Finest Hour 135, Summer 2007
Wit & Wisdom – WSC on Taxation
“There is no such thing as a good tax,” Churchill is alleged to have said. But did he say it?
I am doing research for my assignment: Taxation, and various taxes used to raise money. Could you let me know where Churchill says, “There is no such thing as a good tax”? —Nicole
here is no occurrence of that statement, or any part of it, in Churchill’s 15 million published words of speeches, articles, letters and books. However, there is one that is close:
“Taxes are an evil—a necessary evil, but still an evil, and the fewer we have of them the better.”
—HOUSE OF COMMONS, 12 FEBRUARY 1906
Churchill, who favored Free Trade, was here attacking protective tariffs. He added: “…every arrangement between protectionist States which takes the form of a reduction in the tariff barriers of the world is a distinct advantage.”
Using the search feature on our website, enter the word “taxes,” and this will lead you to useful articles on Churchill’s views of taxation. Especially read the article “Opportunity Lost?” at http://xrl.us/wsac.
Churchill thought hard about taxation, and his early beliefs were largely formed on the basis of Progress and Poverty, a book by the American economist Henry George. Following George’s ideas, Churchill argued that people have the right to possess what they produce, or receive in exchange for their work—but there is no congruent right to private ownership of the elements upon which all depend: air, water, sunshine and land.
Henry George held that if private ownership of basic elements is permitted, suppression and exploitation of one class by another is inevitable.
Churchill wanted to shift taxation from production to land. In 1909 he said: “You can tax wealth or you can tax wages—that is the whole choice…. Taxation should not only have regard to the volume of wealth, but, so far as possible, to the character of the processes of its origin.”
Churchill believed in this tax because he observed the high prices even then demanded for commercial land. Such land, he said, was created not by any individual but by the existence and work of the entire community.
The article explains why the idea did not work out. Henry George’s theories are little known today—but in his early career, they were central to Winston Churchill’s thinking about taxation. Your writing about this will probably astonish and impress your teacher.
More Churchill on Taxes
“The great principle which this House ought to guard and cherish is that, when the tax collector comes to the private citizen and takes from him of his wealth for the service of the public, the whole of that money taken shall go for the purposes for which it is intended, and that no private interests, however powerfully they may be organized and however eloquently advocated, shall thrust their dirty fingers into the pie and take the profit for themselves.” —HOUSE OF COMMONS, 8 JUNE 1908
“…the taxes on incomes over £3,000 a year, upon estates at death, on motor cars before they cause death, upon tobacco, upon spirits, upon liquor licences, which really belong to the State and ought never to have been filched away; and, above all, taxes upon the unearned increment in land are necessary, legitimate and fair; and that without any evil consequences to the refinement or the richness of our national life, still less any injury to the sources of its economic productivity, they will yield revenue sufficient in this year and in the years to come to meet the growing needs of Imperial defence and of social reform.” —MANCHESTER, 23 MAY 1909
“This refusal to treat all forms of wealth with equal deference, no matter what may have been the process by which it was acquired, is a strenuous assertion in a practical form that there ought to be a constant relation between acquired wealth and useful service previously rendered, and that where no service, but rather disservice, is proved, then, whenever possible, the State should make a sensible difference in the taxes it is bound to impose.” —NORWICH, 26 JULY 1909
“The idea that a nation can tax itself into prosperity is one of the crudest delusions which has ever fuddled the human mind.” —ROYAL ALBERT HALL, 21 APRIL 1948