Two early views of income tax…

Thanks to Radio 4 for these two early positions on Income Tax. Nicholas Vansittart, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1816 put the case for the tax:

“This tax would press less on the lower orders of society than any tax which could be devised… It was a tax more upon the rich than upon the poor… When the act was revised, it would be found the least oppressive and the least objectionable of any tax that had ever been imposed…”

And a petition for the Corporation of London put the opposing view:

“Painful experience has only served the more strongly to root upon their minds a conviction of its injustice, vexation and oppression … the manner in which the said tax is carried into execution, by means of an odious, arbitrary and detestable inquisition into the most private concerns and circumstances of individuals, is still more vexatious, unjust and oppressive, hostile to every sense of freedom, revolting to the feelings of Englishmen, and repugnant to the principles of the British Constitution; … the petitioners are deeply sensible of the depressed state of the agricultural interests, and of the ruinous effect of such a burden thereon; … the manufacturing and trading interests are equally depressed, and equally borne down with the weight of taxation … and they confidently hoped, that by such reductions in the public expenditure… and the abolishing of all unnecessary places, pensions and sinecures, there would have been no pretence for the continuation of a tax subversive of freedom, and destructive of the peace and happiness of the people. [Petition to Parliament from the Corporation of London]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the sheer number of people in government with a vested interest in not pay lots of tax, the government was defeated by a huge majority. Read more about the whole debacle: The Repeal of Income Tax.

3 replies on “Two early views of income tax…”

IT kinds of hammers home the idea that 200 years is a really short time on the time-scale of evolution…. ie. we haven’t changed much since. :/

The Long View, which is the series that this programme on tax came from is often quite interesting. Also in the programme was a debate on the progressive vs regressive taxes. VAT and other flat rate taxes being regressive in that they take more from the poor. Income tax is the fairest method of taxation in theory, but Labour have denied themselves access to it, hence the national insurance rises. I think that they should be braver and just go for a rise of a penny or so in the base rate, they need to do something after wasting all that money on the recent war.

Now let’s ponder how the income tax, once considered “vexatious, unjust, and oppressive,” won the political acceptance it enjoys today. In the name of egalitarianism, most people submit to the “detestable inquisition” without a murmur. Is this really a good thing?

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