Taxes, the contributions levied by a government upon persons and property, for the use of the government. As a revenue for the use of the state is absolutely essential to the existence of any orderly government, it is reasonable to infer that taxes were levied preceding the earliest of which historical records remain. But in the early ages rulers had other means of supplying their wants without resort to regular levies. One of these might be property of which the state or its ruler had the ownership, the rents or other returns from which rendered taxes unnecessary. In early periods, also, fines and confiscations or compensations for crime constituted an important source of revenue. The early taxes were most severe where the religious worship was supported by this means. Among the Hebrews, in the time of the theocracy, there was a capitation tax of a half shekel (about 30 cts.) payable by every male in the nation (according to some the regular payment of this was of later origin); a tribute of the first fruits, and of the first born of their domestic animals, which might be commuted for money at a fixed rate; a redemption tax for the first born male of the family; and a first and second tithe for the support of the Levites and of the service of the tabernacle, and every third year a third tithe (according to some an application of the second tithe) for the benefit of the poor, and so in some sense a poor rate.
After they adopted the regal form of government, the taxes were greatly increased. Solomon collected a large revenue; and the stoning to death of Adoram, "who was over the tribute," and the secession of the ten tribes at the commencement of the reign of his son and successor, indicate how oppressive had been the taxation. - In the Athenian republic there were no direct taxes, either on personal or real estate; the sources of revenue were the lands of the republic, fines and confiscations, the royalty of 1/24 of the products of the mines, a capitation tax on freedmen and foreigners resident in the republic, customs duties on foreign commodities and merchandise, on which a tariff of 2 per cent. was levied, some excise duties, licenses of markets and houses of prostitution, and tribute paid by other cities and islands. Tho imposts, licenses, etc, were generally farmed to companies, which gave security for their prompt payment. In times of war, extraordinary contributions were levied on wealthy citizens, or an appeal was made to their patriotism. The common people, so far from paying any tax except the duty on the goods they purchased, received from the state large appropriations for public games and spectacles.
In Rome, under the republic, the spoils of conquered nations and the annual tribute exacted from them defrayed the greater part of the expenses of the state; but under the empire it was found necessary to resort to numerous devices of taxation, portions of the territorial revenues were sequestrated, capitation taxes levied, tolls, taxes on corn, and legacy and hereditary duties collected, heavy sums exacted for the privilege of Roman citizenship, etc. During a large part of the middle ages, under the feudal institutions, there was no system of taxation. The kings were maintained by the products of their land, and in case of war their vassals, the barons and knights, were under obligation to furnish their quota of men-at-arms equipped and provisioned without expense to the monarch; and this military service was performed by their tenants by way of rental for the lands they cultivated. The first approach to modern systems was made during the middle ages by the republic of Venice, which levied taxes on the lands of the republic, and also in the form of duties on manufactures and imports; these duties, which brought in a large revenue, were imposed on the necessaries as well as the luxuries of life.
In France, prior to the revolution, there was a serious obstacle to any equitable system of taxation in the fact that the nobility and clergy, the privileged classes as they were termed, were exempted from its burdens. In England the finances for centuries were badly managed; there was little encouragement to industry, and the taxes, whether direct or indirect, were insufficient for the expenses of the government. The privileged classes were exempted as in France. Resort was often had to the sale of monopolies, and to forced loans, contributions, and confiscations. In most of the other countries of Europe no taxes were levied on the clergy or the nobles. In the countries of western Asia, the government of provinces with the right of taxation was bestowed on favorites, or sold to the man who would pay highest for it; and as the duration of the government of these rulers was short, they practised the most cruel extortion, completely annihilating industry, and often transforming countries once prosperous and populous into desert wastes. - Taxes are either direct or indirect.
The former are those which are levied upon the persons, property, business, income, etc, of those who are to pay them; the latter are levied on commodities in the hands of manufacturers and dealers, and will be paid ultimately by consumers as a part of the price of the commodity. Presumptively the former are paid by the persons taxed, while as to the latter the persons who make payment to the government only advance to it the taxes, expecting to reimburse the amount in their sales and thus transfer the tax to the purchasers. They constitute therefore as to these taxes the collectors for the government, collecting with ease and convenience from the whole body of consumers a tax which it would be difficult and expensive, perhaps impossible, for the government to collect from the several consumers after the articles taxed have passed into their hands. But though direct taxes presumptively fall upon the persons taxed, a portion of the burden is usually transferred to others, and is diffused through the community in a manner that renders it impossible to indicate the precise extent.
A direct tax on lands is paid by the land owner; but if the revenues of the state were principally collected from this source, the necessary result would be such an increase in the price of everything which the land produces as would transfer to consumers a large proportion of the tax, and thus have the effect of an indirect tax upon them. A like result must follow the taxation of professional incomes, unless the incomes of other callings are taxed proportionably, so as to equalize the burden by the tax law itself, instead of leaving it to be equalized by the increase in price of whatever those who pay the tax have to sell, as compared with the price of what is sold by those who are not taxed. A process of equalization of this nature must always be going on when one class of property or occupation is taxed and another exempted. - The true principles of taxation were little understood until the time of Adam Smith, and even now are in many particulars the subject of earnest controversy. That writer laid down maxims of taxation as follows : "1. The subjects of every state ought to contribute toward the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state. 2. The tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be certain, and not arbitrary; the time of payment, the manner of payment, and the quantity to be paid, ought all to be clear and plain to the contributor and to every other person. 3. Every tax ought to be levied at the time and in the manner in which it is most likely to be convenient for the contributor to pay it. 4. Every tax ought to be so contrived as both to take out and keep out of the pockets of the people as little as possible over and above what it brings into the public treasury of the state." Prof. Amasa Walker, in his "Science of Wealth," adds to these the following, which he justly says has been adopted in every country having any considerable taxation: "5. The heaviest taxes should be imposed on those commodities the consumption of which is especially prejudicial to the interests of the people." The first of these maxims has met with little or no recognition except in recent times.
It has already been said that until recently, even in the most civilized countries, precisely those classes who enjoyed the largest revenue, and presumptively were most able to contribute to the support of government, were exempted altogether. The modern idea not only accepts this first maxim, but it goes somewhat further in a direction opposite to the practice of former times, and holds that revenue which is only sufficient for the support of the person and his family should be regarded as not subject to taxation at all, but the whole burden should be levied upon the large revenues. Full effect is seldom given to this idea, but its recognition is seen in the exemption of small incomes when an income tax is laid, and in the exemption of household furniture, tools of trade, etc, when property is taxed by value. While this first maxim is true in a general sense, there are many exceptions to be made to it, and no tax system ever professes to be framed in strict accordance with it. The land owner who voluntarily allows his lands to lie idle and produce no returns, and thus avoids contributing to the common benefit of society, has no claim to exemption; and as his property is meanwhile protected by the government, it is only reasonable that he should make duo return for this protection.
A man possessed of large means may have them invested in a large establishment, fine grounds, elegant collections of art, etc, which a moderate income enables him to support; while another whose whole capital is kept in productive employment may realize no greater income from his comparatively small means,, supplemented by his own labor. Obviously in such cases income could not be a proper standard of taxation as between the two. To render the maxim just in all cases, other than pecuniary returns must be had in view, and the standard of taxation must embrace something besides income. In modern times complicated systems have generally been established in which taxes have been laid on expenditure as well as on income, and to these have been added taxes on the value of property, the purpose being to levy a diversity of taxes which, as they work together, will be likely to result in distributing the burdens of government more equally and justly than any single tax could possibly do. The second maxim is one that should admit of no exception when direct taxes are laid; but when taxes are indirect, one of their chief advantages is supposed to be that they are paid by the people without their being aware at the time that they are paying taxes at all, or at least without reflection on their part that what they pay as price includes a tax.
The third maxim is sometimes had in view in the imposition of taxes in kind, but it must be very rare indeed that this method of obtaining a revenue can bo either convenient to the people or economical to the government. Only when extraordinary circumstances preclude a ready exchange of the products of the country for money, such as for a time existed while the southern states of the Union were in insurrection against the government, could taxes in kind be preferable either to the tax payers or to the government. The exchange of property for money is always better done by individuals than by the government, and the government consults the interests of the people by making taxes payable at the season of the year when the harvests have generally been gathered, and when it is presumed the tax payers can most conveniently meet the demand. The fourth maxim is often violated by large and needless accumulations in the public treasury, which are impolitic for the further reason that they tend to extravagance and corruption and invite peculation.
One important measure which governments adopt has express reference to this maxim, viz., the warehousing system, under which the importer, instead of being compelled to pay the customs duties on the arrival of the goods, and to charge his customers with the consequent loss of interest until sales are made, is permitted to leave them in store, and to pay the duties when the goods are withdrawn for sale. Mr. Walker's supplementary maxim is had in view in all well regulated governments. Spirituous and fermented liquors and tobacco are usually made to pay heavy taxes, while breadstuffs are exempt, or only taxed as a part of the general property of the country by value; and at the same time perhaps license taxes will be imposed upon dealers in spirits and tobacco, and also upon the keepers of billiard tables and daces of amusement. - The taxes which have been laid at different times have been almost infinite in variety, depending sometimes mainly on considerations of policy, while at others the necessities of government have compelled it to make use of every available means of extracting money from the people.
One of the earliest taxes was perhaps a capitation tax, but this can seldom be reasonably fair or equal, because it can take no account of the differences in condition, resources, or income of the persons taxed. The land tax was also an early device, and the feudal services easily slid into a burden of this character. A land tax as a part of a system of taxes may be a just tax, and by itself may not be so unequal or unjust as would at first be supposed. Land is the most available resource for direct taxation, and in this country land is found in the hands of so large a portion of the people that the states are enabled to raise the greater part of their revenues from this source without exciting any general feeling of discontent. Land taxes may be measured by area, which, except in the case of assessments for some local purposes, must always be unequal, or they may be measured by rents or by value. A house tax is common in other countries, and was formerly measured by windows or hearths; but as the adoption of either standard tended to diminish the number of the convenience which was the measure of the tax, the rent or rental value is generally substituted.
The income tax, however just in theory, has always proved unequal from the impossibility of obtaining accurate returns, and unpopular from the necessity it involved of prying into the business and private concerns of the people. Great use has however been made of it in England, where one has been imposed ever since 1842, undergoing in the mean time 18 alterations, the rate ranging from 16d. in the pound to 2d. In some tax laws incomes are graded, and those are taxed least which are derived from property otherwise taxed, or which for any reason it is thought should not be taxed as high as others. In America an income tax has always been exceptional. Excise taxes are laid in great variety, and in some countries produce the larger portion of the revenue. The heaviest are usually those on the manufacture of liquors; these have sometimes been made so heavy as to furnish strong inducements to evasion, and by various ingenious contrivances, combined usually with corruption of the revenue officers, the heavy tax is made less productive than a light one. Excise taxes are also laid on employments in various forms, on the profits of business and of corporations, etc. A succession tax, or a tax on the privilege of succeeding to an inheritance or to a testamentary gift, has been customary.
When the succession is collateral, or out of the immediate family of the deceased, it comes in diminution of a new capital and will not be burdensome; but when paid by the immediate family of the deceased, the burden is more felt, because that from which the tax is taken was, for all purposes of comfort and enjoyment, the property of the family before. Customs taxes are in some countries next in productiveness to excise taxes, while in others they are much more productive. They are favorite taxes with governments because they are easy of collection, and because the people submit to them more willingly than to either the direct or the indirect internal taxes. They are objectionable because of the strong invitation they hold out to smuggling, which is greater in proportion as the tax is heavy, and also because of the temptation they offer for discriminating legislation for the benefit of particular occupations or to build up monopolies. Protective taxation is usually laid in this form. Either an excise or a customs tax will be productive in proportion as the article taxed is one in general use, and as the government succeeds in collecting the tax and preventing evasions.
An export tax is not often laid, it being thought impolitic as tending to diminish exportation and production, and also because, to the extent that it seems to transfer to purchasers in other countries the burdens of the government imposing it, the tendency is to invite retaliatory legislation. A property tax by value has very generally been regarded in America as the most equal and just of all taxes. Practically, it falls mainly on real property, from the difficulty of discovering and listing personalty except in its most tangible forms. Stamp taxes are laid in various forms: on manufactured articles, bills of exchange, checks, deeds, contracts, and other instruments of business or traffic, on the process of courts, letters of administration, etc, and sometimes on news-papers. No taxes are so easily, cheaply, or conveniently collected as these, and when levied on articles selected with a view to a fair distribution of the burden, none could be more just. In the United States they are generally abandoned except for the purposes of the excise on manufactures. The enjoyments and amusements of the wealthier classes are sometimes taxed specially, the taxes being imposed in respect to their servants, horses, carriages, dogs, plate, etc.
The interest of money is sometimes taxed specially; so are dividends of corporations and joint stock companies; so sometimes are indentures of apprenticeship, and even marriages. Many light taxes are laid for regulation merely, usually in the form of license fees. A principle generally accepted is, that articles of luxury should be selected for taxation to the relief of articles of prime necessity. This tends to cast the burden upon those best able to bear it, and at the same time leaves every man to tax himself, since his purchases are made of choice and not from necessity. But this by no means has the effect at all times to make the weight of taxes fall upon the wealthier classes. Mr. R. D. Baxter estimates the taxes paid by the manual labor classes of Great Britain on alcoholic drinks and tobacco at 61/10 per cent, of their income, and those paid by the upper and middle classes on the same articles at 2 3/10 per cent. - The official figures of European budgets convey no adequate idea of the relative taxation in the respective countries, because in one country they may embrace the taxes levied for many purposes which in another will be provided for by taxes not .brought into the corresponding budget.
Furthermore, no adequate returns are anywhere made of the items of local taxation, which constitute a large proportion of the aggregate taxes. These local taxes in Great Britain are estimated to exceed £30,000,000. Any comparison between the taxation of the United States and that of the European countries would also be likely to mislead, unless it brought into view the taxation of the several states as well as that of the nation. Taxation in the United States ranges itself under the three heads of federal, state, and municipal. The first is laid almost wholly in the form of customs and excise duties. The figures for the fiscal year 1875 were :
Customs duties ................
Taxes on distilled liquors...
" on fermented liquors.
" on tobacco ..................
Stamp taxes ..................
Taxes on banks............
Penalties and other items...
Total internal taxes . .....
Total of taxes ...................
State taxation is usually laid for general state purposes only. The bulk of all state taxation is laid upon property by a periodical valuation. In some states these are supplemented by taxes on occupations or "privileges," on the franchises of corporations, etc. Taxes on those occupations which are transient and those which are thought to require peculiar supervision and regulation are usual in all the states. Ma-nicipaf or local taxation is commonly very much heavier than state taxation. It embraces: 1, all taxes laid for the general purposes of counties, cities, boroughs, towns, and villages; and 2, those local taxes which are usually called assessments, and which are laid in special districts supposed to bo peculiarly benefited by the construction of some public work, and by some rule of apportionment which proposes to charge each item of property within the district in proportion to the benefit it will receive. Taxes on this principle are often, though not always, laid for the opening and improvement of streets, for sewerage and lighting in cities, for country drains, for levees and embankments, etc.
The legislature directs these to be provided for by general taxation of the municipality, or by local assessments, as it deems most just, or it confers upon the municipality within which the work is to be done a discretion in the premises. - The methods of collecting taxes are various. Formerly in some countries the collection of the revenue was farmed out to contractors, but this led to enormous abuses and oppressions, and is no longer thought of. Customs duties are usually collected by requiring everything imported to pass through the hands of government officers, and the tax to be paid before the goods pass beyond their control. Excise taxes may be imposed in the form of stamps, and collected in a sale of the stamps, to be affixed either by the person taxed or by some official. Assessed taxes are mainly collected by a collector to whom a tax list and warrant is issued, and who is authorized to distrain goods, and perhaps to take the body of the person taxed. In the United States taxes on lands are generally permitted to bo enforced by a sale of the lands after other means of collection are exhausted.
Much use is made of penalties under revenue laws, not only for the punishment of frauds and evasions, but also to compel the furnishing of lists, returns, etc. - Many things are usually exempt from taxation. Indeed, any taxation is only a selection of subjects to be taxed, leaving everything else exempt; but where special classes of persons, occupations, property, etc, arc taxed, many exemptions are made. Public property is usually exempt, and this includes court houses, public school buildings, asylums, etc. Houses of worship are also generally exempted, and sometimes the property of clergymen; the idea being that this indirect encouragement to religious worship is for the good of the state, and also, perhaps, that as the community in general contribute in some form to the maintenance of churches, this exemption produces no considerable inequality. Special exemptions of individuals in any class taxed are usually unjust, and in the United States, except when made for a consideration, must be regarded as forbidden by constitutional principles. - Taxation and protection are regarded as reciprocal rights and duties.
But protection is the consideration rather for the liability to taxation than for actual taxation; as, if the government should see fit to collect all its taxes from lands, persons owning no lands and therefore not taxed, but liable to be taxed, would be equally entitled to protection with the land owner himself. In Great Britain and the United States it is a constitutional maxim that taxation and representation go together, and the people's representatives vote the taxes which the people are to pay. A violation of this maxim led to the American revolution. The exact force of the maxim is not well determined. It is not usually in doubt so far as the general taxes for the use of the state are concerned: these must be granted by the legislature; but in the case of local taxes some questions remain to bo determined. There can be no doubt that local powers to tax are not inherent in the municipalities, but must be conferred by the state. Usually they are conferred with proper restrictions, and the municipalities are then left to exercise them at discretion.
And it must be conceded that when the powers are to be employed for purely local purposes in which the commonwealth at large has no concern, this maxim would be disregarded if liberty in the premises were not left to the people directly interested; and this in the United States is customary. - See Leone Levi, " On Taxation, how it is Raised and how Expended" (London, 1860); Parieu, Traite des impots considered sous le rapport historique, economique et politique en France et a Vetran-ger (5 vols., Paris, 1862-'4); Sir Morton Peto, " Taxation, its Levy and Expenditure, past and futuro" (New York, 1866); R. Dudley Baxter, " The Taxation of the United Kingdom " (London, 1869), and "Taxation and Local Government" (1874); George J. Goschen, M. P., "Local Taxation" (London, 1872); Sargeant, " Taxation, Past, Present, and Future " (London, 1874); R. S. Blackwell, "Tax Titles" (3d ed., Boston, 1874); "Local Government and Taxation," edited by J. W. Probyn ("Cobden Club Essays," 1875); Francis Hilliard, "The Law of Taxation" (Boston, 1875); and Thomas M. Cooley, " The Law of Taxation " (Chicago, 1876).