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Hon. David A. Wells on Taxation.


Last evening in Sever 11, Hon. David A. Wells delivered the first of a series of talks on "Taxation." The speaker said that the provident idea that taxation was necessarily an evil was an error that could be eradicated only by careful study of the science of taxation. It is hard to define taxation, but the following are perhaps the general principles which govern scientific taxation. (1) No taxes should be levied without representation: (2) taxes should be levied for but one purpose-the support of the government; (3) taxes should be distributed equally. Taxes levied in the Middle Ages were not proportionate, for nobles were exempted because they were nobles, and the common people were taxed because they were common people.

All contributions to the government which do not conform to the above rules are unscientific taxes and consequently their justice cannot be predicated. While it is true that no highly civilized community can exist without high taxation, it is not true on the other hand that hight axation implies a highly civilized community. Taxation is no more an evil than any other desirable form of expenditure, for taxes represent the investment of a certain part of the capital of a state. It is an evil when, through the injudicious management of the state, taxation is made the instrument for extorting money for purposes foreign to the original. Taxes are generally divided into two classes-direct and indirect-although these two classes are rather vaguely defined even by political economists. An indirect tax is in many cases an incorrect tax, for it enhances the value of an article far beyond the original value of the article and the tax. For this very reason, there is a close connection between indirect taxation and pauperism, since the poor are obliged to buy in small quantities commodities upon which indirect taxes have been levied, and the price of which has been raised correspondingly. For a small quantity of a commodity always brings a proportionately higher price than a large quantity of the same commodity.

In conclusion Mr. Wells spoke of the unique system of American taxation, of the different phases of taxation under the Articles of Confederation, of the curious methods of taxation in England during past centuries, and instanced the poll tax as the best of personal taxes, for it impressed upon the poor citizen the fact of his being part of a civil society which needed his support.

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