26 AUGUST 1876, Page 6


lifirE rather regret M. Gambetta's visit, and still more regret

Y the object with which it is understood that it will be paid. The ex-Dictator of the French is almost sure to be surrounded in this country by a class of politicians who are out of sympathy with the body of their countrymen, who will misguide him as to English feeling, and who will tempt him into some utterance which may for years put him out of rapport with the ruling opinion of Great Britain. He is the future President of the French, his alliance may be most important both to the country and to the Liberal party, and to receive him as a sort of Garibaldi—as we fear the English Republicans intend to do—is to open an endless vista of future misunder- standing. It is possible that M. Gambetta, who has an Italian wariness, and who has held power, may extricate himself with credit from a dangerous position ; but his weakest point is a slight contempt for all countries outside France, which neces- sarily interferes with his comprehension of their internal situation. We shall be relieved to find that he says nothing which the aver- age Englishman can pronounce "natural but injudicious," and still more relieved to hear that an examination of the English methods of collecting Income-tax has taught him nothing except that they cannot be transferred to France. The curious persistence with which M. Gambetta and many more sincere Republicans insist that this tax shall be imposed in France—insist with vehemence, as if a fiscal scheme could be a moral dogma—is the worst sign that we know of for the immediate future of the Re- public. That form of government is still distrusted by French owners of property, is still under trial with the peasants, and is still suspected by those Frenchmen whose test of good government is the external prosperity it produces, and they will all be irritated beyond reason by the new exaction. The very principle of the impost will be offensive to them. That men should be taxed simply because they possess, that the Haves should be compelled by direct legislation to relieve the burden on the Have-note, this, in the eyes of bourgeois and peasant Frenchmen, is the very essence of confiscation. Even if the assessment is secret, they will resent it with the bitterness which makes Frenchmen suspicious of every- body, and will begin to assert that it is unfairly levied ; that great personages buy immunity ; and that taxpayers known to be Conservative are treated very differently from tax- payers known to hold more or less "dangerous" opinions. They will doubt the honesty, and still more the discretion, of the collectors, will adopt every device that ingenuity can suggest to deceive their acumen, and will in thousands of cases, perhaps throughout the main body of the peasantry, lower their apparent standard of living, rather than leave to the inquisitors any visible data for accurate calculation. All that is good and all that is bad in them will revolt against the tax: The thrift of a Frenchman, and more especially of a rural Frenchman, is by no means purely selfish. He saves for his family, and especially for his daughters, at least as much as for himself ; he always invests his hoards of this kind; and to pay a direct tax upon them as they grow, to have to diminish them by napoleons a year, to be ordered to explain to an official exactly how much they are, will irritate him beyond all measure,—more especially if, as in England, burdens on income are treated, not as deductions from it, but as expenses to be paid out of it. His inherited feeling that the Treasury is a hostile power will be perceptibly deep- ened, and he will vote for any pretender or any party who promises to relieve him of so oppressive a burden. On the other hand, if the assessment is, as in America, public, he will be wild with fear and jealousy of his neighbours. Englishmen cannot bear the idea of publishing their incomes, though the praetice would make them perceptibly happier, by diminishing seamy, falsehood, and pretension ; but their feeling is weak compared with that of Frenchmen, who honestly believe that they would, if their resources were accurately known, be marks for every kind of social and even criminal extortion. They could not enjoy, they say, amid the universal envy their prosperity, thus attested and verified by officials, would in- evitably excite. They wish to save, and to save secretly, to be richer than they are thought, to be provided for the bad time, or to be unexpectedly generous within a limited circle ; and to have their incomes revealed, to be told by their relatives that they save or spend too much, to be threatened by the poor for not giving, and by the Socialists for possessions above the standard of necessity, would make life in- supportable, and the tax would be abolished as it was in America, by universal and irresistible demand, while the party which imposed it would be held up to public execration. We do not believe the peasantry would bear it for two years, while the rich,—who, be it remembered, are still influential in France, —would not only be in permanent dread of the impot progressif, but would be told in every local newspaper and every public meeting that if only a part of their superfluity were taken from them the good " People " might pass on its way rejoicing and an- plundered. The immense inequality produced by wealth excites among Englishmen and Americans no feeling except the desire to be rich ; but the French are more logical, and in their passion for equality their teachers are disposed to try whether even this last inequality could not be diminished. Legitimist journals, clerical journals, Bonapartist journals, would all exert themselves to increase this dread, and it would be deepened every day by the imprudences of the extreme Radicals many of whom pity the poor till they forget both the moral law and the fact that ease is not the intended lot of man, until all with anything to lose would be gradually ulcerated into the temper which Carlyle accurately describes as that of "preternatural sus- picion." M. Gambetta knows his countrymen better than we do, and may be aware of feelings which will make an income- tax endurable ; but we cannot see where such a measure is to secure the support that will make its adoption safe for a scarcely-tried Republic. Of course, if he makes his limit of exemption sufficiently high he can carry his law, but his. tax will be comparatively unproductive, will be justly con- sidered confiscatory, and will nevertheless alienate from hisside all the capitalists of France. It would be far easier and more prudent, if he only wants to reach the rich, to put on a heavy succession-duty, or duties on luxuries such as wealthy French- men will not do 'without.

Of all methods of levying the Income-tax, the English.plan is probably the one which would suit the Continental nation& least. It is based essentially on the idea that the tax is a war- tax which the -classes liable to it will willingly pay, and when- ever they are unwilling, is justly exposed to the charge both of cumbrousness and immorality. It is nominally self-assessed, and all Frenchmen affirm that in France self-assessment would be fictitious, while it is really protected by a right of investi- gation which in France, where officials are powerful, and auditors logical, and Treasury accountants severe, would be so rigorously exercised that the officials might just as well ascertain the fitting assessment for themselves. The tolerance displayed in England towards income-tax payers would affront the purist bureaucrats of France nearly as much as their rigidity would affront the tax-payers, and between the two the collection of the tax would be speedily reduced to a kind of war, in- which the sheet-anchor of French society, the confidence felt in the protecting intentions of the official hierarchy, might be, and we fear would be, dangerously loosened in its hold. If the tax is established at all, it will have, we believe, to be assessed by the officials who levy the contribution foncigre, must be fixed for each house after minute inquiry, and must be revised only at intervals of, say, seven years, any plea for reduction within that time being heard on evidence, as in a kind of secret suit. Towards such a system as that, an inquiry in England, where the tax is assisted by the public spirit of the people and the moderation of the officials, will afford little help, and M. Gambetta's investigation will only blind him still farther to the dangers which the Republic will incur from an impost that should be first tried as a war measures and defended as a patriotic sacrifice to the country. The tax is just enough, or would be, were it assessed from above and on incomes publicly stated ; but no fiscal arrangement is im- perative„nor is any form of taxation so binding on the political conscience that it ought to be imposed in the face of deep political discontent. The most moral of all taxes is the tax on alcohol, but the man who proposes to levy one in Bavaria is not a man of conscience, but a dangerous doctrinaire.