This section of the book is from the "Introduction To Public Finance" book, by Carl Copping Plehn.
In France indirect taxation has probably found a higher development than anywhere else. Some of the main taxes are on the consumption of wine, spirits, beer, sugar, salt, tobacco, etc. ; there are also the octrois or gate duties collected by some of the cities as a means of contributing their share of some of the direct taxes to the general treasury. There are also the taxes on acts and transfers, which will be treated under fees, since they assume a public service, and the customs duties. Not peculiar to France, but receiving a high development there, is the mode of collecting a tax on consumption by a monopoly of the manufacture of tobacco in the hands of the government. The imperative necessity under which France has laboured all through this century of continually increasing her revenues, and the danger of making the burden unbearable if thrown upon the existing direct taxes, as well as the desire on the part of the legislators of concealing so far as possible the actual burden, lest an impatient constituency rebel, accounts well for the relatively high development of indirect taxation. The preference for indirect taxes as the main reliance of the public revenues argues, however, a low stage of political ethics.
1 See the revelations of the Bochum investigations, quoted by Wagner in Schanz Finanzarchiv, XVIII. year, Vol. IL, pp. 107, 108.
The more highly developed the consciousness of citizenship and membership in the State, the easier it is to make direct taxation effective.
Direct taxation in France dates in its present form from the Revolution. All the taxes of the ancient monarchy were abolished at that time and a fixed scheme of taxes on revenue-yielding property substituted. This system of direct taxes has four chief members : (1) the tax on real estate ; (2) the tax on persons and dwellings; (3) the tax on doors and windows ; (4) the tax on business. Supplementary to this system are a number of taxes classed officially as assimilated to the direct taxes. These, so far as they flow into the State treasury, are: (1) the tax on mines; (2) the charges for the verification of weights and measures ; (3) the tax on goods in mortmain falling on the property of the communes, hospitals, churches, seminaries, charitable institutions, etc. ; (4) the charges for the cost of inspection of pharmacists, grocers, druggists, and herbists. Of these numbers 2 and 4 are practically fees, numbers 1 and 3 are merely definite kinds of real estate taxes.1
The real estate tax, the personal and dwelling tax, and the door and window tax are apportioned taxes. The real estate tax, which is a combined land and building tax, is apportioned upon the basis of a very elaborate survey and valuation completed in 1850, and carefully kept up.
1 The official classification of taxes in France is very complex, as the example above given shows. In order not to confuse the student it will not be followed further in this work.
These taxesare apportioned in successive stepsfirst to the departments, then to the arrondissements, and then to the communes, by the several legislative bodies, and finally divided among the individuals in each commune by a "conseil de repartition" The tax on persons and dwellings, also apportioned, is a poll tax, with an attempt at gradation according to the ability supposed to be indicated by the rent of the building occupied. It consists of two parts: (1) the amount of three days' wages of labour at from one-half to one and one-half francs per diem; (2) the tax on the rent of the building occupied as a private dwelling. The cities of Paris, Lyons, Marseilles, and a few others raise their shares of this tax by the means of duties on goods brought into the city, i.e. octroi. The door and window tax is an apportioned tax rated according to the number of windows and doors in the houses. It was intended to supplement the personal and dwelling tax, but it is really an addition to the real estate tax. It is paid by the owner and he is allowed to shift it if he can to the tenant.
The industry tax, contribution des patentes, unlike the other members of the system, is not apportioned but proportioned. It is intended to reach the bulk of the personal property, and in a rough way covers income from certain kinds of labour. Originally it was assessed in proportion to the value of the location of the factory, store, or workshop occupied by the industry. Now it is assessed upon some elaborately constituted classes, in rates which vary with the size of the community in which the business is done, and the rental of the place of business. It includes all kinds of commercial and industrial enterprises and occupations, large and small, and also the liberal professions, when not exercised in behalf of some already taxed business enterprise. The agriculturalists are exempt.
Direct taxation in France may be summarised as falling mainly on the agents of production and the sources of wealth.