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WHEN a tax is laid upon commodities, which are consumed by the common people, the necessary consequence may seem to be, that either the poor muft retrench something from their way of living, or raise their wages, so as to make the burthen of the tax fall entirely upon the rich. But there is a third consequence, which very often follows upon taxes, viz. that the poor increase their industry, perform more work, and live as well as before, without demanding more for their labor. Where taxes are moderate, are laid on gradually, and affect not the necessaries of life, this consequence naturally follows; and 'tis certain that such difficulties often serve to excite the industry of a people, and render them inore opulent and laborious, than others, who enjoy the greatest advantages. For we may observe, as a parallel instance, that the most commercial nations have not always possessed the greatest extent of fertile land; but, on the contrary, that they have labored under many natural disadvantages. Tyre, ATHENS, CARTHAGE, RHODES, Genoa, Venice, HOLLAND, are strong examples to this purpose. And in all hiftory, we find only three instances of large and fertile countries, which have possessed much trade; the NetHERLANDS, ENGLAND, and France. The two former seem to have been allured by the advantages of their maritime situation, and the necesity they lay under of frequenting foreign ports, in order to procure what their own climate refused them. And as to FRANCE, trade has come very late into that kingdom, and seems to have been the effect of reflection and obser. vation in an ingenious and enterprising people, who remarked the immense riches acquired by such of the neighboring nations as cultivated navigation and commerce.
The places mentioned by Cicero*, as possessed of the greatest commerce in his time, are ALEXANDRIA, Colchos, TYRE, SIDON, Andros, CYPRUS, PAMPHILIA, Lycia, Rhodes, Chios, BYZANTIUM, LESBOS, SMYRNA, MILETUM, Coos. All these, except ALEXANDRIA, were either small islands or narrow territories. And that city owed its trade entirely to the happiness of its situation.
Since therefore some natural necessities or disadvantages may be thought favorable to industry, why may not artificial burthens have the same effect ? Sir WilLIAM TEMPLE*, we may observe, ascribes the industry of the Dutch entirely to necessity, proceeding from their natural disadvantages; and illustrates his doctrine by a very striking comparison with IRELAND; “ where,” says he, " by the - largeness and plenty of the soil, and scarcity of people, all things necessary to “ life are so cheap, that an industrious man, by two days labor, may gain enough " to feed him the rest of the week. Which I take to be a very plain ground of - the laziness attributed to the people. For men naturally prefer ease before labor, " and will not take pains if they can live idle; tho' when, by necesity, they s have been inured to it, they cannot leave it, being grown a custom necessary to as their health, and to their very entertainment. Nor perhaps is the change " harder, from constant ease to labor, than from conftant labor to ease.” After which the author proceeds to confirm his doctrine, by enumerating, as above, the places where trade lias most flourished, in antient and modern times; and
* Epit. ad Art. Lib. 9. Ep. 11.
+ Account of the NETHERLANDS, Chap. 6.
which are commonly observed to be such narrow confined territories, as beget a necessity for industry.
'Tis always observed, in years of scarcity, if it be not extreme, that the poor labor more, and really live better, than in years of great plenty, when they indulge themselves in idleness and riot. I have been told, by a considerable manufacturer, that in the year 1740, when bread and provisions of all kinds were very dear, his workmen not only made a shift to live, but paid debts, which they had contracted in former years, that were much more favorable and abundant *.
This doctrine, therefore, with regard to taxes, may be admitted in some de.. gree: But beware of the abuse. Exorbitant taxes, like extreme necesity, destroy industry, by producing despair ; and even before they reach this pitch, they raise: the wages of the laborer and manufacturer, and heighten the price of all commodities. An attentive, disinterested legislature will observe the point, when the emolument ceases, and the prejudice begins : But as the contrary character is much more common, 'tis to be feared, that taxes, all over EUROPE, are multiplying to such a degree, as will intirely crush all art and industry; tho', per-haps, their first increase, together with other circumstances, might have contributed to the growth of these advantages.
The best taxes are those which are levied upon confumptions, especially those of luxury; because such taxes are less felt by the people. They seem, in some measure, voluntary ; since a man may chuse how far he will use the commodity which is taxed : They are paid gradually and insensibly: And being confounded with the natural price of the commodity, they are scarcely perceived by the confumers. Their only disadvantage is, that they are expensive in the levying.
Taxes upon poffessions are levied without expence; but have every other difadvantage. Most states, however, are obliged to have recourse to them, in order to supply the deficiencies of the other.
But the moft pernicious of all taxes are those which are arbitrary. They are commonly converted, by their management, into punishments on industry; and also, by their unavoidable inequality, are more grievous than by the real burthen which they impose. 'Tis surprising, therefore, to see them have place among any civilized people.
In general, all poll-taxes, even when not arbitrary, which they commonly are, may be esteemed dangerous: Because it is so easy for the sovereign to add a little more, and a little more, to the sum demanded, that these taxes are apt to become altogether oppressive and intolerable. On the other hand, a duty upon commodicies checks itself; and a prince will soon find, that an increase of the impost is 110 increase of his revenue. It is not easy, therefore, for a people to be altogether ruined by such taxes.
HISTORIANS inform us, that one of the chief causes of the destruction of the Roman state, was the alteration which CONSTANTINE introduced into the finances, by substituting an universal poll-tax, in lieu of almost all the tithes, customs, and excises, which formerly composed the revenue of the empire. The people, in all the provinces, were so grinded and oppressed by the publicans, that they were glad to take refuge under the conquering arms of the barbarians; whose dominion, as.
tary; since a manare less felt by the confumptions, efseci
* To this purpose see also Efay I. at the end.
they they had fewer necessities and less art, was found preferable to the refined tyranny of the ROMANS.
There is a prevailing opinion, that all taxes, however levied, fall upon the land at last. Such an opinion may be useful in BRITAIN, by checking the landed gentlemen, in whose hands our legislature is lodged, and making them preserve great regard for trade and industry. But I must confess, that this principle, tho' first advanced by a celebrated writer, has so little appearance of reason, that were it not for his authority, it had never been received by any body. Every man, to be sure, is desirous of pushing off from himself the burden of any tax, which is imposed, and laying it upon others : But as every man has the same inclination, and is upon the defensive; no fet of men can be supposed to prevail altogether in this contest. And why the landed gentleman should be the victim of the whole, and should not be able to defend himself, as well as others are, I cannot readily imagine. All tradesmen, indeed, would willingly prey upon him, and divide him among them, if they could : But this inclination they always have, tho' no taxes were levied ; and the same methods, by which he guards against the imposition of tradesmen before taxes, will serve him afterwards, and make them share the burthen with him.
I SHALL conclude this subject with observing, that we have, with regard to taxes, an instance of what frequently happens in political institutions, that the . consequences of things are diametrically opposite to what we should expect on the first appearance. 'Tis regarded as a fundamental maxim of the Turkish government, That the Grand Signior, tho' absolute master of the lives and fortunes of each individual, has no authority to impose a new tax; and every OTTOMAN prince, who has made such an attempt, either has been obliged to retract, or has found the fatal effects of his perseverance. One would imagine, that this prejudice or established opinion were the firmest barrier in the world against oppression; yer 'tis certain, that its effect is quite contrary. The emperor, having no regular method of increasing his revenue, muft allow all the bashaws and governors to oppress and abuse the subjects : And these he squeezes after their return from their government. Whereas, if he could impose a new tax, like our EUROPEAN princes, his interest would so far be united with that of his people, that he would immediately feel the bad effects of these disorderly levies of money, and would find, that a pound raised by general imposition, would have less pernicious effects, than a a hilling taken in so unequal and arbitrary a manner.
obliged to retract, or had
of his perseverance.
dice or established
E S S A Y VIII.
TT appears to have been the common practice of antiquity, to make provision,
in time of peace, for the necessities of war, and to hoard up treasures, beforehand, as the instruments either of conquest or defence; without trusting to extraordinary impofts, much less to borrowing, in times of disorder and confusion. Besides the immense sums above-mentioned, which were amafied by ATHENS, and by the PTOLEMIES, and other successors of ALEXANDER ; we learn from Plato t, that the frugal LACEDEMONIANS had also collected a great treasure ; and ARIAN I and PlutarCH || specify the riches which ALEXANDER got poffef. fion of on the conquest of SusA and ECBATANA, and which were reserved, some of them, from the time of Cyrus. If I remember right, the scripture also mentions the treasure of Hezekiah and the JEWISH princes ; as profane history does that of Philip and PERSEUS kings of MACEDON. The antient republics of GAUL had commonly large sums in reserve t. Every one knows the treasure seized in Rome by JULIUS CÆSAR, during the civil wars; and we find afterwards, that the wiser emperors, AUGUSTUS, TIBERIUS, VESPASIAN, SEVERUS, &c. always discovered the prudent foresight, of saving great sums against any public exigency. . On the contrary, our modern expedient, which has become very general, is to mortgage the public revenues, and to trust, that posterity, during peace, will pay off the incumbrances contracted during the preceding war: And they having before their eyes, fo good an example of their wise fathers, have the same prudent reliance on their posterity ; who, at last, from necessity, more than choice, are obliged to place the same confidence in a new posterity. But not to waste time in declaiming against a practice which appears ruinous, beyond the evidence of a hundred demonstrations; it seems pretty apparent, that the antient maxims are, in this respect, much more prudent than the modern ; even tho' the latter had been confined within some reasonable bounds, and had ever, in any instance, been attended with such frugality, in time of peace, as to discharge the debts incurred by an expensive war. For why should the case be so very different betwixt the pubá lic and an individual, as to make us establish such different maxims of conduct for each? If the funds of the former be greater, its necessary expences are proportionably larger; if its resources be more numerous, they are not infinite ; and as its frame should be calculated for a much longer duration, than the date of a single life, or even of a family, it should embrace maxims, large, durable, and generous, suitable to the supposed extent of its existence. To trust to chances and temporary expedients, is, indeed, what the necessity of human affairs frequently
* Effay V.
+ ALCIB. 1. $ Lib. 3.
li Plut. in vita Alex. He makes these trea. fures amount to 80,000 talents, or about 15 mile
lions sterling. QUINTUS CURTIU'S (Lib. 5. Cap.
reduces us to ; but whoever voluntarily depend on such resources, have not necesfity, but their own folly, to accuse for their misfortunes, when any such befal them.
If the abuses of treasures be dangerous, either by engaging the state in raih enterprists, or making it neglect military discipline, in contidence of its riches; the abules of mortgaging are more certain and inevitable ; poverty, impotence, and subjection to foreign powers.
ACCORDING to modern policy, war is attended with every destructive circumstance ; loss of men, increase of taxes, decay of commerce, dilipation of money, plunder by fea and land. According to antient maxims, the opening of the public treasure, as it produced an uncommon affluence of gold and silver, served as a temporary encouragement to industry, and atoned, in fome degree, for the inevitable calamities of war.
WHAT then shall we say to the new paradox, That public incumbrances are, of themselves, advantageous, independent of the necessity of contracting them; and that any state, even tho it were not pressed by a foreign enemy, could not possibly have embraced a wiser expedient for promoting commerce and riches, than to create funds, and debts, and taxes, without limitation ? Discourses, such as these, might naturally have passed for trials of wit anong'rhetoricians, like the panegyrics on folly and a fever, on Busiris and Nero, had we not seen such abfurd maxims patronized, by great ministers, and by a whole party among us. And these puzzling arguments, (for they deserve not the name of specious), tho" they could not be the foundation of Lord ORFORD's conduct, for he had more sense ; served at least to keep his partizans in countenance, and perplex the understanding of the nation. .
Let us examine the consequences of public debts, both in our domestic management, by their influence on commerce and industry; and in our foreign transactions, by their effect on wars and negotiations.
THERE is a word, which is here in the mouth of every body, and which, I find, has also got abroad, and is much employed by foreign writers *, in imitar tion of the ENGLISH; and that is, CIRCULATION. This word serves as an account of every thing; and tho' I confess, that I have fought for its meaning in the present subject, ever since I was a school-boy, I have never yet been able to discover it. What possible advantage is there which the nation can reap by the easy transference of stock from hand to hand? Or is there any parallel to be drawn from the circulation of other commodities, to that of chequer-notes and InDia bonds ? Where a manufacturer has a quick fale of his goods to the merchant, the merchant to the shopkeeper, the shopkeeper to his customers ; this enlivens industry, and gives new encouragement to the first dealer or the manufacturer, and all his tradesmen, and makes them produce more and better commodities of the same species. A stagnation is here pernicious, where ever it happens; because it operates backwards, and stops or benumbs the industrious hand in its production of what is useful to human life. But what production we owe to CHANGEALLEY, or even what consumption, except that of coffee, and pen, ink, and paper, I have not yet learned; nor can one foresee the loss or decay of any one bea
* Melon, Du. Tor, Law, in the Pamphlets publishel in France.