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Revenue Reform

Revenue Reform

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Excerpt from Revenue Reform: An Essay

In a reply to the address given by David A. Wells in Cincinnati on the 2th April, Honorable E. D. Mansfield makes the following demand: "Let the ablest men of the free-trade party prepare a brief plain tract, which shall state in plain terms what their principles are and what effect they expect them to have on American industry."

As it does not require a very able man to meet this demand, so often made, the writer will undertake to answer it; but before so doing, he must apologize for his frequent repetition of elementary truths. Such repetition is made necessary by the form of the demand, which either assumes or implies an ignorance of the principles of free exchange somewhat difficult to conceive in view of the frequent statements made heretofore, both in this and in other countries.

I will reply separately to the two distinct demands.

First. What are our principles?

It is admitted by every one that the different conditions of climate and soil, with which the Creator has endowed the several countries of the world, make the cost of certain products vary essentially, as they are well or ill fitted to such conditions. Hence the interdependence of nations, rather than independence, appears to have been ordained, and through commerce and the exchange of product for product abundance has become the rule and scarcity the exception. Through commerce, civilization has been promoted, and by its further development war will surely be abolished.

Furthermore, the exchange of commodities which constitutes commerce cannot be maintained, unless both parties gain by the transaction; or, in other words, unless both parties satisfy a desire in an easier manner than would be possible for either, unless the exchange was made. The object both of production and exchange is consumption, and the end sought is the most abundant and varied consumption possible at a given time. Omitting to consider the exceptional cases of merely avaricious accumulation, the end and aim of those who labor, of those who accumulate capital, and of those who possess inherited wealth, is an ample consumption of articles of necessity, comfort, and luxury. Luxurious consumption is, on the whole, but a question of degree. The luxuries of one age become the necessities or comforts of a later time, and we only classify commodities according to the standard of the day. The most ample consumption of every article called for by men, at the cost of the least possible effort to obtain it, is the end sought by the free-trade economist. It is not our province to prescribe the use that shall be made of the things demanded, with any moral purpose in view. If spirituous liquors, tobacco, or snuff are demanded, it is the function of trade and commerce to provide an abundant supply, and the economist will promote such exchange as will give an abundance of these things in the same manner as he would provide an abundant supply of food, fuel, and clothing. In so far as he attempts to promote the moral welfare of the community, he will endeavor, as a citizen, to restrain abuses and not to prescribe uses.

The capital, or, in other words, the product of labor saved for future use, even of the richest countries, is not more than equal to two or three times the value of the annual product, and such capital is, of necessity, mainly controlled by a few.

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