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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/520

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the so-called "invisible and intangible" property, with unerring certainty and equality.

All taxation ultimately and necessarily falls on consumption; and the burden of every man, under any equitable system of taxation, and which no effort will enable him to avoid, will be in the exact proportion or ratio which his aggregate consumption maintains to the aggregate consumption of the taxing district, State, or community of which he is a member.

It is not, however, contended that unequal taxation on competitors of the same class, persons, or things diffuses itself whether such inequality be the result of intention or of defective laws, and their more defective administration. And doubtless one prime reason why economists and others interested have not accepted the law of diffusion of taxes as here given is that they see, as the practical workings of the tax systems they live under, or have become practically familiar with, that taxes in many instances do seem to remain on the person who immediately pays them; and fail to see that such result is due—as in the case of the taxation of large classes of the so-called personal property—to the adoption of a system which does not permit of equality in assessment, and therefore can not be followed by anything of equality in diffusion. Such persons may not unfairly be compared to physicists, who, constantly working with imperfect instruments, and constantly obtaining, in consequence, defective results, come at last to regard their errors as in the nature of established truths.[1]


  1. In a like experience the Duke of Argyll, in his work The Unseen Foundations of Society, finds an explanation of the so-called theory of Ricardo, that the rent which a farmer of agricultural land pays as the price of its hire—that is to say, the price which he pays for the exclusive use of it—is no part of the cost of the crops he may raise upon it; a conclusion that can not be possibly true, unless it be also true that rent is paid for something that is not an indispensable condition of agricultural production. "Thus rights are in their very nature impalpable and invisible. They are not material things, but relations between many material things and the human mind and will. The right of exclusive use over land is a thing invisible and immaterial, as other rights are, and, although it is, and has been since the world began, the basis of all agricultural industry, it is a basis impalpable and invisible, whereas the material visible implements and tools, whose work depends upon it, are all visible and palpable enough, and all of which would never be were we to see them without the invisible rights upon which they depend. All of the former, in their place and order, are instruments of production; all of them catch the eye, and may easily engross the attention. On the other hand, if we are induced to forget those other elements, which are equally essential instruments of production, merely because they are out of sight, then our deception may be complete, and fallacies which become glaring when memory and attention are awakened may find in our half vacant minds an easy and even a cordial reception."

    Adam Smith may be fairly considered as having fully committed himself beyond all controversy in his great work, The Wealth of Nations, to the principle that taxes, with a degree of infallibility, diffuse themselves when they are levied uniformly on the same article; and he even goes so far as to admit that a tax upon labor, if it could be uniformly levied