Thursday, November 28, 2013

On Proudhon's income tax proposal

Here's a bit from The Theory of Property (which I have been working on some again), which discusses the relationship between Proudhon's famous proposal to the provisional government and his developing theory.
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My famous proposition of July 31, for a tax of one-third on income, one-sixth to profit the farmer or tenant, one-sixth to profit the nation, should not even be considered as an application of my principles. It was a question, let us not forget, of immediate solutions, from day to day. In the crisis which struck all the forms of production, agriculture, manufacturing industry, commerce, income [rente] remained, inviolable and inviolate; agricultural products declined by half, land rent did not decrease; the tenants saw their wages reduced by fifty percent; the proprietor did not accept a reduction in his rent; taxes had been increased by the famous 45 centimes, and the rentier of the State received his annuities; he even received them in advance. In a nutshell, labor produced less by half and paid just as much to the right of aubaine. Celui-ci, receiving as much as in the past, bought the products at half the cost. The Republic was short on resources. So I made my tax proposal. By giving up a third of his income, the national [domanial] proprietor was still less effected by the crisis than the average laborers. The collection/allocation of the tax being entrusted to the diligence of the debtor, it would have cost the State neither costs of inspection, nor costs of receipt. The tax relief of one-sixth for the profit of the tenant and farmer was a compensation arriving just to the appropriate persons, without costing a penny to the tax authorities; the government finally found a considerable resource, as easy to realize as it was certain.
Despite the scandal that was made around my proposal and the developments that I had given it, I persist in saying that I had found a solution of irreproachable circumstances, and of a complete efficacy; and that all the detailed expedients imagined then and since, have weakened the institution of property more than my project, without pulling us from the crisis.
To say that I expected the solution of the problem of property from the success of my proposition would be absurd. I was aiming then at comprehensive solutions, the plan of which is sketched out in my General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century.
The liberty of the agricultural laborer being, from the economic point of view, the only reason to be for property in land, I naturally had to ask myself: How can society help the agricultural workers to replace the idle proprietors? To which I responded: By organizing the crédit foncier [land bank].

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