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Lastly, there is another peculiarity of the income-tax which requires revision, and that is this,--at present it descends only to £150 a-year income; and every one practically acquainted with these matters, knows that this, with the trading classes at least, whose gains can be concealed, amounts to a practical exemption, generally speaking, of all under at least £200 a-year. Nothing can be plainer than that, as matters stand at present, this exemption of all below such a line is invidious, unjust
, and, if persisted in, will lead to ruinous consequences. No reason can be assigned for it which will bear examination ; for it is to be supposed the practical necessity of conciliating the ten pounders, the great majority of whom escape the tax altogether in this way, will not, in public at least, be assigned as a reason, how cogent soever it may be felt and candidly acknowledged in private. Why should a man, whose income, perhaps derived from land or funded property below £150, pay nothing, while a hardworking clerk, attorney, or country surgeon, if honest in his return, who makes £155, and is not worth a tenth part of the other's realised capital, pays income-tax? It is in vain to say you must draw a line somewhere. So you must, but you must not draw it in a way to do gross and palpable injustice, to exempt the comparatively affluent, and oppress the industrious
There is a vital distinction, which it would be well if the income-tax recognised, between income, of any amount, derived from realised property and from professional exertions. By all means give the humble professional classes the benefit of this distinction. But to draw the line, not according to the quality of the income as derived from capital or labour, but from its absolute amount, is arbitrary, invidious, and unjust.
The great advantage to be derived from making the income-tax, modified as now suggested, descend lower in society is, that it would interest a larger number in guarding against its abuse. At present, it is said, there are three hundred and twenty thousand persons rated to the incometax in Great Britain, but not half of them really pay on their own account. Many pay the income tax of one; as a landlord's whole tenants for his rent, though not more than one or two, perhaps none, certainly not half the number, are separate persons whose incomes are really made liable. But can anything be more unjust than to select in this way a particular class, not more than a two-hundredth part of the community, and subject them, and them alone, to the heaviest of the direct taxes ? It is just the privileged class of old France over again, with this difference, that the privileged class in England is distinguished by being obliged to bear not to avoid, the hated taille. Nevertheless, nothing is more certain than that, as long as this invidious and unjust accumulation of the whole direct tax is on one class of 150,000 persons, it will be highly popular with the remaining 29,000,000, and that the popular journals will never cease to resound with the propriety of extending still farther the partial burden of direct, and the general exemption under the name of Free Trade from the indirect taxes.
The increase of direct taxation, till it proved fatal to industry, population, national strength, and everything save great capital, was the cause of the ruin of the Roman empire. Many circumstances, alas ! concur in showing, and will ere long demonstrate to the most inconsiderate, that we are fast following in the same direction ; and if so, we shall beyond all question share the same fate. The extension of the income-tax, on a graduated scale, to persons as low even as £50 a-year, is the only way to arrest this great and growing evil. What is wanted is not the money to be drawn from these poorer but more numerous classes, but the interesting them in resisting its undue extension. If 150,000 persons only pay the income-tax, it is very likely ere long to be raised to 10 or 15 per cent. If a million pay it, no such extension need be dreaded. No matter though the additional 850,000 pay only 10s. a piece, or £425,000 in all: their doing so would probably save the state from ruin. What is wanted is not their money, but their breath ; not their contributions, but their clamour. They have a majority of votes in the constituencies. In a serious conflict, their voice would be decisive in favour of any side they espoused. Interested to prevent the confiscation of property, they will effectually do so. Exempted from direct taxation, they will promote its increase till it has swallowed up the state, and themselves in its ruin, as it did the Roman empire.
So much has been said on the inequalities and injustice of the present system of direct taxation established in Great
Britain, that little room remains for the true principles on the subject ; but fortunately, like a beacon, it shows what rock should be avoided in the course. A system of direct taxation would not be far from just, which in every respect was precisely the reverse of that which at present exists amongst us.
I. The first thing to be done is to equalise the succession tax, lay it equally on land and personal estate, and lower it to the whole one-half. Five per cent in succession to strangers ; two and a half to relations; and a half per cent to parents or brothers, alike in land and
probably augment the produce of the tax, and certainly greatly relieve a most meritorious class of society, the representatives of small capitals.
II. All direct taxes should be levied equally on landed and personal estates, and, subject to the distinction aftermentioned, equally on professional income, as on the fruit of realised capital. This rule should apply to all local or parochial, as well as public burdens. The effect of it would be to let in, as taxable income, in addition to the £2,666,000 now derived from land, a sum at least as large derived from personal estates or incomes. It would therefore lower this most oppressive tax, supposing its absolute amount diminished one-half. The same would be the case with land-tax, highway rates, church rates, police rates, &c. They would all be lowered a half to the persons at present burdened with them, and that simply by the adoption of the just principle, that all fortunes in the same situation should be taxed alike for the general service of the state, and that the commercial classes who create the poor, and are enriched by their labour, should contribute equally with the landed to their support.
III. In levying the income-tax, a different rate should be imposed on income, according as it is derived or not derived from realised capital. If it is so, it should be taxed alike for all direct taxes. But if it is derived from annuity or professions, a lower rate should be adopted. If the property tax is 5 per cent, the income tax should not exceed 27 per cent; whatever the one is the other should be a half of it only. This modification of an impost now felt as so oppressive by all subjected to it, would go far towards reconciling the numerous class of small traders--the great majority in all urban constituencies, to the change--to its continuance,
and also justify its extension to all incomes above £50 or £100 a-year. Without this extension it will inevitably degenerate into a confiscation of property above a certain level.
IV. Stamps or conveyances, or burdening of property, should be the same, and not higher, on personalty or landed estates. For the additional security of the latter, the borrower pays amply in the greater expense of the law deeds requisite to constitute effectual securities over real estates than over stock or movable funds. Stamps on bills, &c., which are advances for a short period only, should be rated at a widely different scale from that adopted in permanent loans. But there is no reason why securities over real estates should require to be written on paper bearing a higher stamp than those over personal effects.
V. The present system of the assessed taxes should be altered, so as to make it include all classes alike, and not, as at present, fall twice as heavily on the inhabitants of the country as those of towns. This may be done best by making these taxes a certain proportion of the value of the house inhabited by the party, as rated for the property tax —perhaps a fourth or fifth part, abolishing all other assessed taxes. This would reach all classes alike in town and country; for whatever may be said as to doing without an establishmentin town, no one can do even there without a house. And the rich misers who live in a poor lodging, and spend nothing, would be effectually reached in the heavy property tax on their funds wherever invested.
VI. To obviate the innumerable frauds daily practised in the concealment of professional incomes, especially by small traders, a power should be given to the commissioners in all cases where they were dissatisfied with the return of professional income, to assess the party for income at five or six times the value at which his house is rated. On this principle, if a lawyer or physician lives in a house rated at $100 a-year, he would pay on £500 a-year as income ; if he occupied one rated at £2000, he would be taxed on £10,000. If the tax on realised property was 5 per cent, which it will soon be, that would just subject the professional one to 21. Perhaps it would be better to adopt some such general principle for all cases of professional income, and avoid the requiring returns at all.
In some cases the above plan might be adopted as a substitute for the income-tax, or rather as a mode of levying it on professional persons. Those whose income is derived from land, the funds, or other realised property, would be entitled to exemption or deduction, upon production of the proper evidence that they were rated for the property tax at the higher rate.
VII. Ireland should pay the income and all direct taxes, at least on land, bonds, and other realised property, as well as the assessed and other direct taxes, just as Great Britain. Nothing can be advanced, founded either in reason or justice, in favour of the further continuance of the present most invidious and unjust exemption of the wealthy proprietors or bondholders in that country. Any exemptions in favour of its infant industry would be cheerfully acquiesced in by all the rest of the empire.
We have thus laid before our readers a just and reasonable system of direct taxation, from which the landed interest, now so unjustly oppressed, would derive great relief, simply by doing equal justice to them and the other classes in the state. The amount of injustice which such a system would remove, may be accurately measured by the amount of resistance which the system we have now advocated would doubtless experience, just as the injustice of the exemption from direct taxation enjoyed by the nobles and clergy of old France was measured by the obstinate resistance they made to an equalisation of the public burdens. Men cling to nothing with such a tenacity as unjust privileges and exemptions. But the changes we recommend have one lasting recommendation — they are founded on obvious justice. They go only to levy all taxes alike on all classes, in proportion, as nearly as may be, to their ability to pay them. And we implore the Conservative body, with whom we have so long acted, to consider whether it would not be far wiser to unite their strength to convince the country of the justice and expedience of some, at least, of these changes, than to follow the example of the Free-traders in urging the repeal of the malt-tax, which could only be followed, as no addition to the indirect taxes is to be thought of, by a vast increase of the income-tax, two-thirds of which would fall on thic land itself.