Eventually, there is more good than bad to expect from the substitution of what is just for what is not.

Frédéric Bastiat
Complete Works, Volume 2, pages 209 to 216 (in French)
June 27th, 1847

The discussions in Westminster about the implementation of a unique tax on capital create the opportunity for Frédéric Bastiat to discuss about the fiscal doctrine (which he already considered inexistant in France if I understand correctly – nowadays, it consists in taxing whatever can be taxed without stirring up a revolution). His wish to see a simplification of the tax system (what a unique tax would be – unfortunately, he has not been heard in France since then) can be seen but the main discussion pertains to the difference between direct taxation (e.g, the income tax) and indirect taxation (e.g., the value-added tax). Despite taxes being much less numerous and much lower than today, he had already identified the advantages of the former and the drawbacks of the latter. The main quality he sees in direct taxation is that it is painful, thus favouring restrained spending by the government. The main quality seen by the government in indirect taxation is the exact opposite –  it is possible to create a painless tax thanks to low rates initially and then increase the rates progressively without the people taking notice – it is wicked!

This analysis is also an opportunity for Frédéric Bastiat to note that the English parliament aims at acting upon principles (rather than according to the direction of the wind and under the pressure of the lobbies) and that once these principles are accepted, political action is conducted quicker and in a more radical way than in other countries. This is one of the reasons that allowed for the abolition of the corn laws and is the theme of today’s quote – once an error has been admitted, it is better to correct it promptly rather than be gentle with those who benefit from it to the detriment of those who suffer from it.

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