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THE TRUE CORRECTIVE.
cient safeguard lies in a change of convictions and motives. And to work a change of this kind, there is no certain way but that of letting men directly feel the penalties which mistaken legislation brings on them. "How is this to be done ?” the reader will doubtless ask. Simply by letting causes and effects stand in their natural relations. Simply by taking away those vicious arrangements which now mostly prevent men from seeing the reactions that follow legislative actions.
At present, the extension of public administrations is popular, mainly because there has not been established in the minds of the people, any distinct connection between the benefits to be gained and the expenses to be paid. Of the conveniences or gratifications secured to them by some new body of officials with a fund at its disposal, they have immediate experience; but of the way in which the costs fall on the nation, and ultimately on themselves, they have no immediate experience. Our fiscal arrangements dissociate the ideas of increased public expenditure and increased burdens on all who labour, and thus encourage the superstition that law can give gratis benefits. This is clearly the chief cause of that municipal extravagance to which we have above adverted. The working men of our towns possess public power, while many of them do not directly bear public burdens. On small houses the taxes for borough-purposes are usually paid by the landlords; and of late years, for the sake of convenience and economy, there has grown up a system of compounding with landlords of small houses even for the poor’s-rates chargeable to their tenants.
Under this arrangement, at first voluntary but now compulsory, a certain discount off the total rates due from a number of houses, is allowed to the owner, in consideration of his paying the rates, and thus saving the authorities trouble and loss in collection. And he is supposed to
raise his rents by the full amount of the rates charged. Thus, most municipal electors, not paying local taxes in a separate form, are not constantly reminded of the connection between public expenditure and personal costs; and hence it happens that any outlay made for local purposes, no matter how extravagant and unreasonable, which brings to them some kind of advantage, is regarded as pure gain. If the corporation resolves, quite unnecessarily, to rebuild a town-hall, the resolution is of course approved by the majority. “It is good for trade, and it costs us nothing," is the argument which passes vaguely through their minds. If some one proposes to buy an adjoining estate, and turn it into a public park, the working classes naturally give their support to the proposal; for ornamented grounds cannot but be an advantage, and though the rates may be increased, that will be no affair of theirs. Thus necessarily arises a tendency to multiply public agencies and increase public outlay. It becomes an established policy with popularity-hunters, to advocate new works to be executed by the town. Those who disapprove this course are in fear that their seats may be jeopardized at the next election, should they make a vigorous opposition. And thus do these local administrations inevitably lean towards abnormal developments.
No one can, we think, doubt, that were the rates levied directly on all electors, a check would be given to this municipal communism. If each small occupier found that every new work undertaken by the authorities, cost him so many pence extra in the pound, he would begin to consider with himself, whether the advantage gained was equivalent to the price paid; and would often reach a negative conclusion. It would become a question with him whether, instead of letting the local government provide him with certain remote advantages in return for certain moneys, he might not himself purchase with such moneys
BENEFITS OF DIRECT TAXATION.
immediate advantages of greater worth ; and, generally, he would decide that he could do this. Without saying to what extent such a restraint would act, we may safely say that it would be beneficial. Every one must admit, that each inhabitant of a town ought constantly to be reminded of the relation between the work performed for him by the corporation and the sum he pays for it. No one can, we think, deny that the habitual experience of this relation would tend to keep the action of local governments within proper bounds.
Similarly with the Central Government. Here the effects wrought by public agencies, are still more dissociated from the costs they entail on each citizen. The bulk of the taxes being raised in so unobtrusive a way, and affecting the masses in modes so difficult to trace, it is scarcely possible for the masses to realize the fact, that the sums paid by Government for supporting schools, for facilitating emigration, for inspecting mines, factories, railways, ships, etc., have been in great part taken from their own pockets. The more intelligent of them understand this as an abstract truth; but it is not a truth present to their minds in such a definite shape as to influence their actions. Quite otherwise, however, would it be if taxation were direct; and the expense of every new State-agency were felt by each citizen as an additional demand made on him by the tax-gatherer. Then would there be a clear, constantly-recurring experience of the truth, that for every thing which the State gives with one hand it takes away something with the other; and then would it be less easy to propagate absurd delusions about the powers
and duties of Governments. No one can question this conclusion who calls to mind the reason currently given for maintaining indirect taxation; namely, that the required revenue could not otherwise be raised. Statesmen see that if instead of taking from the citizen here a little and there a little, in ways that he does not know or constantly forgets, the whole amount were demanded in a lump sum, it would scarcel, be possible to get it paid. Grumbling and resistance would rise probably to disaffection. Coercion would in hosts of cases be needed to obtain this large total tax; which indeed, even with this aid, could not be obtained from the majority of the people, whose improvident habits prevent the accumulation of considerable sums. And so the revenue would fall immensely short of that expenditure which is supposed necessary. This being assented to, it must perforce be admitted that under a system of direct taxation, further extension of public administrations, entailing further costs, would meet with general opposition. Instead of multiplying the functions of the State, the tendency would obviously be to reduce their number.
Here, then, is one of the safeguards. The incidence of taxation must be made more direct in proportion as the franchise is extended. Our changes ought not to be in the direction of the Compound-Householders-Act of 1851, which makes it no longer needful for a Parliamentary elector to have paid poor’s-rates before giving a vote; but they ought to be in exactly the opposite direction. The exercise of power over the national revenue, should be indissolubly associated with the conscious payment of contributions to that revenue. Direct taxation instead of being limited, as many wish, must be extended to lower and wider classes, as fast as these classes are endowed with political power.
Probably this proposal will be regarded with small favour by statesmen. It is not in the nature of things for men to approve a system which tends to restrict their powers. We know, too, that any great extension of direct taxation will be held at present impossible; and we
TAXATION SHOULD ACCOMPANY ENFRANCHISEMENT. 371
are not prepared to assert the contrary. This, however is no reason against reducing the indirect taxation and augmenting the direct taxation as far as circumstances al. low. And if when the last had been increased and the first decreased to the greatest extent now practicable, it were made an established principle that any additional revenue must be raised by direct taxes, there would be an efficient check to one of the evils likely to follow from further political enfranchisement.
The other evil which we have pointed out as rationally to be feared, cannot be thus met, however. Though an ever-recurring experience of the relation between Stateaction and its cost, would hinder the growth of those State-agencies which undertake to supply citizens with positive conveniences and gratifications, it would be no restraint on that negative and inexpensive over-legislation which trespasses on individual freedom-it would not prevent mischievous meddling with the relations between labour and capital. Against this danger the only safeguards appear to be, the spread of sounder views among the working classes, and the moral advance which such sounder views imply.
“That is to say, the people must be educated,” responds the reader. Yes, education is the thing wanted; but not the education for which most men agitate. Ordinary school-training is not a preparation for the right exercise of political power. Conclusive proof of this is given by the fact that the artisans, from whose mistaken ideas the most danger is to be feared, are the best informed of the working classes. Far from promising to be a safeguard, the spread of such education as is commonly given, appears more likely to increase the danger. Raising the working classes in general to the artisan-level of culture, rather threatens to augment their power of working polit