A Treatise on Political Economy, Or, the Production, Distribution, and Consumption of Wealth

By Jean-Baptiste Say; Clement C. Biddle et al. | Go to book overview

purpose of meeting the public consumption or expenditure. Whatever be the denomination it bears, whether tax, contribution, duty, excise, custom, aid, subsidy,* grant, or free gift, it is virtually a burthen imposed upon individuals, either in a separate or corporate character, by the ruling power for the time being, for the purpose of supplying the consumption it may think proper to make at their expense; in short, an impost, in the literal sense.

It would be foreign to the plan of this work, to inquire in whom the right of taxation is or ought to be vested. In the science of political economy, taxation must be considered as matter of fact, and not of right; and nothing further is to be regarded, than its nature; the source whence it derives the values it absorbs, and its effect upon national and individual interests. The province of this science extends no further.

The object of taxation is, not the actual commodity, but the value of the commodity, given by the tax-payer to the tax-gatherer. Its being paid in silver, in goods, or in personal service, is a mere accidental circumstance, which may be more or loss advantageous to the subject or to the sovereign. The essential point is, the value of the silver, the goods, or the service. The moment that value is parted with by the tax-payer, it is positively lost to him; the moment it is consumed by the government or its agents, it is lost to all the world, and never reverts to, or re-exists in society. This, I apprehend, has already been demonstrated, when the general effect of public consumption was under consideration. It was there shown, that however the mohey levied by taxation may be refunded to the nation, its value is never refunded; because it is never returned gratuitously, or refunded by the public functionaries, without receiving an equivalent in the way of barter or exchange.

The same causes, that we have found to make unproductive consumption nowise favourable to re-production, prevent taxation from at all promoting it. Taxation deprives the producer of a product, which he would otherwise have the option of dedying a personal gratification from, if consumed unproductively, or of turning to profit, if he preferred to devote it to an useful

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What avails it, for instance, that taxation is imposed by consent of the people or their representatives, if there exist in the state a power, that by its acts can leave the people no alternative but consent? De Lolme in his Essay on the English Constitution, says that the right of the Crown to make war is nugatory, while the people have the right of refusing the supplies for carrying it on. May it not be said, with much more truth, that the right of the people to deny the supplies is nugatory, when the crown has involved them in a predicament, that makes consent a matter of necessity? The liberties of Great Britain have no real security, except in the freedom of the press; which rests itself, rather upon the habits and opinions of the nation, than upon legal enactments or judicial decisions. A nation is free, when it is bent on freedom; and the most formidable obstacle to the establishment of civil libert is, the absence of the desire for it.

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