Sivut kuvina

on the disposable income, which, under the change of prices induced by the change in the corn laws, they will very soon be, even without any addition from farther taxes, it is wholly impossible that any landowner who does not possess enormous tracts of country, or vast funded or moneyed property in addition to his territorial possessions, can avoid insolvency. What the effect of the total destruction of the middle class of British landholders must be on the balance of the constitution, and the state of society in these islands, it is not our present purpose to inquire. Suffice it to say, that it is precisely the state of things which signalised the later stages of the Roman empire, and coincides with so many other circumstances in marking the striking analogy between our present condition and that which proved fatal to the ancient masters of the world.

Well may the Lords' Committee on the burdens affecting landed property have said, “ Neither the law nor the spirit of the constitution originally contemplated so partial a system of taxation."* In truth, originally some of the heaviest present exclusive burdens on real property were borne equally by personal estates. “ The poor-law of Elizabeth," says the report, “ and the land-tax of William and Mary, embraced every species of income ; but in consequence of the comparative facility of rating visible property, and the small amount of income derived from other sources in the early period of their assessment, personality seems to have escaped its legal share of contribution to the public service. The liability of stock in trade, however, was continued by law to a late period, and is, up to the present day, only suspended by an annual act of exemption.' The Committee here point out, or rather hint at, the real cause of the extraordinary exemption from their due share of the public burdens which has grown up insensibly in favour of movable property

Land has two admirable qualities in the estimation of Chancellors of the Exchequer. It can neither be concealed nor removed. Movable estates, stock in trade, are susceptible of both. The landholder has no secret invisible funds which he can bring forth, when desired, in the form of convenient loans to Government to meet the state necessities. He has only a visible fixed estate, which can

* Report, p. 9.

[ocr errors]

neither be concealed nor withdrawn from its annual burdens, and is not likely to be melted into a loan. Hence the influence and exemptions of the one, and the injustice experienced by, and burdens of, the other.

But in addition to this, there is another circumstance which has powerfully contributed to establish this extraordinary and iniquitous exemption of personal property from direct taxation. This is the difficulty, which in practice amounts to an impossibility, of getting by any means at the real amount of rateable personal property. The commissioners of the income-tax through the country will have no difficulty in understanding what is here meant. All the efforts of Government and their official organs, to ascertain the real amount of assessable movable property, have been insufficient to accomplish that end. Doubtless there are in the commercial and professional class many just and honourable men who give a true account to the last farthing of their gains. These are men, the honour and support of the country, whose word is their bond, and who may confidently be relied on to speak the truth under any circumstances. But, unhappily, experience has too clearly proved that the facility of concealing gains derived from stock in trade, and thus withdrawing it from its just liability for assessment, is too strong a temptation to be resisted by great numbers in the same line of life. The proof of this is decisive, and has been already given from a comparison of the income-tax, derived from land, and from trades and professions.* Is it possible to believe that the whole commercial and trading classes in Great Britain, whose wealth is in every direction purchasing up the estates of the landed proprietors in the island, only enjoy forty out of one hundred and seventy-five millions of the rateable national income ? Have they less than a fourth of the whole income rated to the income-tax? If they have no more, they certainly make a good use of what they have, and must deem themselves singularly fortunate in that happy exemption from taxation which has enabled them, with less than a fourth of the general income, to get the command of the state, and buy up

the properties of all the other classes.
There is one peculiarity in the income-tax, as at present

* See page 616.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

established, which is productive of the greatest injustice, and loudly calls for immediate remedy. This consists in the taxing all incomes at the same rate, whether derived from professional income, annuity, land, or realised funds. This is just another instance of the careless and reckless way in which our system of direct taxation has at different times been framed, without any regard to principle, and alternately unjustly favouring or grossly oppressing every class in society, except the great capitalists. They have been always and unduly considered. What can be more unjust than to tax every man of the same income at the same rate, whether it is derived from land or funded property, worth thirty years' purchase, or railway or bank stock worth twenty, or an annuity worth five, or a precarious professional income, which would not bring, from the uncertainty of life and the public favour, or the winds, or monetary changes, above two or three ? Under the present most unjust system, they all pay alike on their income—that is, some pay about FIFTEEN TIMES as much on what they are worth in the world in comparison with others ! A man who derives £300 a-year from the three-per-cents or land has a capital stock worth about £10,000. He pays as much, and no more, as a poor widow, just dropping into the grave, who has a jointure of £300 a-year, for which no insurance company in the kingdom would give her above £500, or a hard-working lawyer or country surgeon with the same income, whose chances of life and business are not worth three years' purchase. The gross injustice of this inequality requires no illustration.

Nor is it any answer to this to say, that if the professional and commercial classes are unduly oppressed by the income-tax, they are proportionally benefited by their general exemption from the heavy direct taxation which in other respects weighs down the land ; and that the one injustice may be set off against the other. We protest against the system of setting off one injustice against another : there is no compensation of evils in an equitable administration. In the present instance there can be no compensation, for the acts of injustice are committed against different classes. is the trading classes which enjoy the means, from the occult nature of their gains, of evading, by fallacious returns, the



income-tax. The honest and honourable pay it to the last farthing : it is the dishonest who escape. The persons upon whom the levying the income tax in its present form operates with the most cruel severity are the professional men and annuitants. They cannot evade it, as the trading classes

Their gains are generally known: if they are at all eminent or prosperous, the kindness or envy of the public generally helps them to at least a half more than they really enjoy. Merchants or shopkeepers are less in the public eye; and even when most prominent, their transactions are so various and widespread, that no one but themselves can estimate their profits. Everyone knows, or can easily guess, what Dr Chambers or the Attorney-general make a-year; but it would puzzle the most experienced heads on 'Change to say what were the yearly profits of the great bankers, merchants, and manufacturers.

There is another enormous injustice connected with the income tax, and, indeed, all the direct taxes to government, which loudly calls for remedy-Ireland pays none of them. It is high time that England and Scotland should rouse themselves to a sense of this most unreasonable and unjust exemption, and unite their strength by the proper constitutional means to remove it. We are always told Ireland cannot afford to pay any direct taxes. What, then, comes of its £12,000,000 of rental ? Scotland, with little more than a third of that land-rent, pays it and the assessed taxes besides, without either complaint or difficulty. But it is said the landlords are so eaten up with mortgages, that they have not a fourth part of their nominal incomes left to live upon. That is a good reason for only making them pay, as under the income-tax they would, on the free balance, deductis debitis. But, in the name of Heaven, why should the bondholders pay nothing ? If they sit at home at ease in Dublin, Cork, or Belfast, and quietly enjoy £9,000,000 out of the £12,000,000 of Irish rental, why cannot they as well pay the income-tax as their brethren in London, Liverpool, or Glasgow? The bondholders of Ireland alone would, if they paid an income-tax, contribute more to the common necessities of the State than the whole land and industry of Scotland put together. So vast are the natural resources which Providence has bestowed on that fickle and misguided people, and so few those enjoyed by the hardy and industrious Scotch mountaineers.

On what conceivable ground of justice or reason can this most monstrous and invidious exemption in favour of Ireland from income and assessed taxes be defended? Is it that Ireland, with its 12,000,000 arable acres, and 5,000,000 of mountain and waste, has fewer natural resources than Scotland, with its 4,500,000 of arable acres, and 12,000,000 of mountain and waste? Is it that 8,500,000 persons now in Ireland cannot pay even what 2,900,000 now pay in Scotland ? Is it that Ireland is so singularly peaceable and loyal, and gives so little anxiety or disquiet to the rest of the empire, that it must be rewarded for its admirable and dutiful conduct by an absolute exemption from all direct taxation to government? Is it that the troops required to be kept in it are so few, and in Scotland so numerous

, that the former country may be liberated from taxation, while the latter is subjected to it in full extent ? Is it that industry in towns in Ireland is so great, and manufacturing skill so transcendant, that it is entitled to be liberated from direct taxation in consideration of the vast amount of its indirect custom-house duties, in comparison of which those of London, yielding £12,000,000; of Liverpool, yielding £4,500,000 a-year ; or Glasgow and the Clyde harbours, yielding £1,200,000; and Leith, yielding £589,000, are as nothing? Or is it that this extraordinary exemption is the reward of tumult, disaffection, and treason ; of turbulent demagogues and factious priests, and an indolent people; of active and incessant combination for the purposes of evil, and total inability to combine for the purposes of good ? And is it the first-fruits of the regeneration of government by the Reform Bill, that it can raise a revenue only from the loyal and pacific and industrious part of the empire, and must proclaim relief from all taxation as the reward of tumult

, disorder, murder, monster meetings, and treason? We leave it to the advocates of the present system of government, or those who established it, to answer these questions. We did neither the one nor the other, but have constantly opposed both ; and Great Britain, in the system of direct taxation we have now exposed, is reaping the fruits of the changes she has thought proper to introduce.

« EdellinenJatka »