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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

Comparative Burden

Comparative Burden.

All the articles in the Table are, no doubt, consumed by wealthy as well as by poor folks; and some of them by rich and well-to-do people, although others who are struggling to save, cannot afford to buy them, and therefore they must be considered luxuries. But it is very difficult to draw the line, and the proportion of duty levied on things not necessaries is a very small one. For instance, you may pick out silks and linens from clothing, but, as before stated, the whole annual importation of these is only valued at under £42,000. There are also high-priced articles among the other items of food, clothing, furniture and household things, cleanliness, light, stationery, conveyance, and building materials. There are table luxuries, costly clothes, furniture, upholstery, perfumed soap and oils, superior candles, lamps, pens, writing paper, carriages, harness and saddlery; and there are more imported and costly articles used in building a large house for a rich man than there are in building a necessary one for the workman and his family. But these exceptions form a very small portion of the four millions' worth of articles taxed under the heads enumerated, which cost the 450,000 people who consumed them nearly £844,000 more than they would if there had been no duty on them.

It is argued in favour of an ad valorem duty that it distributes the burden of taxation fairly between persons of all degrees in wealth. This, however, is by no means the case. The worker at wages, especially if he have young children to house, feed, clothe, keep warm and healthy, and send to school till they have learned enough to give up some of their schooling time to work instead, feels the extra percentage on his expenditure far more severely than the wealthy man, who, with himself amd his family in every way provided for, can with less difficulty afford luxuries for himself and them at a higher price. One-eighth more on the coarse cotton or woollen clothing is a heavier burden to the wearer, than one-eighth more on the fine linen, silk, or broadcloth attire. It is much harder on cottagers to pay one-eighth more for their simple building materials, and simply comfortable furniture and utensils, than on banking and mercantile firms or individuals, or other tradesmen, to pay one-eighth more in order to render their places of business attractive and convenient to customers—or on the rich grazier or land owner—the successful lawyer, doctor, engineer, surveyor, architect, commission agent, auctioneer, or contractor for public works, to pay one-eighth more on the costly wood, metal, marble, furniture, upholstery, glass, porcelain, plate, gold, silver, and jewelry, with which he and his family render their dwellings and persons luxurious and ornamental. Take a single example. A thirty shilling clock by which the workman's wife can serve the meals punctually, costs 3s. 9d. more—the £5 watch by which he will go to and come from work costs 12s. 6d. more—than if page 12 there were no duty on both. At the same rate of duty, his employer has to pay £3 12s. more than he would on each of the £30 time-keepers which perform on his drawingroom mantelpiece, and in his pocket respectively. The 16s. 3d. eats up nearly three out of the 310 days' income of the worker for wages; the £7 4s. only amounts to three working days' income of a man with £744 a year. The one man can nearly as well afford to spend £67 4s as the other can £7 6s. 3d.; and it matters much more to the labourer whether he could get his requirements for £6 10s., than it does to the employer whether he could get his more luxurious chattels for £60—instead of the two higher prices respectively. Even the gentleman who idly receives, or industriously earns, £310 a year, can afford to pay for luxuries at four times the rate that the working man at £77 10s. a year can for necessaries.