Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 52.djvu/19

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9
PRINCIPLES OF TAXATION.

and stationery, could not be properly estimated at less than forty million dollars.

"Again, on ‘assessment day,’ there would be universal concealment of all articles of small bulk and great value. Watches, jewels, gold, money of all kinds, and every like conceivable thing would vanish from sight. Men would walk about stuffed with valuables. Old stoves, pots, and pans would be filled with money and jewels. Valuable goods which could not be hidden would be covered with dust or otherwise made to look almost worthless. In every mill and factory manufactures would be kept in an unfinished state, as far as possible, until assessment day had passed. A thousand devices would be resorted to in order to reduce the apparent value of the things which the assessor would inspect, or to prevent him from seeing them at all.

"In order to make this plan of official valuations successful, the assessors must enter every room in every house and strip naked every man and woman whom they suspect of concealing taxable property. This is the only way in which visible, tangible personal property ever was or ever can be fairly, equally, and effectually taxed.

"And, when all this was done, the system would none the less fail. It could not be made even approximately correct. Every article would be valued very much too high or very much too low. Nor would the average produce any fair result. The goods of Jones would be appraised at two hundred per cent of their real value; the goods of Smith at ninety per cent; and the goods of Brown at fifty per cent. Jones would thus be cheated heavily, and of Smith moderately, for the sole benefit of Brown."[1]

On the other hand, if the fiction of law, that personal property follows the owner, is to govern, then all such property may be taxed where it is not, and be exempt from taxation in the place where it actually is, and where it shares in the benefits that flow from the protective expenditures—police, fire department, etc.—which are incident and necessary to the locality. Or, as is very often and perhaps most usually the case, the same property is subjected to double taxation; and as a proof that this latter supposition, which

seems on its face an absurdity, is a matter of constant experience, it may be mentioned that some years since, and probably at the present time, a well-known publishing house was regularly taxed in Cambridge, Mass., for so much of its stock in trade as was kept in store and permanently employed in business in New York city, although it was admitted that the same tangible, visible property


  1. Taxation of Personal Property, Impracticable, Unequal, and Unjust. By Thomas S. Shearman. New York, 1895.