« PreviousContinue »
value of the land is brought down. And who then pays the tax at the year's end, but the landlord? when the tenant, not able to raise his rent by his commodities, either runs away in his landlord's debt, or cannot be continued in the farm, without abatement of rent: for, when the yearly charge in his farm is greater by the increase of the labourer's wages, and yet his product sells cheaper by reason of the tax laid on his commodities; how will the farmer be able to make up his rent at quarter-day? For this may be worth our notice, that any tax laid on foreign commodities in England, raises its price, and makes the importer get more for his commodity: but, on the contrary, a tax laid on your native product, and home-made commodities, lessens their price, and makes them yield less to the first seller.
The reason whereof is plain. For the merchant importing no commodity, but what the necessity, or fashionable wantonness, of your people gives him vent for, will not only proportion his gain to the cost and risque, which he has been at before landing ; but will expect profit of his money paid here, for any tax laid on it; and take advantage from thence to raise his price above what his tax comes to; and if he cannot do that, he will trade no more in that commodity. For it being not the product of his farm, he is not tied to bring it to market, if he finds its price not answer his expectation there, but turns himself to other wares, which he finds your markets take off better. A merchant will never continue to trade in wares, which the change of fashion, or humour amongst your people, has made less vendible, though he may be sometimes caught by a sudden alteration. But that seldom happens in the course of trade, so as to influence the great bulk of it. For things of necessity must still be had, and things of fashion will be had, as long as men have money, or credit, whatever rates they cost, and the rather because they are dear. For, it being vanity, not use, that makes the expensive fashion of your people, the emulation is, who shall have the finest, that is, the dearest things, not the most convenient, or useful. How many things do we value, or buy, because they come at dear rates
from Japan and China, which if they were our own manufacture or product, common to be had, and for a little money, would be contemned and neglected! Have not several of our own commodities, offered to sale at reasonable rates, been despised, and the very same eagerly bought and bragged off, when sold for French, at a double price? You must not think, therefore, that the raising their price will lessen the vent of fashionable, foreign commodities amongst you, as long as men have any way to purchase them, but rather increase it. French wine is become a modish drink amongst us, and a man is ashamed to entertain his friend, or almost to dine himself without it. The price is in the memory of man raised from 6d. to 28. and does this hinder the drinking of it? No, the quite contrary: a man's way of living is commended, because he will give any rate for it: and a man will give any rate rather than pass for a poor wretch, or a penurious curmudgeon, that is not able, or knows not how to live well, nor use his friends civilly. Fashion is, for the most part, nothing but the ostentation of riches, and therefore the high price of what serves to that, rather increases than lessens its vent. The contest and glory is in the expense, not the usefulness of it; and people are then thought and said to live well, when they can make a show of rare and foreign things, and such as their neighbours cannot go to the price of.
Thus we see how foreign commodities fall not in their price, by taxes laid on them, because the merchant is not necessitated to bring to your market any but fashionable commodities, and those go off the better for their high rate. But, on the contrary, your landholder being forced to bring his commodities to market, such as his land and industry afford him, common and known things, he must sell them there at such a price as he can get. This the buyer knows; and these home-bred commodities being seldom the favourites of your people, or any farther acceptable than as great conveniency recommends them to the vulgar, or downright necessity to all; as soon as a tax is laid on them, every one makes as sparing an use of them as he can, that he may save his money for other necessary or creditable expenses. Thus the price, which our native commodities yield the first seller, is mightily abated, and so the yearly value of the land, which produces them, lessened too.
If, therefore, the laying of taxes upon commodities does, as it is evident, affect the land that is out at a rack-rent, it is plain it does equally affect all the other land in England too, and the gentry will, but the worst way, increase their own charges, that is, by lessening the yearly value of their estates, if they hope to ease their land, by charging commodities. It is in vain, in a country whose great fund is land, to hope to lay the public charge of the government on any thing else ; there at last it will terminate. The merchant (do what you can), will not bear it, the labourer cannot, and therefore the landholder must: and whether he were best do it, by laying it directly where it will at last settle, or by letting it come to him by the sinking of his rents, which, when they are once fallen, every one knows are not easily raised again, let him consider. - Holland is brought as an instance of laying the charge of the public upon trade, and it is possibly (excepting some few small free towns) the only place in the world that could be brought to favour this way. But yet, when examined, will be found to show the quite contrary, and be a clear proof, that lay the taxes how you will, land every where, in proportion, bears the greater share of the burthen. The public charge of the government, it is said, is, in the United Provinces, laid on trade. I grant it is, the greatest part of it; but is the land excused, or eased by it? By no means; but, on the contrary, so loaded, that in many places half, in others a quarter, in others one-eighth of the yearly value does not come into the owner's pocket: and if I have not been misinformed, the land in some places will not pay the taxes : so that we may say, that the charge of the government came not upon commodities, till the land could not bear it. The burthen unavoidably settles upon the land first, and when it has pressed it so, that it can yield no more, trade must be brought in aid,
to help to support the government, rather than let all sink : but the first stress is always upon land, and as far as that will reach it is unavoidably carried, lay your taxes how you will. It is known what a share of the public charges of the government is supported by the trade of Amsterdam alone; as I remember that one town pays thirty-six in the hundred of all the public taxes raised in the United Provinces. But are the lands of Guelderland eased by it ? Let any one see, in that country of land more than trade, what they make clear of their revenues, and whether the country gentlemen there grow rich on their land, whilst the merchant, having the taxes laid on his commerce, is impoverished ? On the contrary, Guelderland is so low and out of cash, that Amsterdam has been fain, for many years, to lay down the taxes for them; which is, in effect, to pay the taxes of Guelderland too.
Struggle and contrive as you will, lay your taxes as you please, the traders will shift it off from their own gain; the merchants will bear the least part of it, and grow poor last. In Holland itself, where trade is so loaded, who, I pray, grows richest, the landholder, or the trader? Which of them is pinched, and wants money most? A country may thrive, the country gentleman grow rich, and his rents increase (for so it has been here) whilst the land is taxed: but I challenge any one to show me a country, wherein there is any considerable public charge raised, where the land does not most sensibly feel it, and, in proportion, bear much the greater part of it.
We must not, therefore, impute the falling of the rents, or of the price of land, to high interest; nor, if ill husbandry has wasted our riches, hope by such kind of laws to raise them to their former value. I humbly conceive we shall in vain endeavour it, by the fall of interest. The number of buyers must be increased, and sellers lessened, which must be done by other ways, than regulating of interest, or else the landed man will neither find chapmen for his land, nor for the corn that grows on it, at the rate he desires.
But, could an act of parliament bring down interest to four per cent., and the lowering of that immediately raise the purchaser's fine from 20 to 25 years' purchase; yet it may be doubted, whether this bé fit to be made into a law, because it would be of no advantage to the kingdom. For what profit would it be to the nation to make a law, that he who sells land, should instead of four have five hundred pounds of the purchaser ? This indeed, a little alters the distribution of the money we have amongst us Englishmen here at home, but neither helps to continue what we have, nor brings in more from abroad : which, being the only concernment of the kingdom, in reference to its wealth, is apt to be supposed by us without doors to be the only care of a parliament. For it matters not, so it be here amongst us, whether the money be in Thomas or Richard's hands, provided it be so ordered, that whoever has it may be encouraged to let it go into the current of trade, for the improvement of the general stock and wealth of the nation.
As this increase of the fine, in the purchase of land, is not an advantage to the kingdom; so neither is it to the landholder, who is the person, that, bearing the greatest part of the burthens of the kingdom, ought, I think, to have the greatest care taken of him, and enjoy as many privileges, and as much wealth, as the favour of the law can (with regard to the public weal) confer upon him. But pray consider: the raising the price of land in sale, by increasing the number of years' purchase to be paid for it, gives the advantage, not to the landholder, but to him that ceases to be so. He, that has no longer the land, has the more money: and he, who has the land, is the poorer. The true advantage of the landholder is, that his corn, flesh, and wool, sell better, and yield a greater price; this, indeed, is a profit that benefits the owner of the land, and goes along with it: it is this alone raises the rent, and makes the possessor richer : and this can only be done by increasing our wealth, and drawing more money into England; which the falling of interest, and thereby (if it could effect it) raising the purchase of land, is so far from doing, that it does visibly and directly one way hinder