Gulliver’s Taxes

Gulliver looks at tax policy, in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels:

I heard a very warm debate between two professors, about the most commodious and effectual ways and means of raising money, without grieving the subject.  The first affirmed, “the justest method would be, to lay a certain tax upon vices and folly; and the sum fixed upon every man to be rated, after the fairest manner, by a jury of his neighbours.”  The second was of an opinion directly contrary; “to tax those qualities of body and mind, for which men chiefly value themselves; the rate to be more or less, according to the degrees of excelling; the decision whereof should be left entirely to their own breast.”  The highest tax was upon men who are the greatest favourites of the other sex, and the assessments, according to the number and nature of the favours they have received; for which, they are allowed to be their own vouchers.  Wit, valour, and politeness, were likewise proposed to be largely taxed, and collected in the same manner, by every person’s giving his own word for the quantum of what he possessed.  But as to honour, justice, wisdom, and learning, they should not be taxed at all; because they are qualifications of so singular a kind, that no man will either allow them in his neighbour or value them in himself.

The women were proposed to be taxed according to their beauty and skill in dressing, wherein they had the same privilege with the men, to be determined by their own judgment.  But constancy, chastity, good sense, and good nature, were not rated, because they would not bear the charge of collecting.

Bolding added.  https://www.gutenberg.org/files/829/829-h/829-h.htm is in the public domain.

 

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Author: patoglesby

From 1982 to 1990, I worked in tax policy for Committees of the United States Congress. In recent years, I was Adjunct Lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill's Business School and then Adjunct Professor at its Law School.

1 thought on “Gulliver’s Taxes”

  1. Colonial Connecticut had a tax on attorneys. There were three grades, as I recall, very successful, successful and unsuccessful. The attorney declared his status. I often wondered how many honestly declared their status.

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