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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/605

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PRINCIPLES OF TAXATION.

way, and if the head of every family was compelled to perform annually some twenty days' labor to discharge the obligation incumbent on himself and family to pay taxes, which would be about the amount which the head of every family in the United States would have to perform to meet its present annual expenditures. Everybody would then be talking economy; and the politician who wanted votes, instead of promising public buildings, or more salaried offices to his constituents, would say, "Gentlemen, give me your votes and elect me, and I will have your compulsory labor cut down next year from twenty-five days to twenty, or even fifteen" And yet the difference between that state of things and the present is merely a difference of appearance.

What is Taxation?—The popular or dictionary definition of taxation—namely, "the act of levying a tax or imposing taxes"—is as indefinite and imperfect as the ordinary definition of a "tax" has been shown to be. Scientifically considered, taxation is the taking or appropriating such portion of the product or property of a country or community as is necessary for the support of its government, by methods that are not in the nature of extortions, punishments, or confiscations; and a systematic and orderly arrangement and presentation of the knowledge gained by experience and discussion, with a view to effect such a result with certainty, uniformity, and the minimum of cost and trouble to society and its individual taxpayers or contributors, constitutes the Science of Taxation.[1]

In what will be hereafter said, the word taxation will be used as far as possible in the sense in which it has been defined; but at the same time the employment of the unscientific term has become so general that its use in default of any satisfactory synonym is almost unavoidable, especially in the historical treatment of the subject.

Such a limitation of the meaning and nature of the word tax as has thus been given is clearly of the first importance, and a lack of its recognition is undoubtedly responsible in a high degree for the present unsatisfactory position of the subject of taxation as a department of economic knowledge; and also for a very general belief that in determining the forms of taxes the only rule to be followed is that of expediency. It may be too much to claim that a general recognition and practical acceptance of the proposed definitions and limitations are absolute essentials for the concep-


  1. Essentially the same definition of taxation has been given by Mr. J. R. McCulloch. "It is," he says, "the name given to the branch of the science of political economy which explains the mode in which different taxes affect the public interest, and in which the revenue required for the public service may be most advantageously raised."—Treatise on the Principles of Taxation, J. R. McCulloch, 1875.