also, the preference almost always shown, on the, part alike of those who enact and those who pay taxes, for indirect taxation, which very successfully blinds the taxpayer as to the amount which he pays and as to the time and place of its collection; and hence, finally, the idea, which has come to be all but universally entertained, that taxation per se is in itself an evil—something to be avoided, if possible, and an escape from which is always "good fortune"
A question of prime importance, therefore, which confronts us at the outset in entering upon any discussion of this subject is. Are these assumptions of economists that there is no science of taxation and no general laws regulating its exercise and effects—assumptions generally concurred in by jurists and popular sentiment—correct? If they are, then there are no principles of taxation to discuss, and a consideration of the subject must be limited mainly to a recital of the worlds experiments and experiences and an exposition of legislative enactments and court decisions. To admit their correctness, furthermore, is equivalent to confessing that human knowledge, in at least one department, has reached its extreme limit; and that a class of transactions which, more than almost any other, are determinative of the distribution of wealth, the forms in which industry shall be exerted, and the sphere of personal liberty, are best directed by accident or caprice. To ascertain the true state of the case ought, accordingly, to constitute the main object of inquiry, and, with a view of helping to the formation of an intelligent opinion, attention will be first asked to the meaning or definition of the two fundamental terms, tax and taxation. And in so doing we obtain immediately an illustration of the indefiniteness of idea and lack of exactitude in expression that characterize this whole subject, and also a very definite clew to their origin.
Analysis of the Word Tax.—Thus, the word tax in the English language, and its equivalent in all other languages, is used in a very loose and indefinite sense. Many writers, and the dictionary-makers generally, use the word in an extremely generic sense, to cover and designate all contributions obtained by process of assessment and levy (act of collection) by a state or government from the persons and property of its citizens; or from persons and property within its power and jurisdiction; in whatever form, or however arbitrary the assessments or levies may be, and by whatever name they may be known or designated—whether tribute, toll, talliage, duty, gabel, customs, impost, poll, subsidy, aid, excise, income, or benevolence. Such a
- "A tax is a rate or sum of money assessed on the person or property of a citizen by Government for the use of the nation or State"—Webster's Dictionary.