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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62

Wealth According to the Property Tax Returns

Wealth According to the Property Tax Returns.

The return from which I have taken the figures in the first table was made by the Property Tax department last year, and it is to be found in the appendix to the journals of the House of Representatives, marked B—6. The bulk of the items explain themselves without any comment, but those which compose the "Private Debts" are arrived at in a necessarily very imperfect fashion. In the first place, the amount of foreign capital lent on mortgage is only the estimate of the department, though the wide knowledge of the financial condition of the colony possessed by Mr Sperrey and his assistants makes it well worth quoting. In the second place, the debts owed to foreign creditors are arrived at by deducting the amount of debts returned as "owed to persons making statements" from the total indebtedness. Now, in many cases it is known that in their statements people omit all, or a great part, of what is owed to them, so the debts to foreign creditors are made to appear much larger than they really are. Thus, we may assume that the amount set dewn in the table as owed to persons in the colony is too small, while that set down as owed to persons outside the colony is too largo. The total indebtedness is probably fairly correct, though it may be unduly swelled by some large mortgages which have been registered in two local offices, and therefore counted twice over.

Having thus noticed the weakest points in the return, we can proceed to inquire the amount of wealth it makes out that we possess. The amount of debts owed to creditors within the colony does not diminish the total wealth; one set of persons is poorer by the liability, another set is richer by the asset, but the community as a whole is neither richer nor poorer. With respect to outside debt the case is different, and the whole amount must be deducted from our wealth, which will then stand thus:— page 2
Total private property £137,137,000
Deduct debts owed outside the colony 28,375,000
Total private wealth £108,762,000

The private wealth divided by the number of persons in the colony (578,482 in March 1886) gives us £188 as the average wealth of each person.

In closing this part of my inquiry I must repeat that there can be no doubt that the amount thus arrived at is considerably below the real amount.