Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 52.djvu/217

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modern times so large a part of the personal property of every civilized community.

In the State of New York, where the letter of the tax laws in respect to the subjects of taxation is nearly the same as in Massachusetts and Ohio, but the administration less stringent, and where the aggregate of personal property nearly or fully equals in value the aggregate of real property, the proportion of the former returned for taxation is not in excess of one fifth of the total assessed valuation; while in the great city of New York, with a population of over a million, not one per cent of her citizens stand upon the books of the assessors as possessing any personal property subject to taxation other than shares in banking institutions.

In Wisconsin the State appears to have drifted into the same condition of things as in New York, and the attempt to tax personal property has been practically abandoned, except in the small villages and rural districts. In Georgia, which is reported to be well served by its taxing officials, its comptroller asserts that in respect to the mere article of merchandise which can be seen and handled, not fifty per cent is returned for taxation, and that in the city of Savannah in 1886 not ten watches were subjected to taxation.

To complete this record of experience it is desirable to add that there is not a single economist or financier of note, either in the United States or Europe, who upholds the "infinitesimal" or "general property" tax as a desirable or essential feature of any fiscal system, its characterization by M. Leroy-Beaulieu, the celebrated French economist, being that "a cruder instrumentality of taxation has rarely been devised."

Again, in every country on the globe where a direct tax on personal property in the hands of individuals has been laid, the system has exhibited the same features of badness. No experience in any country has suggested any practical improvements of it. It has never been improved; it has never grown better; it has always, under all circumstances, exhibited a tendency to grow worse. It is a fact creditable to the superior intelligence of other lands that it no longer is found in any civilized country on the globe, the United States alone excepted; and in this country it is no longer found in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and perhaps some other States.

Prof. E. A. R. Seligman, of Columbia University, who has written much on this subject, sums up the result of his investigations in the following language: "It will be no exaggeration to say that the general property tax in the United States is a dismal failure. Every country also, with the exception of Holland and the States of the Federal Union, has abandoned this system of tax as something wholly impractical. In recent years in both England and France