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Educational Campaigns. There are no vacation schools in the curriculum of the practical politician, simply because he is practical and knows that he must be in touch with his district 365 days in the year. The practical politician holds his position because he knows men, not in theory, but in the rough and tumble of work-a-day experience of their needs, fears, and hopes.
When a reform movement enters the arena of politics, the chief reliance for its success is the ability to crowd the slow and steady influence of years into the six months or weeks before election day. When this can be done the reform ticket wins, but the phenomenon appears about once in a generation. The merest glance at the crowd of politicians who thronged the City Hall, when the Mayor of the Greater New York was installed January 1, showed the faces of leaders, not always learned in the knowledge of the schools, but skilled in an ability to read human nature at a glance.
The practical result of the varied labors of politicians is the number of votes they can control on election day, towards which all the work of a campaign is directed. The campaign of 1897 was no exception.
From their studies in some of the great municipal departments, Mr. Homer Folks, of the State Charities Aid Association, and the writer felt that, if their practical workings could be brought down to the plain people, whose votes counted for just as much as the bank president or railroad directors, they would realize the difference between departments managed on principles of devotion to the interests of the people, and those in which the interests of the political leader were paramount.
It was the plan that a course of six practical talks should be given, illustrated by lantern photographs explaining the operations of the various city departments under former administrations, the improvements made by Mayor Strong, the best results attempted by other American and European cities, and, finally, what each department ought to accomplish for the Greater New York. The departments were to be grouped as follows: 1. Charities and Corrections; 2. Parks and Public Works; 3. Police and Magistrates' Courts; 4. Education and Buildings; 5. Docks and Fire; 6. Health and Street Cleaning.
Each course of six lectures was to be given in every group six election districts, as constituted in 1897 in New York. This would require 232 courses. The average number of voters in each election district was 240; the average adult population 1,333. Each lecture district, therefore, would include 1,440 registered voters and 8,000 adult population.
One lecture a week was to be given between September 20 and October 30. Every registered voter was to be personally invited by mail, and all citizens residing in the district would be invited by the most effective methods. Lectures were to be held, as far as possible, in public halls or meeting places of local interest.
This plan of an educational campaign was submitted to the Executive Committee of the Citizens' Union in April, so that all the preparation of the material and the illustrations for the course and the perfection of details could be made. One illustrated lecture was given at a hall on the East Side that same month. The audience was composed entirely of voters, many of whom expressed themselves delighted at having an opportunity to listen to a fair and accurate description of the working details of a great city department. This meeting was a great success from every point of view.
The Union did not deem it advisable to carry out the plan as outlined above, presumably on the score of expense. However, in the latter part of August, a Lecture Bureau was organized. The suggested plan of Mr. Folks was carried out in the number and arrangement of the departments, which were to be illustrated by lantern photographs. About 300 lectures were given. The Bureau was organized too late in the campaign to yield the most effective results. The fact that there were so many volunteer speakers prevented insistence upon a thorough mastery of the information concerning the department in question. Frequently the particular lecturer had little previous knowledge of the subject, having been in receipt of his facts and illustrations a short time previous to presentation. With a corps of speakers who were paid even a nominal sum, certain guiding principles in the assimilation and presentation of the subject matter assigned could have been required.
Even as it was, with all the disadvantages under which the Bureau labored, much good was accomplished in opening the eyes of the people to the fact that the management of great city departments demands fitness and character of the highest order.
There are scores of men who vote for one party, because of "what there is in it for them.” This strain of selfishness can never be totally eradicated, but it can be somewhat softened by the substitution of a higher civic altruism that shall lead each voter to consider that his ballot represents the potential welfare for the coming years, not only of himself, but his whole family circle, and his vote may decide what kind of a man shall shape the policy of a great department of health, education or police, affecting the physical wellbeing, the mental training or the safety of every member of his family. Civic education presented interestedly, intelligently and insistently, will be the most effective method for changing municipal selfishness into altruism.
WILLIAM H. TOLMAN. New York.
State Tax Commissions and their recommendations are not an innovation in our fiscal system. Since early colonial times, when the foundations of the present State and local tax systems were laid, complaints have been made of its defects, and a variety of devices recommended and adopted to obviate them. Since the middle of this century, with the growth of personal property and the ease of transferring it, and with the great accumulation of taxable wealth in the hands of corporations, the problem of applying the simple principles of our colonial general property tax to the involved conditions of the modern industrial system has been more or less thoroughly examined by a large number of commissions. A monograph on the subject by Dr. James W. Chapman, Jr., of Baltimore, digests the reports of 27 of these commissions, beginning with that of the Connecticut Commission of 1843, and ending with those of the Massachusetts and Ohio Commissions of 1893. These reports make extremely wearisome reading, partly on account of their general sameness, and the absence of any strikingly original analysis of the problem or proposed remedies, and partly owing to the fact that to anyone familiar with colonial financial history the discussions and recommendations of the above State commissions are merely a repetition and enlargement of the similar ideas one so frequently meets with in colonial records. The general agreement on the unsatisfactory results of our present State and local tax system expressed by the commissions of the
State Tax Commissions in the United States, by James W. Chapman, Jr., Ph.D., LL.B. Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Fifteenth Series, Nos. X-XI, Oct.-Nov., 1897, 114 pp.
past half century, especially the lack of uniformity of the tax and the difficulty of discovering, assessing and taxing personal property, is an old story to one who has waded through colonial tax legislation. There one constantly meets with complaints of the inequality of the property tax, as—to take a case at random-in New Hampshire in 1782, where the towns, it is said, "have vallued them (lands) some at one vallue and some at another Rate very unequally.”l The complaint of personal property's escaping taxation is as old as personal property itself. With the growth of movable, and often practically invisible property, especially in the hands of merchants, this complaint has grown louder and louder. The modern diagnosis of the difficulty has not much advanced beyond that of the Massachusetts authorities in 1651, who pointed out that "the estates of merchants, in the hand of neibours, strangers, or theire factors, are not so obvious to view” (as real property), “but, upon search, little of their estates doe appear, beinge of great valew, so that the law doth not reach them by that rule taxing visible estate."
The remedies which the typical tax commission of recent times proposes find their prototypes in colonial legislation. So, for instance, a large majority of the above 27 State tax commissions pin their faith on the effectiveness of the listing system, and have in view requiring the taxpayer to enumerate and assess his own taxable property. This simple method of solving the difficulty by putting the responsibility of disclosing taxable property on the taxpayer himself, is as old as the tax system itself, and was always proposed when the habit of concealing taxable property was at its strongest, as, for instance, in Rhode Island in 1673-4.3
Many of the recent commissions also propose to meet the difficulty of discovering and properly assessing all taxable property in a way that has often been tried in earlier times and has proved futile. The taxpayer not being relied on for the necessary information, it is often proposed to stimulate the tax assessors to do their duty more fully by the favorite device of framing his oath of office in awe-inspiring terms, or, still better, in removing the zealous officials from the vengeance of their constituents by lengthening the terms of office, or in putting over them a supervisory body of Colonial, later State officials. This last device to effect uniform and general taxation is at least 230 years old, as we find it employed 1 New Hampshire Provincial Papers, IV, 304-5; 496–9.
Recds. Mass. Bay, III, p. 221. a Colonial Records R. I., II, 510, 521..
in Massachusetts in 1668, but has never led to remedying the evil it was aimed at.
Still, however time-worn many of the recommendations of these modern tax commissions are, some of them have contributed to advancing our State and local tax system on the few lines along which progress has been made, for instance in the matter of inheritance taxes and corporation taxes.
A few of the tax commissions since 1870 have been bold enough to recommend an entire exemption of personal property from taxation, and, we believe, only one, that of New York, 1870, recommended a tax on the occupiers of houses. This famous report of the New York Commission of 1870 stands out prominently as the best of its kind, and has not been approached in breadth of view by any similar report before or since, barring the recent Report of the Massachusetts Tax Commission, not included in the above monograph.?
A Reprint of "A Discourse Concerning the Currencies of the British Plantations in America, etc.," by William Douglass, formed the October number of "Economic Studies” published by the American Economic Association. It is well edited and equipped with a thorough introductory sketch of Dr. Douglass and his writings by Charles J. Bullock, Ph.D. The "Discourse" was first published anonymously in London in 1739. The author was a leading physician of Boston, of much public spirit and of some versatility as a writer. His chief work, “A Summary of the British Settlements in North America," was also economic, at least to a large extent, and was cited by Adam Smith in the "Wealth of Nations."
The “Discourse” was undoubtedly one of the ablest of the eighteenth century currency pamphlets exposing the evils of paper money. After reviewing the experiences of the various colonies with this medium, the successive postponements of redemption, the enormous fluctuations of exchange on London, the author answers the numerous arguments alleged in favor of inflation and ends by suggesting as remedy interference by the British Parliament. He deplores the self-perpetuating power of paper money. “Our inordinate Desire of more, may be compared to Thirst in a Dropsy,
1 Recds. Mass, Bay, IV, part 2, p. 363.