Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/610

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

to effectually expose the fallacy of the somewhat popular idea, that taxation is really a gradual (and in the course of time a complete) confiscation by the public of all private or individual property; and that in a certain sense no man by reason of taxation can be regarded as having a perpetual ownership of any property; an annual tax on the value of any property of one and a half per cent, with five per cent interest, exhausting such value in about thirty years. If taxation brought no returns, either direct or indirect, to the persons or property assessed, there would be some warrant for regarding it as an act of confiscation; but if it provides, as every correct system of taxation does, for a certain class of expenditures, in default of which in the present state of society there would be no adequate protection to property and no encouragement for its accumulation and development, then there is no more reason for regarding taxation as confiscation than for attributing the same effect to payments for wages, rents, repairs, interest,[1] insurance, etc.

A practical illustration of the truth of this conclusion is to be found in the circumstance, that as a rule the class of property paying the highest proportional taxes in any community is the most profitable or desirable to its owners. It is also a pertinent question, why property which has paid taxes for a given period—say thirty years—and has so been absorbed by the public, should continue to be assessed; or why, if the person popularly regarded as the owner of such property should refuse to pay taxes, the property should be sold for taxes when it has already been taken to itself by the public.

Another point of interest in connection with this subject which has been little noticed by economists is, that if a high degree of civilization can not exist without a high degree of taxation,[2] the methods of economizing labor, or, what is the same thing, of producing a greater amount of product with a given amount of labor—conditions which make high civilization possible—enable a government progressive in this respect continually to take a larger share of the results of the work of its citizens, expressed in terms of money, without really increasing their burdens of taxation. "Every invention and discovery by which the production of commodities is facilitated and their value

  1. This same fallacy was indeed applied to interest in the United States, when an eminent official maintained that in paying; interest for many years on the public debt the people of the country had more than paid oil the principal, and were therefore morally justified in repudiating the debt.
  2. Year by year the public demands more efficient schools, better postal facilities, better harbors, improved paving, drainage, and lighting of streets, a stricter abatement of nuisances and supervision of infectious disease. All this means a higher standard of public well-being, entailing, however, constantly increased public outlay.