On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation

David Ricardo
Ricardo, David
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First Pub. Date
London: John Murray
Pub. Date
3rd edition.
11 of 35

Chapter 8
On Taxes


Taxes are a portion of the produce of the land and labour of a country, placed at the disposal of the government; and are always ultimately paid, either from the capital, or from the revenue of the country.


We have already shewn how the capital of a country is either fixed or circulating, according as it is of a more or of a less durable nature. It is difficult to define strictly, where the distinction between circulating and fixed capital begins; for there are almost infinite degrees in the durability of capital. The food of a country is consumed and reproduced at least once in every year; the clothing of the labourer is probably not consumed and reproduced in less than two years; whilst his house and furniture are calculated to endure for a period of ten or twenty years.


When the annual productions of a country more than replace its annual consumption, it is said to increase its capital; when its annual consumption is not at least replaced by its annual production, it is said to diminish its capital. Capital may therefore be increased by an increased production, or by a diminished unproductive consumption.


If the consumption of the government, when increased by the levy of additional taxes, be met either by an increased production, or by a diminished consumption on the part of the people, the taxes will fall upon revenue, and the national capital will remain unimpaired; but if there be no increased production or diminished unproductive consumption on the part of the people, the taxes will necessarily fall on capital, that is to say, they will impair the fund allotted to productive consumption.21*


In proportion as the capital of a country is diminished, its productions will be necessarily diminished; and, therefore, if the same unproductive expenditure on the part of the people and of the government continue, with a constantly diminishing annual reproduction, the resources of the people and the state will fall away with increasing rapidity, and distress and ruin will follow.


Notwithstanding the immense expenditure of the English government during the last twenty years, there can be little doubt but that the increased production on the part of the people has more than compensated for it. The national capital has not merely been unimpaired, it has been greatly increased, and the annual revenue of the people, even after the payment of their taxes, is probably greater at the present time than at any former period of our history.


For the proof of this we might refer to the increase of population—to the extension of agriculture—to the increase of shipping and manufactures—to the building of docks—to the opening of numerous canals, as well as to many other expensive undertakings; all denoting an increase both of capital and of annual production.


Still, however, it is certain that but for taxation this increase of capital would have been much greater. There are no taxes which have not a tendency to lessen the power to accumulate. All taxes must either fall on capital or revenue. If they encroach on capital, they must proportionably diminish that fund by whose extent the extent of the productive industry of the country must always be regulated; and if they fall on revenue, they must either lessen accumulation, or force the contributors to save the amount of the tax, by making a corresponding diminution of their former unproductive consumption of the necessaries and luxuries of life. Some taxes will produce these effects in a much greater degree than others; but the great evil of taxation is to be found, not so much in any selection of its objects, as in the general amount of its effects taken collectively.


Taxes are not necessarily taxes on capital, because they are laid on capital; nor on income, because they are laid on income. If from my income of £1,000 per annum, I am required to pay £100, it will really be a tax on my income, should I be content with the expenditure of the remaining £900, but it will be a tax on capital, if I continue to spend £1,000.


The capital from which my income of £1,000 is derived, may be of the value of £10,000; a tax of one per cent on such capital would be £100; but my capital would be unaffected, if after paying this tax, I in like manner contented myself with the expenditure of £900.


The desire which every man has to keep his station in life, and to maintain his wealth at the height which it has once attained, occasions most taxes, whether laid on capital or on income, to be paid from income; and therefore as taxation proceeds, or as government increases its expenditure, the annual enjoyments of the people must be diminished, unless they are enabled proportionally to increase their capitals and income. It should be the policy of governments to encourage a disposition to do this in the people, and never to lay such taxes as will inevitably fall on capital; since by so doing, they impair the funds for the maintenance of labour, and thereby diminish the future production of the country.


In England this policy has been neglected, in taxing the probates of wills, in the legacy duty, and in all taxes affecting the transference of property from the dead to the living. If a legacy of £1,000 be subject to a tax of £100, the legatee considers his legacy as only £900 and feels no particular motive to save the £100 duty from his expenditure, and thus the capital of the country is diminished; but if he had really received £1,000, and had been required to pay £100 as a tax on income, on wine, on horses, or on servants, he would probably have diminished, or rather not increased his expenditure by that sum, and the capital of the country would have been unimpaired.


"Taxes upon the transference of property from the dead to the living," says Adam Smith, "fall finally, as well as immediately, upon the persons to whom the property is transferred. Taxes on the sale of land fall altogether upon the seller. The seller is almost always under the necessity of selling, and must, therefore, take such a price as he can get. The buyer is scarce ever under the necessity of buying, and will, therefore, only give such a price as he likes. He considers what the land will cost him in tax and price together. The more he is obliged to pay in the way of tax, the less he will be disposed to give in the way of price. Such taxes, therefore, fall almost always upon a necessitous person, and must, therefore, be very cruel and oppressive." "Stamp duties, and duties upon the registration of bonds and contracts for borrowed money, fall altogether upon the borrower, and in fact are always paid by him. Duties of the same kind upon law proceedings fall upon the suitors. They reduce to both the capital value of the subject in dispute. The more it costs to acquire any property, the less must be the neat value of it when acquired. All taxes upon the transference of property of every kind, so far as they diminish the capital value of that property, tend to diminish the funds destined for the maintenance of labour. They are all more or less unthrifty taxes, that increase the revenue of the sovereign, which seldom maintains any but unproductive labourers, at the expense of the capital of the people, which maintains none but productive."


But this is not the only objection to taxes on the transference of property; they prevent the national capital from being distributed in the way most beneficial to the community. For the general prosperity, there cannot be too much facility given to the conveyance and exchange of all kinds of property, as it is by such means that capital of every species is likely to find its way into the hands of those, who will best employ it in increasing the productions of the country. "Why," asks M. Say, "does an individual wish to sell his land? It is because he has another employment in view in which his funds will be more productive. Why does another wish to purchase this same land? It is to employ a capital which brings him in too little, which was unemployed, or the use of which he thinks susceptible of improvement. This exchange will increase the general income, since it increases the income of these parties. But if the charges are so exorbitant as to prevent the exchange, they are an obstacle to this increase of the general income." Those taxes, however, are easily collected; and this by many may be thought to afford some compensation for their injurious effects.

Notes for this chapter

It must be understood that all the productions of a country are consumed; but it makes the greatest difference imaginable whether they are consumed by those who reproduce, or by those who do not reproduce another value. When we say that revenue is saved, and added to capital, what we mean is, that the portion of revenue, so said to be added to capital, is consumed by productive instead of unproductive labourers. There can be no greater error than in suppossing that capital is increased by non-consumption. If the price of labour should rise so high, that notwithstanding the increase of capital, no more could be employed, I should say that such increase of capital would be still unproductively consumed.

End of Notes

12 of 35

Chapter 9
Taxes on Raw Produce


Having in a former part of this work established, I hope satisfactorily, the principle, that the price of corn is regulated by the cost of its production on that land exclusively, or rather with that capital exclusively, which pays no rent, it will follow that whatever may increase the cost of production will increase the price; whatever may reduce it, will lower the price. The necessity of cultivating poorer land, or of obtaining a less return with a given additional capital on land already in cultivation, will inevitably raise the exchangeable value of raw produce. The discovery of machinery, which will enable the cultivator to obtain his corn at a less cost of production, will necessarily lower its exchangeable value. Any tax which may be imposed on the cultivator, whether in the shape of land-tax, tithes, or a tax on the produce when obtained, will increase the cost of production, and will therefore raise the price of raw produce.


If the price of raw produce did not rise so as to compensate the cultivator for the tax, he would naturally quit a trade where his profits were reduced below the general level of profits; this would occasion a diminution of supply, until the unabated demand should have produced such a rise in the price of raw produce, as to make the cultivation of it equally profitable with the investment of capital in any other trade.


A rise of price is the only means by which he could pay the tax, and continue to derive the usual and general profits from this employment of his capital. He could not deduct the tax from his rent, and oblige his landlord to pay it, for he pays no rent. He would not deduct it from his profits, for there is no reason why he should continue in an employment which yields small profits, when all other employments are yielding greater. There can then be no question, but that he will have the power of raising the price of raw produce by a sum equal to the tax.


A tax on raw produce would not be paid by the landlord; it would not be paid by the farmer; but it would be paid, in an increased price, by the consumer.


Rent, it should be remembered, is the difference between the produce obtained by equal portions of labour and capital employed on land of the same or different qualities. It should be remembered too, that the money rent of land, and the corn rent of land, do not vary in the same proportion.


In the case of a tax on raw produce, of a land-tax, or tithes, the corn rent of land will vary, while the money rent will remain as before.


If, as we have before supposed, the land in cultivation were of three qualities, and that with an equal amount of capital,


180 qrs. of corn were obtained from land No. 1.
170 . . . . . from . . . . . 2.
160 . . . . . from . . . . . 3.

the rent of No. 1 would be 20 quarters, the difference between that of No. 3 and No. 1; and of No. 2, 10 quarters, the difference between that of No. 3 and No. 2; while No. 3 would pay no rent whatever.


Now if the price of corn were £4 per quarter, the money rent of No. 1 would be £80, and that of No. 2, £40.


Suppose a tax of 8s. per quarter to be imposed on corn; then the price would rise to £4 8s.; and if the landlords obtained the same corn rent as before, the rent of No. 1 would be £88 and that of No. 2, £44. But they would not obtain the same corn rent; the tax would fall heavier on No. 1 than on No. 2, and on No. 2 than on No. 3, because it would be levied on a greater quantity of corn. It is the difficulty of production on No. 3 which regulates price; and corn rises to £4 8s., that the profits of the capital employed on No. 3 may be on a level with the general profits of stock.


The produce and tax on the three qualities of land will be as follows:

No. 1, yielding 180.0 qrs. at £4 8s. per qr. £792
Deduct the value of 16.3 or 8s. per qr. on 180 qrs. 72
Net corn produce
Net money produce
No. 2, yielding 170.0 qrs. at £4 8s. per qr.... £748
Deduct the value of 15.4 brace bracket qrs. at £4 8s. or
8s. per qr. on 170 qr.
brace bracket 68
Net corn produce
Net money produce
No. 3, yielding 160.0 qrs. at £4 8s. £704
Deduct the value of 14.5 brace bracket qrs. at £4 8s. or
8s. per qr. on 160
brace bracket 64
Net corn produce
Net money produce


The money rent of No. 1 would continue to be £80, or the difference between £640 and £720; and that of No. 2, £40, or the difference between £640 and £680, precisely the same as before; but the corn rent will be reduced from 20 quarters on No. 1, to 18.2 quarters, the difference between 145.5 and 163.7 quarters, and that on No. 2 from 10 to 9.12 quarters, the difference between 145.5 and 154.6 quarters.


A tax on corn, then, would fall on the consumers of corn, and would raise its value as compared with all other commodities, in a degree proportioned to the tax. In proportion as raw produce entered into the composition of other commodities, would their value also be raised, unless the tax were countervailed by other causes. They would in fact be indirectly taxed, and their value would rise in proportion to the tax.


A tax, however, on raw produce, and on the necessaries of the labourer, would have another effect—it would raise wages. From the effect of the principle of population on the increase of mankind, wages of the lowest kind never continue much above that rate which nature and habit demand for the support of the labourers. This class is never able to bear any considerable proportion of taxation; and, consequently, if they had to pay 8s. per quarter in addition for wheat and in some smaller proportion for other necessaries, they would not be able to subsist on the same wages as before, and to keep up the race of labourers. Wages would inevitably and necessarily rise; and in proportion as they rose, profits would fall. Government would receive a tax of 8s. per quarter on all the corn consumed in the country, a part of which would be paid directly by the consumers of corn; the other part would be paid indirectly by those who employed labour, and would affect profits in the same manner as if wages had been raised from the increased demand for labour compared with the supply, or from an increasing difficulty of obtaining the food and necessaries required by the labourer.


In as far as the tax might affect consumers, it would be an equal tax, but in as far as it would affect profits, it would be a partial tax; for it would neither operate on the landlord nor on the stockholder, since they would continue to receive, the one the same money rent, the other the same money dividends as before. A tax on the produce of the land then would operate as follows:

    1st.It would raise the price of raw produce by a sum equal to the tax, and would therefore fall on each consumer in proportion to his consumption.
    2dly.It would raise the wages of labour, and lower profits.


It may then be objected against such a tax,

    1st. That by raising the wages of labour, and lowering profits, it is an unequal tax, as it affects the income of the farmer, trader, and manufacturer, and leaves untaxed the income of the landlord, stockholder, and others enjoying fixed incomes.
    2dly. That there would be a considerable interval between the rise in the price of corn and the rise of wages, during which much distress would be experienced by the labourer.
    3dly. That raising wages and lowering profits is a discouragement to accumulation, and acts in the same way as a natural poverty of soil.
    4thly. That by raising the price of raw produce, the prices of all commodities into which raw produce enters, would be raised, and that therefore we should not meet the foreign manufacturer on equal terms in the general market.


With respect to the first objection, that by raising the wages of labour and lowering profits it acts unequally, as it affects the income of the farmer, trader, and manufacturer, and leaves untaxed the income of the landlord, stockholder, and others enjoying fixed incomes,—it may be answered, that if the operation of the tax be unequal, it is for the legislature to make it equal, by taxing directly the rent of land, and the dividends from stock. By so doing, all the objects of an income tax would be obtained, without the inconvenience of having recourse to the obnoxious measure of prying into every man's concerns, and arming commissioners with powers repugnant to the habits and feelings of a free country.


With respect to the second objection, that there would be a considerable interval between the rise of the price of corn and the rise of wages, during which much distress would be experienced by the lower classes,—I answer, that under different circumstances, wages follow the price of raw produce with very different degrees of celerity; that in some cases no effect whatever is produced on wages by a rise of corn; in others, the rise of wages precedes the rise in the price of corn; again, in some the effect on wages is slow, and in others rapid.


Those who maintain that it is the price of necessaries which regulates the price of labour, always allowing for the particular state of progression in which the society may be, seem to have conceded too readily, that a rise or fall in the price of necessaries will be very slowly succeeded by a rise or fall of wages. A high price of provisions may arise from very different causes, and may accordingly produce very different effects. It may arise from

    1st. A deficient supply.
    2nd. From a gradually increasing demand, which may be ultimately attended with an increased cost of production.
    3rdly. From a fall in the value of money.
    4thly. From taxes on necessaries.


These four causes have not been sufficiently distinguished and separated by those who have inquired into the influence of a high price of necessaries on wages. We will examine them severally.


A bad harvest will produce a high price of provisions, and the high price is the only means by which the consumption is compelled to conform to the state of the supply. If all the purchasers of corn were rich, the price might rise to any degree, but the result would remain unaltered; the price would at last be so high, that the least rich would be obliged to forego the use of a part of the quantity which they usually consumed, as by diminished consumption alone the demand could be brought down to the limits of the supply. Under such circumstances no policy can be more absurd, than that of forcibly regulating money wages by the price of food, as is frequently done, by misapplication of the poor laws. Such a measure affords no real relief to the labourer, because its effect is to raise still higher the price of corn, and at last he must be obliged to limit his consumption in proportion to the limited supply. In the natural course of affairs a deficient supply from bad seasons, without any pernicious and unwise interference, would not be followed by a rise of wages. The raising of wages is merely nominal to those who receive them; it increases the competition in the corn market, and its ultimate effect is to raise the profits of the growers and dealers in corn. The wages of labour are really regulated by the proportion between the supply and demand of necessaries, and the supply and demand of labour; and money is merely the medium, or measure, in which wages are expressed. In this case then the distress of the labourer is unavoidable, and no legislation can afford a remedy, except by the importation of additional food, or by adopting the most useful substitutes.


When a high price of corn is the effect of an increasing demand, it is always preceded by an increase of wages, for demand cannot increase, without an increase of means in the people to pay for that which they desire. An accumulation of capital naturally produces an increased competition among the employers of labour, and a consequent rise in its price. The increased wages are not always immediately expended on food, but are first made to contribute to the other enjoyments of the labourer. His improved condition however induces, and enables him to marry, and then the demand for food for the support of his family naturally supersedes that of those other enjoyments on which his wages were temporarily expended. Corn rises then because the demand for it increases, because there are those in the society who have improved means of paying for it; and the profits of the farmer will be raised above the general level of profits, till the requisite quantity of capital has been employed on its production. Whether, after this has taken place, corn shall again fall to its former price, or shall continue permanently higher, will depend on the quality of the land from which the increased quantity of corn has been supplied. If it be obtained from land of the same fertility, as that which was last in cultivation, and with no greater cost of labour, the price will fall to its former state; if from poorer land, it will continue permanently higher. The high wages in the first instance proceeded from an increase in the demand for labour: inasmuch as it encouraged marriage, and supported children, it produced the effect of increasing the supply of labour. But when the supply is obtained, wages will again fall to their former price, if corn has fallen to its former price: to a higher than the former price, if the increased supply of corn has been produced from land of an inferior quality. A high price is by no means incompatible with an abundant supply: the price is permanently high, not because the quantity is deficient, but because there has been an increased cost in producing it. It generally happens indeed, that when a stimulus has been given to population, an effect is produced beyond what the case requires; the population may be, and generally is so much increased as, notwithstanding the increased demand for labour, to bear a greater proportion to the funds for maintaining labourers than before the increase of capital. In this case a re-action will take place, wages will be below their natural level, and will continue so, till the usual proportion between the supply and demand has been restored. In this case then, the rise in the price of corn is preceded by a rise of wages, and therefore entails no distress on the labourer.


A fall in the value of money, in consequence of an influx of the precious metals from the mines, or from the abuse of the privileges of banking, is another cause for the rise of the price of food; but it will make no alteration in the quantity produced. It leaves undisturbed too the number of labourers, as well as the demand for them; for there will be neither an increase nor a diminution of capital. The quantity of necessaries to be allotted to the labourer, depends on the comparative demand and supply of necessaries, with the comparative demand and supply of labour; money being only the medium in which the quantity is expressed; and as neither of these is altered, the real reward of the labourer will not alter. Money wages will rise, but they will only enable him to furnish himself with the same quantity of necessaries as before. Those who dispute this principle, are bound to show why an increase of money should not have the same effect in raising the price of labour, the quantity of which has not been increased, as they acknowledge it would have on the price of shoes, of hats, and of corn, if the quantity of those commodities were not increased. The relative market value of hats and shoes is regulated by the demand and supply of hats, compared with the demand and supply of shoes, and money is but the medium in which their value is expressed. If shoes be doubled in price, hats will also be doubled in price, and they will retain the same comparative value. So if corn and all the necessaries of the labourer be doubled in price, labour will be doubled in price also, and while there is no interruption to the usual demand and supply of necessaries and of labour, there can be no reason why they should not preserve their relative value.


Neither a fall in the value of money, nor a tax on raw produce, though each will raise the price, will necessarily interfere with the quantity of raw produce; or with the number of people, who are both able to purchase, and willing to consume it. It is very easy to perceive why, when the capital of a country increases irregularly, wages should rise, whilst the price of corn remains stationary, or rises in a less proportion; and why, when the capital of a country diminishes, wages should fall whilst corn remains stationary, or falls in a much less proportion, and this too for a considerable time; the reason is, because labour is a commodity which cannot be increased and diminished at pleasure. If there are too few hats in the market for the demand, the price will rise, but only for a short time; for in the course of one year, by employing more capital in that trade, any reasonable addition may be made to the quantity of hats, and therefore their market price cannot long very much exceed their natural price; but it is not so with men; you cannot increase their number in one or two years when there is an increase of capital, nor can you rapidly diminish their number when capital is in a retrograde state; and, therefore, the number of hands increasing or diminishing slowly, whilst the funds for the maintenance of labour increase or diminish rapidly, there must be a considerable interval before the price of labour is exactly regulated by the price of corn and necessaries; but in the case of a fall in the value of money, or of a tax on corn, there is not necessarily any excess in the supply of labour, nor any abatement of demand, and therefore there can be no reason why the labourer should sustain a real diminution of wages.


A tax on corn does not necessarily diminish the quantity of corn, it only raises its money price; it does not necessarily diminish the demand compared with the supply of labour; why then should it diminish the portion paid to the labourer? Suppose it true that it did diminish the quantity given to the labourer, in other words, that it did not raise his money wages in the same proportion as the tax raised the price of the corn which he consumed; would not the supply of corn exceed the demand?—would it not fall in price? and would not the labourer thus obtain his usual portion? In such case, indeed, capital would be withdrawn from agriculture; for if the price were not increased by the whole amount of the tax, agricultural profits would be lower than the general level of profits, and capital would seek a more advantageous employment. In regard then to a tax on raw produce, which is the point under discussion, it appears to me that no interval which could bear oppressively on the labourer, would elapse between the rise in the price of raw produce, and the rise in the wages of the labourer; and that therefore no other inconvenience would be suffered by this class, than that which they would suffer from any other mode of taxation, namely, the risk that the tax might infringe on the funds destined for the maintenance of labour, and might therefore check or abate the demand for it.


With respect to the third objection against taxes on raw produce, namely, that the raising wages, and lowering profits, is a discouragement to accumulation, and acts in the same way as a natural poverty of soil; I have endeavoured to shew in another part of this work that savings may be as effectually made from expenditure as from production; from a reduction in the value of commodities, as from a rise in the rate of profits. By increasing my profits from £1,000 to £1,200, whilst prices continue the same, my power of increasing my capital by savings is increased, but it is not increased so much as it would be if my profits continued as before, whilst commodities were so lowered in price, that £800 would procure me as much as £1,000 purchased before.


Now the sum required by the tax must be raised, and the question simply is, whether the same amount shall be taken from individuals by diminishing their profits, or by raising the prices of the commodities on which their profits will be expended.


Taxation under every form presents but a choice of evils; if it do not act on profit, or other sources of income, it must act on expenditure; and provided the burthen be equally borne, and do not repress reproduction, it is indifferent on which it is laid. Taxes on production, or on the profits of stock, whether applied immediately to profits, or indirectly, by taxing the land or its produce, have this advantage over other taxes; that provided all other income be taxed, no class of the community can escape them, and each contributes according to his means.


From taxes on expenditure a miser may escape; he may have an income of £10,000 per annum, and expend only £300; but from taxes on profits, whether direct or indirect, he cannot escape; he will contribute to them either by giving up a part or the value of a part of his produce; or by the advanced prices of the necessaries essential to production, he will be unable to continue to accumulate at the same rate. He may, indeed, have an income of the same value, but he will not have the same command of labour, nor of an equal quantity of materials on which such labour can be exercised.


If a country is insulated from all others, having no commerce with any of its neighbours, it can in no way shift any portion of its taxes from itself. A portion of the produce of its land and labour will be devoted to the service of the State; and I cannot but think that, unless it presses unequally on that class which accumulates and saves, it will be of little importance whether the taxes be levied on profits, on agricultural, or on manufactured commodities. If my revenue be £1,000 per annum, and I must pay taxes to the amount of £100, it is of little importance whether I pay it from my revenue, leaving myself only £900, or pay £100 in addition for my agricultural commodities, or for my manufactured goods. If £100 is my fair proportion of the expenses of the country, the virtue of taxation consists in making sure that I shall pay that £100, neither more nor less; and that cannot be effected in any manner so securely as by taxes on wages, profits, or raw produce.


The fourth and last objection which remains to be noticed is: That by raising the price of raw produce, the prices of all commodities into which raw produce enters, will be raised, and that, therefore, we shall not meet the foreign manufacturer on equal terms in the general market.


In the first place, corn and all home commodities could not be materially raised in price without an influx of the precious metals; for the same quantity of money could not circulate the same quantity of commodities, at high as at low prices, and the precious metals never could be purchased with dear commodities. When more gold is required, it must be obtained by giving more, and not fewer commodities in exchange for it. Neither could the want of money be supplied by paper, for it is not paper that regulates the value of gold as a commodity, but gold that regulates the value of paper. Unless then the value of gold could be lowered, no paper could be added to the circulation without being depreciated. And that the value of gold could not be lowered, appears clear, when we consider that the value of gold as a commodity must be regulated by the quantity of goods which must be given to foreigners in exchange for it. When gold is cheap, commodities are dear; and when gold is dear, commodities are cheap, and fall in price. Now as no cause is shewn why foreigners should sell their gold cheaper than usual, it does not appear probable that there would be any influx of gold. Without such an influx there can be no increase of quantity, no fall in its value, no rise in the general price of goods.22*


The probable effect of a tax on raw produce, would be to raise the price of raw produce, and of all commodities in which raw produce entered, but not in any degree proportioned to the tax; while other commodities in which no raw produce entered, such as articles made of the metals and the earths, would fall in price: so that the same quantity of money as before would be adequate to the whole circulation.


A tax which should have the effect of raising the price of all home productions, would not discourage exportation, except during a very limited time. If they were raised in price at home, they could not indeed immediately be profitably exported, because they would be subject to a burthen here from which abroad they were free. The tax would produce the same effect as an alteration in the value of money, which was not general and common to all countries, but confined to a single one. If England were that country, she might not be able to sell, but she would be able to buy, because importable commodities would not be raised in price. Under these circumstances nothing but money could be exported in return for foreign commodities, but this is a trade which could not long continue; a nation cannot be exhausted of its money, for after a certain quantity has left it, the value of the remainder will rise, and such a price of commodities will be the consequence, that they will again be capable of being profitably exported. When money had risen, therefore, we should no longer export it in return for goods, but we should export those manufactures which had first been raised in price, by the rise in the price of the raw produce from which they were made, and then again lowered by the exportation of money.


But it may be objected that when money so rose in value, it would rise with respect to foreign as well as home commodities, and therefore that all encouragement to import foreign goods would cease. Thus, suppose we imported goods which cost £100 abroad, and which sold for £120 here, we should cease to import them, when the value of money had so risen in England, that they would only sell for £100 here: this, however, could never happen. The motive which determines us to import a commodity, is the discovery of its relative cheapness abroad: it is the comparison of its price abroad with its price at home. If a country exports hats, and imports cloth, it does so because it can obtain more cloth by making hats, and exchanging them for cloth, than if it made the cloth itself. If the rise of raw produce occasions any increased cost of production in making hats, it would occasion also an increased cost in making cloth. If, therefore, both commodities were made at home, they would both rise. One, however, being a commodity which we import, would not rise, neither would it fall, when the value of money rose; for by not falling, it would regain its natural relation to the exported commodity. The rise of raw produce makes a hat rise from 30 to 33 shillings, or 10 per cent: the same cause if we manufactured cloth, would make it rise from 20s. to 22s. per yard. This rise does not destroy the relation between cloth and hats; a hat was, and continues to be, worth one yard and a half of cloth. But if we import cloth, its price will continue uniformly at 20s. per yard, unaffected first by the fall, and then by the rise in the value of, money. whilst hats, which had risen from 30s. to 33s., will again fall from 33s. to 30s., at which point the relation between cloth and hats will be restored.


To simplify the consideration of this subject, I have been supposing that a rise in the value of raw materials would affect, in an equal proportion, all home commodities; that if the effect on one were to raise it 10 per cent, it would raise all 10 per cent; but as the value of commodities is very differently made up of raw material and labour; as some commodities, for instance, all those made from the metals, would be unaffected by the rise of raw produce from the surface of the earth, it is evident that there would be the greatest variety in the effects produced on the value of commodities, by a tax on raw produce. As far as this effect was produced, it would stimulate or retard the exportation of particular commodities, and would undoubtedly be attended with the same inconvenience that attends the taxing of commodities; it would destroy the natural relation between the value of each. Thus the natural price of a hat, instead of being the same as a yard and a half of cloth, might only be of the value of a yard and a quarter, or it might be of the value of a yard and three quarters, and therefore rather a different direction might be given to foreign trade. All these inconveniences would probably not interfere with the value of the exports and imports; they would only prevent the very best distribution of the capital of the whole world, which is never so well regulated, as when every commodity is freely allowed to settle at its natural price, unfettered by artificial restraints.


Although then the rise in the price of most of our own commodities, would for a time check exportation generally, and might permanently prevent the exportation of a few commodities, it could not materially interfere with foreign trade, and would not place us under any comparative disadvantage as far as regarded competition in foreign markets.

Notes for this chapter

It may be doubted whether commodities raised in price, merely by taxation, would require any more money for their circulation. I believe they would not.

End of Notes

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Chapter 10
Taxes on Rent


A tax on rent would affect rent only; it would fall wholly on landlords, and could not be shifted to any class of consumers. The landlord could not raise his rent, because he would leave unaltered the difference between the produce obtained from the least productive land in cultivation, and that obtained from land of every quality. Three sorts of land, No. 1, 2, and 3, are in cultivation, and yield respectively with the same labour, 180, 170, and 160 quarters of wheat; but No. 3 pays no rent, and is therefore untaxed: the rent then of No. 2 cannot be made to exceed the value of ten, nor No. 1, of twenty quarters. Such a tax could not raise the price of raw produce, because as the cultivator of No. 3 pays neither rent nor tax, he would in no way be enabled to raise the price of the commodity produced. A tax on rent would not discourage the cultivation of fresh land, for such land pays no rent, and would be untaxed. If No. 4 were taken into cultivation, and yielded 150 quarters, no tax would be paid for such land; but it would create a rent of ten quarters on No. 3, which would then commence paying the tax.


A tax on rent, as rent is constituted, would discourage cultivation, because it would be a tax on the profits of the landlord. The term rent of land, as I have elsewhere observed, is applied to the whole amount of the value paid by the farmer to his landlord, a part only of which is strictly rent. The buildings and fixtures, and other expenses paid for by the landlord, form strictly a part of the stock of the farm, and must have been furnished by the tenant, if not provided by the landlord. Rent is the sum paid to the landlord for the use of the land, and for the use of the land only. The further sum that is paid to him under the name of rent, is for the use of the buildings, &c., and is really the profits of the landlord's stock. In taxing rent, as no distinction would be made between that part paid for the use of the land, and that paid for the use of the landlord's stock, a portion of the tax would fall on the landlord's profits, and would, therefore, discourage cultivation, unless the price of raw produce rose. On that land, for the use of which no rent was paid, a compensation under that name might be given to the landlord for the use of his buildings. These buildings would not be erected, nor would raw produce be grown on such land, till the price at which it sold would not only pay for all the usual outgoings, but also this additional one of the tax. This part of the tax does not fall on the landlord, nor on the farmer, but on the consumer of raw produce.


There can be little doubt but that if a tax were laid on rent, landlords would soon find a way to discriminate between that which is paid to them for the use of the land, and that which is paid for the use of the buildings, and the improvements which are made by the landlord's stock. The latter would either be called the rent of house and buildings, or on all new land taken into cultivation, such buildings would be erected, and improvements would be made by the tenant, and not by the landlord. The landlord's capital might indeed be really employed for that purpose; it might be nominally expended by the tenant, the landlord furnishing him with the means, either in the shape of a loan, or in the purchase of an annuity for the duration of the lease. Whether distinguished or not, there is a real difference between the nature of the compensations which the landlord receives for these different objects; and it is quite certain, that a tax on the real rent of land falls wholly on the landlord, but that a tax on that remuneration which the landlord receives for the use of his stock expended on the farm, falls, in a progressive country, on the consumer of raw produce. If a tax were laid on rent, and no means of separating the remuneration now paid by the tenant to the landlord under the name of rent were adopted, the tax, as far as it regarded the rent on the buildings and other fixtures, would never fall for any length of time on the landlord, but on the consumer. The capital expended on these buildings, &c., must afford the usual profit of stock; but it would cease to afford this profit on the land last cultivated, if the expenses of those buildings, &c., did not fall on the tenant; and if they did, the tenant would then cease to make his usual profits of stock, unless he could charge them on the consumer.

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Chapter 11


Tithes are a tax on the gross produce of the land, and, like taxes on raw produce, fall wholly on the consumer. They differ from a tax on rent, inasmuch as they affect land which such a tax would not reach; and raise the price of raw produce, which that tax would not alter. Lands of the worst quality, as well as of the best, pay tithes, and exactly in proportion to the quantity of produce obtained from them; tithes are therefore an equal tax.


If land of the last quality, or that which pays no rent, and which regulates the price of corn, yield a sufficient quantity to give the farmer the usual profits of stock, when the price of wheat is £4 per quarter, the price must rise to £4 8s. before the same profits can be obtained after the tithes are imposed, because for every quarter of wheat the cultivator must pay eight shillings to the church, and if he does not obtain the same profits, there is no reason why he should not quit his employment, when he can get them in other trades.


The only difference between tithes and taxes on raw produce, is, that one is a variable money tax, the other a fixed money tax. In a stationary state of society, where there is neither increased nor diminished facility of producing corn, they will be precisely the same in their effects; for, in such a state, corn will be at an invariable price, and the tax will therefore be also invariable. In either a retrograde state, or in a state in which great improvements are made in agriculture, and where consequently raw produce will fall in value comparatively with other things, tithes will be a lighter tax than a permanent money tax; for if the price of corn should fall from £4 to £3, the tax would fall from eight to six shillings. In a progressive state of society yet without any marked improvements in agriculture, the price of corn would rise, and tithes would be a heavier tax than a permanent money tax. If corn rose from £4 to £5, the tithes on the same land would advance from eight to ten shillings.


Neither tithes nor a money tax will affect the money rent of landlords, but both will materially affect corn rents. We have already observed how a money tax operates on corn rents, and it is equally evident that a similar effect would be produced by tithes. If the lands, No. 1, 2, 3, respectively produced 180, 170, and 160 quarters, the rents might be on No. 1, twenty quarters, and on No. 2, ten quarters; but they would no longer preserve that proportion after the payment of tithes: for if a tenth be taken from each, the remaining produce will be 162, 153, 154, and consequently the corn rent of No. 1 will be reduced to eighteen, and that of No. 2 to nine quarters. But the price of corn would rise from £4 to £4 8s. 10 2/3d.; for 144 quarters are to £4 as 160 quarters to £4 8s. 10 2/3d., and consequently the money rent would continue unaltered; for on No. 1 it would be £80.,23* and on No. 2, £40.24*


The chief objection against tithes is, that they are not a permanent and fixed tax, but increase in value, in proportion as the difficulty of producing corn increases. If those difficulties should make the price of corn £4, the tax is 8s., if they should increase it to £5, the tax is 10s., and at £6, it is 12s. They not only rise in value, but they increase in amount: thus, when No. 1 was cultivated, the tax was only levied on 180 quarters; when No. 2 was cultivated, it was levied on 180 + 170, or 350 quarters; and when No. 3 was cultivated, on 180 + 170 + 160 = 510 quarters. Not only is the amount of tax increased from 100,000 quarters, to 200,000 quarters, when the produce is increased from one to two millions of quarters; but, owing to the increased labour necessary to produce the second million, the relative value of raw produce is so advanced, that the 200,000 quarters may be, though only twice in quantity, yet in value three times that of the 100,000 quarters which were paid before.


If an equal value were raised for the church by any other means, increasing in the same manner as tithes increase, proportionably with the difficulty of cultivation, the effect would be the same, and therefore it is a mistake to suppose that, because they are raised on the land, they discourage cultivation more than an equal amount would do if raised in any other manner. The church would in both cases be constantly obtaining an increased portion of the net produce of the land and labour of the country. In an improving state of society, the net produce of land is always diminishing in proportion to its gross produce; but it is from the net income of a country that all taxes are ultimately paid, either in a progressive or in a stationary country. A tax increasing with the gross income, and falling on the net income, must necessarily be a very burdensome, and a very intolerable tax. Tithes are a tenth of the gross, and not of the net produce of the land, and therefore as society improves in wealth, they must, though the same proportion of the gross produce, become a larger and larger proportion of the net produce.


Tithes, however, may be considered as injurious to landlords, inasmuch as they act as a bounty on importation, by taxing the growth of home corn, while the importation of foreign corn remains unfettered. And if, in order to relieve the landlords from the effects of the diminished demand for land, which such a bounty must encourage, imported corn were also taxed, in an equal degree with corn grown at home, and the produce paid to the State, no measure could be more fair and equitable; since whatever were paid to the State by this tax, would go to diminish the other taxes which the expenses of Government make necessary: but if such a tax were devoted only to increase the fund paid to the church, it might indeed on the whole increase the general mass of production, but it would diminish the portion of that mass allotted to the productive classes.


If the trade of cloth were left perfectly free, our manufacturers might be able to sell cloth cheaper than we could import it. If a tax were laid on the home manufacturer, and not on the importer of cloth, capital might be injuriously driven from the manufacture of cloth to the manufacture of some other commodity, as cloth might then be imported cheaper than it could be made at home. If imported cloth should also be taxed, cloth would again be manufactured at home. The consumer first bought cloth at home, because it was cheaper than foreign cloth; he then bought foreign cloth, because it was cheaper untaxed than home cloth taxed: he lastly bought it again at home, because it was cheaper when both home and foreign cloth were taxed. It is in the last case that he pays the greatest price for his cloth, but all his additional payment is gained by the state. In the second case, he pays more than in the first, but all he pays in addition is not received by the State, it is an increased price caused by difficulty of production, which is incurred, because the easiest means of production are taken away from us, by being fettered with a tax.

Notes for this chapter

18 Quarters at £4 8s. 10 2/3d.
9 Quarters at £4 8s. 10 2/3d.

End of Notes

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