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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

Methods of Ascertaining the Wealth of the Colony

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Methods of Ascertaining the Wealth of the Colony.

The public wealth of a country is usually to be discovered from official returns; but to arrive at the amount of private wealth various tests have to be applied, the most satisfactory of which is to take the amount of property left at death, and to divide it by the number of persons who die, the result being the average wealth per head; since, as Mr Hayter says," it may be supposed that the average amount left by each person dying is equivalent to the average amount possessed by each person living." But in this colony we have the exceptional advantage that we can check our result by the returns made to the Property Tax department. There is, however, one great drawback to the usefulness of these returns—viz., that they are made by taxpayers under the strongest sense that they form the basis of taxation, and that consequently it is most improvident not to put down every item at its lowest value, or not to leave it out altogether if there is any excuse for doing so. I lay some stress upon this because there is an idea abroad that properties are often returned at too high a value. If this is ever done it is certainly not of sufficiently frequent occurrence to bring the total value up to anything like its real amount. The probate returns no doubt give a fairer view of the case, though they understate the real wealth, because no account is taken of sums under £100. I therefore take the probate returns as the basis of my calculation of the national wealth, and regard the property tax return as chiefly valuable because it gives us an idea of the items.