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THE ASSESSED TAXES_DIRECT AND INDIRECT
Few measures would be more popular than the repeal of the assessed taxes ; and we are therefore aware that, when we oppose that measure, we undertake an unpopular task. But, convinced as we are that the assessed taxes are much less objectionable than many others under which the country labours, and that their repeal will, even in a reformed Par. liament, prevent the removal, for a number of years, of any other tax, we proceed to state our grounds of dissent to the popular voice :
These taxes, for the year ending 5th January, 1832, amounted to £4,058,222, and consist of the following heads :
365,881 Horses for riding,
334,751 Other horses and mules, 57,221 Dogs,
13,780 Armorial bearings,
51,589 Game duties,
115,742 Composition duty,
by the Barons of Exche-
Scotland. £76,270 91,646 26,587 27,081 21,621
4,262 16,616 1,413
588 3,300 9,689
Great Britain. £1,178,469 1,357,206
The land tax for the same year yielded £1,133,222, in England, and £33,944, in Scotland ; total, £1,167,167. Houses under £10 of rent are not assessed, nor those containing fewer than six windows. It will thus be observed, that the assessed taxes fall entirely on the middle and upper ranks of society; and in this way an approach is made to the true principle of taxation, which is to make every one contribute according to his ability. This principle is, unfortunately, entirely overlooked in our system of taxation, for nearly the whole of our revenue is raised on expenditure. Thus, of the net revenue for last year, of fifty millions, the Customs and Excise produced thirty-five millions and a half, and the Stamps and Post Office about nine millions and a half more ; so that a person with a family is forced to contribute, not in proportion to his wealth, but in proportion to the size of his family. Farther, the assessed and land taxes are almost the only part of our revenue which is collected directly ; and it is a great advantage that a tax should pass through as few hands as possible, between the person by whom the tax is paid and the public treasury.
The great advantages of direct taxation can easily be elucidated, by considering the effect of an indirect tax, such as the Excise. The traders who are under the operation of this tax are shackled in every possible form. They are not masters of their own premises. They cannot work how they please and when they please, but every different operation in their manufacture can be performed only after a precise method, after certain prescribed notices, and on the elapse of specified periods of
time. The consequences of this are, that the improvement of our manufactures is retarded, for the effect of processes out of the specified course cannot be tried ; much annoyance, expense, and delay are occasioned, for all which the manufacturer must be reimbursed by the increased price of his commodity. Farther, the tax becomes enormously increased to the consumer, on whom it ultimately falls, when it is paid on the importation of an unmanufactured article, or at an early stage of the process of manufacture. The manufacturer, who pays the duty originally, must have a profit, not only on the capital expended in the purchase of his raw material, and on the wages of his workmen, rent, &c. but also on that part of his capital which is expended in the paying of duties to Government ; the wholesale dealer must also have a profit on the duty; and thus it proceeds, augmenting with an accelerating ratio, until it reaches the consumer. The more hands the taxed commodity passes through, between the first payer of the tax and the consumer, the heavier does the tax become ; but even in passing through a very few hands, it is seriously increased. Let us take, for example, the tax on malt: This tax is paid at first by the maltster, who is repaid by the distiller, with the usual mercantile profit. Suppose now the whisky to pass successively into the hands of a rectifier, a wholesale merchant, a retail merchant, and the consumer; and taking gross mercantile profits at only 10 per cent, we shall be surprised at the manner in which the consumer suffers by being taxed indirectly instead of directly. The maltster pays £1000, and receives £1100 from the distiller; who again receives £1210 from the rectifier. The wholesale-merchant pays £1331 ; the retail merchant £1464; and the consumer, instead of paying £1000, which is all the Government receives, has to pay £1610, an advance of 61 per cent ! Yet many commodities pass through many more hands between the original payer of the duty and the consumer. We are aware that this view has been maintained to be erroneous by political economists of great name, who, assuming that mercantile profit is 10 per cent per annum, contend that the same rate of profit cannot be received in each successive transfer. But it is forgotten that the whole difference between the buying and selling price of a commodity is not profit: rent, taxes, loss by bad debts, and many other deductions, must be made from the gross profit, before the net profit can be realized ; and 10 per cent is much less than is often necessary to cover these deductions. If we suppose the gross profit to be larger, of course the tax presses with increased severity on the consumer. For example, if the gross profits were 20 per cent, the malt tax, in the above case, would be augmented no less than 150 per cent to the consumer. We have kept entirely out of view the addition to the price of the commodity, independently of the duty, occasioned by the annoyance, interference, and loss of time and labour, in consequence of the Excise regulations, and the additional profits which dealers in commodities necessarily require to indemnify them for the discomfort and annoyance of a continual surveillance by revenue officers. Yet, such additional price, and additional profits, augmented in the manner we have shown, cannot fail to increase greatly the pressure of the tax on the consumer. That the free use of their premises, and the uncontrolled management of their manufacture, are of great value to manufacturers, was shown when the beer tax was repealed ; for the Scottish brewers reduced the price of ale and porter much more than the amount of the duty.
It may be asked, however, when the almost evident tendency of indirect taxation is so injurious, why have most governments resorted
to it; and how does it happen that the more the amount of our tax.. ation is increased, the greater is the proportion raised indirectly? the answer is simple : When taxes are collected directly, the amount of taxation borne by each individual is known ; and every man sees how much of every day he works for Government, and how much for himself. For instance, it would be seen, that in this country, out of every twelve hours he was employed, he wrought four for the State. He would discover that one of these hours was occupied in enabling him to provide for the demands upon him occasioned by the army and navy, and other two to pay his share of the interest of the national debt. Were these truths brought home to him once or twice a-year by the tax collector's argument ad crumenam, the enormous expenditure of Government would not long be submitted to. But advantage is taken of the ignorance of the people, to mystify and mislead them; and by the consumer, who is the ultimate loser, the tax is confounded with the price. Thus, we hear continual complaints of direct taxes, such as income, or poll, or assessed taxes, but few people consider, that when they buy a pound of soap, or of tea, one-half of the sum paid is received by Government.
However convenient such mistification may be for the rulers, it is very prejudicial to the ruled ; and, now that the people have some influence in the management of their own affairs, it is to be hoped that the taxes will be collected in the most economical mode, and that some 50 per cent will not be added to the burdens of the people by the mode of collecting our taxes. The most proper tax is one on property, for it is for the protection of property principally that the necessity of so large an expenditure by Government has become necessary. When a property tax is imposed, we have no objection to the repeal of the assessed taxes ; but, until we have a property tax, they should be allowed to remain, for they are principally collected from those who, from their wealth, are best able to bear them. Instead of being repealed, they ought to be extended to Ireland ; for it is ridiculous to exempt Ireland, on account of its poverty, from taxes which fall only on the wealthier classes. The shameful inequality in the collection of the house duty on the country seats of our nobility and gentry, should also be corrected; for at present, the most splendid mansions are taxed about as much as fifth-rate houses in large towns.
Notwithstanding the distress which has existed in this country since the end of the war, the use of many luxuries has greatly increased. Thus the number of carriages is much greater now than at the former period, and the revenue from this branch of our taxation seems to be annually increasing. The same remark is true of the tax on armorial bearings. These facts, as well as many others that could be adduced, show that there is a tendency in this country to a division of society into two classes :
: an aristocracy possessed of extensive landed estates, or of great wealth, invested in commerce, manufactures, banking, and stock-job. bing ; and a poor and depressed body of peasantry, and artisans. The situation of the working classes appears to be gradually deteriorating. Forty or fifty years ago, the peasantry in many parts of England were in the habit of brewing ale for the consumption of their families; but such a practice is now unknown. In England, every eighth man is a pauper, supported more or less by parochial aid. It is doubtful even if the progress of our manufactures has been beneficial to the lower orders; for, although the price of clothing has been very much reduced, it has deprived many of them of employment. Thus, formerly, the female
peasantry of Scotland found a constant source of employment, in spinning, knitting stockings, and in various domestic manufactures. Every farmer's wife made all the linen she used, and its manufacture gave employment to the wives and daughters of the farm servants, and to numerous country weavers. But now linen can be bought cheaper than it can be made in this way; and the peasantry themselves have ceased to cultivate flax, and purchase all the linen they require. Many females, who could formerly earn a decent livelihood, have thus been compelled to apply for parochial relief; for no employment has been found in place of that of which the rapid progress of our manufactures has deprived them. We need not, therefore, be surprised that the consumption of many articles of every-day use has not increased in a ratio proportional to the increase of our population. While the use of articles consumed by the higher classes, when not over-taxed, has gone on increasing, that of soap has rather fallen off; and pauperism is going on increasing, with fearful rapidity, in all our larger towns. The poor rates in England, which fell considerably at the end of the war, in consequence of the fall in the price of provisions, are now higher than at any former period, and are increasing from year to year. In Scotland, matters are proceeding in the same course. Ten or fifteen years ago the poor rates in the West Church parish, Edinburgh, which parish contains 70,000 inhabitants, were only sixpence in the pound. Since the end of the war a great many new buildings have been erected in the parish, and its rental has been much increased : yet the rates are now one shilling per pound; and a much larger proportion of the rental is assessed than formerly. In the city of Edinburgh, the rate of assessment is six per cent on the rental; but the managers have lately recommended an increase of one per cent. In the Barony parish of Glasgow, there were no poor rates in the year 1800. In 1803, £300 were found sufficient to provide for the poor. In 1810 the rates were £600; in 1814, £1700. In 1818, the assessment was two and a half per cent on the rental. In 1830, the rate was five and a half per cent, and £7150 were required for the poor !
In such a state of matters, the taxes which ought first to be repealed, are not those which are paid by the upper classes, but those which are paid by the lower. The necessaries of life must be reduced in price, before luxuries. Meat and drink are of more importance than armorial bearings and field sports. Notwithstanding the reduction in the tax. ation of late years, little relief has been experienced. The repeal of the tax on soap, which yields about £1,200,000 per annum, would be felt as a great boon, If the malt tax were repealed, every working man would have it in his power to drink daily a wholesome and nutritious beverage, and the consumption of ardent spirits, which is the great cause, among the lower classes, of misery and crime, would be much diminished. When these taxes are removed, the assessed taxes may be taken into consideration: but we will never advocate their removal, when the soap and malt taxes are continued in force. It is of more consequence that nineteentwentieths of the population should have it in their power to preserve their health by cleanliness and a wholesome beverage, than that the twentieth should be enabled to indulge in horses and dogs; and loll in carriages, emblazoned with their armorial bearings.
TRIP TO LONDON.
SCENE—The Great Cabin, PRESENT—Mr. Snody, a decent, elderly Scots
Farmer ; a Young Scotch Oxonian; Wheatly, a Cambridge man, returning from the wars on the Moors ; Half-pay Officer, and other Passengers, seated round a table, with lights, wine, glasses, rusks, nuts, nutcrackers, newspapers, Lord Ormelie's Declaration, Tait's Magazine, &c. &c. &c.
Enter Steward's attendant, with reinforcements.
How wears the Adelaide, my lad ?
SUB-STEWARD. Sweetly, sir; spanking on, twelve knots an hour-cuts the water like a duck; fine starry night ; Harwich Lighthouse a-head, and Aldborough right under us.
Aldborough right under us! I could laugh at that ; ha! ha! ha! “ There's an end of an old song.” The desolate Aldborough-the forsaken Aldborough—who now wooes Aldborough? (Whistles a few bars of Alley Croaker.) What process of association, Wheatly, suggests this Irish melody? Is it that of sympathy or contrast? There is a nut for your Cambridge grinders. What can have drifted us hitherward, Wheatly?
For loaves and fishes hungering,—
Though born to boroughmongering,
My Muse, should he provoke her,
Oh, pert Cir,
Why, nought his whole wit's cargo meant ;
Antithesis for argument.
He tried to be a joker ;
Oh, pert Cr-r,
Her bonds will soon be broken ;
The tyrant-tool hath spoken!