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An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations - Chapter 2, Part 2

1. Introduction And Plan Of The Work

2. Book 1, Chapter 1

3. Chapter 2

4. Chapter 3

5. Chapter 4

6. Chapter 5

7. Chapter 6

8. Chapter 7

9. Chapter 8

10. Chapter 8 continue

11. Chapter 9

12. Chapter 10

13. Chapter 10 continue

14. Chapter 11

15. Chapter 11 continue

16. Chapter 11 continue.

17. Chapter 11 continue..

18. Chapter 11 continue...

19. Conclusion of the Chapter 11

20. Book 2 Introduction

21. Chapter 1

22. Chapter II

23. Chapter II continue

24. Chapter II continue

25. Chapter 3

26. Chapter 4

27. Chapter 5

28. Book 3, Chapter 1

29. Chapter 2

30. Chapter 3

31. Chapter 4

32. Book 4, Chapter 1

33. Chapter 1 continue

34. Chapter 2

35. Chapter 3, Part 1

36. Chapter 3, Part 2

37. Chapter 4

38. Chapter 5

39. Chapter 5 continue

40. Chapter 6

41. Chapter 7, Part 1

42. Chapter 7, Part 2

43. Chapter 7, Part 3

44. Chapter 7, Part 3 continue

45. Chapter 8

46. Chapter 9

47. Book 5, Chapter 1, Part 1

48. Chapter 1, Part 2

49. Chapter 1, Part 3

50. Chapter 1, Part 3 continue

51. Chapter 1, Part 3 continue B

52. Chapter 1, Part 4

53. Chapter 2, Part 1

54. Chapter 2, Part 2

55. Chapter 2, Part 2 continue

56. Chapter 2, Part 2 continue B

57. Chapter 2, Part 2 continue C

58. Chapter 2, Part 2 continue D

59. Chapter 3

60. Chapter 3 continue

PART II. Of Taxes.

The private revenue of individuals, it has been shown in the first book
of this Inquiry, arises, ultimately from three different sources; rent,
profit, and wages. Every tax must finally be paid from some one or
other of those three different sources of revenue, or from all of them
indifferently. I shall endeavour to give the best account I can, first,
of those taxes which, it is intended should fall upon rent; secondly, of
those which, it is intended should fall upon profit; thirdly, of those
which, it is intended should fall upon wages; and fourthly, of those
which, it is intended should fall indifferently upon all those three
different sources of private revenue. The particular consideration of
each of these four different sorts of taxes will divide the second part
of the present chapter into four articles, three of which will require
several other subdivisions. Many of these taxes, it will appear from
the following review, are not finally paid from the fund, or source of
revenue, upon which it is intended they should fall.

Before I enter upon the examination of particular taxes, it is necessary
to premise the four following maximis with regard to taxes in general.

1. The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support
of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their
respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they
respectively enjoy under the protection of the state. The expense of
government to the individuals of a great nation, is like the expense of
management to the joint tenants of a great estate, who are all obliged
to contribute in proportion to their respective interests in the estate.
In the observation or neglect of this maxim, consists what is called the
equality or inequality of taxation. Every tax, it must be observed once
for all, which falls finally upon one only of the three sorts of revenue
above mentioned, is necessarily unequal, in so far as it does not affect
the other two. In the following examination of different taxes, I shall
seldom take much farther notice of this sort of inequality; but shall,
in most cases, confine my observations to that inequality which is
occasioned by a particular tax falling unequally upon that particular
sort of private revenue which is affected by it.

2. The tax which each individual is bound to pay, ought to be certain
and not arbitrary. The time of payment, the manner of payment, the
quantity to be paid, ought all to be clear and plain to the contributor,
and to every other person. Where it is otherwise, every person subject
to the tax is put more or less in the power of the tax-gatherer, who can
either aggravate the tax upon any obnoxious contributor, or extort, by
the terror of such aggravation, some present or perquisite to himself.
The uncertainty of taxation encourages the insolence, and favours the
corruption, of an order of men who are naturally unpopular, even where
they are neither insolent nor corrupt. The certainty of what each
individual ought to pay is, in taxation, a matter of so great
importance, that a very considerable degree of inequality, it appears,
I believe, from the experience of all nations, is not near so great an
evil as a very small degree of uncertainty.

3. Every tax ought to be levied at the time, or in the manner, in which
it is most likely to be convenient for the contributor to pay it. A tax
upon the rent of land or of houses, payable at the same term at which
such rents are usually paid, is levied at the time when it is most
likely to be convenient for the contributor to pay; or when he is most
likely to have wherewithall to pay. Taxes upon such consumable goods
as are articles of luxury, are all finally paid by the consumer, and
generally in a manner that is very convenient for him. He pays them
by little and little, as he has occasion to buy the goods. As he is at
liberty too, either to buy or not to buy, as he pleases, it must be his
own fault if he ever suffers any considerable inconveniency from such

4. Every tax ought to be so contrived, as both to take out and to keep
out of the pockets of the people as little as possible, over and above
what it brings into the public treasury of the state. A tax may either
take out or keep out of the pockets of the people a great deal more than
it brings into the public treasury, in the four following ways. First,
the levying of it may require a great number of officers, whose salaries
may eat up the greater part of the produce of the tax, and whose
perquisites may impose another additional tax upon the people. Secondly,
it may obstruct the industry of the people, and discourage them from
applying to certain branches of business which might give maintenance
and employment to great multitudes. While it obliges the people to pay,
it may thus diminish, or perhaps destroy, some of the funds which might
enable them more easily to do so. Thirdly, by the forfeitures and
other penalties which those unfortunate individuals incur, who attempt
unsuccessfully to evade the tax, it may frequently ruin them, and
thereby put an end to the benefit which the community might have
received from the employment of their capitals. An injudicious tax
offers a great temptation to smuggling. But the penalties of smuggling
must arise in proportion to the temptation. The law, contrary to all the
ordinary principles of justice, first creates the temptation, and then
punishes those who yield to it; and it commonly enhances the punishment,
too, in proportion to the very circumstance which ought certainly to
alleviate it, the temptation to commit the crime. {See Sketches of the
History of Man page 474, and Seq.} Fourthly, by subjecting the people to
the frequent visits and the odious examination of the tax-gatherers, it
may expose them to much unnecessary trouble, vexation, and oppression;
and though vexation is not, strictly speaking, expense, it is certainly
equivalent to the expense at which every man would be willing to redeem
himself from it. It is in some one or other of these four different
ways, that taxes are frequently so much more burdensome to the people
than they are beneficial to the sovereign.

The evident justice and utility of the foregoing maxims have recommended
them, more or less, to the attention of all nations. All nations have
endeavoured, to the best of their judgment, to render their taxes
as equal as they could contrive; as certain, as convenient to the
contributor, both the time and the mode of payment, and in proportion
to the revenue which they brought to the prince, as little burdensome
to the people. The following short review of some of the principal taxes
which have taken place in different ages and countries, will show, that
the endeavours of all nations have not in this respect been equally

ARTICLE I.--Taxes upon Rent--Taxes upon the Rent of Land.

A tax upon the rent of land may either be imposed according to a certain
canon, every district being valued at a curtain rent, which valuation is
not afterwards to be altered; or it may be imposed in such a manner, as
to vary with every variation in the real rent of the land, and to rise
or fall with the improvement or declension of its cultivation.

A land tax which, like that of Great Britain, is assessed upon each
district according to a certain invariable canon, though it should
be equal at the time of its first establishment, necessarily becomes
unequal in process of time, according to the unequal degrees of
improvement or neglect in the cultivation of the different parts of the
country. In England, the valuation, according to which the different
counties and parishes were assessed to the land tax by the 4th of
William and Mary, was very unequal even at its first establishment.
This tax, therefore, so far offends against the first of the four maxims
above mentioned. It is perfectly agreeable to the other three. It is
perfectly certain. The time of payment for the tax, being the same as
that for the rent, is as convenient as it can be to the contributor.
Though the landlord is, in all cases, the real contributor, the tax
is commonly advanced by the tenant, to whom the landlord is obliged
to allow it in the payment of the rent. This tax is levied by a much
smaller number of officers than any other which affords nearly the same
revenue. As the tax upon each district does not rise with the rise of
the rent, the sovereign does not share in the profits of the landlord's
improvements. Those improvements sometimes contribute, indeed, to the
discharge of the other landlords of the district. But the aggravation of
the tax, which this may sometimes occasion upon a particular estate, is
always so very small, that it never can discourage those improvements,
nor keep down the produce of the land below what it would otherwise rise
to. As it has no tendency to diminish the quantity, it can have none to
raise the price of that produce. It does not obstruct the industry of
the people; it subjects the landlord to no other inconveniency besides
the unavoidable one of paying the tax. The advantage, however, which the
land-lord has derived from the invariable constancy of the valuation, by
which all the lands of Great Britain are rated to the land-tax, has been
principally owing to some circumstances altogether extraneous to the
nature of the tax.

It has been owing in part, to the great prosperity of almost every part
of the country, the rents of almost all the estates of Great Britain
having, since the time when this valuation was first established, been
continually rising, and scarce any of them having fallen. The landlords,
therefore, have almost all gained the difference between the tax which
they would have paid, according to the present rent of their estates,
and that which they actually pay according to the ancient valuation.
Had the state of the country been different, had rents been gradually
falling in consequence of the declension of cultivation, the landlords
would almost all have lost this difference. In the state of things which
has happened to take place since the revolution, the constancy of the
valuation has been advantageous to the landlord and hurtful to
the sovereign. In a different state of things it might have been
advantageous to the sovereign and hurtful to the landlord.

As the tax is made payable in money, so the valuation of the land is
expressed in money. Since the establishment of this valuation, the value
of silver has been pretty uniform, and there has been no alteration in
the standard of the coin, either as to weight or fineness. Had silver
risen considerably in its value, as it seems to have done in the course
of the two centuries which preceded the discovery of the mines
of America, the constancy of the valuation might have proved very
oppressive to the landlord. Had silver fallen considerably in its value,
as it certainly did for about a century at least after the discovery
of those mines, the same constancy of valuation would have reduced very
much this branch of the revenue of the sovereign. Had any considerable
alteration been made in the standard of the money, either by sinking the
same quantity of silver to a lower denomination, or by raising it to
a higher; had an ounce of silver, for example, instead of being coined
into five shillings and two pence, been coined either into pieces which
bore so low a denomination as two shillings and seven pence, or into
pieces which bore so high a one as ten shillings and four pence, it
would, in the one case, have hurt the revenue of the proprietor, in the
other that of the sovereign.

In circumstances, therefore, somewhat different from those which have
actually taken place, this constancy of valuation might have been a very
great inconveniency, either to the contributors or to the commonwealth.
In the course of ages, such circumstances, however, must at some time or
other happen. But though empires, like all the other works of men, have
all hitherto proved mortal, yet every empire aims at immortality. Every
constitution, therefore, which it is meant should be as permanent as
the empire itself, ought to be convenient, not in certain circumstances
only, but in all circumstances; or ought to be suited, not to those
circumstances which are transitory, occasional, or accidental, but to
those which are necessary, and therefore always the same.

A tax upon the rent of land, which varies with every variation of the
rent, or which rises and falls according to the improvement or neglect
of cultivation, is recommended by that sect of men of letters in France,
who call themselves the economists, as the most equitable of all taxes.
All taxes, they pretend, fall ultimately upon the rent of land, and
ought, therefore, to be imposed equally upon the fund which must finally
pay them. That all taxes ought to fall as equally as possible upon
the fund which must finally pay them, is certainly true. But without
entering into the disagreeable discussion of the metaphysical arguments
by which they support their very ingenious theory, it will sufficiently
appear, from the following review, what are the taxes which fall finally
upon the rent of the land, and what are those which fall finally upon
some other fund.

In the Venetian territory, all the arable lands which are given in lease
to farmers are taxed at a tenth of the rent. {Memoires concernant les
Droits, p. 240, 241.} The leases are recorded in a public register,
which is kept by the officers of revenue in each province or district.
When the proprietor cultivates his own lands, they are valued according
to an equitable estimation, and he is allowed a deduction of one-fifth
of the tax; so that for such land he pays only eight instead of ten per
cent. of the supposed rent.

A land-tax of this kind is certainly more equal than the land-tax
of England. It might not, perhaps, be altogether so certain, and the
assessment of the tax might frequently occasion a good deal more trouble
to the landlord. It might, too, be a good deal more expensive in the

Such a system of administration, however, might, perhaps, be contrived,
as would in a great measure both prevent this uncertainty, and moderate
this expense.

The landlord and tenant, for example, might jointly be obliged to record
their lease in a public register. Proper penalties might be enacted
against concealing or misrepresenting any of the conditions; and if
part of those penalties were to be paid to either of the two parties
who informed against and convicted the other of such concealment or
misrepresentation, it would effectually deter them from combining
together in order to defraud the public revenue. All the conditions of
the lease might be sufficiently known from such a record.

Some landlords, instead of raising the rent, take a fine for the renewal
of the lease. This practice is, in most cases, the expedient of a
spendthrift, who, for a sum of ready money sells a future revenue of
much greater value. It is, in most cases, therefore, hurtful to the
landlord; it is frequently hurtful to the tenant; and it is always
hurtful to the community. It frequently takes from the tenant so great
a part of his capital, and thereby diminishes so much his ability to
cultivate the land, that he finds it more difficult to pay a small
rent than it would otherwise have been to pay a great one. Whatever
diminishes his ability to cultivate, necessarily keeps down, below what
it would otherwise have been, the most important part of the revenue of
the community. By rendering the tax upon such fines a good deal heavier
than upon the ordinary rent, this hurtful practice might be discouraged,
to the no small advantage of all the different parties concerned, of the
landlord, of the tenant, of the sovereign, and of the whole community.

Some leases prescribe to the tenant a certain mode of cultivation, and a
certain succession of crops, during the whole continuance of the lease.
This condition, which is generally the effect of the landlord's
conceit of his own superior knowledge (a conceit in most cases very
ill-founded), ought always to be considered as an additional rent, as a
rent in service, instead of a rent in money. In order to discourage the
practice, which is generally a foolish one, this species of rent might
be valued rather high, and consequently taxed somewhat higher than
common money-rents.

Some landlords, instead of a rent in money, require a rent in kind, in
corn, cattle, poultry, wine, oil, etc.; others, again, require a rent
in service. Such rents are always more hurtful to the tenant than
beneficial to the landlord. They either take more, or keep more out
of the pocket of the former, than they put into that of the latter. In
every country where they take place, the tenants are poor and beggarly,
pretty much according to the degree in which they take place. By
valuing, in the same manner, such rents rather high, and consequently
taxing them somewhat higher than common money-rents, a practice which
is hurtful to the whole community, might, perhaps, be sufficiently

When the landlord chose to occupy himself a part of his own lands,
the rent might be valued according to an equitable arbitration of the
farmers and landlords in the neighbourhood, and a moderate abatement of
the tax might be granted to him, in the same manner as in the Venetian
territory, provided the rent of the lands which he occupied did not
exceed a certain sum. It is of importance that the landlord should be
encouraged to cultivate a part of his own land. His capital is generally
greater than that of the tenant, and, with less skill, he can frequently
raise a greater produce. The landlord can afford to try experiments, and
is generally disposed to do so. His unsuccessful experiments occasion
only a moderate loss to himself. His successful ones contribute to the
improvement and better cultivation of the whole country. It might be of
importance, however, that the abatement of the tax should encourage
him to cultivate to a certain extent only. If the landlords should, the
greater part of them, be tempted to farm the whole of their own lands,
the country (instead of sober and industrious tenants, who are bound by
their own interest to cultivate as well as their capital and skill will
allow them) would be filled with idle and profligate bailiffs, whose
abusive management would soon degrade the cultivation, and reduce the
annual produce of the land, to the diminution, not only of the revenue
of their masters, but of the most important part of that of the whole

Such a system of administration might, perhaps, free a tax of this kind
from any degree of uncertainty, which could occasion either oppression
or inconveniency to the contributor; and might, at the same time, serve
to introduce into the common management of land such a plan of policy
as might contribute a good deal to the general improvement and good
cultivation of the country.

The expense of levying a land-tax, which varied with every variation of
the rent, would, no doubt, be somewhat greater than that of levying one
which was always rated according to a fixed valuation. Some additional
expense would necessarily be incurred, both by the different
register-offices which it would be proper to establish in the different
districts of the country, and by the different valuations which might
occasionally be made of the lands which the proprietor chose to occupy
himself. The expense of all this, however, might be very moderate, and
much below what is incurred in the levying of many other taxes, which
afford a very inconsiderable revenue in comparison of what might easily
be drawn from a tax of this kind.

The discouragement which a variable land-tax of this kind might give to
the improvement of land, seems to be the most important objection which
can be made to it. The landlord would certainly be less disposed to
improve, when the sovereign, who contributed nothing to the expense, was
to share in the profit of the improvement. Even this objection might,
perhaps, be obviated, by allowing the landlord, before he began his
improvement, to ascertain, in conjunction with the officers of revenue,
the actual value of his lands, according to the equitable arbitration of
a certain number of landlords and farmers in the neighbourhood, equally
chosen by both parties: and by rating him, according to this valuation,
for such a number of years as might be fully sufficient for his complete
indemnification. To draw the attention of the sovereign towards the
improvement of the land, from a regard to the increase of his own
revenue, is one or the principal advantages proposed by this species of
land-tax. The term, therefore, allowed, for the indemnification of the
landlord, ought not to be a great deal longer than what was necessary
for that purpose, lest the remoteness of the interest should discourage
too much this attention. It had better, however, be somewhat too long,
than in any respect too short. No incitement to the attention of the
sovereign can ever counterbalance the smallest discouragement to that of
the landlord. The attention of the sovereign can be, at best, but a very
general and vague consideration of what is likely to contribute to the
better cultivation of the greater part of his dominions. The attention
of the landlord is a particular and minute consideration of what is
likely to be the most advantageous application of every inch of ground
upon his estate. The principal attention of the sovereign ought to be,
to encourage, by every means in his power, the attention both of
the landlord and of the farmer, by allowing both to pursue their own
interest in their own way, and according to their own judgment; by
giving to both the most perfect security that they shall enjoy the full
recompence of their own industry; and by procuring to both the most
extensive market for every part of their produce, in consequence of
establishing the easiest and safest communications, both by land and
by water, through every part of his own dominions, as well as the most
unbounded freedom of exportation to the dominions of all other princes.

If, by such a system of administration, a tax of this kind could be so
managed as to give, not only no discouragement, but, on the contrary,
some encouragement to the improvement or land, it does not appear likely
to occasion any other inconveniency to the landlord, except always the
unavoidable one of being obliged to pay the tax. In all the variations
of the state of the society, in the improvement and in the declension
of agriculture; in all the variations in the value of silver, and in all
those in the standard of the coin, a tax of this kind would, of its own
accord, and without any attention of government, readily suit itself to
the actual situation of things, and would be equally just and equitable
in all those different changes. It would, therefore, be much more proper
to be established as a perpetual and unalterable regulation, or as what
is called a fundamental law of the commonwealth, than any tax which was
always to be levied according to a certain valuation.

Some states, instead of the simple and obvious expedient of a register
of leases, have had recourse to the laborious and expensive one of an
actual survey and valuation of all the lands in the country. They have
suspected, probably, that the lessor and lessee, in order to defraud the
public revenue, might combine to conceal the real terms of the lease.
Doomsday-book seems to have been the result of a very accurate survey of
this kind.

In the ancient dominions of the king of Prussia, the land-tax is
assessed according to an actual survey and valuation, which is reviewed
and altered from time to time. {Memoires concurent les Droits, etc.
tom, i. p. 114, 115, 116, etc.} According to that valuation, the lay
proprietors pay from twenty to twenty-five per cent. of their revenue;
ecclesiastics from forty to forty-five per cent. The survey and
valuation of Silesia was made by order of the present king, it is said,
with great accuracy. According to that valuation, the lands belonging to
the bishop of Breslaw are taxed at twenty-five per cent. of their rent.
The other revenues of the ecclesiastics of both religions at fifty per
cent. The commanderies of the Teutonic order, and of that of Malta,
at forty per cent. Lands held by a noble tenure, at thirty-eight and
one-third per cent. Lands held by a base tenure, at thirty-five and
one-third per cent.

The survey and valuation of Bohemia is said to have been the work of
more than a hundred years. It was not perfected till after the peace of
1748, by the orders of the present empress queen. {Id. tom i. p.85, 84.}
The survey of the duchy of Milan, which was begun in the time of Charles
VI., was not perfected till after 1760 It is esteemed one of the most
accurate that has ever been made. The survey of Savoy and Piedmont was
executed under the orders of the late king of Sardinia. {Id. p. 280,
etc.; also p, 287. etc. to 316.}

In the dominions of the king of Prussia, the revenue of the church
is taxed much higher than that of lay proprietors. The revenue of the
church is, the greater part of it, a burden upon the rent of land. It
seldom happens that any part of it is applied towards the improvement
of land; or is so employed as to contribute, in any respect, towards
increasing the revenue of the great body of the people. His Prussian
majesty had probably, upon that account, thought it reasonable that it
should contribute a good deal more towards relieving the exigencies of
the state. In some countries, the lands of the church are exempted from
all taxes. In others, they are taxed more lightly than other lands. In
the duchy of Milan, the lands which the church possessed before 1575,
are rated to the tax at a third only or their value.

In Silesia, lands held by a noble tenure are taxed three per cent.
higher than those held by a base tenure. The honours and privileges of
different kinds annexed to the former, his Prussian majesty had probably
imagined, would sufficiently compensate to the proprietor a small
aggravation of the tax; while, at the same time, the humiliating
inferiority of the latter would be in some measure alleviated, by being
taxed somewhat more lightly. In other countries, the system of taxation,
instead of alleviating, aggravates this inequality. In the dominions of
the king of Sardinia, and in those provinces of France which are subject
to what is called the real or predial taille, the tax falls altogether
upon the lands held by a base tenure. Those held by a noble one are

A land tax assessed according to a general survey and valuation, how
equal soever it may be at first, must, in the course of a very moderate
period of time, become unequal. To prevent its becoming so would require
the continual and painful attention of government to all the variations
in the state and produce of every different farm in the country. The
governments of Prussia, of Bohemia, of Sardinia, and of the duchy
of Milan, actually exert an attention of this kind; an attention so
unsuitable to the nature of government, that it is not likely to be of
long continuance, and which, if it is continued, will probably, in the
long-run, occasion much more trouble and vexation than it can possibly
bring relief to the contributors.

In 1666, the generality of Montauban was assessed to the real or predial
taille, according, it is said, to a very exact survey and valuation.
{Memoires concernant les Droits, etc. tom. ii p. 139, etc.} By 1727,
this assessment had become altogether unequal. In order to remedy this
inconveniency, government has found no better expedient, than to impose
upon the whole generality an additional tax of a hundred and twenty
thousand livres. This additional tax is rated upon all the different
districts subject to the taille according to the old assessment. But it
is levied only upon those which, in the actual state of things, are by
that assessment under-taxed; and it is applied to the relief of those
which, by the same assessment, are over-taxed. Two districts, for
example, one of which ought, in the actual state of things, to be taxed
at nine hundred, the other at eleven hundred livres, are, by the old
assessment, both taxed at a thousand livres. Both these districts are,
by the additional tax, rated at eleven hundred livres each. But this
additional tax is levied only upon the district under-charged, and it is
applied altogether to the relief of that overcharged, which consequently
pays only nine hundred livres. The government neither gains nor loses
by the additional tax, which is applied altogether to remedy the
inequalities arising from the old assessment. The application is pretty
much regulated according to the discretion of the intendant of the
generality, and must, therefore, be in a great measure arbitrary.

Taxes which are proportioned, not in the Rent, but to the Produce of

Taxes upon the produce of land are, In reality, taxes upon the rent; and
though they may be originally advanced by the farmer, are finally paid
by the landlord. When a certain portion of the produce is to be paid
away for a tax, the farmer computes as well as he can, what the value
of this portion is, one year with another, likely to amount to, and he
makes a proportionable abatement in the rent which he agrees to pay to
the landlord. There is no farmer who does not compute beforehand what
the church tythe, which is a land tax of this kind, is, one year with
another, likely to amount to.

The tythe, and every other land tax of this kind, under the appearance
of perfect equality, are very unequal taxes; a certain portion of the
produce being in differrent situations, equivalent to a very different
portion of the rent. In some very rich lands, the produce is so great,
that the one half of it is fully sufficient to replace to the farmer his
capital employed in cultivation, together with the ordinary profits of
farming stock in the neighbourhood. The other half, or, what comes to
the same thing, the value of the other half, he could afford to pay
as rent to the landlord, if there was no tythe. But if a tenth of
the produce is taken from him in the way of tythe, he must require an
abatement of the fifth part of his rent, otherwise he cannot get back
his capital with the ordinary profit. In this case, the rent of the
landlord, instead of amounting to a half, or five-tenths of the whole
produce, will amount only to four-tenths of it. In poorer lands, on
the contrary, the produce is sometimes so small, and the expense of
cultivation so great, that it requires four-fifths of the whole produce,
to replace to the farmer his capital with the ordinary profit. In this
case, though there was no tythe, the rent of the landlord could amount
to no more than one-fifth or two-tenths of the whole produce. But if
the farmer pays one-tenth of the produce in the way of tythe, he must
require an equal abatement of the rent of the landlord, which will thus
be reduced to one-tenth only of the whole produce. Upon the rent of rich
lands the tythe may sometimes be a tax of no more than one-fifth part,
or four shillings in the pound; whereas upon that of poorer lands, it
may sometimes be a tax of one half, or of ten shillings in the pound.

The tythe, as it is frequently a very unequal tax upon the rent, so
it is always a great discouragement, both to the improvements of the
landlord, and to the cultivation of the farmer. The one cannot venture
to make the most important, which are generally the most expensive
improvements; nor the other to raise the most valuable, which are
generally, too, the most expensive crops; when the church, which lays
out no part of the expense, is to share so very largely in the profit.
The cultivation of madder was, for a long time, confined by the tythe to
the United Provinces, which, being presbyterian countries, and upon that
account exempted from this destructive tax, enjoyed a sort of monopoly
of that useful dyeing drug against the rest of Europe. The late attempts
to introduce the culture of this plant into England, have been made only
in consequence of the statute, which enacted that five shillings an acre
should be received in lieu of all manner of tythe upon madder.

As through the greater part of Europe, the church, so in many different
countries of Asia, the state, is principally supported by a land tax,
proportioned not to the rent, but to the produce of the land. In China,
the principal revenue of the sovereign consists in a tenth part of the
produce of all the lands of the empire. This tenth part, however, is
estimated so very moderately, that, in many provinces, it is said not
to exceed a thirtieth part of the ordinary produce. The land tax or land
rent which used to be paid to the Mahometan government of Bengal, before
that country fell into the hands of the English East India company, is
said to have amounted to about a fifth part of the produce. The land tax
of ancient Egypt is said likewise to have amounted to a fifth part.

In Asia, this sort of land tax is said to interest the sovereign in the
improvement and cultivation of land. The sovereigns of China, those of
Bengal while under the Mahometan govermnent, and those of ancient Egypt,
are said, accordingly, to have been extremely attentive to the making
and maintaining of good roads and navigable canals, in order to
increase, as much as possible, both the quantity and value of every part
of the produce of the land, by procuring to every part of it the most
extensive market which their own dominions could afford. The tythe
of the church is divided into such small portions that no one of its
proprietors can have any interest of this kind. The parson of a parish
could never find his account, in making a road or canal to a distant
part of the country, in order to extend the market for the produce of
his own particular parish. Such taxes, when destined for the maintenance
of the state, have some advantages, which may serve in some measure to
balance their inconveniency. When destined for the maintenance of the
church, they are attended with nothing but inconveniency.

Taxes upon the produce of land may be levied, either in kind, or,
according to a certain valuation in money.

The parson of a parish, or a gentleman of small fortune who lives upon
his estate, may sometimes, perhaps find some advantage in receiving,
the one his tythe, and the other his rent, in kind. The quantity to be
collected, and the district within which it is to be collected, are so
small, that they both can oversee, with their own eyes, the collection
and disposal of every part of what is due to them. A gentleman of great
fortune, who lived in the capital, would be in danger of suffering much
by the neglect, and more by the fraud, of his factors and agents, if the
rents of an estate in a distant province were to be paid to him in this
manner. The loss of the sovereign, from the abuse and depredation of his
tax-gatherers, would necessarily be much greater. The servants of the
most careless private person are, perhaps, more under the eye of their
master than those of the most careful prince; and a public revenue,
which was paid in kind, would suffer so much from the mismanagement
of the collectors, that a very small part of what was levied upon the
people would ever arrive at the treasury of the prince. Some part of the
public revenue of China, however, is said to be paid in this manner. The
mandarins and other tax-gatherers will, no doubt, find their advantage
in continuing the practice of a payment, which is so much more liable to
abuse than any payment in money.

A tax upon the produce of land, which is levied in money, may be levied,
either according to a valuation, which varies with all the variations of
the market price; or according to a fixed valuation, a bushel of wheat,
for example, being always valued at one and the same money price,
whatever may be the state of the market. The produce of a tax levied in
the former way will vary only according to the variations in the
real produce of the land, according to the improvement or neglect of
cultivation. The produce of a tax levied in the latter way will vary,
not only according to the variations in the produce of the land, but
according both to those in the value of the precious metals, and those
in the quantity of those metals which is at different times contained
in coin of the same denomination. The produce of the former will always
bear the same proportion to the value of the real produce of the land.
The produce of the latter may, at different times, bear very different
proportions to that value.

When, instead either of a certain portion of the produce of land, or of
the price of a certain portion, a certain sum of money is to be paid in
full compensation for all tax or tythe; the tax becomes, in this case,
exactly of the same nature with the land tax of England. It neither
rises nor falls with the rent of the land. It neither encourages nor
discourages improvement. The tythe in the greater part of those parishes
which pay what is called a modus, in lieu of all other tythe is a tax
of this kind. During the Mahometan government of Bengal, instead of the
payment in kind of the fifth part of the produce, a modus, and, it is
said, a very moderate one, was established in the greater part of the
districts or zemindaries of the country. Some of the servants of the
East India company, under pretence of restoring the public revenue to
its proper value, have, in some provinces, exchanged this modus for a
payment in kind. Under their management, this change is likely both to
discourage cultivation, and to give new opportunities for abuse in the
collection of the public revenue, which has fallen very much below what
it was said to have been when it first fell under the management of the
company. The servants of the company may, perhaps, have profited by the
change, but at the expense, it is probable, both of their masters and of
the country.

Taxes upon the Rent of Houses.

The rent of a house may be distinguished into two parts, of which the
one may very properly be called the building-rent; the other is commonly
called the ground-rent.

The building-rent is the interest or profit of the capital expended in
building the house. In order to put the trade of a builder upon a level
with other trades, it is necessary that this rent should be sufficient,
first, to pay him the same interest which he would have got for his
capital, if he had lent it upon good security; and, secondly, to keep
the house in constant repair, or, what comes to the same thing, to
replace, within a certain term of years, the capital which had been
employed in building it. The building-rent, or the ordinary profit of
building, is, therefore, everywhere regulated by the ordinary interest
of money. Where the market rate of interest is four per cent. the rent
of a house, which, over and above paying the ground-rent, affords six
or six and a-half per cent. upon the whole expense of building, may,
perhaps, afford a sufficient profit to the builder. Where the market
rate of interest is five per cent. it may perhaps require seven or seven
and a half per cent. If, in proportion to the interest of money, the
trade of the builders affords at any time much greater profit than this,
it will soon draw so much capital from other trades as will reduce the
profit to its proper level. If it affords at any time much less than
this, other trades will soon draw so much capital from it as will again
raise that profit.

Whatever part of the whole rent of a house is over and above what is
sufficient for affording this reasonable profit, naturally goes to the
ground-rent; and, where the owner of the ground and the owner of the
building are two different persons, is, in most cases, completely paid
to the former. This surplus rent is the price which the inhabitant of
the house pays for some real or supposed advantage of the situation. In
country houses, at a distance from any great town, where there is plenty
of ground to chuse upon, the ground-rent is scarce anything, or no more
than what the ground which the house stands upon would pay, if employed
in agriculture. In country villas, in the neighbourhood of some great
town, it is sometimes a good deal higher; and the peculiar conveniency
or beauty of situation is there frequently very well paid for.
Ground-rents are generally highest in the capital, and in those
particular parts of it where there happens to be the greatest demand
for houses, whatever be the reason of that demand, whether for trade and
business, for pleasure and society, or for mere vanity and fashion.

A tax upon house-rent, payable by the tenant, and proportioned to the
whole rent of each house, could not, for any considerable time at least,
affect the building-rent. If the builder did not get his reasonable
profit, he would be obliged to quit the trade; which, by raising the
demand for building, would, in a short time, bring back his profit to
its proper level with that of other trades. Neither would such a tax
fall altogether upon the ground-rent; but it would divide itself in such
a manner, as to fall partly upon the inhabitant of the house, and partly
upon the owner of the ground.

Let us suppose, for example, that a particular person judges that he
can afford for house-rent all expense of sixty pounds a-year; and let
us suppose, too, that a tax of four shillings in the pound, or of
one-fifth, payable by the inhabitant, is laid upon house-rent. A house
of sixty pounds rent will, in that case, cost him seventy-two pounds
a-year, which is twelve pounds more than he thinks he can afford. He
will, therefore, content himself with a worse house, or a house of fifty
pounds rent, which, with the additional ten pounds that he must pay for
the tax, will make up the sum of sixty pounds a-year, the expense which
he judges he can afford, and, in order to pay the tax, he will give up a
part of the additional conveniency which he might have had from a house
of ten pounds a-year more rent. He will give up, I say, a part of this
additional conveniency; for he will seldom be obliged to give up the
whole, but will, in consequence of the tax, get a better house for fifty
pounds a-year, than he could have got if there had been no tax for as
a tax of this kind, by taking away this particular competitor, must
diminish the competition for houses of sixty pounds rent, so it must
likewise diminish it for those of fifty pounds rent, and in the same
manner for those of all other rents, except the lowest rent, for which
it would for some time increase the competition. But the rents of
every class of houses for which the competition was diminished, would
necessarily be more or less reduced. As no part of this reduction,
however, could for any considerable time at least, affect the
building-rent, the whole of it must, in the long-run, necessarily fall
upon the ground-rent. The final payment of this tax, therefore, would
fall partly upon the inhabitant of the house, who, in order to pay his
share, would be obliged to give up a part of his conveniency; and partly
upon the owner of the ground, who, in order to pay his share, would be
obliged to give up a part of his revenue. In what proportion this final
payment would be divided between them, it is not, perhaps, very easy to
ascertain. The division would probably be very different in different
circumstances, and a tax of this kind might, according to those
different circumstances, affect very unequally, both the inhabitant of
the house and the owner of the ground.

The inequality with which a tax of this kind might fall upon the owners
of different ground-rents, would arise altogether from the accidental
inequality of this division. But the inequality with which it might fall
upon the inhabitants of different houses, would arise, not only
from this, but from another cause. The proportion of the expense of
house-rent to the whole expense of living, is different in the different
degrees of fortune. It is, perhaps, highest in the highest degree, and
it diminishes gradually through the inferior degrees, so as in general
to be lowest in the lowest degree. The necessaries of life occasion the
great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and
the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The
luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the
rich; and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best
advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax
upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the
rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be any
thing very unreasonable It is not very unreasonable that the rich
should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their
revenue, but something more than in that proportion.

The rent of houses, though it in some respects resembles the rent of
land, is in one respect essentially different from it. The rent of land
is paid for the use of a productive subject. The land which pays it
produces it. The rent of houses is paid for the use of an unproductive
subject. Neither the house, nor the ground which it stands upon, produce
anything. The person who pays the rent, therefore, must draw it from
some other source of revenue, distinct from and independent of this
subject. A tax upon the rent of houses, so far as it falls upon the
inhabitants, must be drawn from the same source as the rent itself,
and must be paid from their revenue, whether derived from the wages of
labour, the profits of stock, or the rent of land. So far as it falls
upon the inhabitants, it is one of those taxes which fall, not upon one
only, but indifferently upon all the three different sources of revenue;
and is, in every respect, of the same nature as a tax upon any other
sort of consumable commodities. In general, there is not perhaps,
any one article of expense or consumption by which the liberality or
narrowness of a man's whole expense can be better judged of than by his
house-rent. A proportional tax upon this particular article of expense
might, perhaps, produce a more considerable revenue than any which has
hitherto been drawn from it in any part of Europe. If the tax, indeed,
was very high, the greater part of people would endeavour to evade it as
much as they could, by contenting themselves with smaller houses, and by
turning the greater part of their expense into some other channel.

The rent of houses might easily be ascertained with sufficient accuracy,
by a policy of the same kind with that which would be necessary for
ascertaining the ordinary rent of land. Houses not inhabited ought to
pay no tax. A tax upon them would fall altogether upon the proprietor,
who would thus be taxed for a subject which afforded him neither
conveniency nor revenue. Houses inhabited by the proprietor ought to
be rated, not according to the expense which they might have cost in
building, but according to the rent which an equitable arbitration might
judge them likely to bring if leased to a tenant. If rated according to
the expense which they might have cost in building, a tax of three or
four shillings in the pound, joined with other taxes, would ruin almost
all the rich and great families of this, and, I believe, of every other
civilized country. Whoever will examine with attention the different
town and country houses of some of the richest and greatest families
in this country, will find that, at the rate of only six and a-half, or
seven per cent. upon the original expense of building, their house-rent
is nearly equal to the whole neat rent of their estates. It is the
accumulated expense of several successive generations, laid out upon
objects of great beauty and magnificence, indeed, but, in proportion
to what they cost, of very small exchangeable value. {Since the
first publication of this book, a tax nearly upon the above-mentioned
principles has been imposed.}

Ground-rents are a still more proper subject of taxation than the rent
of houses. A tax upon ground-rents would not raise the rent of houses;
it would fall altogether upon the owner of the ground-rent, who acts
always as a monopolist, and exacts the greatest rent which can be got
for the use of his ground. More or less can be got for it, according as
the competitors happen to be richer or poorer, or can afford to gratify
their fancy for a particular spot of ground at a greater or smaller
expense. In every country, the greatest number of rich competitors is in
the capital, and it is there accordingly that the highest ground-rents
are always to be found. As the wealth of those competitors would in no
respect be increased by a tax upon ground-rents, they would not probably
be disposed to pay more for the use of the ground. Whether the tax was
to be advanced by the inhabitant or by the owner of the ground, would be
of little importance. The more the inhabitant was obliged to pay for the
tax, the less he would incline to pay for the ground; so that the
final payment of the tax would fall altogether upon the owner of the
ground-rent. The ground-rents of uninhabited houses ought to pay no
tax. Both ground-rents, and the ordinary rent of land, are a species
of revenue which the owner, in many cases, enjoys without any care or
attention of his own. Though a part of this revenue should be taken from
him in order to defray the expenses of the state, no discouragement will
thereby be given to any sort of industry. The annual produce of the land
and labour of the society, the real wealth and revenue of the great
body of the people, might be the same after such a tax as before.
Ground-rents, and the ordinary rent of land, are therefore, perhaps, the
species of revenue which can best bear to have a peculiar tax imposed
upon them.

Ground-rents seem, in this respect, a more proper subject of peculiar
taxation, than even the ordinary rent of land. The ordinary rent of land
is, in many cases, owing partly, at least, to the attention and good
management of the landlord. A very heavy tax might discourage, too much,
this attention and good management. Ground-rents, so far as they exceed
the ordinary rent of land, are altogether owing to the good government
of the sovereign, which, by protecting the industry either of the whole
people or of the inhabitants of some particular place, enables them to
pay so much more than its real value for the ground which they
build their houses upon; or to make to its owner so much more than
compensation for the loss which he might sustain by this use of it.
Nothing can be more reasonable, than that a fund, which owes its
existence to the good government of the state, should be taxed
peculiarly, or should contribute something more than the greater part of
other funds, towards the support of that government.

Though, in many different countries of Europe, taxes have been imposed
upon the rent of houses, I do not know of any in which ground-rents have
been considered as a separate subject of taxation. The contrivers of
taxes have, probably, found some difficulty in ascertaining what part of
the rent ought to be considered as ground-rent, and what part ought
to be considered as building-rent. It should not, however, seem very
difficult to distinguish those two parts of the rent from one another.

In Great Britain the rent of houses is supposed to be taxed in the same
proportion as the rent of land, by what is called the annual land tax.
The valuation, according to which each different parish and district is
assessed to this tax, is always the same. It was originally extremely
unequal, and it still continues to be so. Through the greater part of
the kingdom this tax falls still more lightly upon the rent of
houses than upon that of land. In some few districts only, which were
originally rated high, and in which the rents of houses have fallen
considerably, the land tax of three or four shillings in the pound
is said to amount to an equal proportion of the real rent of houses.
Untenanted houses, though by law subject to the tax, are, in most
districts, exempted from it by the favour of the assessors; and this
exemption sometimes occasions some little variation in the rate of
particular houses, though that of the district is always the same.
Improvements of rent, by new buildings, repairs, etc. go to the
discharge of the district, which occasions still further variations in
the rate of particular houses.

In the province of Holland, {Memoires concernant les Droits, etc. p.
223.} every house is taxed at two and a-half per cent. of its value,
without any regard, either to the rent which it actually pays, or to the
circumstance of its being tenanted or untenanted. There seems to be
a hardship in obliging the proprietor to pay a tax for an untenanted
house, from which he can derive no revenue, especially so very heavy a
tax. In Holland, where the market rate of interest does not exceed three
per cent., two and a-half per cent. upon the whole value of the house
must, in most cases, amount to more than a third of the building-rent,
perhaps of the whole rent. The valuation, indeed, according to which the
houses are rated, though very unequal, is said to be always below the
real value. When a house is rebuilt, improved, or enlarged, there is a
new valuation, and the tax is rated accordingly.

The contrivers of the several taxes which in England have, at different
times, been imposed upon houses, seem to have imagined that there was
some great difficulty in ascertaining, with tolerable exactness, what
was the real rent of every house. They have regulated their taxes,
therefore, according to some more obvious circumstance, such as they
had probably imagined would, in most cases, bear some proportion to the

The first tax of this kind was hearth-money; or a tax of two shillings
upon every hearth. In order to ascertain how many hearths were in the
house, it was necessary that the tax-gatherer should enter every room
in it. This odious visit rendered the tax odious. Soon after the
Revolution, therefore, it was abolished as a badge of slavery.

The next tax of this kind was a tax of two shillings upon every
dwelling-house inhabited. A house with ten windows to pay four shillings
more. A house with twenty windows and upwards to pay eight shillings.
This tax was afterwards so far altered, that houses with twenty windows,
and with less than thirty, were ordered to pay ten shillings, and those
with thirty windows and upwards to pay twenty shillings. The number of
windows can, in most cases, be counted from the outside, and, in all
cases, without entering every room in the house. The visit of the
tax-gatherer, therefore, was less offensive in this tax than in the

This tax was afterwards repealed, and in the room of it was established
the window-tax, which has undergone two several alterations and
augmentations. The window tax, as it stands at present (January 1775),
over and above the duty of three shillings upon every house in England,
and of one shilling upon every house in Scotland, lays a duty upon every
window, which in England augments gradually from twopence, the lowest
rate upon houses with not more than seven windows, to two shillings, the
highest rate upon houses with twenty-five windows and upwards.

The principal objection to all such taxes is their inequality; an
inequality of the worst kind, as they must frequently fall much heavier
upon the poor than upon the rich. A house of ten pounds rent in a
country town, may sometimes have more windows than a house of five
hundred pounds rent in London; and though the inhabitant of the former
is likely to be a much poorer man than that of the latter, yet, so far
as his contribution is regulated by the window tax, he must contribute
more to the support of the state. Such taxes are, therefore, directly
contrary to the first of the four maxims above mentioned. They do not
seem to offend much against any of the other three.

The natural tendency of the window tax, and of all other taxes upon
houses, is to lower rents. The more a man pays for the tax, the less, it
is evident, he can afford to pay for the rent. Since the imposition of
the window tax, however, the rents of houses have, upon the whole, risen
more or less, in almost every town and village of Great Britain, with
which I am acquainted. Such has been, almost everywhere, the increase of
the demand for houses, that it has raised the rents more than the window
tax could sink them; one of the many proofs of the great prosperity of
the country, and of the increasing revenue of its inhabitants. Had it
not been for the tax, rents would probably have risen still higher.

© Art Branch Inc. | English Dictionary