Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/58

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46

POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

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 Blas, reported 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 goatskin, costing him about six dollars, which will last him as many years." Of household goods, the mass of the Mexican people are almost destitute. 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, and that for all purposes of trade in American or European manufactures, the consuming population is not much in excess of half a million. Revenue in Mexico from any tariff on imports must therefore be 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.

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 practically to 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 is only kept from turbulence through military restraint. Such a class in every truly civilized and progressive country is numerically the largest, and comprising the great body of producers, consumers.