Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/760

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By the Late Hon. DAVID A. WELLS.

THIS historical survey of tax experience among peoples widely differing in their economic condition and social relations, and this examination of the scope and practice of taxation, with especial reference to the tax systems of the United States as defined and interpreted by judicial authority, prepare the way for a discussion of the best methods of taxation for a country situated as is the United States. General as are the theoretical principles underlying taxation, the application of these principles to existing conditions must be modified to meet the long usage and inherited prejudice of the people, and the form of production or manner of distributing wealth. This holds true in the face of appearances so opposed to it as to defy definition and acceptance. No less promising field for an income tax can be pictured than British India, and few more promising fields than France. Yet India has borne such a tax for years, while France will not permit a true tax on income to be adopted as a part of its revenue system. In the latter country the plea is made that the upper and middle classes already pay under other forms of taxation more than their due proportion of the public burdens, and an additional and necessarily discriminating duty laid upon them will only make this inequality the greater. Class interest may thus oppose its veto to a change that promises to reduce the burdens of one class of taxpayers at the expense of another; or may even oppose a change that offers the chance of collecting a larger revenue with less real difficulty and sacrifice on the part of the taxed. No opposition can set aside even temporarily the great rules that clearly define a tax from tribute, a legal and beneficial taking by the state of a certain part of the public wealth from a demand that involves waste or mischievous expenditure, for which the state or people derive no advantage commensurate with the cost, or from which individuals obtain a gain not defensible in justice, and at the expense of only one part of the community.

After so many centuries of experiment, in which hardly a possible source of state revenue has escaped attention, some knowledge of the great principles of taxation might have been evolved. Unfortunately, the experience of one nation is not accepted as containing lessons applicable to the needs or conditions of another, and one generation rarely appeals to history save to defend its own experiments. Ignorance, half knowledge, which is quite as dangerous, and interest guide or influence legislation, and those who predict failure or danger