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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/336

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

in the enactment of statutes for their assessment. Thus, a tax commission of Massachusetts, as the result of their investigations, arrived at the conclusion that "the tendency of taxes is that they must be paid by the actual persons on whom they are levied." But a little thought must, however, make clear that unless the advancement of taxes and their final and actual payment are one and the same thing, the Massachusetts statement is simply an evasion of the main question at issue, and that its authors had no intelligent conception of it. A better proposition, and one that may even be regarded as an economic axiom, is that, regarding taxation as a synonym for a force, as it really is, it follows the natural and invariable law of all forces, and distributes itself in the line of least resistance. It is also valuable as indicating the line of inquiry most likely to lead to exact and practical conclusions. But beyond this it lacks value, inasmuch as it fails to embody any suggestions as to the best method of making the involved principle a basis for any general system for correct taxation; inasmuch as "the line of least resistance" is not a positive factor, and may be and often is so arranged as to make levies on the part of the State under the name of taxation subservient to private rather than public interests. Under such circumstances the question naturally arises, What is the best method for determining, at least, the approximative truth in respect to this vexed subject? A manifestly correct answer would be: first, to avoid at the outset all theoretic assumptions as a basis for reasoning; second, to obtain and marshal all the facts and conditions incident to the inquiry or deducible from experience; third, recognize the interdependence of all such facts and conclusions; fourth, be practical in the highest degree in accepting things as they are, and dealing with them as they are found; and on such a basis attention is next asked to the following line of investigations.

It is essential at the outset to correct reasoning that the distinction between taxation and spoliation be kept clearly in view. That only is entitled to be called a tax law which levies uniformly upon all the subjects of taxation; which does not of itself exempt any part of the property of the same class which is selected to bear the primary burden of taxation, or by its imperfections to any extent permits such exemptions. All levies or assessments made by the State on the persons, property, or business of its citizens that do not conform to such conditions are spoliations, concerning which nothing but irregularity can be predicated; nothing positive concerning their diffusion can be asserted; and the most complete collection of experiences in respect to them can not be properly dignified as "a science." And it may be properly claimed that from a nonrecognition or lack of appreciation of the broad distinction between taxation and spoliation,