Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 52.djvu/14

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tercommunication, required that property should, to a great extent, be put into a condition to admit of being readily mobilized, in order to allow of its most profitable use and application. Thus a large part, in fact the larger part of what is to-day termed "personal property" in every civilized state, is of the most intangible character, and in great part invisible and incorporeal: such, for example, as negotiable instruments in the form of bills of exchange, state, municipal, and corporate bonds, and the multiplied forms of evidence of indebtedness, certificates of stocks, copyrights, patents, legal-tender notes, etc., all of which, if entitled to the name of property, is, through a great variety of circumstances, constantly exposed to fluctuations in value, frightful in amount, and incalculable in their suddenness, and under the influence of which wealth vanishes as if by the wave of a magician's wand. It is offset or measured by indebtedness which may never be the same one hour with another; is easy of transfer, and, as essential to using, is in fact continually transferred from one locality to another, and from the jurisdiction of one state to the jurisdiction and laws of another and a different state; is here to-day, gone to-morrow; is burned, sunk at sea, lost in mines, patents, railways, factories, trading associations, and in a thousand other different ways. It has been recently said that five men who do business in Boston can together control or dispose of an amount of property which equals one fifteenth of the entire assessed valuation of that city; and that they could, if they pleased, carry round the evidence of the existence of that property in their coat pockets, or, according to popular theory, the property itself.

For the purpose of ascertaining the amount of taxable personal property owned by individual citizens two methods have been employed in the United States:

1. In several States, such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Illinois, the taxpayer is required to give each year to the assessor a detailed and verified statement, carefully itemized, of all the personal property owned by him or under his control and of every kind, sort, and description. This method is generally known as "the listing system." In several of the States the principle that a State can only tax that which is within its territorial jurisdiction is ignored, and even visible tangible property situated outside of the taxing State is required to be returned for the purpose of taxation.

2. The other and more general method of ascertaining taxable personal estate is that which is exemplified in the State of New York, by which the assessor guesses at the personal property of the victim, and places him upon the list at such a figure as either his information