Public Finance is properly grouped among the social sciences, and, as just indicated, it is closely related to a number of these. Its field is definite enough, however, to admit of independent scientific investigation. It deals at once with principles and their application; it is, therefore, both an art and a science. The art nature appears when the formulas which have been discovered through the scientific processes of investigation begin to be applied. It was a scientific process, for example, by which it was discovered that the burden of taxes does not always rest where it is first placed. The art nature appears when this principle of shifting burdens begins to be used to correct injustices, and to inaugurate a more symmetrical fiscal system. Both aspects are important - the scientific aspect to the student who is primarily interested in discovering general truths and laws, and the art aspect to the student who is concerned with the application of formulated principles for the purpose of securing desirable changes in the fiscal conditions.
Method of Study. - Some writers have entered extensively into a discussion of the proper methods of approach to the study of Public Finance, but space does not warrant an extended discussion of this subject here. Some have maintained that the study is primarily " inductive," while others have been just as strong defenders of the "deductive" method of approach. As a matter of fact, both methods have a place and are used simultaneously. Since it is to a great extent a derived science, it necessarily borrows a number of rules and laws, which, as general principles, are bases for further reasoning. With the use of these principles from which to start, it may be considered as a deductive science. These principles themselves have been derived, on the other hand, through the processes of inductive reasoning - the formulations have been made only after bringing together a number of individual cases from which conclusions could be drawn.
While the modern study, then, partakes of both inductive and deductive reasoning, yet its early development was marked by the almost exclusive use of the inductive method. Comparative and historical studies also have an important place in the study of Public Finance, for much can be gained from knowing what other governmental units are doing and have done to determine fiscal principles and to solve fiscal difficulties.
Extent of Study. - More important than method of study, perhaps, are the classes of persons whose interest Public Finance should command. The idea has been too prevalent that a knowledge of its principles would be useful only to the officials who are handling the business of the government, and that they have no practical application for the average citizen. No belief could be more erroneous. While it is of utmost importance that officials who have the direction of fiscal policies should be well versed in the underlying principles of Public Finance, it is none the less true that their constituents should be well informed in the same field. Never before in the history of the world has such a knowledge been so vital. Democracy has been growing apace, with the prevailing idea that it is the panacea for political ills. There is no virtue in self-government itself to cure these ills, nor is there any condition in democracy to insure its survival, unless the voters be properly grounded in the principles necessary to insure an enduring state. The mere vote is not sufficient; the voting must be intelligent as well. The manner in which the purse strings are controlled is of paramount importance, for in no field of governmental activity are corruption and abuse so likely to creep in. The modern writer should attempt to dispel the current notion that fiscal treatises are dismal and uninteresting, and should aim to vitalize them in connection with the life of every citizen.