This section of the book is from the "Introduction To Public Finance" book, by Carl Copping Plehn.
Public Finance deals with the way in which the State acquires and expends its means of subsistence. It stands in somewhat the same relation to the State that Political Economy stands to the individual. If Economics may be defined as the science which deals with the activity of the practical reason in acquiring and applying those things that are provided in comparatively limited quantities, for the satisfaction of the external and temporal wants of man, then, adapting our definition to somewhat the same terminology, Public Finance may be defined as the science which deals with the activity of the statesman in obtaining and applying the material means necessary for fulfilling the proper functions of the State.
Public Finance is properly called a science, because, (1) it deals with a definite and limited field of human knowledge ; (2) it admits of an orderly arrangement of its facts and principles, and contains many laws of general progress belonging exclusively to its own field; (3) it admits of the application of scientific methods of investigation; (4) it foresees as well as explains a certain class of phenomena; (5) it is generally, if not universally, so regarded. It is however, a secondary or dependent science. It is closely related to two other sciences, upon which it properly depends. These are Political Economy and Political Science. While, on the one hand, it draws largely upon the conclusions of these two sciences for its hypotheses, yet on the other it contributes much to them. Most of the prominent German writers on the subject regard Public Finance as a corporate part of Political Economy. It is properly so regarded, because the activities of the State that belong to this field are of such a nature as to consume wealth, produce wealth, and to interfere with the distribution of wealth. From Political Science we shall have to borrow many conclusions as to the nature of the State, and as to the functions of government. A determination of what the proper functions of the State may be is no part of our subject, but belongs wholly to Political Science.1 In general it has been found best to assume that the functions now actually performed by the States are proper, provided they are not clearly contrary to some generally accepted principles of Political Science. We are thus relieved of the burden, assumed by many writers on the subject, of attacking or defending the actions of different governments in matters as to the propriety of which there is some question : for example, the propriety of the continuance or assumption of State ownership of railroads, or the State monopoly of tobacco. All such matters will be treated purely from the fiscal point of view.
1 Tor discussions of that part of the subject the reader is referred to Bluntschli's Theory of the State, Wilson's State, Hoffman's Sphere of the State, and Crane and Moses' Politics.
Information concerning the facts with which the science of Public Finance deals can, in most instances, be definitely ascertained, and
the conclusions drawn have often a sharpness and distinctness lacking in many other parts of Political Economy and Political Science. There is, consequently, the temptation to create the corresponding Art of Public Finance. For when any science becomes at all "exact," it is easy and often desirable to point out possible direct applications of the truths learned. But although it is of the utmost importance that statesmen should be guided in their actions by correct principles, it is in no sense the duty of the scientist, as such, to make the application of the laws he may learn. Scientific investigation should precede, and ever remain independent of, any possible use of the truths discovered. In no other way than by the search for truth for its own sake, can we obtain absolute clearness of view.