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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/663

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A STATE OFFICIAL ON EXCESSIVE TAXATION.

however, does not appear to take any such pleasant view of the future. He has none of the blood of Don Quixote flowing in his veins. The bestowal of the blessings of a Christian civilization with machine guns upon breech-clouted savages has no attractions for him. He sees that we have made such a disgraceful failure of the management of the contemptible things in which we have been so ignobly absorbed that we are threatened with national decadence! "While the contests against unjust and oppressive taxation," he says in his report for 1899, "have been the contests of freedom and civil and religious liberty in the world, it must not be forgotten that unjust and burdensome taxation has been in all ages the most prolific cause of national decadence as well. There are nations in Europe, once great and prosperous," he adds, thus recalling the warnings of Lord Salisbury's famous speech on the same subject, "which to-day seem dying of dry rot because, to meet their immense expenses and to pay interest on their great bonded debts, taxation has been increased beyond the safe limit, and the very sources of national prosperity have been taxed so that they run dry, or send down a rill where it should be a river. Few national diseases are more dangerous or harder to cure than burdensome taxation. Can any one charged with the responsibility of making tax laws," he asks, profoundly stirred by the startling facts that have come under his observation, "afford to ignore the undoubted lessons of history or the manifest tendency of the times in the matter of revenue raising and expending?"

Obvious as is the fitting answer to this question, it is one that few people stop to give. Both the lessons of history and the tendency of the times are willfully and incessantly ignored. Not only are they ignored by demagogues, who thrive most when public distress is greatest, and by misguided philanthropists, who seek to relieve it in ways that only intensify it. Even publicists, whose studies in history ought to make them more familiar with the signs of social decadence than a man of affairs with vision less extended, ignore them also. They seem to be as insensible to the real significance of what is going on before their eyes as the wooden totems of a burning tepee. But to minds more alert and penetrating, even if less congested with musty lore and fine intentions, the flight of the farming population to the cities is something besides "a great natural movement toward urban life that accompanies an advance in civilization"—it is a desperate but futile attempt to escape conditions that have become too hard to be borne. The swarms of impoverished and degraded humanity that crowd the slums to suffocation are not altogether the product of willful sloth and incapacity; they are due, in a measure, to the growing taxation that has