definition, however, which, makes no distinction between contributions levied at his unrestrained will or caprice, and for any purpose, by a bandit whom circumstances have raised to the head and government of a petty tribe or community; or by an absolute and ignorant Oriental potentate, like Ismail Pasha, Khedive of Egypt (1863-'79); or by a European monarch, like Louis XIV, who said, "I am the state" and those contributions which represent that part of the wealth of a state which is taken from its citizens with their free consent for exclusive public purposes, in accordance with a well-defined and intelligent public policy; a definition that recognizes no distinction between these two methods and objects of taking, obviously can not be scientifically correct; for there can be no more analogy between the two methods than between a payment for value received and an act of highway robbery. Obviously, also, there can be no science of taxation predicated or formulated on such a definition, for there can be no science of irregularity and arbitrary action.
Again: "So long as people use words which have no precise signification, which may be interpreted in a variety of ways, and which present at once to the mind different ideas more or less obscure, more or less mixed up with one another, there will be uncertainty in the theory, or rather there will be a vague, incomplete, and ill-co-ordinated theory; and then, as all practice is the application of a theory, the practice resulting from it will be faulty"—M. Menier.
The celebrated French economist above quoted also makes the following well-warranted criticism on the current definitions of taxation: "They have" he says, "one general fault: they try to point out the employment of taxes, but they do not show the origin of taxes"
What, then, will be a correct definition of a tax?
- The revenue annually exacted, under the name of taxation, by Ismail Pasha, especially during the latter years of his reign, from an exceedingly poor population a little in excess of five million in number, was reported to have been about $75,000,000.
- Despotic rulers in all ages of the type of Louis XIV, the Khedives of Egypt, the Sultans of Turkey, and the Czars of Russia have undoubtedly regarded their expenditures of money exacted under the name of taxation from their subjects for the maintenance of great armies, harems, mistresses, pensions to favorites, and the like, as for legitimate public purposes.
"The definition of both Webster (Daniel) and Story (Justice) is, that a tax is a contribution imposed by Government on individuals for the service of the State."—Miller, on the Constitution of the United States, p. 285.
"Taxes are defined as the enforced proportional contribution of persons and property levied by the authority of the State for the support of the Government and for all public needs."—Cooley on Taxation, p. 1.
"A tax is a portion, or the value of a portion, of the property or labor of individuals taken from them by Government and placed at its disposal."—J. R. McCulloch.