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rs 1818, 1819, and 1820; and in pursuance of the said Act, a like Sum cap. 48. 959,5481. 58. 114d. has been so carried in the Year ended 5th
ON THE EXPEDIENCY,
THIS country has been for nearly six years at peace; but still it labors under the burdens imposed by its wars. Taxa tion presses heavily on it; its agriculture languishes, and its commerce fails. It has triumphed over its neighbours by the power of its arms; but it sinks before them in its mercantile competitions. The distresses of the country are obvious and palpable. The remedy, perhaps, may not be quite so clear. Patience may be useful, but it will not remove the evil; and the evil, unless removed, will continue to increase. Pau perism cannot in this country be owing to the deficiency of the necessaries of life: the land produces much, and is capable of producing more; and our Continental neighbours are ready to supply us, in case of failure of our crops at home: there is land which wants cultivation, there are hands which want work. All this is resolvable into the simple circumstance of a transition from a state of war to a state of peace. A state of war has certainly been productive of the evils we now feel; but, what is worse, a state of peace does not promise to alleviate the burdens imposed by war. Our misfor tune is, that the national expenditure exceeds its revenues even in peace. Where is the remedy for this evil? While the nation was at war, and its expenses were necessarily great, and its exertions extraordinary, the government could plausibly enough take up loans, whose interest could be paid in war, and whose principal should have been paid in peace. This in fact is the only ground on which a loan ought to be taken up. If my neighbour has an income which in ordinary
times exceeds his expenditure, but on extraordinary occasions falls short of it, I can safely lend him assistance on these emergencies; but if his ordinary expenses exceed his income, and he persists in borrowing, he is going the high road to ruin, and he is dragging his neighbours with him. This is the present condition of the national expenditure: it cannot hope to live on less, and it continues borrowing.
There must be, in time, a stop to this system-gradual or instantaneous. But, I would ask, is there any financial dexterity that can increase the public revenue? It may be difficult, I acknowlege, to say, how far taxation may go: it has already advanced to a most unthought-of extent, and it may be carried yet farther; but it does not follow, that because it has already transgressed all probable or anticipated limits, it therefore has no bounds. When there is no room for new taxes, and when the nominal increase of those already imposed does not make them really more productive, that looks as much like a limit to taxation as any thing can: and we are now as near as possible to this point. It seems very obvious that the ordinary means of taxation will not relieve the nation from its difficulties, or prevent the necessity of having recourse to loans. Borrowing, therefore, seems the only resource left to meet the current expenses of the year. This practice cannot last for ever. Say, for example, that the expenditure exceeds the ordinary revenue by three millions: this sum may for 14 successive years be borrowed; the accumulating interest must be paid, and by that time the deficiency will be doubled; the difficulty of raising the means for paying the interest of the debt will of course increase, and in proportion to this difficulty will be the reluctance of individuals to advance money. And let us imagine, what may not be very far distant, that the ministry attempts to raise a loan, and fails in the attempt; this of course brings the affairs of the nation to a crisis: public credit will not only be shaken, but absolutely destroyed; and only desperate measures can be resorted to. There must be an excessive imposition of taxes to meet the difficulty, or the public creditor must be compelled to give up at first a part, and then the whole of his claim, and at last have no remedy for the sacrifice, and no compensation for his loss. It is clear that a time will come, when the public creditor must surrender a part of his claim. Perhaps it may be as well to look the evil calmly and steadily in the face, and enquire when and how this can be best done.
In this enquiry, it may be useful to look at every thing that may be considered a remedy for the evil of an expenditure
exceeding the income. The first and most natural is, Retrenchment. There is something in the sound of this word, unpleasing to some ears; but most salutary is the thing itself. Till this is in some degree honestly and effectually put in action, there can be no hope of bettering the revenues of the kingdom, or establishing the confidence of the nation. In a country like this, all effectual and beneficial measures must ́spring from a mutual good understanding and co-operation of the people and the government; when they thwart each other, all goes wrong; and if this contradiction is persisted in, the ruin of both must follow. Would the government have the confidence and co-operation of the people, it must show itself ready to make as well as to demand sacrifices; and it should rather set the example cheerfully and readily, than be driven or shamed into useful measures. On the subject of retrenchment there will of course be various opinions. Some would push it to an excess that would do more harm than good, and others would make merely mean and paltry savings, oppressive to individuals, and not beneficial to the public: neither of these extremes would answer the purpose of a remedy for the evil complained of. The first would destroy all ambition of public service, and deprive the State of the power of making use of great talents; the other would make no effectual saving, would create enemies, and gain no public confidence; it would be cruelty to a few, and a mockery to the many. But there might be exercised a real economy, a careful application of the public treasure, such as might indicate that the guardians of the public purse had some notion that there was or might be a bottom to it. There might be some hesitation in the formation of new places, in the giving of pensions and sinecures to those who have no clain upon the nation, except relationship to men in office:
Retrenchment, however, is not every thing. A rigid economy thirty years ago, carried on to the present day, would have done something for us; but it is now too late to expect that we should derive immediate, sensible, or permanent benefit from it. Its pecuniary value would indeed be something; but its greatest benefit would be its influence on the public mind, the wholesome tone it would give to public feeling, and the strength it would give to public confidence. This then is the first and most palpable remedy, and is that which will give vigor and effect to others, with which is must be accompanied.
Another remedy for the evil of an expenditure exceeding the income, may by some be thought attainable by new taxes,