duty is exhibited in making taxpayers do theirs. One of the multitude of plans suggested is a single tax on land; but that does not seem promising, for it would not prevent the discriminations that assessors make—discriminations that Mr. Roberts himself believes to be beyond the reach of even State supervision. Another is a more rigid enforcement of the personal-property tax; but this is equally unpromising. "The fact is," says Mr. Roberts, "that from the dawn of civilization the wit of man has failed to discover a plan by which intangible personal property could be made to pay its share of taxation, and it will never be made to pay on the ordinary assessment plan." Besides the increase of taxes on corporations, the taxation of franchises, which has just been authorized, and a general revision and simplification of tax laws, it has been proposed that a graded inheritance tax be adopted. Mr. Roberts is particularly enamored of this idea. But his advocacy of it betrays the same disregard of the rights of others, and leads to the same appeals to specious facts and arguments that always accompany the commission of aggression in politics as well as in war. His reasoning is that since "special privileges conferred by government," such as tariff laws, corporation laws, public franchises, etc., are "the foundation of most of the great fortunes of the country to-day"; since these fortunes are, to a considerable extent, "composed of personal property" that "very largely escapes taxation"; since the decedent has been "allowed the use and enjoyment of his fortune during life," and the beneficiary simply pays "a fee for the privilege of receiving an estate in the creation of which he had little or no hand"; and, finally, since he can make no just complaint against the payment of such a fee, as his right to receive his fortune "comes from the State—is by the grace of the State"—the seizure at death of a certain percentage of all estates beyond a prescribed amount would be only justice to "the mass of small landowners and taxpayers who have from year to year borne more than their equitable share of the burden of taxation." But the fallacies of such an argument are easily exposed. The moral ownership of property does not lie in the State; it lies in the labor and skill of the man that accumulated the property. The moral title to a bequest does not lie in that fiction either; it lies in the right of the decedent to do whatever he pleases with his own. If great fortunes have been unjustly acquired in consequence of special privileges a great wrong has been committed, and it is not righted by the commission of another wrong. The only reparation that can be made is to abolish the privileges. So obvious a suggestion does not, however, appear to have occurred to Mr. Roberts.
Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/674
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.