On a New Tax

IN these times when everybody is talking about taxation, many must have indulged in the dream that there might be a tax on talking. I hasten (nay, rush in a rage of self-immolation) to add that the same may be said of a tax on writing.  We have endeavored to preserve the old liberal ideal of free speech and free printing, at least in its legal form, if sometimes as a legal fiction. I fear that the truth is not so much that repression is entirely removed, as that repression is not responsible repression. Like so many other things, it has begun to act outside the limits of law, and tyranny as well as liberty has broken loose. Repression is irresponsible, and therefore repression itself is irrepressible.  Private powers acting as public powers, monopolies, boycotts, big shops, publishing syndicates, and similar things do, in fact, inflict restriction which we should not allow the State or the Church to inflict. But even the most earnest eleutheromaniac may allow himself a day-dream of abstract possibilities.  And, if we agree that the State must not attack expression with the old weapon of punishment, we might toy with the fancy of attacking it with the new method of monetary rating.  Nobody now wishes men to be tortured for talking nonsense, but they might be taxed for talking nonsense.  Indeed, in these days, when so many schools give Lessons in Citizenship, most people seem to be so vague about such things that they would hardly know the difference. A citizen can hardly distinguish between a tax and a fine, except that the fine is generally much lighter.

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