This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
Suppose each of these farmers derives a net income of ten per cent on his capital, over all outlays and repairs; and that his labor is worth to him four hundred dollars per annum. This is a large allowance: —
Land and stock, as above, at ten per cent.....$166.10
His own labor equal to........... 500.00
Now we will assume that the exclusive poll-tax payers have an average income of four hundred dollars. We include in this list not only all common laborers, but all skilled workmen, mechanics, and others, whose labor is worth, under a sound currency, $1.50 to $2 per day; and also all clerks, and other employees, whose salaries are six hundred dollars and under. Then if all these classes average four hundred dollars per year, as no one will dispute, it will appear that the income of the poll-tax payers is charged $2, while these small property-holders are charged $19.57.
Here is a great disparity, but there is no exaggeration in the statement. From the same valuation and tax list, we take three farmers, having about one hundred and twenty-five acres each, with buildings and stock, and find their farms and stock average $3,757; and their average taxes, poll inclusive, amount to $47.03.
On the same calculation as before,—
Farm and stock, $3,757, at ten per cent..... $375.00
Farmer's total income.........$1,000.00
Then, if the poll tax-payer is charged $2, with an income of $400, what ought the farmer to pay with an income of $1,000? Answer, $5.
Instead, then, of $5, the true proportionate amount, the farmers, as before shown, pay $47.03, or more than nine times as much.* There is no escape from these conclusions; and we appeal with confidence to those best qualified to judge, whether the estimate placed upon the incomes of farmers of the description we refer to is not essentially correct. In whatever way we look at the matter, we cannot fail to see great inequality. But the poll-tax is not only unequal as between those upon whom it is assessed, and whose incomes range from $150 to $600, and also unequal as between this class generally, and all property holders, but it is also very disproportionate to the advantages it confers. Let us see what these are.
* And the hardship, in this case, is often increased by the fact that the farmer is indebted for a large part of his capital, and paying interest upon it.
1. Entire protection to persons and property.
2. Right of suffrage, and eligibility to office.
3. The most ample means of education in common and high schools, without charge, and a chance for a scholarship, provided by the State, in one of the colleges.
4. Complete maintenance, and the highest scientific treatment, for life, if need be, if himself or any member of his family should be deaf and dumb, or afflicted with blindness, idiocy, insanity, or, last of all, helpless poverty. What individual or corporation could be found to insure a laborer's family against all accidents and deprivations, physical and mental, from every source, through life, for one-half of one per cent on the income of the family head, or for twenty times that sum?
For all this, and much more that might be added, the recipient of a revenue from any occupation, trade, or profession, of any sum not exceeding six hundred dollars, if he has no visible property, pays an annual tax of not over two dollars, or four cents per week! As we have already said, considered in itself, disconnected from other forms of taxation, this is very unequal, and consequently unjust, as between the different classes. The obvious result is to transfer an undue share of the burdens of State, county, and town expenditure from the mechanical and laboring classes to the agricultural; thus promoting the interest of the former at the expense of the latter.
But all this applies, it must be remembered, to taxes imposed under State or municipal authority only, from all which the poll-tax payer escapes entirely by paying two dollars.
Effect of the Two Systems.—We are now able to compare the results of the two different systems; viz., national and State taxation. In the national, we find that the greater part of all taxes are indirect: the State and municipal taxes are, with slight exceptions, direct. The former fall almost wholly on consumption; the latter, upon property. The first is unjust to labor, or the non-property-holding classes: the other is unjust to capital, or those who hold taxable estate. One operates as an offset to the other.
Neither is just in itself, nor does the action of the two systems conjointly establish perfect justice; but it approximates as nearly to it, perhaps, as any other system of taxation ever adopted, or likely at present to be adopted.
Before leaving the subject of State taxation, we will briefly notice the inquiry often made, why the United-States government does not assign to each State its share of the public burdens according to its general valuation, and allow the State authorities to collect the amount at the same time, and in the same way, as all the direct taxes of the State are levied and collected. In reply to this, it may be said, that, if the national government could rely implicitly upon the fidelity and promptness of every State, it would be by far the most economical and efficient mode of collecting the revenue. The expense of collection would be almost nominal, probably not exceeding one-tenth of the sum now required; and an army of office-holders might be left free to engage in productive employments. But such has been the state of society in some of the States in times past, that reliance could not be placed upon their promptly assessing and collecting a national tax; nor can it be expected that the time will soon come when such a measure would be practicable.