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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/761

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THE BEST METHODS OF TAXATION.

are regarded as theorists, and denounced as unpractical. No where is the tendency to move independent of enlightened knowledge more evident than in the United States. At every appearance of the tax question, State and national legislatures are overwhelmed with measures that have been tried in the past, and after a thorough test condemned beyond any hope of defense.

Yet history shows the gradual disappearance of certain forms of taxation which enjoyed great popularity for a time, and accomplished the end of their creation in a crude and often cruel manner. Looking over long periods of time, it is seen that some advances have been made, rather from a change in the economic condition of the people than from a true appreciation of the principles in question. The development of popular liberty has been an essential factor, and the alterations in tax methods require a close analysis of the causes leading to the rise and dominance of political and constitutional principle. While it is true that a popular uprising against fiscal exactions usually marked the limit of endurance of an oppressive system, it is also true that the same uprisings marked the completion of one stage of political development, and the readiness or even the need of entering upon a new stage. In one sense the progress of a people toward civilization in its highest meaning may be illustrated by its fiscal machinery and methods of obtaining its revenue from the people. It will be of interest to glance at some of these passing phases which have generally come down to a late day, and are still to be found in activity in some of the most advanced states of Europe.

The practice of farming out the revenues of a state or any part of it has become nearly obsolete, and where it does exist is the mark of a fiscal machinery as yet not fully developed. The opportunities and temptation which the contract system offered for oppressing the taxpayers were apparent long before the state was in a position to assert its ability to make its own collections. In France the fermiers généraux were a political factor, standing between the king and his people, regarded as necessary to the former and as oppressors of the latter. Their unpopularity, in part justified by their conduct, was a not unimportant item in the arraignment of royalty by the people. Wherever introduced, the farming of taxes proved in the long run as unwise politically as it was unprofitable financially; and the only reasonable defense for adopting it was the want of strength in the state to command its own revenue—a want as likely to arise from the dishonesty of its agents as from a political weakness. In early times the most universal manner of supplying the treasury of the state, the farming of taxes has become so rare as to be classed as a curiosity. Italy still employs this machinery to collect her taxes on tobacco, and