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´╗┐Title: Government Ownership of Railroads, and War Taxation
Author: Kahn, Otto Hermann, 1867-1934
Language: English
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  Government Ownership
  of Railroads,
  and
  War Taxation

  OTTO H. KAHN

  AN ADDRESS BEFORE THE
  NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL CONFERENCE BOARD
  NEW YORK, OCTOBER 10, 1918



I

_GOVERNMENT OWNERSHIP OF RAILROADS_


Paternalistic control, even when entirely benevolent in intent, is
generally harmful in effect. It is apt to be doubly so when, as
sometimes occurs, it is punitive in intent.

The history of our railroads in the last ten years is a case in point.

In their early youth our railroads were allowed to grow up like spoiled,
wilful, untamed children. They were given pretty nearly everything they
asked for, and what they were not given freely they were apt to get
somehow, anyhow. They fought amongst themselves and in doing so were
liable to do harm to persons and objects in the neighborhood. They were
overbearing and inconsiderate and did not show proper respect to their
parent, i. e., the people.

But the fond parent, seeing how strong and sturdy they were and on the
whole, how hustling and effective in their work, and how, with all their
faults of temper and demeanor, they made themselves so useful around the
house that he could not really get along without them, only smiled
complacently at their occasional mischief or looked the other way.
Moreover, he was really too busy with other matters to give proper
attention to their education and upbringing.

As the railroads grew towards man's estate and married and begot other
railroads, they gradually sloughed off the roughness and objectionable
ways of their early youth, and though they did not sprout wings, and
though once in a while they still did shock the community, they were
amazingly capable at their work and really rendered service of
inestimable value.

But meanwhile, for various reasons and owing to sundry influences, the
father had grown testy and rather sour on them. He cut their allowance,
he restrained them in various ways, some wise, some less so, he changed
his will in their disfavor, he showed marked preference to other
children of his. And one fine day, partly because he was annoyed at the
discovery of some wrongdoing in which, despite his repeated warnings, a
few of the railroads had indulged (though the overwhelming majority were
blameless) and partly at the prompting of plausible self-seekers or
well-meaning specialists in the improvement of everybody and
everything--one fine day he lost his temper and with it his sense of
proportion. He struck blindly at the railroads, he appointed guardians
(called commissions) to whom they would have to report daily, who would
prescribe certain rigid rules of conduct for them, who would henceforth
determine their allowance and supervise their method of spending it,
etc.

And these commissions, naturally wishing to act in the spirit of the
parent who had designated them, but actually being, as guardians are
liable to be, more harsh and severe and unrelenting than he would have
been or really meant to be, put the railroads on a starvation diet and
otherwise so exercised their functions, with good intent, doubtless, in
most cases, that after a while those railroads, formerly so vigorous and
capable, became quite emaciated and several of them succumbed under the
strain of the regime imposed upon them. And then, seeing their condition
and having need, owing to special emergencies, of railroad services
which required great physical strength and endurance, one fine morning
the parent determined upon the drastic step of taking things into his
own hands. And so forth....



II


To drop the style of story-telling: Individual enterprise has given us
what is admittedly the most efficient railroad system in the world. It
has done so whilst making our average capitalization per mile of road
less, the scale of wages higher, the average rates lower, the service
and conveniences offered to the shipper and the traveler greater than in
any other of the principal countries.

It must be admitted that in the pioneer period of railroad development,
and for some years thereafter, numerous things were done, and although
generally known to be done, were tolerated by the Government and the
public, which should never have been permitted. But during the second
administration and upon the courageous initiative of President
Roosevelt these evils and abuses were resolutely tackled and a definite
and effective stop put to most of them. Means were provided by salutary
legislation, fortified by decisions of the Supreme Court, for adequate
supervision and regulation of railroads.

The railroads promptly fell in line with the countrywide summons for a
more exacting standard of business ethics. The spirit and practices of
railroad administration became standardized, so to speak, at a moral
level certainly not inferior to that of any other calling. It is true,
certain regrettable abuses and incidents of misconduct still came to
light in subsequent years, but these were sporadic instances, by no
means characteristic of railroading methods and practices in general,
condemned by the great body of those responsible for the conduct of our
railroads, no less than by the public at large, and entirely capable of
being dealt with by the existing law, possibly amended in nonessential
features, and by the force of public opinion.

Unfortunately, the law enacted under President Roosevelt's
administration was not allowed to stand for a sufficient length of time
to test its effects. The enactment of new railroad legislation in 1909,
largely shaped by Congressmen and Senators of very radical tendencies
and hostile to the railroads, and acquiesced in by President Taft with
ill-advised and opportunist complacency, established, for the first time
in America, paternalistic control over the railroads. It was an
unscientific and ill-devised statute, gravely defective in important
respects and bearing evidence of having been shaped in heat, hurry and
anger. Mr. Taft himself, it seems, has since recognized its faultiness,
for he has repeatedly and publicly protested against the
over-regulation, the starvation and the oppression of the railroad which
were the inevitable and easy-to-be-foreseen consequences of its
enactment.

The States, to extent that they had not already anticipated it, were not
slow to follow the precedent set by the Federal Government. The
resulting structure of Federal and State laws under which the railroads
were compelled to carry on their business, was little short of a
legislative monstrosity.



III


You all know the result. The spirit of enterprise in railroading was
killed. Subjected to an obsolete and incongruous national policy,
hampered, confined, harassed by multifarious, minute, narrow, and
sometimes flatly contradictory regulations and restrictions, State and
Federal, starved as to rates in the face of steadily mounting costs of
labor and materials--that great industry began to fall away. Initiative
on the part of those in charge became chilled, the free flow of
investment capital was halted, creative ability was stopped, growth was
stifled, credit was crippled.

The theory of governmental regulation and supervision was entirely
right. No fair-minded man would quarrel with that. The railroads had
exercised great, and in certain respects undoubtedly excessive power for
a long time, and all power tends to breed abuses and requires
limitations and restraints. But the practical application of that theory
was wholly at fault and in defiance of both economic law and common
sense. It was bound to lead to a crisis.

It is not the railroads that have broken down, it is our railroad
legislation and commissions which have broken down.

And now the Government, in the emergency of war, probably wisely and, in
view of the prevailing circumstances, necessarily, has assumed the
operation of the railroads.

The Director General of Railroads, rightly and courageously, proceeded
to do immediately that which the railroads for years had again and again
asked in vain to be permitted to do--only more so.

Freight rates were raised twenty-five per cent., passenger rates in
varying degrees up to fifty per cent. Many wasteful and needless
practices heretofore compulsorily imposed were done away with.

Passenger train service, for the abolition of some of which the
railroads had petitioned unsuccessfully for years, was cut to the extent
of an aggregate train mileage of over 47,000,000.

The system of pooling for which since years many of the railroads had in
vain endeavored to obtain legal sanction was promptly adopted with the
natural result of greater simplicity and directness of service and of
considerable savings.

The whole theory under which intelligent, effective and systematic
co-operation between the different railways had been made impossible
formerly, was thrown into the scrap heap.

Incidentally, certain services and conveniences were abolished, of which
the railroad managements would never have sought to deprive the public,
and the very suggestion of the abrogation of which would have led to
indignant and quickly effective protest had it been attempted in the
days of private control.

Lest this remark might be misunderstood, let me say that I have no word
of criticism against Mr. McAdoo's administration of the railroads, as
far as I have been able to observe it.

I think, on the contrary, that he is entitled to great praise and that
he has handled the formidable and complex task confided to him with a
high degree of ability, fine courage, indefatigable energy, and with the
evident determination to keep the running of the railroads clear of
politics and to make them above all things effective instruments in our
war effort.



IV


For a concise statement of the results accomplished elsewhere under
government ownership I would recommend you to obtain from the Public
Printer, and to read, a short pamphlet entitled "Historical Sketch of
Government Ownership of Railroads in Foreign Countries," presented to
the Joint Committee of Congress on Interstate Commerce by the great
English authority, Mr. W. M. Acworth. It will well repay you the half
hour spent in its perusal. You will learn from it that, prior to the
war, about fifty per cent. of the railways in Europe were state
railways; that in practically every case of the substitution of
government for private operation (with the exception, subject to certain
reservations, of Germany) the service deteriorated, the discipline and
consequently the punctuality and safety of train service diminished,
politics came to be a factor in the administration and the cost of
operations increased vastly. (The net revenue, for example, of The
Western Railway of France in the worst year of private ownership was
$13,750,000, in the fourth year of government operation it fell to
$5,350,000.) He quotes the eminent French economist, Leroy-Beaulieu, as
follows:

     "One may readily see how dangerous to the liberty of citizens the
     extension of the industrial regime of the State would be, where the
     number of functionaries would be indefinitely multiplied.... From
     all points of view the experience of State railways in France is
     unfavorable as was foreseen by all those who had reflected upon the
     bad results given by the other industrial undertakings of the
     State.... The State, above all, under an elective government,
     cannot be a good commercial manager.... The experience which we
     have recently gained has provoked a very lively movement, not only
     against acquisition of the railways by the State, but against all
     extension of State industry. I hope ... that not only we, but our
     neighbors also may profit by the lesson of these facts."


Mr. Acworth mentions as a characteristic indication that after years of
sad experience with governmentally owned and operated railways, the
Italian Government, just before the war, started on the new departure
(or rather returned to the old system) of granting a concession to a
private enterprise which was to take over a portion of the existing
state railway, build an extension with the aid of state subsidies, _and
then work on its own account both sections as one undertaking under
private management_.

I may add, as a fact within my own knowledge, that shortly before the
outbreak of the war the Belgian Government was studying the question of
returning its state railways to private enterprise and management.

Mr. Acworth relates a resolution _unanimously_ passed by the French
Senate a few years after the State had taken over certain lines,
beginning: "The deplorable situation of the State system, the insecurity
and irregularity of its workings." He gives figures demonstrating the
invariably greater efficiency, economy and superiority of service of
private management as compared to State management in countries where
these two systems are in operation side by side. He treats of the effect
of the conflicting interests, sectional and otherwise, which necessarily
come into play under government control when the question arises where
new lines are to be built and what extensions to be made of existing
lines.

He asks: "Can it be expected that they (these questions) will be
decided rightly by a minister responsible to a democratic legislature,
each member of which, naturally and rightly, makes the best case he can
for his own constituents, while he is quite ignorant, even if not
careless, of the interests, not only of his neighbor's constituency, but
of the public at large?" And he replied: "The answer is written large in
railway history.... The facts show that Parliamentary interference has
meant running the railways, not for the benefit of the people at large,
but to satisfy local and sectional or even personal interests." He
maintains that in a country governed on the Prussian principles railroad
operation and planning may be conducted by the Government with a fair
degree of success, as an executive function, but in democratic
countries, he points out that in normal times "it is the legislative
branch of the government which not only decides policy but dictates
always in main outline, often down to the detail of a particular
appointment or a special rate, how the policy shall be carried out."

For corroboration of this latter statement we need only turn to the
array of statutes in our own States, which not only fix certain railroad
rates by legislative enactment, but deal with such details as the repair
of equipment, the minimum movement of freight cars, the kind of
headlights to be used on locomotives, the safety appliances to be
installed, etc.--and all this in the face of the fact that these States
have Public Service Commissions whose function it is to supervise and
regulate the railroads.

The reason why the system of state railways in Germany was largely free
from most, though by no means all, of the unfavorable features and
results produced by government ownership and operation elsewhere, is
inherent in the habits and conditions created in that country by
generations of autocratic and bureaucratic government. But Mr. Acworth
points out very acutely that while German manufacturers, merchants,
financiers, physicians, scientists, etc., "have taught the world a good
deal in the twenty years preceding the war, German railway men have
taught the world nothing." And he asks: "Why is this?" His answer is:
"Because they were state officials, and, as such, bureaucrats and
routiniers, and without incentive to invent and progress themselves or
to encourage or welcome or even accept inventions and progress.

It is the private railways of England and France, and particularly of
America, which have led the world in improvements and new ideas, whilst
it would be difficult to mention a single reform or invention for which
the world is indebted to the state railways of Germany."

The question of the disposition to be made of the railroads after the
war is one of the most important and far-reaching of the post-bellum
questions which will confront us. It will be one of the great test
questions, the answer to which will determine whither we are bound.



V


And, it seems to me, one of the duties of business men is to inform
themselves accurately and carefully on this subject, so as to be ready
to take their due and legitimate part in shaping public opinion, and
indeed to start on that task now, before public opinion, one-sidedly
informed and fed of set purpose with adroitly colored statements of half
truths, crystallizes into definite judgment.

My concern is not for the stock and bond holders. They will, I have no
doubt, be properly and fairly taken care of in case the Government were
definitely to acquire the railroads. Indeed, it may well be, that from
the standpoint of their selfish interests, a reasonable guarantee or
other fixed compensation by the Government would be preferable to the
financial risks and uncertainties under private railroad operation in
the new and untried era which we shall enter after the war. I know,
indeed, that not a few large holders of railroad securities take this
view and therefore have this preference.

Nor do I speak as one who believes that the railroad situation can be
restored just as it was before the war. The function, responsibility and
obligation of the railroads as a whole are primarily to serve the
interests and economic requirements of the nation. The disjointed
operation of the railroads, each one considering merely its own system
(and being under the law practically prevented from doing otherwise)
will, I am sure, not be permitted again.

The relinquishment of certain features of our existing legislation, the
addition of others, a more clearly defined and purposeful relationship
of the nation to the railroads, involving amongst other things possibly
some financial interest of the Government in the results of railroad
operations, are certain to come from our experiences under Government
operation and from a fresh study of the subject, in case the railroads,
as I hope, are returned to private management.

Personally I believe that in its underlying principle, the system
gradually evolved in America but never as yet given a fair chance for
adequate translation into practical execution, is an almost ideal one.
If preserves for the country, in the conduct of its railroads, the
inestimable advantage of private initiative, efficiency, resourcefulness
and financial responsibility, while at the same time through
governmental regulation and supervision it emphasizes the semi-public
character and duties of railroads, protects the community's rights and
just claims and guards against those evils and excesses of unrestrained
individualism which experience has indicated.

It is, I am profoundly convinced, a far better system than government
ownership of railroads, which, wherever tested, has proved its
inferiority except, to an extent, in the Germany on which the Prussian
Junker planted his heel and of which he made a scourge and a horrible
example to the world; and the very reasons which have made state
railways measurably successful in _that_ Germany are the reasons which
would make government ownership and operation in America a menace to our
free institutions, a detriment to our racial characteristics and a grave
economic disservice.



I

_PUNITIVE PATERNALISM IN TAXATION_


I have spoken of the treatment of our railroads in the past ten years as
"punitive paternalism." In some respects this same term may be applied
to our existing and proposed war taxation.

Of course, the burden of meeting the cost of the war must be laid
according to capacity to bear it. It would be crass selfishness to wish
it laid otherwise and fatuous folly to endeavor to have it laid
otherwise.

We all agree that the principal single sources of war revenue must
necessarily be business and accumulated capital, but these sources
should not be used excessively and to the exclusion of others. The
structure of taxation should be harmonious and symmetrical. No part of
it should be so planned as to produce an unscientific and dangerous
strain.

The science of taxation consists in raising the largest obtainable
amount of needed revenue in the most equitable manner, with the least
economic disturbance and, as far as possible, with the effect of
promoting thrift.

The House Bill proposes to raise from income, excess or war profit and
inheritance taxes $5,686,000,000 out of an estimated total of
$8,182,000,000. In other words, almost seventy per cent. of our
stupendous total taxation is to come from these few sources. It seems to
me that the effect and meaning of this is to penalize capital, to fine
business success, as well as thrift and self-denial practised in the
past, thereby tending to discourage saving.

The House Bill fails, on the other hand, to impose certain taxes the
effect of which is to promote saving. Intentionally or not, yet
effectively, it penalizes certain callings and sections of the country
and favors others.

Let me say at the outset that my criticism does not refer to the
principle of an eighty per cent. war profits tax. Indeed, I have from
the very beginning advocated a high tax on war profits. To permit
individuals and corporations to enrich themselves out of the dreadful
calamity of war is repugnant to one's sense of justice and gravely
detrimental to the war morale of the people.

Strictly from the economic point of view, the eighty per cent. war
profits tax is not entirely free from objection. Whether England did
wisely on the whole in fixing the tax at quite so high a rate is a
debatable point, and is being questioned by some economists of high
standing in that country, not from the point of view of tenderness for
the beneficiaries from war profits, but from that of national advantage.

Moreover, conditions in America and England are not quite identical and
I believe it to be a justifiable statement that British industry is
better able to stand so high a tax than American industry, for reasons
inherent in the respective business situations and methods.

However, everything considered, circumstances being what they are, I
believe the enactment of the proposed eighty per cent. war profits tax
to be expedient, provided that, like in England, the standard of
comparison with pre-war profits is fairly fixed and due and fair
allowance made, in determining taxable profits, for such bona fide items
of depreciation and other write-offs as a reasonably conservative
business man would ordinarily take into account before arriving at net
profits.

Amongst the principles of correct and effective taxation, which are
axiomatic, are these:

     1. No tax should be so burdensome as to extinguish or seriously
     jeopardize the source from which it derives its productivity. In
     other words, do not be so eager to secure every possible golden
     egg, that you kill the goose which lays them.

     2. In war time, when the practice of thrift is of more vital
     importance than ever to the nation, one of the most valuable
     by-products which taxation should aim to secure is to compel
     reduction in individual expenditures.

     3. Taxation should be as widely diffused as possible, at however
     small a rate the minimum contribution may be fixed, if only to give
     the greatest possible number of citizens an interest to watch
     governmental expenditure, and an incentive to curb governmental
     extravagance.


It may safely be asserted that our war taxation runs counter to every
one of these tested principles.



II


The characteristic difference between the House Bill and the revenue
measures of Great Britain (I am not referring to those of France and
Germany, because they are incomparably less drastic than ours or Great
Britain's) is, first, that we do not resort to consumption taxes and
only to a limited degree to general stamp taxes, and, secondly, that our
income tax on small and moderate incomes is far smaller, on large
incomes somewhat smaller and on the largest incomes a great deal
heavier.

The House rate of taxation on incomes up to, say, $5,000, averages only
one-fifth of what it is in England; the House rate of taxation on
maximum incomes is approximately fifty per cent. higher than it is in
England. Moreover, married men with incomes of less than $2,000 are
entirely exempted from taxation in this country. In England all incomes
from $650 on are subject to taxation.

I believe, on the whole, our system of gradation is juster than the
English system, but I think we are going to an extreme at both ends. And
it must be borne in mind that our actual taxation of high incomes is not
even measured by the rates fixed in the House Bill, because to them must
be added State and municipal taxes. There must further be added what to
all intents and purposes is, though a voluntary act, yet in effect for
all right-minded citizens tantamount to taxation, namely, a man's
habitual expenditures for charity and his contributions to the Red Cross
and other war relief works.

The sentimental and thereby the actual effect of extreme income
taxation is not confined to the relatively small number of people in
possession of very large incomes directly affected by it. The
apprehension caused by the contemplation of an excessively high ratio of
taxation is contagious and apt to react unfavorably on constructive
activity.

It is highly important that taxation should not reach a point at which
business would be crippled, cash resources unduly curtailed and the
incentive to maximum effort and enterprise destroyed. And it should not
be forgotten that both theoretically and actually the spending of money
by the Government cannot and does not have the same effect on the
prosperity of the country as productive use of his funds by the
individual.

If all the European nations have stopped during the war at a certain
maximum limit of individual income and inheritance taxation, even after
four years of war, the reason is surely not that they love rich men more
than we do or that they are all less democratic than we are. The reason
is that these nations, including the financially wisest and most
experienced, recognize the unwisdom and economic ill effect under
existing conditions of going beyond that limit.



III


The same observations hold good in the case of our proposed inheritance
taxation (maximum proposed here forty per cent., as against twenty per
cent. maximum in England and much less in all other countries). And
again there are to be added to Federal taxation the rates of state
legacy and inheritance taxation.

Inheritance taxation, moreover, has that inevitable element of
unfairness that it leaves entirely untouched the wastrel who never laid
by a cent in his life, and penalizes him who practiced industry,
self-denial and thrift. And it cannot be too often said that the
encouragement of thrift and enterprise is of the utmost desirability
under the circumstances in which the world finds itself, because it is
only by the intensified creation of wealth through savings and
production that the world can be re-established on an even keel after
the ravages and the waste of the war.

Furthermore, business men, of necessity, have only a limited amount of
their capital in liquid or quickly realizable form, and through the
absorption by the inheritance tax of a large proportion of such assets,
many a business may find itself with insufficient current capital to
continue operations after the death of a partner. This effect is not
only unfair in itself, but is made doubly so, as being a discrimination
in favor of corporations as against private business men and business
houses, inasmuch as corporations are, of course, not amenable to
inheritance taxation.

Whilst in the case of the rich we discourage saving by the very hugeness
of our taxation, or make it impossible, we fail to use the instrument
of taxation to promote saving in the case of those with moderate
incomes. And the enormous preponderance of saving which could and should
be effected does not lie within the possibilities of the relatively
small number of people with large means, but of the huge number of
people with moderate incomes.

Moreover, while the rich, in consequence of taxation, limitation of
profits, etc., have become less able to spend freely since our entrance
into the war, workingmen and farmers, through increased wages, steadier
employment and higher prices of crops, respectively, have become able to
spend more freely.

Workingmen are in receipt of wages never approached in pre-war times,
many of them making incomes a good deal higher than the average
professional man, while the profits of business, generally speaking, are
rather on a declining scale and certain branches of business have been
brought virtually or even completely to a standstill.

Of our total national income, conservatively estimated at, say,
$40,000,000,000 for the last year before our entrance into the war, i. e.,
the year 1916, it is safe to say that not more than $2,000,000,000
went to those with incomes of, say, $15,000 and above, whilst
$38,000,000,000 went to those with lower incomes.

A carefully compiled statement issued by the Bankers Trust Company of
New York estimates the total individual incomes of the nation for the
fiscal year ending June 30, 1919, at about $53,000,000,000, and
calculates that families with incomes of $15,000 or less receive
$48,250,000 of that total; or, applying the calculation to families with
incomes of $5,000 or less, it is found that they receive $46,000,000,000
of that total.



IV


Whilst the House Bill imposes luxury and semi-luxury taxes, it fails--as
I have mentioned before--to resort to consumption taxes of a general
kind--a deliberate but, in my opinion, unwarrantable omission.

My advocacy of consumption and similar taxes, such as stamp taxes of
many kinds, is not actuated by any desire to relieve those with large
incomes from the maximum of contribution which may wisely and fairly be
imposed on them. I advocate consumption and general stamp taxes--such as
every other belligerent country without exception has found it well to
impose--because of the well attested fact that while productive of very
large revenues in the aggregate, they are easily borne, causing no
strain or dislocation, and automatically collected; and because of the
further fact that they tend to induce economy than which nothing is more
important at this time and which, as far as I can observe, is not being
practised by the rank and file of our people to a degree comparable to
what it is in England and France.

The tendency of the House Bill is to rely mostly on heavy taxation--in
some respects unprecedentedly heavy--of a relatively limited selection
of items. I am--as I have already said--in favor of the highest possible
war profits tax and of at least as high a rate of income and inheritance
taxation during the war as exist in any other country. But apart from
these and a few other items which can naturally support very heavy
taxation, such, for instance, as cigars and tobacco, I believe that the
maximum of revenue and the minimum of economic disadvantage and
dislocation can be secured not by the very heavy taxation of a
relatively limited selection, but by comparatively light taxation
distributed over a vast number of items. I believe such taxes would be
productive enough to make good the impending revenue losses from
Prohibition.

I think, for instance, the imposition of a tax of one per cent. on every
single purchase exceeding, say, two dollars (the tax to be borne by the
purchaser, not by the seller) would be productive of a large amount of
revenue and be harmful to none. A similar tax was imposed in the course
of the Civil War and appears to have functioned so well and met with
such ready acceptance that it was not repealed until several years after
the close of that war.

There is apparently small limit to the zeal of many politicians and
others when it is a question of taxing business and business men,
especially those guilty of success. We are, I believe, justified in
inquiring to what extent there is a relation between this tendency and
political considerations which ought to be remote from the treatment of
economic subjects such as taxation.

Let us take, as an instance, the case of the farmer. I do not pretend to
judge whether in these war times the farmers of the country are bearing
an equitable share of taxation in proportion to other callings or not. I
certainly recognize that they are entitled to be dealt with liberally,
even generously, for I know the rigors of the farmers' life, the ups and
downs of their industry's productivity, and fully appreciate that their
work lies at the very basis of national existence. Everything that can
fairly make for the contentment, well being and prosperity of the
farmer is to be wholeheartedly welcomed and promoted.

Yet, we cannot avoid noticing that the average value of farm lands in
this country is estimated to have increased between 1900 and 1918 more
than 200 per cent., that the value of farm products has been vastly
enhanced, but that according to the latest published details of income
tax returns, the farmer contributes but a very small percentage to the
total income tax collected. Of twenty-two selected occupations the
farmers' class contributes the least in the aggregate, although it is
numerically the largest class in the country.

Let it be clearly understood that I have not the remotest thought of
suggesting "tax dodging" on the part of the farmers. I know well how
fully they are doing their part towards winning the war, and am
entirely certain that they are just as ready to carry patriotically
their due share of the financial cost of achieving victory as the
splendid young fellows taken from the farms, many of whom I met in
Europe, have been ready to bear their full share of the cost in life and
limb of achieving victory.

The point of my question is not the action and attitude of the farmer.
But here is a great industry exempt from the excess profit and war
profit tax and apparently not effectively reached by the income tax,
which is entirely natural, because in this case the income tax can
neither be retained at the source nor are the large body of the farmers,
many of whom do not keep and cannot be expected to keep books, in a
position to determine their taxable income.

Is it conceivable that the politicians who are so rigorous in their
watchfulness that no business profit shall escape the tax-gatherer,
would not devise means to lay an effective tax if the same situation
existed in a business industry?

The point of my question is, taking the case of the farmers as an
instance, whether in framing our system and method of taxation, the
steady aim has been to ascertain impartially what is equitable and
wisely productive of revenue and to act accordingly, or whether
considerations of the anticipated effect of taxation measures upon the
fortunes of individual legislators or of their party, have been
permitted unduly to sway their deliberations and conclusions.



V


Turning aside from this interrogation mark, I will only add, in
returning to our general scheme of taxation, that there are numerous
taxes of a tried and tested and socially just kind--some of them applied
in this country during the Civil War and the Spanish War--which would
raise a very large amount of revenue and yet would be little felt by the
individual. Some of them have been suggested to our legislators, but
have not found favor in their eyes. Their non-imposition, taken together
with the entire character of our taxation program, the burden of which
falls to an enormously preponderant extent upon the mainly industrial
States and the business classes, not only proportionately, which, of
course, is just, but discriminatingly, which is not just, seems hardly
explainable except on the theory that the intention of those who were
primarily in charge of framing that program was punitive and corrective
and that they were influenced--though I am willing to believe
unconsciously--by sectional and vocational partiality.

The fact that the revenue bill was passed in the House by a unanimous
vote does not mean, of course, that it met with unanimous approval on
the part of Congressmen. The debate shows this. The bill, as reported
after months of labor, either had to be approved practically as it stood
or rejected and returned to the Committee. It is not possible for a body
of 400 men to deal in a detailed manner with a subject so complex as a
taxation measure of the magnitude of the present one.

The bill could not be made over or materially amended in the House. In
view of the urgency of the emergency and the vital need to raise the sum
asked for by the Treasury, no patriotic course was open to the House but
to accept the bill and pass it up to the Senate.

I know it is not popular to say things in criticism of war burdens of a
financial nature. One's motives are liable to be misunderstood or
misinterpreted and he is very apt to have it scornfully pointed out to
him how small relatively is the sacrifice asked of him, compared with
the sacrifice of position, prospects, and life itself, so willingly and
proudly offered by the young manhood of the land.

It is a natural and effective rejoinder, but it is not a sound or
logical one. Heaven knows, my heart goes out to our splendid boys, and
my admiration for their conduct and achievements and my reverence for
the spirit which animates them knows no bounds. But I am acquainted
with hundreds of business men who bemoan their gray hair and their
responsibilities, which prevent them from having the privilege of
fighting our foe arms in hand.

And I know no American business man worthy of the name, who would not
willingly give his life and all his possessions if the country's safety
and honor required that sacrifice.



Transcriber's Notes:
  Passages in italics indicated by underscore _italics_.

  Additional spacing after the block quotes is intentional to indicate
  both the end of a quotation and the beginning of a new paragraph as
  presented in the original text.





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