On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation
Taxes on Profits
Taxes on those commodities, which are generally denominated luxuries, fall on those only who make use of them. A tax on wine is paid by the consumer of wine. A tax on pleasure horses, or on coaches, is paid by those who provide for themselves such enjoyments, and in exact proportion as they provide them. But taxes on necessaries do not affect the consumers of necessaries, in proportion to the quantity that may be consumed by them, but often in a much higher proportion. A tax on corn, we have observed, not only affects a manufacturer in the proportion that he and his family may consume corn, but it alters the rate of profits of stock, and therefore also affects his income. Whatever raises the wages of labour, lowers the profits of stock; therefore every tax on any commodity consumed by the labourer, has a tendency to lower the rate of profits.
A tax on hats will raise the price of hats; a tax on shoes, the price of shoes; if this were not the case, the tax would be finally paid by the manufacturer; his profits would be reduced below the general level, and he would quit his trade. A partial tax on profits will raise the price of the commodity on which it falls: a tax, for example, on the profits of the hatter, would raise the price of hats; for if his profits were taxed, and not those of any other trade, his profits, unless he raised the price of his hats, would be below the general rate of profits, and he would quit his employment for another.
In the same manner, a tax on the profits of the farmer would raise the price of corn; a tax on the profits of the clothier, the price of cloth; and if a tax in proportion to profits were laid on all trades, every commodity would be raised in price. But if the mine, which supplied us with the standard of our money, were in this country, and the profits of the miner were also taxed, the price of no commodity would rise, each man would give an equal proportion of his income, and every thing would be as before.
If money be not taxed, and therefore be permitted to preserve its value, whilst every thing else is taxed, and is raised in value, the hatter, the farmer, and clothier, each employing the same capitals, and obtaining the same profits, will pay the same amount of tax. If the tax be £100, the hats, the cloth, and the corn, will each be increased in value £100. If the hatter gains by his hats £1,100, instead of £1,000, he will pay £100 to Government for the tax; and therefore will still have £1,000 to lay out on goods for his own consumption. But as the cloth, corn, and all other commodities, will be raised in price from the same cause, he will not obtain more for his £1,000 than he before obtained for £910, and thus will he contribute by his diminished expenditure to the exigencies of the State; he will, by the payment of the tax, have placed a portion of the produce of the land and labour of the country at the disposal of Government, instead of using that portion himself. If instead of expending his £1,000, he adds it to his capital, he will find in the rise of wages, and in the increased cost of the raw material and machinery, that his saving of £1,000 does not amount to more than a saving of £910 amounted to before.
If money be taxed, or if by any other cause its value be altered, and all commodities remain precisely at the same price as before, the profits of the manufacturer and farmer will also be the same as before, they will continue to be £1,000; and as they will each have to pay £100 to Government, they will retain only £900, which will give them a less command over the produce of the land and labour of the country, whether they expend it in productive or unproductive labour. Precisely what they lose, Government will gain. In the first case the contributor to the tax would, for £1,000, have as great a quantity of goods as he before had for £910; in the second, he would have only as much as he before had for £900, for the price of goods would remain unaltered, and he would have only £900 to expend. This proceeds from the difference in the amount of the tax; in the first case it is only an eleventh of his income, in the second it is a tenth; money in the two cases being of a different value.
But although, if money be not taxed, and do not alter in value, all commodities will rise in price, they will not rise in the same proportion; they will not after the tax bear the same relative value to each other which they did before the tax. In a former part of this work, we discussed the effects of the division of capital into fixed and circulating, or rather into durable and perishable capital, on the prices of commodities. We shewed that two manufacturers might employ precisely the same amount of capital, and might derive from it precisely the same amount of profits, but that they would sell their commodities for very different sums of money, according as the capitals they employed were rapidly, or slowly, consumed and reproduced. The one might sell his goods for £4,000, the other for £10,000, and they might both employ £10,000 of capital, and obtain 20 per cent profit or £2,000. The capital of one might consist for example, of £2,000 circulating capital, to be reproduced, and £8,000 fixed, in buildings and machinery; the capital of the other, on the contrary, might consist of £8,000 of circulating, and of only £2,000 fixed capital in machinery and buildings. Now, if each of these persons were to be taxed ten per cent on his income, or £200, the one, to make his business yield him the general rate of profit, must raise his goods from £10,000 to £10,200; the other would also be obliged to raise the price of his goods from £4,000 to £4,200. Before the tax, the goods sold by one of these manufacturers were 2½ times more valuable than the goods of the other; after the tax they will be 2.42 times more valuable: the one kind will have risen two per cent; the other five per cent: consequently a tax upon income, whilst money continued unaltered in value, would alter the relative prices and value of commodities. This would be true also, if the tax instead of being laid on the profits, were laid on the commodities themselves: provided they were taxed in proportion to the value of the capital employed on their production, they would rise equally, whatever might be their value, and therefore they would not preserve the same proportion as before. A commodity, which rose from ten to eleven thousand pounds, would not bear the same relation as before, to another which rose from 2 to £3,000. If under these circumstances, money rose in value, from whatever cause it might proceed, it would not affect the prices of commodities in the same proportion. The same cause which would lower the price of one from £10,200 to £10,000 or less than two per cent would lower the price of the other from £4,200 to £4,000 or 4 3/4 per cent. If they fell in any different proportion, profits would not be equal; for to make them equal, when the price of the first commodity was £10,000, the price of the second should be £4,000; and when the price of the first was £10,200, the price of the other should be £4,200.
The consideration of this fact will lead to the understanding of a very important principle, which, I believe, has never been adverted to. It is this; that in a country where no taxation subsists, the alteration in the value of money arising from scarcity or abundance will operate in an equal proportion on the prices of all commodities; that if a commodity of £1,000 value rise to £1,200, or fall to £800, a commodity of £10,000 value will rise to £12,000 or fall to £8,000; but in a country where prices are artificially raised by taxation, the abundance of money from an influx, or the exportation and consequent scarcity of it from foreign demand, will not operate in the same proportion on the prices of all commodities; some it will raise or lower 5, 6, or 12 per cent, others 3, 4, or 7 per cent. If a country were not taxed, and money should fall in value, its abundance in every market would produce similar effects in each. If meat rose 20 per cent, bread, beer, shoes, labour, and every commodity, would also rise 20 per cent; it is necessary they should do so, to secure to each trade the same rate of profits. But this is no longer true when any of these commodities is taxed; if in that case they should all rise in proportion to the fall in the value of money, profits would be rendered unequal; in the case of the commodities taxed, profits would be raised above the general level, and capital would be removed from one employment to another, till an equilibrium of profits was restored, which could only be, after the relative prices were altered.
Will not this principle account for the different effects, which it was remarked were produced on the prices of commodities, from the altered value of money during the Bank-restriction? It was objected to those who contended that the currency was at that period depreciated, from the too great abundance of the paper circulation, that, if that were the fact, all commodities ought to have risen in the same proportion; but it was found that many had varied considerably more than others, and thence it was inferred that the rise of prices was owing to something affecting the value of commodities, and not to any alteration in the value of the currency. It appears, however, as we have just seen, that in a country where commodities are taxed, they will not all vary in price in the same proportion, either in consequence of a rise or of a fall in the value of currency.
If the profits of all trades were taxed, excepting the profits of the farmer, all goods would rise in money value, excepting raw produce. The farmer would have the same corn income as before, and would sell his corn also for the same money price; but as he would be obliged to pay an additional price for all the commodities, except corn, which he consumed, it would be to him a tax on expenditure. Nor would he be relieved from this tax by an alteration in the value of money, for an alteration in the value of money might sink all the taxed commodities to their former price, but the untaxed one would sink below its former level; and, therefore, though the farmer would purchase his commodities at the same price as before, he would have less money with which to purchase them.
The landlord, too, would be precisely in the same situation, he would have the same corn, and the same money-rent as before, if all commodities rose in price, and money remained at the same value; and he would have the same corn, but a less money-rent, if all commodities remained at the same price: so that in either case, though his income were not directly taxed, he would indirectly contribute towards the money raised.
But suppose the profits of the farmer to be also taxed, he then would be in the same situation as other traders: his raw produce would rise, so that he would have the same money revenue, after paying the tax, but he would pay an additional price for all the commodities he consumed, raw produce included.
His landlord, however, would be differently situated, he would be benefited by the tax on his tenant's profits, as he would be compensated for the additional price at which he would purchase his manufactured commodities, if they rose in price; and he would have the same money revenue, if in consequence of a rise in the value of money, commodities sold at their former price. A tax on the profits of the farmer, is not a tax proportioned to the gross produce of the land, but to its net produce, after the payment of rent, wages, and all other charges. As the cultivators of the different kinds of land, No. 1, 2 and 3, employ precisely the same capitals, they will get precisely the same profits, whatever may be the quantity of gross produce, which one may obtain more than the other; and consequently they will be all taxed alike. Suppose the gross produce of the land of the quality No. 1 to be 180 qrs., that of No. 2, 170 qrs., and of No. 3, 160, and each to be taxed 10 quarters, the difference between the produce of No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, after paying the tax, will be the same as before; for if No. 1 be reduced to 170, No. 2 to 160, and No. 3 to 150 qrs; the difference between 3 and 1 will be as before, 20 qrs.; and of No. 3 and No. 2, 10 qrs. If, after the tax, the prices of corn and of every other commodity should remain the same as before, money rent as well as corn rent, would continue unaltered; but if the price of corn, and every other commodity should rise in consequence of the tax, money rent will also rise in the same proportion. If the price of corn were £4 per quarter, the rent of No. 1 would be £80, and that of No. 2, £40; but if corn rose five per cent, or to £4 4s., rent would also rise five per cent, for twenty quarters of corn would then be worth £84, and ten quarters £42; so that in every case the landlord will be unaffected by such a tax. A tax on the profits of stock always leaves corn rent unaltered, and therefore money rent varies with the price of corn; but a tax on raw produce, or tithes, never leaves corn rent unaltered, but generally leaves money rent the same as before. In another part of this work I have observed, that if a land-tax of the same money amount, were laid on every kind of land in cultivation, without any allowance for difference of fertility, it would be very unequal in its operation, as it would be a profit to the landlord of the more fertile lands. It would raise the price of corn in proportion to the burden borne by the farmer of the worst land; but this additional price being obtained for the greater quantity of produce yielded by the better land, farmers of such land would be benefited during their leases, and afterwards, the advantage would go to the landlord in the form of an increase of rent. The effect of an equal tax on the profits of the farmer is precisely the same; it raises the money rent of the landlords, if money retains the same value; but as the profits of all other trades are taxed as well as those of the farmer, and consequently the prices of all goods, as well as corn, are raised, the landlord loses as much by the increased money price of the goods and corn on which his rent is expended, as he gains by the rise of his rent. If money should rise in value, and all things should, after a tax on the profits of stock, fall to their former prices, rent also would be the same as before. The landlord would receive the same money rent, and would obtain all the commodities on which it was expended at their former price; so that under all circumstances he would continue untaxed.26*
This circumstance is curious. By taxing the profits of the farmer you do not burthen him more than if you exempted his profits from the tax, and the landlord has a decided interest that his tenants' profits should be taxed, as it is only on that condition that he himself continues really untaxed.
A tax on the profits of capital would also affect the stockholder if all commodities were to rise in proportion to the tax, although his dividends continued untaxed; but if, from the alteration in the value of money, all commodities were to sink to their former price, the stock-holder would pay nothing towards the tax; he would purchase all his commodities at the same price, but would still receive the same money dividend.
If it be agreed, that by taxing the profits of one manufacturer only, the price of his goods would rise, to put him on an equality with all other manufacturers; and that by taxing the profits of two manufacturers, the prices of two descriptions of goods must rise, I do not see how it can be disputed, that by taxing the profits of all manufacturers, the prices of all goods would rise, provided the mine which supplied us with money, were in this country, and continued untaxed. But as money, or the standard of money, is a commodity imported from abroad, the prices of all goods could not rise; for such an effect could not take place without an additional quantity of money,27* which could not be obtained in exchange for dear goods, as was shewn in Chapter 5 (use your browser's back button to return here). If, however, such a rise could take place, it could not be permanent, for it would have a powerful influence on foreign trade. In return for commodities imported, those dear goods could not be exported, and therefore we should for a time continue to buy, although we ceased to sell; and should export money, or bullion, till the relative prices of commodities were nearly the same as before. It appears to me absolutely certain, that a well regulated tax on profits, would ultimately restore commodities both of home and foreign manufacture, to the same money price which they bore before the tax was imposed.
As taxes on raw produce, tithes, taxes on wages, and on the necessaries of the labourer, will, by raising wages, lower profits, they will all, though not in an equal degree, be attended with the same effects.
The discovery of machinery, which materially improves home manufactures, always tends to raise the relative value of money, and therefore to encourage its importation. All taxation, all increased impediments, either to the manufacturer, or the grower of commodities, tend, on the contrary, to lower the relative value of money, and therefore to encourage its exportation.
Notes for this chapter
That the profits of the farmer only should be taxed, and not the profits of any other capitalist, would be highly beneficial to landlords. It would, in fact, be a tax on the consumers of raw produce, partly for the benefit of the State, and partly for the benefit of landlords.
On further consideration, I doubt whether any more money would be required to circulate the same quantity of commodities, if their prices be raised by taxation, and not by difficulty of production. Suppose 100,000 quarters of corn to be sold in a certain district, and in a certain time, at £4 per quarter, and that in consequence of a direct tax of 8s. per quarter, corn rises to £4 8s., the same quantity of money, I think, and no more, would be required to circulate this corn at the increased price. If I before purchased 11 quarters at £4, and in consequence of the tax am obliged to reduce my consumption to 10 quarters, I shall not require more money, for in all cases I shall pay £44 for my corn. The public would, in fact, consume one-eleventh less, and this quantity would be consumed by Government. The money necessary to purchase it, would be derived from the 8s. per quarter, to be received from the farmers in the shape of a tax, but the amount levied would at the same time be paid to them for their corn; therefore the tax is in fact a tax in kind, and does not make it necessary that any more money should be used, or, if any, so little, that the quantity may be safely neglected.
End of Notes
Taxes on Wages
Taxes on wages will raise wages, and therefore will diminish the rate of the profits of stock. We have already seen that a tax on necessaries will raise their prices, and will be followed by a rise of wages. The only difference between a tax on necessaries, and a tax on wages is, that the former will necessarily be accompanied by a rise in the price of necessaries, but the latter will not; towards a tax on wages, consequently, neither the stock-holder, the landlord, nor any other class but the employers of labour will contribute. A tax on wages is wholly a tax on profits, a tax on necessaries is partly a tax on profits, and partly a tax on rich consumers. The ultimate effects which will result from such taxes then, are precisely the same as those which result from a direct tax on profits.
"The wages of the inferior classes of workmen," says Adam Smith, "I have endeavoured to shew in the first book, are every where necessarily regulated by two different circumstances; the demand for labour, and the ordinary or average price of provisions. The demand for labour, according as it happens to be either increasing, stationary, or declining, or to require an increasing, stationary, or declining population, regulates the subsistence of the labourer, and determines in what degree it shall be either liberal, moderate, or scanty. The ordinary or average price of provisions determines the quantity of money which must be paid to the workman, in order to enable him, one year with another, to purchase this liberal, moderate, or scanty subsistence. While the demand for labour, and the price of provisions, therefore, remain the same, a direct tax upon the wages of labour can have no other effect than to raise them somewhat higher than the tax."
To the proposition, as it is here advanced by Dr. Smith, Mr. Buchanan offers two objections. First, he denies that the money wages of labour are regulated by the price of provisions; and secondly, he denies that a tax on the wages of labour would raise the price of labour. On the first point, Mr. Buchanan's argument is as follows, page 59: "The wages of labour, it has already been remarked, consist not in money, but in what money purchases, namely, provisions and other necessaries; and the allowance of the labourer out of the common stock, will always be in proportion to the supply. Where provisions are cheap and abundant, his share will be the larger; and where they are scarce and dear, it will be the less. His wages will always give him his just share, and they cannot give him more. It is an opinion, indeed, adopted by Dr. Smith and most other writers, that the money price of labour is regulated by the money price of provisions, and that when provisions rise in price, wages rise in proportion. But it is clear that the price of labour has no necessary connexion with the price of food, since it depends entirely on the supply of labourers compared with the demand. Besides, it is to be observed, that the high price of provisions is a certain indication of a deficient supply, and arises in the natural course of things, for the purpose of retarding the consumption. A smaller supply of food, shared among the same number of consumers, will evidently leave a smaller portion to each, and the labourer must bear his share of the common want. To distribute this burden equally, and to prevent the labourer from consuming subsistence so freely as before, the price rises. But wages it seems must rise along with it, that he may still use the same quantity of a scarcer commodity; and thus nature is represented as counteracting her own purposes: first, raising the price of food, to diminish the consumption, and afterwards, raising wages to give the labourer the same supply as before."
In this argument of Mr. Buchanan, there appears to me to be a great mixture of truth and error. Because a high price of provisions is sometimes occasioned by a deficient supply, Mr. Buchanan assumes it as a certain indication of deficient supply. He attributes to one cause exclusively, that which may arise from many. It is undoubtedly true, that in the case of a deficient supply, a smaller quantity will be shared among the same number of consumers, and a smaller portion will fall to each. To distribute this privation equally, and to prevent the labourer from consuming subsistence so freely as before, the price rises. It must, therefore, be conceded to Mr. Buchanan, that any rise in the price of provisions, occasioned by a deficient supply, will not necessarily raise the money wages of labour, as the consumption must be retarded; which can only be effected by diminishing the power of the consumers to purchase. But, because the price of provisions is raised by a deficient supply, we are by no means warranted in concluding, as Mr. Buchanan appears to do, that there may not be an abundant supply, with a high price; not a high price with regard to money only, but with regard to all other things.
The natural price of commodities, which always ultimately governs their market price, depends on the facility of production; but the quantity produced is not in proportion to that facility. Although the lands, which are now taken into cultivation, are much inferior to the lands in cultivation three centuries ago, and, therefore, the difficulty of production is increased, who can entertain any doubt, but that the quantity produced now, very far exceeds the quantity then produced? Not only is a high price compatible with an increased supply, but it rarely fails to accompany it. If, then, in consequence of taxation, or of difficulty of production, the price of provisions be raised, and the quantity be not diminished, the money wages of labour will rise; for, as Mr. Buchanan has justly observed, "The wages of labour consist not in money, but in what money purchases, namely, provisions and other necessaries; and the allowance of the labourer out of the common stock, will always be in proportion to the supply."
With respect to the second point, whether a tax on the wages of labour would raise the price of labour, Mr. Buchanan says, "After the labourer has received the fair recompense of his labour, how can he have recourse on his employer, for what he is afterwards compelled to pay away in taxes? There is no law or principle in human affairs to warrant such a conclusion. After the labourer has received his wages, they are in his own keeping, and he must, as far as he is able, bear the burthen of whatever exactions he may ever afterwards be exposed to: for he has clearly no way of compelling those to reimburse him, who have already paid him the fair price of his work." Mr. Buchanan has quoted, with great approbation, the following able passage from Mr. Malthus's work on population, which appears to me completely to answer his objection. "The price of labour, when left to find its natural level, is a most important political barometer, expressing the relation between the supply of provisions, and the demand for them, between the quantity to be consumed, and the number of consumers; and, taken on the average, independently of accidental circumstances, it further expresses, clearly, the wants of the society respecting population; that is, whatever may be the number of children to a marriage necessary to maintain exactly the present population, the price of labour will be just sufficient to support this number, or be above it, or below it, according to the state of the real funds, for the maintenance of labour, whether stationary, progressive, or retrograde. Instead, however, of considering it in this light, we consider it as something which we may raise or depress at pleasure, something which depends principally on his Majesty's justices of the peace. When an advance in the price of provisions already expresses that the demand is too great for the supply, in order to put the labourer in the same condition as before, we raise the price of labour, that is, we increase the demand, and are then much surprised, that the price of provisions continues rising. In this, we act much in the same manner, as if, when the quicksilver in the common weather glass, stood at stormy, we were to raise it by some forcible pressure to settled fair, and then be greatly astonished that it continued raining."
"The price of labour will express, clearly, the wants of the society respecting population;" it will be just sufficient to support the population, which at that time the state of the funds for the maintenance of labourers, requires. If the labourer's wages were before only adequate to supply the requisite population, they will, after the tax, be inadequate to that supply, for he will not have the same funds to expend on his family. Labour will, therefore, rise, because the demand continues, and it is only by raising the price, that the supply is not checked.
Nothing is more common, than to see hats or malt rise when taxed; they rise because the requisite supply would not be afforded if they did not rise: so with labour, when wages are taxed, its price rises, because if it did not, the requisite population would not be kept up. Does not Mr. Buchanan allow all that is contended for, when he says, that "were he (the labourer) indeed reduced to a bare allowance of necessaries, he would then suffer no further abatement of his wages, as he could not on such conditions continue his race?" Suppose the circumstances of the country to be such, that the lowest labourers are not only called upon to continue their race, but to increase it; their wages would be regulated accordingly. Can they multiply in the degree required, if a tax takes from them a part of their wages, and reduces them to bare necessaries?
It is undoubtedly true, that a taxed commodity will not rise in proportion to the tax, if the demand for it diminish, and if the quantity cannot be reduced. If metallic money were in general use, its value would not for a considerable time be increased by a tax, in proportion to the amount of the tax, because at a higher price, the demand would be diminished, and the quantity would not be diminished; and unquestionably the same cause frequently influences the wages of labour; the number of labourers cannot be rapidly increased or diminished in proportion to the increase or diminution of the fund which is to employ them; but in the case supposed, there is no necessary diminution of demand for labour, and if diminished, the demand does not abate in proportion to the tax. Mr. Buchanan forgets that the fund raised by the tax, is employed by Government in maintaining labourers, unproductive indeed, but still labourers. If labour were not to rise when wages are taxed, there would be a great increase in the competition for labour, because the owners of capital, who would have nothing to pay towards such a tax, would have the same funds for employing labour; whilst the Government who received the tax would have an additional fund for the same purpose. Government and the people thus become competitors, and the consequence of their competition is a rise in the price of labour. The same number of men only will be employed, but they will be employed at additional wages.
If the tax had been laid at once on the people of capital, their fund for the maintenance of labour would have been diminished in the very same degree that the fund of Government for that purpose had been increased; and therefore there would have been no rise in wages; for though there would be the same demand, there would not be the same competition. If when the tax were levied, Government at once exported the produce of it as a subsidy to a foreign State, and if therefore these funds were devoted to the maintenance of foreign, and not of English labourers, such as soldiers, sailors, &c. &c.; then, indeed, there would be a diminished demand for labour, and wages might not increase, although they were taxed; but the same thing would happen if the tax had been laid on consumable commodities, on the profits of stock, or if in any other manner the same sum had been raised to supply this subsidy: less labour could be employed at home. In one case wages are prevented from rising, in the other they must absolutely fall. But suppose the amount of a tax on wages were, after being raised on the labourers, paid gratuitously to their employers, it would increase their money fund for the maintenance of labour, but it would not increase either commodities or labour. It would consequently increase the competition amongst the employers of labour, and the tax would be ultimately attended with no loss either to master or labourer. The master would pay an increased price for labour; the addition which the labourer received would be paid as a tax to government, and would be again returned to the masters. It must, however, not be forgotten, that the produce of taxes is generally wastefully expended, they are always obtained at the expense of the people's comforts and enjoyments, and commonly either diminish capital or retard its accumulation. By diminishing capital they tend to diminish the real fund destined for the maintenance of labour; and therefore to diminish the real demand for it. Taxes then, generally, as far as they impair the real capital of the country, diminish the demand for labour, and therefore it is a probable, but not a necessary, nor a peculiar consequence of a tax on wages, that though wages would rise, they would not rise by a sum precisely equal to the tax.
Adam Smith, as we have seen, has fully allowed that the effect of a tax on wages, would be to raise wages by a sum at least equal to the tax, and would be finally, if not immediately, paid by the employer of labour. Thus far we fully agree; but we essentially differ in our views of the subsequent operation of such a tax.
"A direct tax upon the wages of labour, therefore," says Adam Smith, "though the labourer might perhaps pay it out of his hand, could not properly be said to be even advanced by him; at least if the demand for labour and the average price of provisions remained the same after the tax as before it. In all such cases, not only the tax but something more than the tax, would in reality be advanced by the person who immediately employed him. The final payment would in different cases fall upon different persons. The rise which such a tax might occasion in the wages of manufacturing labour, would be advanced by the master manufacturer, who would be entitled and obliged to charge it with a profit, upon the price of his goods. The rise which such a tax might occasion in country labour, would be advanced by the farmer, who, in order to maintain the same number of labourers as before, would be obliged to employ a greater capital. In order to get back this greater capital, together with the ordinary profits of stock, it would be necessary that he should retain a larger portion, or what comes to the same thing, the price of a larger portion, of the produce of the land, and consequently that he should pay less rent to the landlord. The final payment of this rise of wages would in this case fall upon the landlord, together with the additional profits of the farmer who had advanced it. In all cases a direct tax upon the wages of labour must, in the long run, occasion both a greater reduction in the rent of land, and a greater rise in the price of manufactured goods, than would have followed, from the proper assessment of a sum equal to the produce of the tax, partly upon the rent of land, and partly upon consumable commodities." Vol. iii. p. 337. In this passage it is asserted that the additional wages paid by farmers will ultimately fall on the landlords, who will receive a diminished rent; but that the additional wages paid by manufacturers will occasion a rise in the price of manufactured goods, and will therefore fall on the consumers of those commodities.
Now, suppose a society to consist of landlords, manufacturers, farmers and labourers, the labourers, it is agreed, would be recompensed for the tax;—but by whom?—who would pay that portion which did not fall on the landlords?—the manufacturers could pay no part of it; for if the price of their commodities should rise in proportion to the additional wages they paid, they would be in a better situation after than before the tax. If the clothier, the hatter, the shoe-maker, &c., should be each able to raise the price of their goods 10 per cent,—supposing 10 per cent to recompense them completely for the additional wages they paid,—if, as Adam Smith says, "they would be entitled and obliged to charge the additional wages with a profit upon the price of their goods," they could each consume as much as before of each other's goods, and therefore they would pay nothing towards the tax. If the clothier paid more for his hats and shoes, he would receive more for his cloth, and if the hatter paid more for his cloth and shoes, he would receive more for his hats. All manufactured commodities then would be bought by them with as much advantage as before, and inasmuch as corn would not be raised in price which is Dr. Smith's supposition whilst they had an additional sum to lay out upon its purchase, they would be benefited, and not injured by such a tax.
If then neither the labourers nor the manufacturers would contribute towards such a tax; if the farmers would be also recompensed by a fall of rent, landlords alone must not only bear its whole weight, but they must also contribute to the increased gains of the manufacturers. To do this, however, they should consume all the manufactured commodities in the country, for the additional price charged on the whole mass is little more than the tax originally imposed on the labourers in manufactures.
Now it will not be disputed that the clothier, the hatter, and all other manufacturers, are consumers of each other's goods; it will not be disputed that labourers of all descriptions consume soap, cloth, shoes, candles, and various other commodities; it is therefore impossible that the whole weight of these taxes should fall on landlords only.
But if the labourers pay no part of the tax, and yet manufactured commodities rise in price, wages must rise, not only to compensate them for the tax, but for the increased price of manufactured necessaries, which, as far as it affects agricultural labour, will be a new cause for the fall of rent; and, as far as it affects manufacturing labour, for a further rise in the price of goods. This rise in the price of goods will again operate on wages, and the action and re-action first of wages on goods, and then of goods on wages, will be extended without any assignable limits. The arguments by which this theory is supported, lead to such absurd conclusions, that it may at once be seen that the principle is wholly indefensible.
All the effects which are produced on the profits of stock and the wages of labour, by a rise of rent and a rise of necessaries, in the natural progress of society, and increasing difficulty of production, will equally follow from a rise of wages in consequence of taxation; and, therefore, the enjoyments of the labourer, as well as those of his employers, will be curtailed by the tax; and not by this tax particularly, but by every other which should raise an equal amount, as they would all tend to diminish the fund destined for the maintenance of labour.
The error of Adam Smith proceeds in the first place from supposing, that all taxes paid by the farmer must necessarily fall on the landlord, in the shape of a deduction from rent. On this subject, I have explained myself most fully, and I trust that it has been shewn, to the satisfaction of the reader, that since much capital is employed on the land which pays no rent, and since it is the result obtained by this capital which regulates the price of raw produce, no deduction can be made from rent; and, consequently, either no remuneration will be made to the farmer for a tax on wages, or if made, it must be made by an addition to the price of raw produce.
If taxes press unequally on the farmer, he will be enabled to raise the price of raw produce, to place himself on a level with those who carry on other trades; but a tax on wages, which would not affect him more than it would affect any other trade, could not be removed or compensated by a high price of raw produce; for the same reason which should induce him to raise the price of corn, namely, to remunerate himself for the tax, would induce the clothier to raise the price of cloth, the shoemaker, hatter, and upholsterer, to raise the price of shoes, hats, and furniture.
If they could all raise the price of their goods, so as to remunerate themselves, with a profit, for the tax; as they are all consumers of each other's commodities, it is obvious that the tax could never be paid; for who would be the contributors if all were compensated?
I hope, then, that I have succeeded in shewing, that any tax which shall have the effect of raising wages, will be paid by a diminution of profits, and, therefore, that a tax on wages is in fact a tax on profits.
This principle of the division of the produce of labour and capital between wages and profits, which I have attempted to establish, appears to me so certain, that excepting in the immediate effects, I should think it of little importance whether the profits of stock, or the wages of labour, were taxed. By taxing the profits of stock, you would probably alter the rate at which the funds for the maintenance of labour increase, and wages would be disproportioned to the state of that fund, by being too high. By taxing wages, the reward paid to the labourer would also be disproportioned to the state of that fund, by being too low. In the one case by a fall, and in the other by a rise in money wages, the natural equilibrium between profits and wages would be restored. A tax on wages, then, does not fall on the landlord, but it falls on the profits of stock: it does not "entitle and oblige the master manufacturer to charge it with a profit on the prices of his goods," for he will be unable to increase their price, and therefore he must himself wholly and without compensation pay such a tax.28*
If the effect of taxes on wages be such as I have described,
they do not merit the censure cast upon them by Dr. Smith. He
observes of such taxes, "These, and some other taxes of the same
kind, by raising the price of labour, are said to have ruined the
greater part of the manufactures of Holland. Similar taxes,
though not quite so heavy, take place in the Milanese, in the
states of Genoa, in the duchy of Modena, in the duchies of Parma,
Placentia, and Guastalla, and in the ecclesiastical states. A
French author of some note, has proposed to reform the finances
of his country, by substituting in the room of other taxes, this
most ruinous of all taxes. 'There is nothing so absurd,' says
Cicero, 'which has not sometimes been asserted by some
I have already attempted to shew, that when any cause raises the prices of all commodities, the effects are nearly similar to a fall in the value of money. If money falls in value, all commodities rise in price; and if the effect is confined to one country, it will affect its foreign commerce in the same way as a high price of commodities caused by general taxation; and, therefore, in examining the effects of a low value of money confined to one country, we are also examining the effects of a high price of commodities confined to one country. Indeed, Adam Smith was fully aware of the resemblance between these two cases, and consistently maintained that the low value of money, or, as he calls it, of silver in Spain, in consequence of the prohibition against its exportation, was very highly prejudicial to the manufactures and foreign commerce of Spain. "But that degradation in the value of silver, which being the effect either of the peculiar situation, or of the political institutions of a particular country, takes place only in that country, is a matter of very great consequence, which, far from tending to make any body really richer, tends to make every body really poorer. The rise in the money price of all commodities, which is in this case peculiar to that country, tends to discourage more or less every sort of industry which is carried on within it, and to enable foreign nations, by furnishing almost all sorts of goods for a smaller quantity of silver than its own workmen can afford to do, to undersell them not only in the foreign, but even in the home market." Vol. ii. page 278.
One, and I think the only one, of the disadvantages of a low value of silver in a country, proceeding from a forced abundance, has been ably explained by Dr. Smith. If the trade in gold and silver were free, "the gold and silver which would go abroad, would not go abroad for nothing, but would bring back an equal value of goods of some kind or another. Those goods, too, would not be all matters of mere luxury and expense, to be consumed by idle people, who produce nothing in return for their consumption. As the real wealth and revenue of idle people would not be augmented by this extraordinary exportation of gold and silver, so would neither their consumption be augmented by it. Those goods would, probably the greater part of them, and certainly some part of them, consist in materials, tools, and provisions, for the employment and maintenance of industrious people, who would reproduce with a profit, the full value of their consumption. A part of the dead stock of the society would thus be turned into active stock, and would put into motion a greater quantity of industry than had been employed before."
By not allowing a free trade in the precious metals when the prices of commodities are raised, either by taxation, or by the influx of the precious metals, you prevent a part of the dead stock of the society from being turned into active stock—you prevent a greater quantity of industry from being employed. But this is the whole amount of the evil; an evil never felt by those countries where the exportation of silver is either allowed or connived at.
The exchanges between countries are at par only, whilst they have precisely that quantity of currency which in the actual situation of things they should have to carry on the circulation of their commodities. If the trade in the precious metals were perfectly free, and money could be exported without any expense whatever, the exchanges could be no otherwise in every country than at par. If the trade in the precious metals were perfectly free, if they were generally used in circulation, even with the expenses of transporting them, the exchange could never in any of them deviate more from par, than by these expenses. These principles, I believe, are now no where disputed. If a country used paper money, not exchangeable for specie, and, therefore, not regulated by any fixed standard, the exchanges in that country might deviate from par, in the same proportion as its money might be multiplied beyond that quantity which would have been allotted to it by general commerce, if the trade in money had been free, and the precious metals had been used, either for money, or for the standard of money.
If by the general operations of commerce, 10 millions of pounds sterling, of a known weight and fineness of bullion, should be the portion of England, and 10 millions of paper pounds were substituted, no effect would be produced on the exchange; but if by the abuse of the power of issuing paper money, 11 millions of pounds should be employed in the circulation, the exchange would be 9 per cent against England; if 12 millions were employed, the exchange would be 16 per cent; and if 20 millions, the exchange would be 50 per cent against England. To produce this effect it is not, however, necessary that paper money should be employed: any cause which retains in circulation a greater quantity of pounds than would have circulated, if commerce had been free, and the precious metals of a known weight and fineness had been used, either for money, or for the standard of money, would exactly produce the same effects. Suppose that by clipping the money, each pound did not contain the quantity of gold or silver which by law it should contain, a greater number of such pounds might be employed in the circulation, than if they were not clipped. If from each pound one tenth were taken away, 11 millions of such pounds might be used instead of 10; if two tenths were taken away, 12 millions might be employed; and if one half were taken away, 20 millions might not be found superfluous. If the latter sum were used instead of 10 millions, every commodity in England would be raised to double its former price, and the exchange would be 50 per cent against England; but this would occasion no disturbance in foreign commerce, nor discourage the manufacture of any one commodity. If, for example, cloth rose in England from £20 to £40 per piece, we should just as freely export it after as before the rise, for a compensation of 50 per cent would be made to the foreign purchaser in the exchange; so that with £20 of his money, he could purchase a bill which would enable him to pay a debt of £40 in England. In the same manner if he exported a commodity which cost £20 at home, and which sold in England for £40 he would only receive £20, for £40 in England would only purchase a bill for £20 on a foreign country. The same effects would follow from whatever cause 20 millions could be forced to perform the business of circulation in England, if 10 millions only were necessary. If so absurd a law, as the prohibition of the exportation of the precious metals, could be enforced, and the consequence of such prohibition were to force 1 millions of good pounds, fresh from the mint, instead of 10, into circulation, the exchange would be 9 per cent against England; if 12 millions, 16 per cent; and if 20 millions, 50 per cent against England. But no discouragement would be given to the manufactures of England; if home commodities sold at a high price in England, so would foreign commodities; and whether they were high or low would be of little importance to the foreign exporter and importer, whilst he would, on the one hand, be obliged to allow a compensation in the exchange when his commodities sold at a dear rate, and would receive the same compensation, when he was obliged to purchase English commodities at a high price. The sole disadvantage, then, which could happen to a country from retaining, by prohibitory laws, a greater quantity of gold and silver in circulation than would otherwise remain there, would be the loss which it would sustain from employing a portion of its capital unproductively, instead of employing it productively. In the form of money this capital is productive of no profit; in the form of materials, machinery, and food, for which it might be exchanged, it would be productive of revenue, and would add to the wealth and the resources of the State. Thus then, I hope, I have satisfactorily proved, that a comparatively low price of the precious metals, in consequence of taxation, or, in other words, a generally high price of commodities, would be of no disadvantage to a State, as a part of the metals would be exported, which, by raising their value, would again lower the prices of commodities. And further, that if they were not exported, if by prohibitory laws they could be retained in a country, the effect on the exchange would counterbalance the effect of high prices. If, then, taxes on necessaries and on wages would not raise the prices of all commodities on which labour was expended, they cannot be condemned on such grounds; and moreover, even if the opinion given by Adam Smith, that they would have such an effect were well founded, they would be in no degree injurious on that account. They would be objectionable for no other reason than those which might be justly urged against taxes of any other description.
The landlords, as such, would be exempted from the burden of the tax; but as far as they directly employed labour in the expenditure of their revenues, by supporting gardeners, menial servants, &c. they would be subject to its operation.
It is undoubtedly true, that "taxes upon luxuries have no tendency to raise the price of any other commodities, except that of the commodities taxed;" but it is not true, "that taxes upon necessaries, by raising the wages of labour, necessarily tend to raise the price of all manufactures." It is true, that "taxes upon luxuries are finally paid by the consumers of the commodities taxed, without any retribution. They fall indifferently upon every species of revenue, the wages of labour, the profits of stock, and the rent of land;" but it is not true, "that taxes upon necessaries, so far as they affect the labouring poor, are finally paid partly by landlords in the diminished rent of their lands, and partly by rich consumers, whether landlords or others, in the advanced price of manufactured goods;" for, so far as these taxes affect the labouring poor, they will be almost wholly paid by the diminished profits of stock, a small part only being paid by the labourers themselves in the diminished demand for labour, which taxation of every kind has a tendency to produce.
It is from Dr. Smith's erroneous view of the effect of those taxes, that he has been led to the conclusion, that "the middling and superior ranks of people, if they understood their own interest, ought always to oppose all taxes upon the necessaries of life, as well as all direct taxes upon the wages of labour." This conclusion follows from his reasoning, "that the final payment of both one and the other falls altogether upon themselves, and always with a considerable overcharge. They fall heaviest upon the landlords,29* who always pay in a double capacity; in that of landlords, by the reduction of their rent, and in that of rich consumers, by the increase of their expense. The observation of Sir Matthew Decker, that certain taxes are, in the price of certain goods, sometimes repeated and accumulated four or five times, is perfectly just with regard to taxes upon the necessaries of life. In the price of leather, for example, you must pay, not only for the tax upon the leather of your own shoes, but for a part of that upon those of the shoemaker and the tanner. You must pay, too, for the tax upon the salt, upon the soap, and upon the candles, which those workmen consume while employed in your service, and for the tax upon the leather, which the saltmaker, the soap-maker, and the candle-maker consume, while employed in their service."
Now as Dr. Smith does not contend that the tanner, the saltmaker, the soap-maker, and the candle-maker, will either of them be benefited by the tax on leather, salt, soap, and candles; and as it is certain, that Government will receive no more than the tax imposed, it is impossible to conceive, that more can be paid by the public upon whomsoever the tax may fall. The rich consumers may, and indeed will, pay for the poor consumer, but they will pay no more than the whole amount of the tax; and it is not in the nature of things, that "the tax should be repeated and accumulated four or five times."
A system of taxation may be defective; more may be raised from the people, than what finds its way into the coffers of the State, as a part, in consequence of its effect on prices, may possibly be received by those who are benefited by the peculiar mode in which taxes are laid. Such taxes are pernicious, and should not be encouraged; for it may be laid down as a principle, that when taxes operate justly, they conform to the first of Dr. Smith's maxims, and raise from the people as little as possible beyond what enters into the public treasury of the State. M. Say says, "others offer plans of finance, and propose means for filling the coffers of the sovereign, without any charge to his subjects. But unless a plan of finance is of the nature of a commercial undertaking, it cannot give to Government more than it takes away, either from individuals or from Government itself, under some other form. Something cannot be made out of nothing, by the stroke of a wand. In whatever way an operation may be disguised, whatever forms we may constrain a value to take, whatever metamorphosis we may make it undergo, we can only have a value by creating it, or by taking it from others. The very best of all plans of finance is to spend little, and the best of all taxes is, that which is the least in amount."
Dr. Smith uniformly, and I think justly, contends, that the labouring classes cannot materially contribute to the burdens of the State. A tax on necessaries, or on wages, will therefore be shifted from the poor to the rich: if then the meaning of Dr. Smith is, "that certain taxes are in the price of certain goods sometimes repeated, and accumulated four or five times," for the purpose only of accomplishing this end, namely, the transference of the tax from the poor to the rich, they cannot be liable to censure on that account.
Suppose the just share of the taxes of a rich consumer to be £100 and that he would pay it directly, if the tax were laid on income, on wine, or no any other luxury; he would suffer no injury if by the taxation of necessaries, he should be only called upon for the payment of £25, as far as his own consumption of necessaries, and that of his family was concerned, but should be required to repeat this tax three times, by paying an additional price for other commodities to remunerate the labourers, or their employers, for the tax which they have been called upon to advance. Even in that case the reasoning is inconclusive: for if there be no more paid than what is required by Government; of what importance can it be to the rich consumer, whether he pay the tax directly, by paying an increased price for an object of luxury, or indirectly, by paying an increased price for the necessaries and other commodities he consumes? If more be not paid by the people, than what is received by Government, the rich consumer will only pay his equitable share; if more is paid, Adam Smith should have stated by whom it is received, but his whole argument is founded in error, for the prices of commodities would not be raised by such taxes.
M. Say does not appear to me to have consistently adhered to the obvious principle, which I have quoted from his able work; for in the next page, speaking of taxation, he says, "When it is pushed too far, it produces this lamentable effect, it deprives the contributor of a portion of his riches, without enriching the State. This is what we may comprehend, if we consider that every man's power of consuming, whether productively or not, is limited by his income. He cannot then be deprived of a part of his income, without being obliged proportionally to reduce his consumption. Hence arises a diminution of demand for those goods, which he no longer consumes, and particularly for those on which the tax is imposed. From this diminution of demand, there results a diminution of production, and consequently of taxable commodities. The contributor then will lose a portion of his enjoyments; the producer a portion of his profits; and the treasury, a portion of its receipts."
M. Say instances the tax on salt in France, previous to the revolution; which, he says, diminished the production of salt by one half. If, however, less salt was consumed, less capital was employed in producing it; and, therefore, though the producer would obtain less profit on the production of salt, he would obtain more on the production of other things. If a tax, however burdensome it may be, falls on revenue, and not on capital, it does not diminish demand, it only alters the nature of it. It enables Government to consume as much of the produce of the land and labour of the country, as was before consumed by the individuals who contribute to the tax, an evil sufficiently great without overcharging it. If my income is £1,000 per annum, and I am called upon for £100 per annum for a tax, I shall only be able to demand nine tenths of the quantity of goods, which I before consumed, but I enable Government to demand the other tenth. If the commodity taxed be corn, it is not necessary that my demand for corn should diminish, as I may prefer to pay £100 per annum more for my corn, and to the same amount abate in my demand for wine, furniture, or any other luxury.30* Less capital will consequently be employed in the wine or upholstery trade, but more will be employed in manufacturing those commodities, on which the taxes levied by Government will be expended.
M. Say says that M. Turgot, by reducing the market dues on fish (les droits d'entrée et de halle sur la marée) in Paris one half, did not diminish the amount of their produce, and that consequently, the consumption of fish must have doubled. He infers from this, that the profits of the fisherman and those engaged in the trade, must also have doubled, and that the income of the country must have increased, by the whole amount of these increased profits; and by giving a stimulus to accumulation, must have increased the resources of the State.31*
Without calling in question the policy, which dictated this alteration of the tax, I have my doubts, whether it gave any great stimulus to accumulation. If the profits of the fisherman and others engaged in the trade, were doubled in consequence of more fish being consumed, capital and labour must have been withdrawn from other occupations to engage them in this particular trade. But in those occupations capital and labour were productive of profits, which must have been given up when they were withdrawn. The ability of the country to accumulate, was only increased by the difference between the profits obtained in the business in which the capital was newly engaged, and those obtained in that from which it was withdrawn.
Whether taxes be taken from revenue or capital, they diminish the taxable commodities of the State. If I cease to expend £100 on wine, because by paying a tax of that amount I have enabled Government to expend £100 instead of expending it myself, one hundred pounds worth of goods are necessarily withdrawn from the list of taxable commodities. If the revenue of the individuals of a country be 10 millions, they will have at least 10 millions worth of taxable commodities. If by taxing some, one million be transferred to the disposal of Government, their revenue will still be nominally 10 millions, but they will remain with only nine millions worth of taxable commodities. There are no circumstances under which taxation does not abridge the enjoyments of those on whom the taxes ultimately fall, and no means by which those enjoyments can again be extended, but the accumulation of new revenue.
Taxation can never be so equally applied, as to operate in the same proportion on the value of all commodities, and still to preserve them at the same relative value. It frequently operates very differently from the intention of the legislature, by its indirect effects. We have already seen, that the effect of a direct tax on corn and raw produce, is, if money be also produced in the country, to raise the price of all commodities, in proportion as raw produce enters into their composition, and thereby to destroy the natural relation which previously existed between them. Another indirect effect is, that it raises wages, and lowers the rate of profits; and we have also seen, in another part of this work, that the effect of a rise of wages, and a fall of profits, is to lower the money prices of those commodities which are produced in a greater degree by the employment of fixed capital.
That a commodity, when taxed, can no longer be so profitably exported, is so well understood, that a drawback is frequently allowed on its exportation, and a duty laid on its importation. If these drawbacks and duties be accurately laid, not only on the commodities themselves, but on all which they may indirectly affect, then, indeed, there will be no disturbance in the value of the precious metals. Since we could as readily export a commodity after being taxed as before, and since no peculiar facility would be given to importation, the precious metals would not, more than before, enter into the list of exportable commodities.
Of all commodities, none are perhaps so proper for taxation, as those which, either by the aid of nature or art, are produced with peculiar facility. With respect to foreign countries, such commodities may be classed under the head of those which are not regulated in their price by the quantity of labour bestowed, but rather by the caprice, the tastes, and the power of the purchasers. If England had more productive tin mines than other countries, or if, from superior machinery or fuel, she had peculiar facilities in manufacturing cotton goods, the prices of tin, and of cotton goods, would still in England be regulated by the comparative quantity of labour and capital required to produce them, and the competition of our merchants would make them very little dearer to the foreign consumer. Our advantage in the production of these commodities might be so decided, that probably they could bear a very great additional price in the foreign market, without very materially diminishing their consumption. This price they never could attain, whilst competition was free at home, by any other means but by a tax on their exportation. This tax would fall wholly on foreign consumers, and part of the expenses of the Government of England would be defrayed, by a tax on the land and labour of other countries. The tax on tea, which at present is paid by the people of England, and goes to aid the expenses of the Government of England, might, if laid in China, on the exportation of the tea, be diverted to the payment of the expenses of the Government of China.
Taxes on luxuries have some advantage over taxes on necessaries. They are generally paid from income, and therefore do not diminish the productive capital of the country. If wine were much raised in price in consequence of taxation, it is probable that a man would rather forego the enjoyments of wine, than make any important encroachments on his capital, to be enabled to purchase it. They are so identified with price, that the contributor is hardly aware that he is paying a tax. But they have also their disadvantages. First, they never reach capital, and on some extraordinary occasions it may be expedient that even capital should contribute towards the public exigencies; and secondly, there is no certainty as to the amount of the tax, for it may not reach even income. A man intent on saving, will exempt himself from a tax on wine, by giving up the use of it. The income of the country may be undiminished, and yet the State may be unable to raise a shilling by the tax.
Whatever habit has rendered delightful, will be relinquished with reluctance, and will continue to be consumed notwithstanding a very heavy tax; but this reluctance has its limits, and experience every day demonstrates that an increase in the nominal amount of taxation, often diminishes the produce. One man will continue to drink the same quantity of wine, though the price of every bottle should be raised three shillings, who would yet relinquish the use of wine rather than pay four. Another will be content to pay four, yet refuse to pay five shillings. The same may be said of other taxes on luxuries: many would pay a tax of £5 for the enjoyment which a horse affords, who would not pay £10 or £20. It is not because they cannot pay more, that they give up the use of wine and of horses, but because they will not pay more. Every man has some standard in his own mind by which he estimates the value of his enjoyments, but that standard is as various as the human character. A country whose financial situation has become extremely artificial by the mischievous policy of accumulating a large national debt, and a consequently enormous taxation, is particularly exposed to the inconvenience attendant on this mode of raising taxes. After visiting with a tax the whole round of luxuries; after laying horses, carriages, wine, servants, and all the other enjoyments of the rich, under contribution; a minister is induced to have recourse to more direct taxes, such as income and property taxes, neglecting the golden maxim of M. Say, "that the very best of all plans of finance is to spend little, and the best of all taxes is that which is the least in amount."
Notes for this chapter
M. Say appears to have imbibed the general opinion on this subject. Speaking of corn, he says, "thence it results, that its price influences the price of all other commodities. A farmer, a manufacturer, or a merchant, employs a certain number of workmen, who all have occasion to consume a certain quantity of corn. If the price of corn rises, he is obliged to raise, in an equal proportion, the price of his productions." Vol. i. p. 255.
So far from this being true, they would scarcely affect the landlords and stockholder.
M. Say says, that "the tax added to the price of a commodity, raises its price. Every increase in the price of a commodity, necessarily reduces the number of those who are able to purchase it, or at least the quantity they will consume of it." This is by no means a necessary consequence. I do not believe, that if bread were taxed, the consumption of bread would be diminished, more than if cloth, wine or soap were taxed.
The following remark of the same author appears to me equally erroneous: "When a high duty is laid on cotton, the production of all those goods of which cotton is the basis is diminished. If the total value added to cotton in its various manufactures, in a particular country, amounted to 100 millions of francs per annum, and the effect of the tax was, to diminish the consumption one half, than the tax would deprive that country every year of 50 millions of francs, in addition to the sum received by Government." Vol. ii, p. 314.
End of Notes
Taxes on other Commodities than Raw Produce
On the same principle that a tax on corn would raise the price of corn, a tax on any other commodity would raise the price of that commodity. If the commodity did not rise by a sum equal to the tax, it would not give the same profit to the producer which he had before, and he would remove his capital to some other employment.
The taxing of all commodities, whether they be necessaries or luxuries, will, while money remains at an unaltered value, raise their prices by a sum at least equal to the tax.32* A tax on the manufactured necessaries of the labourer would have the same effect on wages as a tax on corn, which differs from other necessaries only by being the first and most important on the list; and it would produce precisely the same effects on the profits of stock and foreign trade. But a tax on luxuries would have no other effect than to raise their price. It would fall wholly on the consumer, and could neither increase wages nor lower profits.
Taxes which are levied on a country for the purpose of supporting war, or for the ordinary expenses of the State, and which are chiefly devoted to the support of unproductive labourers, are taken from the productive industry of the country; and every saving which can be made from such expenses will be generally added to the income, if not to the capital of the contributors. When, for the expenses of a year's war, twenty millions are raised by means of a loan, it is the twenty millions which are withdrawn from the productive capital of the nation. The million per annum which is raised by taxes to pay the interest of this loan, is merely transferred from those who pay it to those who receive it, from the contributor to the tax, to the national creditor. The real expense is the twenty millions, and not the interest which must be paid for it.33* Whether the interest be or be not paid, the country will neither be richer nor poorer. Government might at once have required the twenty millions in the shape of taxes; in which case it would not have been necessary to raise annual taxes to the amount of a million. This, however, would not have changed the nature of the transaction. An individual instead of being called upon to pay £100 per annum, might have been obliged to pay £2,000 once for all. It might also have suited his convenience rather to borrow this £2,000, and to pay £100 per annum for interest to the lender, than to spare the larger sum from his own funds. In one case it is a private transaction between A and B, in the other Government guarantees to B the payment of interest to be equally paid by A. If the transaction had been of a private nature, no public record would be kept of it, and it would be a matter of comparative indifference to the country whether A faithfully performed his contract to B, or unjustly retained the £100 per annum in his own possession. The country would have a general interest in the faithful performance of a contract, but with respect to the national wealth, it would have no other interest than whether A or B would make this £100 most productive; but on this question it would neither have the right nor the ability to decide. It might be possible, that if A retained it for his own use, he might squander it unprofitably, and if it were paid to B, he might add it to his capital, and employ it productively. And the converse would also be possible; B might squander it, and A might employ it productively. With a view to wealth only, it might be equally or more desirable that A should or should not pay it; but the claims of justice and good faith, a greater utility, are not to be compelled to yield to those of a less; and accordingly, if the State were called upon to interfere, the courts of justice would oblige A to perform his contract. A debt guaranteed by the nation, differs in no respect from the above transaction. Justice and good faith demand that the interest of the national debt should continue to be paid, and that those who have advanced their capitals for the general benefit, should not be required to forego their equitable claims, on the plea of expediency.
But independently of this consideration, it is by no means certain, that political utility would gain any thing by the sacrifice of political integrity; it does by no means follow, that the party exonerated from the payment of the interest of the national debt would employ it more productively than those to whom indisputably it is due. By cancelling the national debt, one man's income might be raised from £1,000 to £1,500, but another man's would be lowered from £1,500 to £1,000. These two men's incomes now amount to £2,500, they would amount to no more then. If it be the object of Government to raise taxes, there would be precisely the same taxable capital and income in one case, as in the other. It is not, then, by the payment of the interest on the national debt, that a country is distressed, nor is it by the exoneration from payment that it can be relieved. It is only by saving from income, and retrenching in expenditure, that the national capital can be increased; and neither the income would be increased, nor the expenditure diminished by the annihilation of the national debt. It is by the profuse expenditure of Government, and of individuals, and by loans, that the country is impoverished; every measure, therefore, which is calculated to promote public and private economy, will relieve the public distress; but it is error and delusion to suppose, that a real national difficulty can be removed, by shifting it from the shoulders of one class of the community, who justly ought to bear it, to the shoulders of another class, who, upon every principle of equity, ought to bear no more than their share.
From what I have said, it must not be inferred that I consider the system of borrowing as the best calculated to defray the extraordinary expenses of the State. It is a system which tends to make us less thrifty—to blind us to our real situation. If the expenses of a war be 40 millions per annum, and the share which a man would have to contribute towards that annual expense were £100, he would endeavour, on being at once called upon for his portion, to save speedily the £100 from his income. By the system of loans, he is called upon to pay only the interest of this £100, or £5 per annum, and considers that he does enough by saving this £5 from his expenditure, and then deludes himself with the belief, that he is as rich as before. The whole nation, by reasoning and acting in this manner, save only the interest of 40 millions, or two millions; and thus, not only lose all the interest or profit which 40 millions of capital, employed productively, would afford, but also 38 millions, the difference between their savings and expenditure. If, as I before observed, each man had to make his own loan, and contribute his full proportion to the exigencies of the State, as soon as the war ceased, taxation would cease, and we should immediately fall into a natural state of prices. Out of his private funds, A might have to pay to B interest for the money he borrowed of him during the war, to enable him to pay his quota of the expense; but with this the nation would have no concern.
A country which has accumulated a large debt, is placed in a most artificial situation; and although the amount of taxes, and the increased price of labour, may not, and I believe does not, place it under any other disadvantage with respect to foreign countries, except the unavoidable one of paying those taxes, yet it becomes the interest of every contributor to withdraw his shoulder from the burthen, and to shift this payment from himself to another; and the temptation to remove himself and his capital to another country, where he will be exempted from such burthens, becomes at last irresistible, and overcomes the natural reluctance which every man feels to quit the place of his birth, and the scene of his early associations. A country which has involved itself in the difficulties attending this artificial system, would act wisely by ransoming itself from them, at the sacrifice of any portion of its property which might be necessary to redeem its debt. That which is wise in an individual, is wise also in a nation. A man who has £10,000, paying him an income of £500, out of which he has to pay £100 per annum towards the interest of the debt, is really worth only £8,000, and would be equally rich, whether he continued to pay £100 per annum, or at once, and for only once, sacrificed £2,000. But where, it is asked, would be the purchaser of the property which he must sell to obtain this £2,000? the answer is plain: the national creditor, who is to receive this £2,000, will want an investment for his money, and will be disposed either to lend it to the landholder, or manufacturer, or to purchase from them a part of the property of which they have to dispose. To such a payment the stockholders themselves would largely contribute. This scheme has been often recommended, but we have, I fear, neither wisdom enough, nor virtue enough, to adopt it. It must, however, be admitted, that during peace, our unceasing efforts should be directed towards paying off that part of the debt which has been contracted during war; and that no temptation of relief, no desire of escape from present, and I hope temporary distresses, should induce us to relax in our attention to that great object.
No sinking fund can be efficient for the purpose of diminishing the debt, if it be not derived from the excess of the public revenue over the public expenditure. It is to be regretted, that the sinking fund in this country is only such in name; for there is no excess of revenue above expenditure. It ought, by economy, to be made what it is professed to be, a really efficient fund for the payment of the debt. If, on the breaking out of any future war, we shall not have very considerably reduced our debt, one of two things must happen, either the whole expenses of that war must be defrayed by taxes raised from year to year, or we must, at the end of that war, if not before, submit to a national bankruptcy; not that we shall be unable to bear any large additions to the debt; it would be difficult to set limits to the powers of a great nation; but assuredly there are limits to the price, which in the form of perpetual taxation, individuals will submit to pay for the privilege merely of living in their native country.34*
When a commodity is at a monopoly price, it is at the very highest price at which the consumers are willing to purchase it. Commodities are only at a monopoly price, when by no possible device their quantity can be augmented; and when therefore, the competition is wholly on one side—amongst the buyers. The monopoly price of one period may be much lower or higher than the monopoly price of another, because the competition amongst the purchasers must depend on their wealth, and their tastes and caprices. Those peculiar wines, which are produced in very limited quantity, and those works of art, which from their excellence or rarity, have acquired a fanciful value, will be exchanged for a very different quantity of the produce of ordinary labour, according as the society is rich or poor, as it possesses an abundance or scarcity of such produce, or as it may be in a rude or polished state. The exchangeable value therefore of a commodity which is at a monopoly price, is nowhere regulated by the cost of production.
Raw produce is not at a monopoly price, because the market price of barley and wheat is as much regulated by their cost of production, as the market price of cloth and linen. The only difference is this, that one portion of the capital employed in agriculture regulates the price of corn, namely, that portion which pays no rent; whereas, in the production of manufactured commodities, every portion of capital is employed with the same results; and as no portion pays rent, every portion is equally a regulator of price: corn, and other raw produce, can be augmented, too, in quantity, by the employment of more capital on the land, and therefore they are not at a monopoly price. There is competition among the sellers, as well as amongst the buyers. This is not the case in the production of those rare wines, and those valuable specimens of art, of which we have been speaking; their quantity cannot be increased, and their price is limited only by the extent of the power and will of the purchasers. The rent of these vineyards may be raised beyond any moderately assignable limits, because no other land being able to produce such wines, none can be brought into competition with them.
The corn and raw produce of a country may, indeed, for a time sell at a monopoly price; but they can do so permanently only when no more capital can be profitably employed on the lands, and when, therefore, their produce cannot be increased. At such time, every portion of land in cultivation, and every portion of capital employed on the land will yield a rent, differing, indeed, in proportion to the difference in the return. At such a time too, any tax which may be imposed on the farmer, will fall on rent, and not on the consumer. He cannot raise the price of his corn, because, by the supposition, it is already at the highest price at which the purchasers will or can buy it. He will not be satisfied with a lower rate of profits, than that obtained by other capitalists, and, therefore, his only alternative will be to obtain a reduction of rent, or to quit his employment.
Mr. Buchanan considers corn and raw produce as at a monopoly price, because they yield a rent: all commodities which yield a rent, he supposes must be at a monopoly price; and thence he infers, that all taxes on raw produce would fall on the landlord, and not on the consumer. "The price of corn," he says, "which always affords a rent, being in no respect influenced by the expenses of its production, those expenses must be paid out of the rent; and when they rise or fall, therefore, the consequence is not a higher or lower price, but a higher or a lower rent. In this view, all taxes on farm servants, horses, or the implements of agriculture, are in reality land-taxes; the burden falling on the farmer during the currency of his lease, and on the landlord, when the lease comes to be renewed. In like manner all those improved implements of husbandry which save expense to the farmer, such as machines for threshing and reaping, whatever gives him easier access to the market, such as good roads, canals and bridges, though they lessen the original cost of corn, do not lessen its market price. Whatever is saved by those improvements, therefore, belongs to the landlord as part of his rent."
It is evident that if we yield to Mr. Buchanan the basis on which his argument is built, namely, that the price of corn always yields a rent, all the consequences which he contends for would follow of course. Taxes on the farmer would then fall not on the consumer but on rent; and all improvements in husbandry would increase rent: but I hope I have made it sufficiently clear, that until a country is cultivated in every part, and up to the highest degree, there is always a portion of capital employed on the land which yields no rent, and that it is this portion of capital, the result of which, as in manufactures, is divided between profits and wages that regulates the price of corn. The price of corn, then, which does not afford a rent, being influenced by the expenses of its production, those expenses cannot be paid out of rent. The consequence therefore of those expenses increasing, is a higher price, and not a lower rent.35*
It is remarkable that both Adam Smith and Mr. Buchanan, who entirely agree that taxes on raw produce, a land-tax, and tithes, all fall on the rent of land, and not on the consumers of raw produce, should nevertheless admit that taxes on malt would fall on the consumer of beer, and not on the rent of the landlord. Adam Smith's argument is so able a statement of the view which I take of the subject of the tax on malt, and every other tax on raw produce, that I cannot refrain from offering it to the attention of the reader.
"The rent and profits of barley land must always be nearly equal to those of other equally fertile, and equally well cultivated land. If they were less, some part of the barley land would soon be turned to some other purpose; and if they were greater, more land would soon be turned to the raising of barley. When the ordinary price of any particular produce of land is at what may be called a monopoly price, a tax upon it necessarily reduces the rent and profit36* of the land which grows it. A tax upon the produce of those precious vineyards, of which the wine falls so much short of the effectual demand, that its price is always above the natural proportion to that of other equally fertile, and equally well cultivated land, would necessarily reduce the rent and profit36* of those vineyards. The price of the wines being already the highest that could be got for the quantity commonly sent to market, it could not be raised higher without diminishing that quantity; and the quantity could not be diminished without still greater loss, because the lands could not be turned to any other equally valuable produce. The whole weight of the tax, therefore, would fall upon the rent and profit;36* properly upon the rent of the vineyard." "But the ordinary price of barley has never been a monopoly price; and the rent and profit of barley land have never been above their natural proportion to those of other equally fertile and equally well cultivated land. The different taxes, which have been imposed upon malt, beer, and ale, have never lowered the price of barley; have never reduced the rent and profit36* of barley land. The price of malt to the brewer, has constantly risen in proportion to the taxes imposed upon it; and those taxes, together with the different duties upon beer and ale, have constantly either raised the price, or, what comes to the same thing, reduced the quality of those commodities to the consumer. The final payment of those taxes has fallen constantly upon the consumer, and not upon the producer." On this passage Mr. Buchanan remarks, "A duty on malt never could reduce the price of barley, because, unless as much could be made of barley by malting it as by selling it unmalted, the quantity required would not be brought to market. It is clear, therefore, that the price of malt must rise in proportion to the tax imposed on it, as the demand could not otherwise be supplied. The price of barley, however, is just as much a monopoly price as that of sugar; they both yield a rent, and the market price of both has equally lost all connexion with the original cost."
It appears then to be the opinion of Mr. Buchanan, that a tax on malt would raise the price of malt, but that a tax on the barley from which malt is made, would not raise the price of barley; and, therefore, if malt is taxed, the tax will be paid by the consumer; if barley is taxed, it will be paid by the landlord, as he will receive a diminished rent. According to Mr. Buchanan then, barley is at a monopoly price, at the highest price which the purchasers are willing to give for it; but malt made of barley is not at a monopoly price, and consequently it can be raised in proportion to the taxes that may be imposed upon it. This opinion of Mr. Buchanan of the effects of a tax on malt appears to me to be in direct contradiction to the opinion he has given of a similar tax, a tax on bread. "A tax on bread will be ultimately paid, not by a rise of price, but by a reduction of rent."37* If a tax on malt would raise the price of beer, a tax on bread must raise the price of bread.
The following argument of M. Say is founded on the same views as Mr. Buchanan's: "The quantity of wine or corn which a piece of land will produce, will remain nearly the same, whatever may be the tax with which it is charged. The tax may take away a half, or even three-fourths of its net produce, or of its rent if you please, yet the land would nevertheless be cultivated for the half or the quarter not absorbed by the tax. The rent, that is to say the landlord's share, would merely be somewhat lower. The reason of this will be perceived, if we consider, that in the case supposed, the quantity of produce obtained from the land, and sent to market, will remain nevertheless the same. On the other hand the motives on which the demand for the produce is founded, continue also the same.
"Now, if the quantity of produce supplied, and the quantity demanded, necessarily continue the same, notwithstanding the establishment or the increase of the tax, the price of that produce will not vary; and if the price do not vary, the consumer will not pay the smallest portion of this tax.
"Will it be said that the farmer, he who furnishes labour and capital, will, jointly with the landlord, bear the burden of this tax? certainly not; because the circumstance of the tax has not diminished the number of farms to be let, nor increased the number of farmers. Since in this instance also the supply and demand remain the same, the rent of farms must also remain the same. The example of the manufacturer of salt, who can only make the consumers pay a portion of the tax, and that of the landlord who cannot reimburse himself in the smallest degree, prove the error of those who maintain, in opposition to the economists, that all taxes fall ultimately on the consumer."—Vol. ii. p. 338.
If the tax "took away half, or even three-fourths of the net produce of the land," and the price of produce did not rise, how could those farmers obtain the usual profits of stock who paid very moderate rents, having that quality of land which required a much larger proportion of labour to obtain a given result, than land of a more fertile quality? If the whole rent were remitted, they would still obtain lower profits than those in other trades, and would therefore not continue to cultivate their land, unless they could raise the price of its produce. If the tax fell on the farmers, there would be fewer farmers disposed to hire farms; if it fell on the landlord, many farms would not be let at all, for they would afford no rent. But from what fund would those pay the tax who produce corn without paying any rent? It is quite clear that the tax must fall on the consumer. How would such land, as M. Say describes in the following passage, pay a tax of one-half or three-fourths of its produce?
"We see in Scotland poor lands thus cultivated by the proprietor, and which could be cultivated by no other person. Thus too, we see in the interior provinces of the United States vast and fertile lands, the revenue of which, alone, would not be sufficient for the maintenance of the proprietor. These lands are cultivated nevertheless, but it must be by the proprietor himself, or, in other words, he must add to the rent, which is little or nothing, the profits of his capital and industry, to enable him to live in competence. It is well known that land, though cultivated, yields no revenue to the landlord when no farmer will be willing to pay a rent for it: which is a proof that such land will give only the profits of the capital, and of the industry necessary for its cultivation."—Say, Vol. ii. p. 127.
Notes for this chapter
It is observed by M. Say, "that a manufacturer is not enabled to make the consumer pay the whole tax levied on his commodity, because its increased price will diminish its consumption." Should this be the case, should the consumption be diminished, will not the supply also speedily be diminished? Why should the manufacturer continue in the trade, if his profits are below the general level? M. Say appears here also to have forgotten the doctrine which he elsewhere supports, "that the cost of production determines the price, below which commodities cannot fall for any length of time, because production would be then either suspended or diminished."—Vol. ii. p. 26.
"The tax in this case falls then partly on the consumer who is obliged to give more for the commodity taxed, and partly on the producer, who, after deducting the tax, will receive less. The public treasury will be benefited by what the purchaser pays in addition, and also by the sacrifice which the producer is obliged to make a part of his profits. It is the effort of gunpowder, which acts at the same time on the bullet which it projects, and on the gun which it causes to recoil."—Vol. ii. p. 333.
"Melon says, that the debts of a nation are debts due from the right hand to the left, by which the body is not weakened. It is true that the general wealth is not diminished by the payment of the interest on arrears of the debt: The dividends are a value which passes from the hand of the contributor to the national creditor: Whether it be the national creditor or the contributor who accumulates or consume it, is, I agree, of little importance to the society; but the principal of the debt—what has become of that? It exists no more. The consumption which has followed the loan has annihilated a capital which will never yield any further revenue. The society is deprived not of the amount of interest, since that passes from one hand to the other, but of the revenue from a destroyed capital. This capital, if it had been employed productively by him who lent it to the State, would equally have yielded him an income, but that income would have been derived from a real production, and would not have been furnished from the pocket of a fellow citizen."—Say, vol. ii, p. 357. This is both conceived and expressed in the true spirit of the science.
"Credit, in general, is good, as it allows capitals to leave those hands where they are not usefully employed, to pass into those where they will be made productive: it diverts a capital from an employment useful only to the capitalist, such as an investment in the public funds, to make it productive in the hands of industry. It facilitates the employments of all capitals, and leaves none unemployed."—Economie Politique, p. 463. 2 Vol. 4th Edition—This must be an oversight of M. Say. The capital of the stockholder can never be made productive—it is, in fact, no capital. If he were to sell his stock, and employ the capital he obtained for it, productively, he could only do so by detaching the capital of the buyer of his stock from a productive employment.
"Manufacturing industry increases its produce in proportion to the demand, and the price falls; but the produce of land cannot be so increased; and a high price is still necessary to prevent the consumption from exceeding the supply." Buchanan, vol. iv, p. 40. Is it possible that Mr. Buchanan can seriously assert, that the produce of the land cannot be increased, if the demand increases?
I wish the word "Profit" had been omitted. Dr. Smith must suppose the profits of the tenants of these precious vineyards to be above the general rate of profits. If they were not, they would not pay the tax, unless they could shift it either to the landlord or consumer.
Vol. iii, p. 355.
End of Notes
We have seen that taxes on raw produce, and on the profits of the farmer, will fall on the consumer of raw produce; since unless he had the power of remunerating himself by an increase of price, the tax would reduce his profits below the general level of profits, and would urge him to remove his capital to some other trade. We have seen too, that he could not, by deducting it from his rent, transfer the tax to his landlord; because that farmer who paid no rent, would, equally with the cultivator of better land, be subject to the tax, whether it were laid on raw produce, or on the profits of the farmer. I have also attempted to shew, that if a tax were general, and affected equally all profits, whether manufacturing or agricultural, it would not operate either on the price of goods or raw produce, but would be immediately, as well as ultimately, paid by the producers. A tax on rent, it has been observed, would fall on the landlord only, and could not by any means be made to devolve on the tenant.
The poor rate is a tax which partakes of the nature of all these taxes, and under different circumstances falls on the consumer of raw produce and goods, on the profits of stock, and on the rent of land. It is a tax which falls with peculiar weight on the profits of the farmer, and therefore may be considered as affecting the price of raw produce. According to the degree in which it bears on manufacturing and agricultural profits equally, it will be a general tax on the profits of stock, and will occasion no alteration in the price of raw produce and manufactures. In proportion to the farmer's inability to remunerate himself, by raising the price of raw produce, for that portion of the tax which peculiarly affects him, it will be a tax on rent, and will be paid by the landlord. To know, then, the operation of the poor rate at any particular time, we must ascertain whether at that time it affects in an equal or unequal degree the profits of the farmer and manufacturer; and also whether the circumstances be such as to afford to the farmer the power of raising the price of raw produce.
The poor rates are professed to be levied on the farmer in proportion to his rent; and accordingly, the farmer who paid a very small rent, or no rent at all, should pay little or no tax. If this were true, poor rates, as far as they are paid by the agricultural class, would entirely fall on the landlord, and could not be shifted to the consumer of raw produce. But I believe that it is not true; the poor rate is not levied according to the rent which a farmer actually pays to his landlord; it is proportioned to the annual value of his land, whether that annual value be given to it by the capital of the landlord or of the tenant.
If two farmers rented land of two different qualities in the same parish, the one paying a rent of £100 per annum for 50 acres of the most fertile land, and the other the same sum of £100 for 1,000 acres of the least fertile land, they would pay the same amount of poor rates, if neither of them attempted to improve the land; but if the farmer of the poor land, presuming on a very long lease, should be induced, at a great expense, to improve the productive powers of his land, by manuring, draining, fencing, &c., he would contribute to the poor rates, not in proportion to the actual rent paid to the landlord, but to the actual annual value of the land. The rate might equal or exceed the rent; but whether it did or not, no part of this rate would be paid by the landlord. It would have been previously calculated upon by the tenant; and if the price of produce were not sufficient to compensate him for all his expenses, together with this additional charge for poor rates, his improvements would not have been undertaken. It is evident, then, that the tax in this case is paid by the consumer; for if there had been no rate, the same improvements would have been undertaken, and the usual and general rate of profits would have been obtained on the stock employed, with a lower price of corn.
Nor would it make the slightest difference in this question, if the landlord had made these improvements himself, and had in consequence raised his rent from £100 to £500; the rate would be equally charged to the consumer; for whether the landlord should expend a large sum of money on his land, would depend on the rent, or what is called rent, which he would receive as a remuneration for it; and this again would depend on the price of corn, or other raw produce, being sufficiently high not only to cover this additional rent, but also the rate to which the land would be subject. If at the same time all manufacturing capital contributed to the poor rates, in the same proportion as the capital expended by the farmer or landlord in improving the land, then it would no longer be a partial tax on the profits of the farmer's or landlord's capital, but a tax on the capital of all producers; and, therefore, it could no longer be shifted either on the consumer of raw produce or on the landlord. The farmer's profits would feel the effect of the rate no more than those of the manufacturer; and the former could not, any more than the latter, plead it as a reason for an advance in the price of his commodity. It is not the absolute, but the relative fall of profits, which prevents capital from being employed in any particular trade: it is the difference of profit which sends capital from one employment to another.
It must be acknowledged, however, that in the actual state of the poor rates, a much larger amount falls on the farmer than on the manufacturer, in proportion to their respective profits; the farmer being rated according to the actual productions which he obtains, the manufacturer only according to the value of the buildings in which he works, without any regard to the value of the machinery, labour, or stock which he may employ. From this circumstance it follows, that the farmer will be enabled to raise the price of his produce by this whole difference. For since the tax falls unequally, and peculiarly on his profits, he would have less motive to devote his capital to the land, than to employ it in some other trade, were not the price of raw produce raised. If, on the contrary, the rate had fallen with greater weight on the manufacturer than on the farmer, he would have been enabled to raise the price of his goods by the amount of the difference, for the same reason that the farmer under similar circumstances could raise the price of raw produce. In a society, therefore, which is extending its agriculture, when poor rates fall with peculiar weight on the land, they will be paid partly by the employers of capital in a diminution of the profits of stock, and partly by the consumer of raw produce in its increased price. In such a state of things, the tax may, under some circumstances, be even advantageous rather than injurious to landlords; for if the tax paid by the cultivator of the worst land, be higher in proportion to the quantity of produce obtained, than that paid by the farmers of the more fertile lands, the rise in the price of corn, which will extend to all corn, will more than compensate the latter for the tax. This advantage will remain with them during the continuance of their leases, but it will afterwards be transferred to their landlords. This, then, would be the effect of poor rates in an advancing society; but in a stationary, or in a retrograde country, so far as capital could not be withdrawn from the land, if a further rate were levied for the support of the poor, that part of it which fell on agriculture would be paid, during the current leases, by the farmers; but, at the expiration of those leases, it would almost wholly fall on the landlords. The farmer, who, during his former lease, had expended his capital in improving his land, if it were still in his own hands would be rated for this new tax according to the new value which the land had acquired by its improvement, and this amount he would be obliged to pay during his lease, although his profits might thereby be reduced below the general rate of profits; for the capital which he has expended may be so incorporated with the land, that it cannot be removed from it. If, indeed, he, or his landlord, (should it have been expended by him) were able to remove this capital, and thereby reduce the annual value of the land, the rate would proportionably fall, and as the produce would at the same time be diminished, its price would rise; he would be compensated for the tax, by charging it to the consumer, and no part would fall on rent; but this is impossible, at least with respect to some proportion of the capital, and consequently in that proportion the tax will be paid by the farmers during their leases, and by landlords at their expiration. This additional tax, if it fell with peculiar severity on manufacturers, which it does not, would, under such circumstances, be added to the price of their goods; for there can be no reason why their profits should be reduced below the general rate of profits, when their capitals might be easily removed to agriculture.38*
Notes for this chapter
In a former part of this work, I have noticed the difference between rent, properly so called, and the remuneration paid to the landlord under the name, for the advantages which the expenditure of his capital has procured to his tenant; but I did not perhaps sufficiently distinguish the difference which would arise from the different modes in which this capital might be applied. As a part of this capital, when once expended in the improvement of a firm, is inseparably amalgamated with the land, and tends to increase its productive powers, the remuneration paid to the landlord for its use is strictly of the nature of rent, and is subject to all the laws of rent. Whether the improvement be made at the expense of the landlord or the tenant, it will not be undertaken in the first instance, unless there is a strong probability that the return will at least be equal to the profit that can be made by the disposition of any other equal capital; but when once made, the return obtained will ever after be wholly of the nature of rent, and will be subject by the variations of rent. Some of these expenses, however, only give advantages to the land for a limited period, and do not add permanently to its productive powers: being bestowed on buildings, and other perishable improvements, they require to be constantly renewed, and therefore do not obtain for the landlord any permanent addition to his real rent.
End of Notes
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