Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

higher taxes.

Those generations would really benefit, because they would be so much richer that the slightly increased cost of government would never be perceived. At any rate, under a Parliamentary Government this doctrine would have been incessantly inculcated; a whole party would have made it their business to preach it, would have made incessant small motions in Parliament about it, which is the way to popularise their view. And in the end I do not doubt that they would have prevailed. They would have had to teach a lesson both pleasant and true, and such lessons are soon learned. On the whole, therefore, the result of the comparison is that a Presidential Government makes it much easier than the Parliamentary to maintain a great surplus of income over expenditure, but that it does not give the same facility for examining whether it is good or not good to maintain a surplus, and, therefore, that it works blindly, maintaining surpluses when they do extreme harm just as much as when they are very beneficial.

In this point the contrast of Presidential with Parliamentary Government is mixed; one of the defects of Parliamentary Government probably is the difficulty under it of maintaining a surplus revenue to discharge debt, and this defect Presidential Government escapes, though at the cost of being likely to maintain that surplus upon inexpedient occasions as well upon expedient. But in all other respects a Parliamentary Government

has in finance an unmixed advantage over the Presidential in the incessant discussion. Though in one single case it produces evil as well as good, in most cases it produces good only. And three of these cases are illustrated by recent American experience.

First, as Mr. Goldwin Smith-no unfavourable judge of anything American-justly said some years since, the capital error made by the United States Government was the "Legal Tender Act," as it is called, by which it made inconvertible paper notes issued by the Treasury the sole circulating medium of the country. The temptation to do this was very great, because it gave at once a great war fund when it was needed, and with no pain to any one. If the notes of a Government supersede the metallic currency medium of a country to the extent of $80,000,000, this is equivalent to a recent loan of $80,000,000 to the Government for all purposes within the country. Whenever the precious metals are not required, and for domestic purposes in such a case they are not required, notes will buy what the Government want, and it can buy to the extent of its issue. But, like all easy expedients out of a great difficulty, it is accompanied by the greatest evils; if it had not been so, it would have been the regular device in such cases, and the difficulty would have been no difficulty at all; there would have been a known easy way out of it. As is well known, inconvertible paper issued by Government

d

is sure to be issued in great quantities, as the American currency soon was; it is sure to be depreciated as against coin; it is sure to disturb values and to derange markets; it is certain to defraud the lender; it is certain to give the borrower more than he ought to have. In the case of America there was a further evil. Being a new country, she ought in her times of financial want to borrow of old countries; but the old countries were frightened by the probable issue of unlimited inconvertible paper, and they would not lend a shilling. Much more than the mercantile credit of America was thus lost. The great commercial houses in England are the most · natural and most effectual conveyers of intelligence from` other countries to Europe. If they had been financially interested in giving in a sound report as to the progress of the war, a sound report we should have had. But as the Northern States raised no loans in Lombard Street (and could raise none because of their vicious paper money), Lombard Street did not care about them, and England was very imperfectly informed of the progress of the civil struggle, and on the whole matter, which was then new and very complex, England had to judge without having her usual materials for judgment, and (since the guidance of the "city" on political matters is very quietly and imperceptibly given) without knowing she had not those materials.

Of course, this error might have been committed, and

perhaps would have been committed, under a Parliamentary Government. But if it had, its effects would ere long have been thoroughly searched into and effectually frustrated. The whole force of the greatest inquiring machine and the greatest discussing machine which the world has ever known would have been directed to this subject. In a year or two the American public would have had it forced upon them in every form till they must have comprehended it. But under the Presidential form of Government, and owing to the inferior power of generating discussion, the information given to the American people has been imperfect in the extreme. And in consequence, after nearly ten years of painful experience they do not now understand how much they have suffered from their inconvertible currency.

But the mode in which the Presidential Government of America managed its taxation during the Civil War, is even a more striking example of its defects. Mr. Wells tells us :

"In the outset all direct or internal taxation was avoided, there having been apparently an apprehension on the part of Congress, that inasmuch as the people had never been accustomed to it, and as all machinery for assessment and collection was wholly wanting, its adoption would create discontent, and thereby interfere with a vigorous prosecution of hostilities. Congress, therefore, confined itself at first to the enactment of measures

looking to an increase of revenue from the increase of indirect taxes upon imports; and it was not until four months after the actual outbreak of hostilities that a direct tax of $20,000,000 per annum was apportioned among the States, and an income tax of 3 per cent. on the excess of all incomes over $800 was provided for; the first being made to take effect practically eight, and the second ten months after date of enactment. Such laws, of course, took effect and became immediately operative in the loyal States only, and produced but comparatively little revenue; and although the range of taxation was soon extended, the whole receipts from all sources by the Government for the second year of the war, from excise, income, stamp, and all other internal taxes, were less than $42,000,000; and that, too, at a time when the expenditures were in excess $60,000,000 per month, or at the rate of over $700,000,000 per annum. And as showing how novel was this whole subject of direct and internal taxation to the people, and how completely the government officials were lacking in all experience in respect to it, the following incident may be noted. The Secretary of the Treasury, in his report for 1863, stated that, with a view of determining his resources, he employed a very competent person, with the aid of practical men, to estimate the probable amount of revenue to be derived from each department of internal taxation for the

« AnteriorContinuar »