Wednesday, January 11, 2006

On Taxation

Occasionally, whilst researching, I come up with some things that I believe are of a wider interested. This afternoon brought one of those moments. It's a section of the 1776 Pennsylvania constitution, which gives instructions to the legislature on the principles it should use when deciding to levy new taxes:

SECT. 41. NO public tax, custom or contribution shall be imposed upon, or paid by the people of this state, except by a law for that purpose: And before any law be made for raising it, the purpose for which any tax is to be raised ought to appear clearly to the legislature to be of more service to the community than the money would be, if not collected; which being well observed, taxes can never be burthens.

No tax should be levied unless the cause to which it is put will be more useful to the community than the money would be if left in the hands of its earners. Now, there's a debate over where that distinction lies - but at least if that is the defined limit of the debate, then we can make progress. As far as I can see, half the problem of bloated taxation is that the Treasury tries to work out where it can maximise its revenues rather than really thinking about the utility of the money raised. If that principle can get established in public debate, debates over public spending might actually have some utility themselves, rather than being an exercise in who can issue the most slurs. Although that's probably a folorn hope.