Chapter 1: Taxes on Possessions

Let us conceive what an immense tract of land would be required to support the British government.

  • Therefore the government must have 1/8th in its own hands.
  • If we further conceive how such a tract of land would be cultivated, the amount needed would be prodigious.
  • Allow it but to be half as well cultivated as the rest, which for many reasons would not be the case, the government would have in its hands 1/4 of the whole country.
  • By this therefore, the country's stock would be greatly reduced, and fewer people maintained.
  • After government becomes expensive, it is the worst possible method to support it by a land rent.
  • The government in a civilized country is much more expensive than in a barbarous one.
  • When we say that one government is more expensive than another, it is the same as if we said that the one country is farther advanced in improvement than another.
  • To say that the government is expensive and the people not oppressed is to say that the people are rich.
  • There are many expenses necessary in a civilized country for which there is no occasion in one that is barbarous.
  • Armies, fleets, fortified places, public buildings, judges, and officers of the revenue must be supported.
  • A land rent, to serve all these purposes, would be the most improper thing in the world.
  • All taxes may be considered under two divisions:

  • These are the two ways of making the subjects contribute to the support of government.
  • Possessions are of three kinds:

  • It is easy to levy a tax on land, because it is evident what quantity everyone possesses.
  • It is a hardship upon a man in trade to oblige him to show his books, which is the only way in which we can know how much he is worth.
  • But if because this difficulty you were to tax land, and neither tax money nor stock, you would do a very great injustice.
  • But though it be a difficult thing to tax money or stock without being oppressive, yet this method is used in several countries.
  • In France, for example, in order to ascertain the circumstances of the subject, every bill is assigned, and all business transacted in presence of a public notary, and entered into his books, so that land, stock, and money are there all taxed in the same manner.
  • Of these three only land is taxed in England, because to tax the other two has some appearance of despotism, and would greatly enrage a free people.
  • Excepting the land tax, our taxes are generally upon commodities, and in these there is a much greater inequality than in the taxes on land possession.
  • The consumptions of people are not always according to what they possess, but in proportion to their liberality.
  • When taxes are laid upon commodities, their prices must rise, the concurrence of tradesmen must be prevented, an artificial dearth occasioned, less industry excited, and a smaller quantity of goods produced.2
  • Taxes upon land possessions have this great advantage, that they are levied without any great expense;

  • the whole land tax of England does not cost the government above eight or ten thousand pounds.
  • Collectors are chosen by the gentlemen of the county, and are obliged to produce proper security for their carrying safely to the exchequer the money which they collect.
  • The taxes of customs and excise, which produce such immense sums, are almost eaten up by the legions of officers that are employed in collecting them.
  • These officers must have supervisors over them to examine their proceedings.
  • The supervisors have over them collectors, who are under the commissioners, who have to account to the exchequer; to support these officers there must be levied a great deal more than the government requires, which is a manifest disadvantage.
  • Another advantage of a land tax is, that it does not tend to raise the price of commodities, as it is not paid in proportion to the corn and cattle, but in proportion to the rent.