until the reign of Catharine II (1702-1798)."