Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 52.djvu/521

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
503
PRINCIPLES OF TAXATION.

PRINCIPLES OF TAXATION.
By DAVID A. WELLS, LL. D., D. C. L.,

CORRESPONDANT DE L'INSTITUT DE FRANCE, ETC.

XV.—WHAT IS PROPERTY?

ONE of the greatest obstacles in the way of framing a correct system of general taxation, is the different and wholly antagonistic opinions that popularly prevail, as to the real nature of what constitutes its chief objective in respect to administrative action, namely, "property." This point finds full confirmation and illustration by reference to the several definitions that have been given to this term by various recognized authorities, and have been accepted to a greater or less extent as authoritative by a general and even educated public. Thus, as before noted, a widely accepted definition of Professors Macleod, Perry, and others is, that everything that can be bought or sold is property. Thus, even the random ideas of an anarchist are a form of wealth at present, just as the "goaks" of Artemus Ward used to be—because they have exchangeable value, and will bring a certain number of dollars to him, or to the reporter or interviewer who gives his notions to the public. So the beauty of an actress, the nimble legs of a dancer, the vocal sweetness of an opera singer, are also forms of wealth, since they have an exchangeable value when utilized. And hence the folly of the socialists, who suppose that by dividing property, or equalizing the distribution of land, they can secure equality of wealth, since diversities of human faculty and opportunities would instantly begin to make this imperfect distribution more unequal than before. Thus the Greek philosopher Aristotle, speaking of the division of land among all the citizens of his time, has the credit of shrewdly saying, "Either all kinds of property must be equalized, or all must be let alone." According to Webster's Dictionary, that "to which one has a legal title" is property. And in a report of a recent lecture, a leading American theologian is credited with saying to an assemblage of divinity students that "he adopted as the basis of his discussion of property the 'profound and perfect' definition of the Roman Catholic theologian Brownson, namely, that 'property is communion with God through the material.' And to realize and apply this definition is the great duty of the Christian teacher."

"The term property denotes a right over a determinative thing. Property is the right of any person to possess, use, enjoy, and dispose of a thing."—Eaton vs. Boston, 51 N. H., 504.

A more rational conception of the exact nature of property, or rather of what property consists, would, however, seem to lead to