« AnteriorContinuar »
for personal service and measure of their ability. In early times men worked out their tax, but as society became more complex an equivalent for service was accepted in commodities at first, and then in money. Property is taxed as an indication of the ability of the man, not as a complete measure of his ability, but as one of the best possible to be used in connection with the poll-tax and with demands for service on the jury and in the army. Nevertheless personal service remains a real basis of taxation. The man is taxed, not merely his possessions.
The farmer, therefore, contends that a good method of measuring the burdens of taxation is to resolve the tax into personal service and so make plain how many days of personal service each tax-payer must render to the State in return for his receipted tax bill.
A careful investigation conducted during the past ten years proves that the pay of the average farmer for his labor of superintendence and manual toil is a dollar a day. The average tax rate is $15 per thousand. In many of the towns the rate is from $15 to $26. As regards the relation of the assessed value to the real value of farming property, there is little difference. The assessors take oath to assess at its true value. The fact is that so great has been the depreciation in farm property that only in exceptional cases will it sell for more than its assessed value. Undervaluation is found mostly in cities.
The average farmer's capital invested in land, buildings, tools and stock amounts to $4,000. His tax therefore is $60 for the year. If he is so fortunate as to realize five per cent. on his capital and to work himself three hundred days, his total income will be $500 or $1.37 for each of the 365 days of the year. To pay his tax, therefore, he must work 43 days for the State and give besides all his interest for the same time. If now he had put his $4,000 into a mortgage on another's farm instead of investing it in his own, he would have $500 for interest and his labor of 300 days, but his taxes would have been only a poll-tax of $2, thus making a gain of $58. Instead of working 43 days for the State, he works only two days and he saves also the interest money for the whole
number of days. Moreover, no longer obliged to work for himself at a dollar a day, he may work for another farmer or in a factory or elsewhere and get two, three or four dol. lars a day for work no harder than before. In that case he may pay his tax by working a day or perhaps half a day.
But the Massachusetts farmer is not only thus taxed directly for the support of his own State, he is also taxed indirectly to support the federal government. The aggregate national tax is nearly two-thirds the sum of the taxes of all the States, so that the farmer pays at least one-half as much to the national government as to his State. If he must work forty-three days for his own State, he must work twenty-one days for the United States. To illustrate how the tariff affects the farmer, the following example under the tariff of 1892 is suggestive: He sent abroad 200 barrels of apples which netted him $530. This he invested in various commodities needed on his farm and in his family. But before he could pass these through the custom house, he must pay a tax of $326.55.
There is no doubt that the farmer pays his full share of the tariff tax, the effects of which are manifest. It has benefited those engaged in manufactures more than the farmers. It has raised wages so that the farmer has been compelled to pay his hired man enough to keep him out of the factories, often more than the farmer himself receives. It has raised the prices of goods the farmer must buy, but it has not increased correspondingly the prices of what he has to sell. One reason is very evident. The government has used surplus revenue of former years in making farms out of the public domain, in giving them away to foreigners, and in building railroads to transport the peasants of Europe to these lands and in return bring the product of these farms to glut the markets of Massachusetts, at prices sometimes for transportation less than the freight charges from one point to another within the State.
The farmer was content to pay higher prices for what he bought, because he was taught that these high prices would be temporary, and that home competition would soon make
them enough less to compensate him, and that the manufacturing cities would give him sale for all his produce at good prices. But he finds that, just as home competition begins to work for him a little relief, the trust and monopoly come in to retard or prevent the reduction; and he discovers that because of western competition he cannot sell his produce at remunerative prices, and often that he cannot sell it at any price.
This change in the incidence of taxation has had its effects upon the population and industries of the State. Of course, other causes have joined with it, nevertheless it remains one of the most efficient. It has made it possible for those engaged in other pursuits to secure a much larger income, measured not only in money, but in the necessaries, comforts and luxuries of life. The farmer who is superior to the average in business ability, or has an advantage in that his farm is located in the immediate vicinity of a city, by adapting himself and his business to the constantly changing conditions, has managed to hold his own and perhaps to increase his fortune in some degree, especially if he can cut up his farm into building lots and sell enough to make good his losses from poor crops and bad customers and low prices. But the average farmer, and the superior farmer whose farm is at a distance from the centers of population, have been forced, in spite of all their efforts, to fight a losing battle. By studying the census we find the following facts :
87 2,998,282 1,657,024
These figures indicate on the whole a decided decline in agriculture. The report of the Labor Bureau for 1890 on
abandoned farms shows a similar tendency. There were 1461 such farms containing 126,50974 acres of an assessed value of $1,076,328. “Of the 144 towns reporting abandoned farms,” says the commissioner, “ 86 show a decline in population in 1890 as compared with 1880." There has been a rapid concentration of population in the large towns and cities which has stripped the farming districts of population. From 1880 to 1890 of the whole territory of the State 18.92 per cent. has lost in rural population, the number being 6,522. In the same time cities and towns of 8,000 have gained 218,154 in number, increasing the total per cent. of total urban population from 58.44 to 69.90 per cent. Nothing has occurred since 1880 to cause us to think that the decline in the condition of agriculture in Massachusetts has been checked: the indications are that it has been aggravated.
The farmers are fully aroused as to the importance of the question of taxation. They understand the evils by which they are confronted and they know that, if any efficient remedies are applied, they themselves must take the initiative and persevere in their demands and in their efforts.
Organization, education and political action are the three methods upon which they put most reliance. They are organized as are the farmers of no other State. Their Board of Agriculture, established in 1852, is now a most powerful and influential body of men. It has connected with it a Dairy Bureau and a Gypsy Moth Commission. There are 36 incorporated societies represented on the Board. These, scattered over the State, are centers of influence, and are not without political power. At their annual fairs the governor is frequently present with other speakers to discuss problems of the hour. There are eleven horticultural societies, 30 farmers' clubs, 18 farmers' and mechanic clubs, or associations, 14 miscellaneous organizations. There is a State Grange, 15 district granges and 135 subordinate granges, with a membership of over 12,000, and a treasury with ample funds. There are thus 263 organizations of farmers recorded, besides others that are constantly being formed. These organizations are not ephemeral bodies, popular to-day and
disbanded to-morrow, but are institutions of many years experience, firmly established in the hearts of the farmers. The grange is the product of the slow growth of twenty-four years of vigorous life. Many of the clubs are older still and made up of the men of strong character and intelligence in their several communities. As a source of public opinion and as a means of applying it to questions of the hour, these organizations are of great value.
They are efficient schools for the education of their members, not only in matters of immediate connection with agriculture, but in that broader culture and training which go to make the good citizen and the wise man. In the art of public speaking and concerted action these organizations accomplish great good. One hundred and thirtyfive granges meet once or twice every month to listen to carefully prepared papers and lectures on important topics and to fully discuss them. Once a month the members of a dozen granges meet together in the district grange to compare notes and secure wider information and united action. Annually representatives of all meet in the State Grange to spend several days in hearing reports of standing committees and formulating courses of action. For years a committee on legislation and another on unequal taxation have been appointed in addition to the executive committee. These have been on the constant watch to discover threatening evils and to ward them off, to discern practical advantages and to secure them. The grange has appointed one of their number a legislative agent whose business is to keep track of legislation at the State House and see to it that the farmers' interests are promoted. At his word the farmers attend public hearings of legislative committees, send petitions, and bring all possible influence to bear upon the legislature to grant their requests. There are 14 farmers in the present legislature out of a total membership of 280 members, a larger number than the ratio of farmers to the total population would call for; but besides these, there are many others, elected by the farmers, who are true to their interests.
The opinion and action of these educated farmers, strongly