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other kind, was excluded from this estimate ; and the proposal of the honourable member for Birmingham was to impose a wealth tax of 88. a year on every £100 of capital and property of whatever kind, omitting from the tax roll only those who did not possess so much as £100. This wealth tax, he showed, would yield, on the computed capital, £26,800,000; and the taxes which he proposed to repeal amounted to nearly the same sum.
We have compared different reports of Mr. Bright's speech, and have found several typographical errors and discrepancies in the figures, apparently from the difficulty the reporters must have felt in taking down so many large sums as rapidly as the speaker could repeat them; but having referred to the “Report” of the Financial Reform Association and the tables appended, from which Mr. Bright's figures appear to have been chiefly taken, we have, by a comparison of these with the newspaper reports, been enabled, in the following statement, to clear up the discrepancies ; and our figures may therefore be depended on as accurate. The total amount of the duties proposed to be abolished is £27,139, 655 ; but the saving of expense between the two modes of collection would, no doubt, do much more than meet the small difference between the amount of the various taxes repealed, and the wealth tax proposed to be levied in their room.
Income Tax . . . .
. . . . . 6,610,102 Duty on Tea . . .
. . 5,271,702 Duty on Sugar .
. . 5,979,329 Duty on Coffee . .
rants, £301,000; Raisins, £128,000; Pepper, £107,000;
Gloves, £53,314; Artificial Flowers, £20,454 ; and Straw
poses, including Timber, £574,239; Tallow, £84,932. 757,947 Duty on 439 other Articles . . .
751,098 Duty on Paper and Books . .
£234,428; other Horses, £116,656 ; Hackney Coaches,
Objections have been made to this proposal from opposite quarters. Some of the more zealous supporters of the Liverpool Association object to Mr. Bright's plan, because it is not strictly in accordance with the principles of their Association. They seek the abolition of all indirect taxes, and the substitution of direct taxes; and Mr. Bright's
plan abolishes only twenty-seven millions of existing taxes, and leaves forty millions untouched. This is, no doubt, an important difference ; but to abolish taxes to the amount of sixty-seven millions, and substitute a direct tax on wealth sufficient to raise the same sum, would require the rate to be fixed at exactly one pound on every hundred pounds of realised wealth, supposing the amount of that wealth to be, as estimated by Mr. Bright, six thousand seven hundred millions. The sum of £67,000,000 is so large, and would so materially and suddenly interfere with numerous existing arrangements, that however beneficial the change might be in its ultimate results, which we are not now going to discuss, few persons would be found to advise that the agitation for Financial Reform should now and for ever be fixed on this broad basis. The fact is, however, well worthy of remembrance, that a tax of £1 a year on every £100 of realised wealth would raise £67,000,000 a year, and supersede the necessity for any other taxes. Accustomed as we are to conceal the footmarks of the tax-gatherer by means of the system of indirect taxation, we are apt to be startled by the suggestion of such a plan; but with our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic this mode of taxation for defraying the expenses of the separate states, is a matter of every-day occurrence, although not adopted by the Federal Government; and because of its proved fairness, and its economy as regards the expenses of collection, it meets with general approval. In the most recent book we have seen respecting that country, an interesting little volume on “ Prairie Farming in America, with Notes by the way on Canada and the United States, by James Caird, M.P.,' we find the following information. * “ The average rate of taxation for Ohio is 1.02 per cent. on the estimated capital of the entire property of every kind in the state." (Page 120.) This rate (20s. 5d. on every £100 of capital and property) is rather more than would be required in the United Kingdom ; and Mr. Caird adds, apparently without any surprise, “and yet this state (Ohio) is reckoned to be moderately taxed, compared with many others.”
The opponents of Mr. Bright, who belong to the opposite extreme, assert that £27,000,000 is far too large a sum to be raised by a tax on the realised wealth of the country; and that by such an arrangement the working classes would be unduly exempted from taxation which they now pay—and justly pay, as these parties argue--for good government, and for the support of the national institutions. To such reasoners it might be answered, that these twenty-seven millions would all be required to pay the interest of the National Debt, in which the working classes, and all others whose whole possessions are worth less than £100, cannot have the same interest as the wealthy and governing classes, at whose instance and for whose benefit mainly it was incurred. But we do not lay any stress on this argument. We would even concede that the working classes are as fully entitled, and as willing, and as able to pay the interest of the National Debt, as the upper classes of
* Longmans, London, 1859.
the community. But in the first place it must be borne in mind, that the abolition of the indirect taxes, which Mr. Bright has proposed, would relieve all classes alike, and the upper classes, individually, in a greater measure than the lower, since they are individually the largest consumers of the taxed articles. It is true, however, that the exemption will not equal the burden of direct taxation to be imposed on them, and from which the working classes are to be entirely freed. And this brings us in front of the great economic question involved in this controversy. Should the property and funds of the wealthy classes, be taxed in an equal ratio with the small and precarious income of the working classes derived from labour? At present there is a frightful disproportion, and in the wrong direction. The working man with 20s. a week, which may be stopped to-morrow, pays an immensely greater proportion of his uncertain wages, than the landlord pays of his thousands, of which no eventuality short of death or civil war can divest him. On many grounds the evil of this may be exhibited, as, in fact, it has been by every distinguished political economist who has discussed the subject of taxation. It may be that the comparative freedom of capital, from its natural and righteous liabilities, as the Times has derisively argued against Mr. Bright, facilitates and provokes the accumulation of capital, which is the fund for the support of labour. But capital too hastily, and wrongly accumulated, at the expense of the working classes, is seldom applied to reproductive purposes, but is spent in the exorbitant and wasteful expenses of vanity and ambition, or in those manias of hazardous speculations which periodically witness to the prurience of our wealth, and squander it by a species of phlebotomy, till capitalists are reduced to a sober business level again. We are assured that the inducement to acquire property, which is the strongest passion in the heart of man, as Economists tell us, will resist and overcome the comparatively small proportional tax which our Finance Reformers would lay upon it; and that business would flourish better when wealth bore its just share of public burdens, and not only supported labour by providing a fund for wages, but supported the labourer by relieving him from the disproportionate amount of taxation which he has now to pay. In the next place, it may be answered that the working classes would, even if the proposed plan were carried into effect, pay their share, and more than their just share, of the national taxation; for it must be remembered that the indirect taxation which still remained would amount nearly to or as much as the proposed wealth tax would produce ; and that this taxation, amounting to nearly £25,000,000, would be paid mainly from the wages of the working classes. Let us look at the indirect taxes which would remain, and which they would still have to pay. They are as follows :
Do. on Wine (reduced to ls. per Gallon) . . . 761,738
Let any candid man fairly go into an examination of the incidence of these taxes, and he will be forced to admit that, with the trifling exception of £761,738 from wine, at the reduced rate of duty, probably nine-tenths of the total amount would be paid by the working classes and others who do not in any shape possess £100 of property or capital ; and taking a low estimate, it is undeniable that these classes would pay at least £20,000,000 a year from these sources, after the wealth tax had been imposed to raise £27,000,000. And let it be remembered, that this would be £20,000,000 out of a total sum of £67,000,000 raised for all national purposes. But what share would they have in the national representation in the House, entrusted with the laying on of these and the other taxes which they pay ? Next to no share at all. The subject was fully and ably discussed in Mr. Bright's recent speech at Birmingham. The hon. member then showed that there are not more than a million of voters in the United Kingdom, after allowing for persons belonging to the richer classes who have two or more votes in counties and boroughs, or in more counties than one ; and that supposing each voter was the head of a family of the usual size, five persons, the represented classes of the population would amount to 5,000,000, and the unrepresented to 25,000,000 ; for the population of the United Kingdom is now 30,000,000. Here, then, we have the undoubted fact that five-sixths of the population of England, Scotland, and Ireland are entirely unrepresented, and have no greater power in the laying on of the taxes which they are forced to pay by the governing classes, than the people have in Russia or Austria; and yet we find, when a proposal is made by Mr. Bright and others to lessen the injustice to which they are subjected, that a cry is raised on the part of the tax-eating class, that their tax-paying political Helots would be unduly relieved from their fair share of the national burdens ! And even now, when a Whig Government is pledged to carry a Reform Bill, which was expected to double the number of voters-an operation which Lord Derby's Bill, as explained by Mr. Disraeli, was to have accomplished--we find influential members of Parliament, and others calling themselves Liberals (.) expressing their fears that to double the number of voters would be to place the constitution in jeopardy! Even to double the number of voters, and supposing that there was only one voter in a family, would only be to place the whole power, and the Government of the country in the hands of “the upper ten millions" of the population, and still leave an industrious and tax-paying population of twenty millions entirely unrepre. sented; but if the statistics quoted by Mr. Bright at that meeting were correct, a £10 franchise for the counties, with a £6 franchise for the boroughs, which is understood to be the Government plan, would add only half a million of voters to the electoral roll, and consequently leave a population of twenty-two and a half millions entirely unrepresented. We have thus linked Financial and Parliamentary Reform together, because we believe them to be intimately connected, and that the one will never be attained to any great extent, except by means of the other. For this reason we most heartily rejoice that Mr. Bright, who has worked so vigorously for Parliamentary Reform, has also lent the influence of his talents and power to the cause of Financial Reform. The proposal made by Mr. Bright is, then, most just in itself; it is eminently practical ; it is not rashly subversive of the established customs and habits of our people, but rather extends (though some may think too widely at one step) the principle which has been gradually at work in our recent legislation, of supplanting indirect by direct taxation. It puts on a nearer equality the incidence of the taxation of the country upon wealth and labour, and applies the boasted maxim of our and all representative Governments, “They who spend the taxes should pay them," more clearly than it has ever been applied before. And lastly, it would save, at a low estimate, eight inillions a year, which the consumers of taxed articles now pay more than the Government receives.
It may have surprised our readers that we have ventured to namo the positive amount of saving to be derived from this partial substitute of direct for indirect taxes. It is a further and sufficient reply to the argument of the Times-that a tax on wealth will prevent its accumulation—to state that this saving will chiefly benefit the trading and moneymaking classes, and be ultimately more than an equivalent to them for the just charges made on their realised wealth. The saving would partly arise from the abolition of Custom-houses, and partly from the abolition of the equal percentage of profit which the retailer is now obliged to charge on the amount of the tax, as well as on the original cost of the taxed article ; for both as regards the capital employed and trade risks, he is clearly entitled to make such charges, and does make them. If Mr. Bright's plan were carried out, there would be only three articles on which Customs duty would be chargeable-spirits, wine, and tobacco ; and as it could be enacted that these articles should all be landed only at a few of the principal ports, subject to proper facilities being given for transmitting them to all other places, it is plain that Custom-houses might be altogether abolished, except at perhaps a score of the chief ports, where a small staff of Custom-house officers might be kept, and thus an enormous saving of trouble and expense would be effected to the public. The coast-guard could watch the smugglers of the three articles, as they do at present. The saving would be equally obvious under the other head—the profit now charged on the duty by traders. Take a gallon of Cognac brandy as a simple illustration of the principle. The consumer of a gallon of brandy pays the spirit dealer perhaps 328. for the gallon, including the original cost,