A Study of Mexico/Chapter VIII

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A Study of Mexico  (1887)  by David Ames Wells
Chapter VIII


Taxation in Mexico—Each State and town its own custom-houses—Practical illustrations of the effect of the system—Cost of importing a stove from St. Louis—Export taxes—Mexican taxation a relic of European mediævalism—The excise or internal tax system of Mexico—A continuation of the old "alcavala" tax of Spain—Effect of taxation upon general trade—The method of remedy most difficult—Parallel experience of other countries—Greatest obstacle to tax reform in Mexico.


Of all the economic features of Mexico there is no one more novel, interesting, and instructive, and withal more antagonistic in its influence to the development of the country, than the system by which the Government—Federal, State, and municipal—raises the revenue essential to defray its necessary expenditures.

The general characteristics of the Mexican tariff, or system of taxing imports, have been already noticed. But one altogether anomalous and absurd feature of it remains to be pointed out. In all commercial countries, save those which permit the levy by certain municipalities of the so-called "octroi" taxes, when foreign articles or merchandise have once satisfied all customs requirements at a port, or place of entry, and have been permitted to pass the frontier, they are exempted from any further taxation as imports, or so long as they retain such a distinctive character.[1] But, in Mexico, each State of the republic has practically its own custom-house system; and levies taxes on all goods—domestic and foreign—passing its borders; and then, in turn, the several towns of the States again assess all goods entering their respective precincts. The rate of State taxation, being determined by the several State Legislatures, varies and varies continually with each State. In the Federal district—i. e., the city of Mexico—the rate was recently two per cent of the national tariff; but, in the adjoining State of Hidalgo, it was ten per cent, and in others it is as high as sixteen per cent.[2] The rate levied by the towns is said to be about nine per cent of what the State has exacted; but in this there is no common rule. Thus, under date of April 9, 1886, an official of the "Mexican National Railroad" writes: "Goods destined for San Luis (i. e., via railway) pay a local tax in Laredo, Mexico, but on arrival at San Luis pay a municipal tax. These taxes are eternally changing, and are sometimes prohibitory. Take lumber, for example. Three months ago there was a municipal tax of thirty dollars per one thousand feet. This has now been reduced. to one dollar per one thousand feet; but there is no certainty that the old tax will not be restored." Nor is this all. For the transit of every territorial boundary necessitates inspection, assessment, the preparation of bills of charges, and permits for entry; and all these transactions and papers involve the payment of fees, or the purchase and affixing of stamps. Thus, by section 377 of the tariff law of December, 1884, it is ordained "that the custom-house shall give to every individual who makes any importation, upon the payment of duties, a certificate of the sum paid, which certificate, on being presented to the administrator of the stamp-office in the place of

importation, shall be changed for an equal amount in custom-house stamps. For this operation the interested party shall pay, to the administrator of whom he receive the stamps, two per cent in money (coin) of the total value of the stamps." All imports into Mexico at the present time are liable, therefore, to these multiple assessments; and the extent to which they act as a prohibition on trade may be best illustrated by a few practical examples.

In 1885, an American gentleman, residing in the city of Mexico as the representative of certain New England business interests, with a view of increasing his personal comfort, induced the landlady of the hotel where he resided (who, although by birth a Mexican, was of Scotch parentage) to order from St. Louis an American cooking-stove, with its customary adjuncts of pipes, kettles, pans, etc. In due time the stove arrived; and the following is an exact transcript of the bills contingent, which were rendered and paid upon its delivery:

Original Invoice:

I stove weight 282 pounds.
I box pipe " 69  "
I box stove-furniture " 86  "
Total 437 pounds, or 199.3 kilos.
Cost in St. Louis, United States currency $26 50
Exchange at 20 per cent  5 30
Total $31 80
Brought forward $31 80
Freight from St. Louis to city of Mexico (rail), at
$3.15 per 100 pounds.
$15 75
Mexican consular fee at E1 Paso 4 85
Stamps at El Paso 45
Cartage and labor on boxes examined by custom-
house at El Paso
Forwarding commission, E1 Paso 2 00
Exchange 1623 per cent on $7.64 freight advanced
by Mexican Central Railroad
1 25 $56 60
Import Duties:
I box, 128 kilos (stove), iron, without brass or cop-
per ornaments, at 19 cents per kilo
$24 42
I box, 31.3 kilos, iron pipe, at 24 cents per kilo. 7 51
I box iron pots, with brass handles, at 24 cents per
9 48
$41 41
Add 4 per cent as per tariff. 1 65
$43 06
Package duty, 50 cents per 100 kilos 1 00
$44 06
Add 5 per cent as per tariff 2 20
$46 26
Add 2 per cent municipal duty 93
$47 19
Add 5 per cent consumption duty 2 36
$49 55
Dispatch of goods at Buena Vista station, city of
Stamps for permit 50
———— $50 43
$107 03
Cartage in city of Mexico 75
Total $107 78
Original cost of stove, with exchange $31 80
Freight, consular fees, and forwarding 24 80
Import duties 50 43
Cartage 75
 Total $107 78

[Note.—This stove was shipped from £1 Paso in a lot of goods for Messrs. & Co., the largest importing house in Mexico, thereby saving an expense of two thirds the consular fee—114.56—which, if paid on the invoice alone, would have added $9.71 to charges, and raised the total to ($117.49.]

In 1878 Hon. John W. Foster, then United States minister to Mexico, in a communication to the Manufacturers' Association of the Northwest (Chicago), thus analyzed the items of the cost, in the city of Mexico, of a tierce, weighing gross 328 pounds, containing 300 pounds (net) of sugar-cured hams:

New York cost, 300 pounds at 11 cents $33 00
New York expenses, such as cartage, consular invoice (4 gold),
manifest, etc., average 5 per cent on large shipments.
1 65
Freight from New York to Vera Cruz at I cent per pound, pay-
able in New York
3 25
Exchange on New York, $37.90 at 18 per cent. 6 82
Import duties in Vera Cruz, 138 kilos at 24 cents per kilo. 33 12
Municipal duties in Vera Cruz, $1.03 for every 400 pounds. 84
Lighterage and handling from steamer to warehouse ($i to $1.50
per every 200 pounds).
1 63
Maritime brokerage, 2 per cent on freight ($3.25} 07
Opening and closing barrel 50
Additional charges in Vera Cruz for stamps and cartage to rail-
road-station, etc
1 50
Commission in Vera Cruz, 2 per cent on $70.66 1 41
 Carried forward $83 79
 Brought forward $83 79
Exchange on Vera Cruz, 1 per cent on $39.06 39
Railroad freight from Vera Cruz to Mexico, 140 kilos, at $54.32
a ton
7 60
Local duties in city of Mexico, 2 per cent on Federal duty,
12 66
Local expenses in city of Mexico, cartage from depot, expenses
in custom-house, etc
 Total $93 19

The net cost of one pound of imported American ham in the city of Mexico in 1878 was therefore 31 cents, or $1 in hams in New York was equal to $2.82 in Mexico! A similar analysis showed an invoice of ten kegs of cut nails, costing two and a half cents per pound in New York, or $22.50, to have cost 1416100 cents per pound, or $141.64, when imported, in the city of Mexico; or $1 value in nails in New York was equal to $6.29 in Mexico. In the case of salt, costing $2 per barrel in New York, the cost of importation was $20.40; or $1 of salt in New York was equal to $10.20 in Mexico! And in the case of (Milwaukee) beer, a barrel costing, on board steamer in New Orleans, $13, cost $35.61 in the city of Mexico. It is clear, therefore, as Mr. Foster points out in connection with the above exhibits, that "articles of the most common use in the United States must be luxuries in Mexico, on account of their high price"; and that while "this would be the case, with such charges, in almost any country, however rich it might be, it is especially so in Mexico, where there is so much poverty."[3]

Again, the Mexican tariff provides that the effects of immigrants shall be admitted free. "But this," writes an officer of the "Mexican National Railroad Company," "is practically a dead letter, from the fact that interior duties are levied on everything the immigrant has, before he gets settled; and these are so great that no one goes. I've never known but one case go through Laredo. . . . A carpenter, or other mechanic, who desires to get employment in Mexico, has such heavy duties levied on his tools on passing the national or State frontiers, that few are willing or able to pay them. Hence few American mechanics find their way into the country, unless in accordance with special contract."

This practice of locally taxing interstate commerce is in direct contravention of an article in the Mexican Constitution of 1857, and it is said also of express decisions of the national Supreme Court. Several of the leading States of Mexico have at different times tried the experiment of prohibiting it by legislative enactments; but the States and municipalities of the country are always hard pressed to raise money for their current expenditures, and find the taxing of merchandise in transit so easy a method of partially solving their difficulties that the Federal authorities have not yet been able, or, speaking more correctly, willing to prevent it.[4] The reciprocity treaty, which was recently proposed between the United States and Mexico, provided that certain articles exported from the United States into Mexico should be admitted free of all import duties, whether Federal or local; but it did not prohibit, as has been generally supposed, the several Mexican States from taxing such imports, in common with other articles, when the same are found within their jurisdiction! And it is claimed that such taxes are not in the nature of import duties. But, be this as it may, the effect on the internal commerce of Mexico is substantially one and the same.

The Mexican tariff system also provides for the taxation of exports, notably on the following products: gold bullion, one fourth of one per cent; silver bullion, one half of one per cent; coined gold and silver, having already paid at the mint, exempt; orchil (a lichen from which a fine purple dye is obtained), $10 per ton;[5] wood for work and construction, $2.50 per 31.3 American cubic feet Small export duties are also imposed on coffee and heniquen. A revision of the Mexican tariff, with a view of modifying certain of its exorbitant duties, more especially those levied on the importation of wines and liquors and certain articles of food, has been recently recommended (1885) to the Government by a committee of delegates of prominent men of business from different parts of the republic.

The existence in a state of the New World of a system of taxation so antagonistic to all modem ideas, and so destructive of all commercial freedom, is certainly very curious, and prompts to the following reflections: First, how great were the wisdom and foresight of the framers of the Constitution of the United States in providing, at the very commencement of the Federal Union, that no power to tax in this manner, and for their own use or benefit, should ever be permitted to the States that might compose it (Article I, section 10). Second, how did such a system come to be ingrafted on Mexico, for it is not a modem contrivance? All are agreed that it is an old-time practice and a legacy of Spanish domination.

But, further than this, may it not be another of those numerous relics of European mediævalism which, having utterly disappeared in the countries of their origin, seem to have become embalmed, as it were, in what were the old Spanish provinces of America—a system filtered down through Spanish traditions from the times when the imposition of taxes and the regulation of local trade were regarded by cities and communities in the light of an affirmation of their right to self-government, and as a barrier against feudal interference and tyranny; and when the idea of protecting industry through like devices was also not limited as now to international commerce, but was made applicable to the commercial intercourse of cities and communities of the same country, and even to separate trades or "guilds" of the same city? Whether such speculations have any warrant in fact or not, it is at least certain that we have in the Mexico of to-day a perfect example of what was common in Europe in the middle ages; namely, of protection to separate interests (through taxation) carried out to its fullest and logical extent, and also of its commercial and industrial consequences.[6] So much for the tariff system of Mexico. The "excise" or "internal revenue" system of the country is no less extraordinary. It is essentially a tax on sales, collected in great part through the agency of stamps—a repetition of the old "alca-vala" tax of Spain,[7] which Adam Smith, in his "Wealth of Nations," describes as one of the worst forms of taxation that could be inflicted upon a country, and as largely responsible for the decay of Spanish manufactures and agriculture. Thus the Mexican law, re-enacted January, 1885, imposes a tax of "one half of one per cent upon the value in excess of $20 of transactions of buying or selling of every kind of merchandise, whether at wholesale or retail, in whatever place throughout the whole republic." Also, one half of one per cent "on all sales and resales of country or city property; upon all exchanges of movable or immovable property; on mortgages, transfers, or gifts, collateral or bequeathed inheritances; on bonds, rents of farms, when the rent exceeds $2,000 annually; and on all contracts with the Federal, State, or municipal governments. Every inhabitant of the republic who sells goods to the value of over $20 must give to the buyer "an invoice, note, or other document accrediting the purchase," and affix to the same, and cancel, a stamp corresponding to the value of the sale. Sales at retail are exempt from this tax; and retail sales are defined to be "sales made with a single buyer, whose value does not exceed $20. The reunion, in a single invoice, of various parcels, every one of which does not amount to $20, but which in the aggregate exceed that quantity," remains subject to the tax. Retail sales in the public markets, or by ambulatory sellers, or licensed establishments whose capital does not exceed $300, are also exempt. Tickets of all descriptions—railroad, theatre, etc.—must have a stamp, as must each page of the reports of meetings; each leaf of a merchant's ledger, day or cash book, and every cigar sold singly, which must be delivered to the buyer in a stamped wrapper. Sales of spirits at wholesale pay three per cent; gross receipts of city railroads, four per cent; public amusements, two per cent upon the amount paid for entrance; playing-cards, fifty per cent—paid in stamps—on the retail price; and manufactured tobacco a variety of taxes, proportioned to quality and value. Mercantile drafts are taxed at $10 per $1,000, which means a dollar on every hundred.

Farms, haciendas and town estates are required to be taxed at the rate of $3 per each $1,000 of the valuation, but such is the influence of the land-owners that the valuation is almost nominal. In Vera Cruz the rate is reported at about 2 mills on the dollar for the most productive portions of country estates; while in the Pacific State of Colima the rate is said to be 112 per cent. Land and buildings not actually producing income are exempt from taxation, notwithstanding they may be continually enhancing in value.[8]

In the towns, this system of infinitesimal taxation is indefinitely repeated, the towns acting as collectors of revenue for the Federal and State governments, as well as for their own municipal requirements. All industries pay a monthly fee: as tanneries, 50 cents; soap-factories, $1. So also all shops for the sale of goods pay according to their class, from a few dollars down to a few cents per month. Each beef animal, on leaving a town, pays 50 cents; each fat pig, 25 cents; each sheep, 12 cents; each load of corn, fruit, vegetables, or charcoal, 6 cents (as a supposed road-tax), and so on; and, on entering another town, all these exactions are repeated. A miller, in Mexico, it is said, is obliged to pay thirty-two separate taxes on his wheat, before he can get it from the field and offer it, in the form of flour, on the market, for consumption. As a matter of necessity, furthermore, every center of population—small and big, city, town, or hamlet—swarms with petty officials, who are paid to see that not an item of agricultural produce, of manufactured goods, or an operation of trade or commerce or even a social event, like a fandango, a christening, a marriage, or a funeral, escapes the payment of tribute.[9] Great complaint is made, in the Territory of Lower California and probably elsewhere, at the existence and rigid enforcement of a tax-law known as "portazgo" the operation of which is thus described by United States Consul Turner, in a recent report to the State Department: "Under the present general tariff, lumber, horses, cattle, hogs, and some other products, can be imported from foreign countries free of duty; but, if any of these same products are brought here (La Paz) from any part of Mexico, an excessive duty is imposed upon them. Cattle may be landed here from California free of duty; but, if a poor 'ranchero' brings a cow to La Paz to sell, he must pay a duty of $2 upon it—that is, if he brings it by water; for it is one of the curiosities of this regulation that all articles introduced by land enter free, and all brought by water pay duties. The enforcement of this law is universally complained of, all over the Territory, and induces all to become smugglers."

Note.—[To understand the full meaning of these revenue regulations, it must be remembered that the Mexican Territory of Lower California is separated from the other territory of Mexico by the Gulf of California; and therefore, whatever enters the territory from the other parts of the republic must be transported by water.]

In fact, trade is so hampered by this system of taxation, that one can readily understand and accept the assertion that has been made, that people with capital in Mexico really dread to enter into business, and prefer to hoard their wealth, or restrict their investments to land (which, as before pointed out, is practically exempt from taxation), rather than subject themselves to the never-ending inquisitions and annoyances which are attendant upon almost every active employment of persons and capital, even were all other conditions favorable. Mexico, from the influence of this system of taxation alone, must, therefore, remain poor and undeveloped; and no evidence or argument to the contrary can in any degree weaken this assertion. Doubtless there are many intelligent people in Mexico who recognize the gravity of the situation, and are most anxious that something should be done in the way of reform. But what can be done? If autocratic powers were to be given to a trained financier, thoroughly versed in all the principles of taxation and of economic sciences, and conversant with the results of actual experiences, the problem of making things speedily and radically better in this department of the Mexican state is so difficult that he might well shrink from grappling with it.

In the first place, the great mass of the Mexican people have little or no visible, tangible property which is capable of direct assessment.

Again, in any permanent system of taxation, taxes in every country or community, in common with all the elements of the cost of production and subsistence—wages, profits, interest, depreciation, and materials—must be substantially drawn from each year's product. Now, the annual product of Mexico is comparatively very small. Thus, for example, Mr. Sutton, United States consul-general at Matamoros, as before noticed, has shown that the annual product of the single State of South Carolina is absolutely two and a half times—or, proportionally to area, twenty-five times—as valuable as the annual product of the entire northern half of Mexico; and the Argentine Republic of South America, with only one third of the population of Mexico, has a revenue twenty per cent greater, and double the amount of foreign commerce. Product being small, consumption must of necessity be also small. Ex-Consul Strother (report to State Department, United States, 1885) says: "The average cost of living (food and drink) to a laboring-man in the city of Mexico is about twenty-five cents per day; in the country from twelve and a half to eighteen cents. The average annual cost of a man's dress is probably not over five dollars; that of a woman double that sum, with an undetermined margin for gewgaws and cheap jewelry." Mr. Lambert, United States consul at San Bias, reports under date of May, 1884: "The average laborer and mechanic of this country may be fortunate enough, if luck be not too uncharitable toward him, to get a suit of tanned goat-skin, costing about six dollars, which will last him as many years."

Consul Campbell, of Monterey, under date of October, 1885, reports: The Mexican laborer is at but small cost for his clothing. He wears instead of shoes, sandals, which are nothing more than pieces of sole-leather cut to the size of the foot and tied on by strings of dressed hide. His clothes are made of the coarse, heavy linen of the country, and a full suit costs him $2.50. He always carries a blanket, which in many cases is woven by the women of his family, but, in case he buys it, costing from $2.50 to $10; but, as one blanket will last him many years, it adds but little to his yearly expenses. The total cost of clothing for one year will not exceed $10 or $12, He is at an equally small expense for the necessary clothing for his family. Four or five dollars a year will provide one or two calico dresses for his wife; and his children, when clothed at all, are but scantily covered with the remnants laid aside by the parents. Of household goods he is ignorant. A few untanned hides are used for beds, and dressed goat or. sheep skins serve for mattress and covering.

The food of the masses consists mainly of agricultural products—corn (tortillas), beans (frijoles), and fruits, which are for the most part the direct results of the labor of the consumer, and not obtained through any mechanism of purchase or exchange. Persons conversant with the foreign commerce of Mexico are also of the opinion that not more than five per cent of its population buy at the present time any imported article whatever; or that, for all purposes of trade in American or European manufactures, the population is much in excess of half a million. Revenue in Mexico from any tariff on imports must, therefore, be also limited; and this limitation is rendered much greater than it need be by absurdly high duties; which (as notably is the case of cheap cotton fabrics) enrich the smuggler and a few mill-proprietors, to the great detriment of the national exchequer.

It is clear, therefore, that the basis available to the Government for obtaining revenue through the taxation of articles of domestic consumption, either in the processes of production, or through the machinery of distribution, is of necessity very narrow; and that if the state is to get anything, either directly or indirectly, from this source, there would really seem to be hardly any method open to it, other than that of an infinitesimal, inquisitorial system of assessment and obstruction, akin to what is already in existence.[10]

Note.—This curious tax experience of Mexico, although especially striking and interesting, is not exceptional, but finds a parallel, in a greater or less degree, in all countries of low civilization, small accumulation of wealth, and sluggish society movement. Thus, in the British island and colony of Jamaica, populated mainly by emancipated blacks and their descendants (554,132 out of a total of 580,804 in 1881), who own little or no land, and through favorable climatic conditions require the minimum of clothing and shelter, and little of food other than what is produced spontaneously, or by very little labor, the problem of how to raise revenue by any form of taxation, for defraying the necessary expenses of government, has been not a little embarrassing. For the year 1884, the revenue raised from taxation on this island represented an average assessment of about $3.40 per head of the entire population; but of this amount an average of about fifty cents only per head could be obtained from any excise or internal taxation; and this mainly through the indirect agency of licenses and stamps, and not by any direct assessment The balance of receipts was derived from import and export duties, and from special duties on rum, which last furnished nearly one fourth of the entire revenue. During the same year the average taxation of the people of the United States—Federal, State, and municipal—was in excess of fourteen dollars per capita. A condition of things in British India, analogous to that existing in Jamaica, has for many years necessitated the imposition of very high taxes upon salt, as almost the only method by which the mass of the native population could be compelled to contribute anything whatever toward the support of their government; the consumption of salt being necessary to all, and its production and distribution being capable of control, and so of comparatively easy assessment. In short, if a man can avoid paying rent, make no accumulations, and will live exclusively on what he can himself gather from the bounty of Nature, he can not be taxed, except by a capitation or poll tax; and it would be difficult to see how in such a case even such a tax could be collected. But, the moment he enters into society and recognizes the advantages of the division of labor and exchange, he begins to pay taxes, and the higher the civilization he enjoys the greater will be the taxes.

But the greatest obstacle in the way of tax reform in Mexico is to be found in the fact that a comparatively few people — not six thousand out of a possible ten million own all the land, and constitute, in the main, the governing class of the country; and the influence of this class has thus far been sufficiently potent to practically exempt land from taxation. So long as this condition of things prevails, it is difficult to see how there is ever going to be a middle class (as there is none now worthy of mention), occupying a position intermediate between the rich and a vast ignorant lower class, that take no interest in public affairs, and are only kept from turbulence through military restraint. Such a class, in every truly civilized and progressive country, is numerically the greatest, and comprises the great producers; and because the great producers, the great consumers and tax-payers — for all taxes ultimately fall upon consumption — and so are the ones most interested in the promotion and maintenance of good government. A tax-policy, however, which would compel the land-owners to cut up and sell their immense holdings, especially if they are unwilling to develop them, would be the first step toward the creation of such a middle class. But it is not unlikely that Mexico would have to go through one more revolution, and that the worst one she has yet experienced, before any such result could be accomplished. At present, furthermore, there is no evidence that the mass of the Mexican people, who would be most benefited by any wise scheme for the partition of the great estates and for tax reform, feel any interest whatever in the matter, or would vigorously support any leader of the upper class that might desire to take the initiative in promoting such changes. And herein is the greatest discouragement to every one who wishes well for the country.

  1. The right to import is held to carry with it a right to sell on the part of the importer, without further restrictions, i. e., in the original packages. Thus, the United States Supreme Court has decided that a license-tax imposed by a State of the Federal Union, as a prerequisite to the right to sell an imported article, is equivalent to a duty on imports, and in violation of the provision of the Federal Constitution, which prohibits the States from imposing import duties; and the decision has been carefully recognized by the authorities of the several States in dealing with imported liquors under local license or other restrictive laws.
  2. "In all cases these duties are not imposed for the mere transit of goods through the States, but for the fact of being consumed within the State itself. The case, therefore, will not occur, that the same goods pay twice over the duties of consumption."—Report of the Mexican Secretary of Finance, 1879.
  3. The Mexican Secretary of Finance, in his reply to the report of Minister Foster (before noticed), meets these exhibits by saying that "if, instead of selecting articles rated highest in the Mexican tariff, the account of an article, free of duty, like machinery, for example, had been presented, the showing would have been quite different . . . In the account set forth {by Minister Foster) there are some errors, but, even if they were exact, it would be proved that, in spite of the high figure of expense attached to the importation of hams and nails, the operation involves no loss, but, on the contrary, brought a profit which amply repays the importer for his trouble. The imposts which goods suffer on arriving at their place of consumption do not, as a general rule, determine whether they can or can not be sold. If the article can be produced at a less price in the consuming district, no foreign nation can compete with it, even though there should be no duty to pay; and if, on the contrary, there is a demand, high duties do not affect the importers, because they fall on the consumer. . . .If it were desirable," continues the Secretary, with not a little of well-warranted sarcasm, "Mexico could also present statements showing that some of its products suffer as heavy imposts, when exported to the United States, as those mentioned" by Mr. Foster, which are exported to Mexico.
  4. In October, 1883, in response to a call of the President of the Republic, the Governors of the several States of Mexico appointed each two delegates, who assembled in convention at the capital, and after some deliberation published a report which exhibited the incompatibilities, disadvantages and abuses of the system in the most convincing manner; but acknowledging, at the same time, that, as all the State governments were more or less dependent upon it for their revenues, they could not recommend its present abolition. The report also concluded with a recommendation "that Congress should at once legalize a practice which a constitutional prohibition had failed to prevent, and which, under existing circumstances, it would be impolitic to suppress entirely." And, in deference to the suggestions of this conference, the Mexican Congress subsequently passed a law, with a view of modifying and limiting the authority of the State and municipal custom-house officers, so as to lessen in a degree the interruptions and vexations incident to the system. But as the Federal Government and some of the States have since then authorised public improvements to an extent that the state of their finances did not justify, and have in consequence increased taxes in all possible forms through-out the republic, the prospect for the complete suppression, or even of any essential modification, of this oppressive system of taxation is not flattering.
  5. The effect of taxation in destroying trade and commerce is strikingly illustrated by the circumstance that when Mexico imposed in 1878 an export tax of $10 per ton on orchil, the shipments of this article, which had averaged about $200,000 per annum, and afforded profitable employment to the peasantry of lower California, at once fell off to $54,000 in 1879-'80, and to $15,00 in 1880-'81. Since then exportations have considerably increased.
  6. "The laws of Old Spain, based on the civil law of the Romans, modified by the Goths, Visigoths, the Church, and the Moors, were sufficiently confused when they were introduced into Mexico some three hundred and sixty years ago. Since that date, with the addition of the special legislation of the Spanish crown for the Indies, the edicts, decrees, and enactments of conquerors, viceroys, bishops, juntas, councils, emperors, military chiefs, dictators, presidents, and congresses, the acts of one hundred and thirty-six governments, many of them initiated and perishing amid violent domestic revolutions, and the storms of civil and foreign wars, it is not surprising that Mexican law is embarrassed with antiquated forms and anomalies, confusion, contradictions, and uncertainties."—Consul Strother, "Report to the United States Department of State, 1884."
  7. The very name is yet essentially kept up in Mexico, where the tax is sometimes designated as the "alcabala."
  8. This practice of exempting unoccupied realty from taxation also prevails in Portugal. The theory there in justification of the practice is, that the use of a thing defines its measure of value, and that to tax unused property is a process of confiscation.
  9. The following is a copy of the tariff of the city of Guerrero—one hundred and fifty miles southeast of the capital—for articles exported from the city, on account of its municipal fund, as published in the year 1883:
    1. For every kind of animal killed for purpose of speculation $ .25
    2. For every head of horses, mules, or cattle taken out of the country 1.00
    3. For every head of horses, mules, or cattle taken into the interior .1212
    4. For every fat pork which is taken out of town or which is killed in town for purpose of speculating .0614
    5. For every beef-hide taken out of town .0314
    6. For every thousand head of sheep or goats taken out of the country 12.00
    7. For every thousand head of sheep or goats taken outside of the limits of the town 1.00
    8. For every horse, mule, or jackass taken out of the limits of the town .25
    9. The mares and she-asses taken out of the countxy, for each 2.00
    10. Each mare and she-ass taken out of the municipality to any other part of the republic will pay .25
    11. Every arroba (25 pounds) of wood raised within the jurisdiction of the town will pay for its extraction to any part of the republic, or outside of its limits 01 3
    12. Each skin of sheep or goats, for its extraction to other ports, will pay .0112
    13. Each cart which enters town for speculative purposes will pay "el piso" .1212
    14. Every hundred of sugar-cane, to enter. .1212
    15. Every hundred dollars' worth of earthenware of the country will pay one per cent to enter 1.00
    16. Every hundred dollars' worth of foreign earthenware will pay one and a half per cent to enter the town 1.50
    17. Every hundred oranges that are sold 1212
    18. All sorts of wood, worked, of this or other countries, to enter, will pay for each foot .01
    19. Each thousand of garlic or onions will pay 1.00
    20. Each gallon of alcoholic liquor, to enter .0634
    21. Each gallon of other wines or vinegar, to enter .0112
    22. Every package of dry merchandise, to enter .1218
    23. All sorts of gain, with the exception of com, will pay to enter, on each arroba .02
    24. Every billiard table will pay monthly 2.00
    25. All other establishments of whatever kind will pay, according to the pleasure of the town authorities, a monthly tax, according to the amount of their capital. All articles which are not contained in the present tariff remain subject to the pleasure of the authorities of the city of Guerrero to levy upon them a contribution which they think right and just.

    In addition to all this, every male in the State between the ages of eighteen and sixty-six pays twelve cents monthly as a personal tax. Common laborers pay in addition six cents monthly as a tax for material improvements, while all persons receiving a yearly salary of $150 and upward pay twelve cents per month. Professional men also pay from fifty cents to two dollars per month according to their vocation. Salaries to public officials are assessed one and a half per cent annual tax.

  10. The experience of Mexico in respect to taxation ought to be especially instructive to all that large class of statesmen and law-makers in the United States who believe that the only equitable system of taxation is to provide for an obligatory return and assessment of all property, and that to exempt anything is both unjust and impolitic.