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Karl Marx

Gladstone has brought forth his Budget. We have heard two cocks on a barn floor crowing against each other, in style somewhat similar to that of the two Chancellors of the Exchequer—Ex[a] and Actual on the floor of the House of Commons with this difference, that the Whig Bantam has borrowed some of the notes of the Conservative Turkey. Last week we analysed that portion of Mr. Gladstone's financial plan which deals with the National Debt, and showed how it was a miserable paltering with the question, and a mere matter of convenience to usurers, stockjobbers, and merchants, to facilitate and cheapen their transactions[b]. We shall see, on the present occasion, that the Budget is a class Budget —a middle class Budget written by an aristocratic pen. We will, first, give a brief outline of this notable affair:

I.—As to Expenditure and Revenue:

The Chancellor states that the National Expenditure for the present year will exceed that of the last, by £1,400,000!! A promising way of opening a Budget of Financial Reform. The cause of the increase is not less encouraging.

It comprises an increase in our naval force of £617,000; in the army and commissariat of £90,000; for the ordnance £616,000; for the militia £230,000. While education, the arm of enlightenment and the defence of knowledge, receives an increase of only £100,000. The total estimated expenditure of the country for the current year, is placed at £52,183,000. The total income is estimated at £52,990,000 showing a surplus of £807,000, from which, however, £100,000 is deducted for the packet service, and altogether an available surplus predicted of £500,000.

We now approach

II. The Financial Scheme.

Here the Chancellor deals:— Firstly. With the Income Tax; and makes no distinction between fixed and precarious incomes. He proposes to reduce, after two years, the tax from 7d to 6d in the pound. Then, after two years more, from 6d to 5d for three years to extend the tax to Ireland, and to lower it so as to embrace incomes of £ 100 per annum. This, he says, "will not touch upon the ranks of labour." The incomes between £100 and £150 are to pay only 5d in the pound. The effect of this will be, to lighten the burdens of the rich, and cast that alleviation as a weight upon the less rich. The wealthy tradesman is to pay less, but, to make up for it; the poor tradesman is to pay where he did not pay directly before. This is strange justice for four years, it is true, the man of £100 is to pay 2d in the pound less than he of £150, or £150,000-but after that period they pay the same while after two years the rich man comes into the benefit of a reduction effected by taxing the poorer one. Our notion of taxation would far sooner incline to a graduated scale in which the percentage increased with the amount of the income, for 10,000 fivepences are less to the man of £10,000 per annum, than 100 fivepences to him of £100. So much for Whig Finance with a specious, paltry, and roundabout tinkering, it gradually but surely lightens the burdens of the rich and increases the burdens of the poor. As to saying that the Income Tax does not affect the working man, it is a patent absurdity, for under our present social system of employer and employed, the middle class man generally indemnifies himself for additional taxation in diminished wages or increased prices.

Secondly. The Chancellor proceeds to the legacy duties. Here he relieves the sons-in-law and daughters-in-law from the "relations"' duty of 10 per cent reducing theirs to 7 per cent infinitesimal boon!— and includes all property within the operations of the tax, the succession to rateable property being taxed on the life interest. By this means he adds £2,000,000 to the taxation of the country, and takes credit to himself for supporting skill and industry as against property. This clause recognises a principle, and is a significant concession, extorted by industrial and commercial development from propertied monopoly. It is, we repeat, a concession; but one the evasion of which is not only easy, but may possibly have been borne in mind by the propertied legislators of the financial world.

Thirdly. The stamp duties for receipts are to be repealed, and the affixing of a penny postage stamp to a receipt of any amount is in future to be sufficient. A great measure of convenience—to the rich—in which the increased use of stamps is supposed to counterbalance the loss of revenue, but in which, again, no benefit is conferred on the working classes, in but very few of whose transactions matter of sufficient value (£5) to demand a stamp ever comes under consideration.

Fourthly. The Advertisement Duty is reduced to 6d., instead of 1s. 6d., as now. This is another instance of miserable tinkering. No sound reason can be advanced for keeping the sixpence if you give up the shilling—inasmuch as the cumbrous and expensive machinery for collecting the sixpence will eat up the proceeds of the tax! But the reason may possibly be, not to have to give up the posts and appointments connected with the levying of that impost. Supplements to newspapers containing advertisements only—are to go free by post. Both these clauses are a concession to the middle class—while the retention of the newspaper stamp still fronts with its massive barrier the spread of Democratic education. "The present papers shall have advantages," says the Chancellor, "but new ones, and cheaper ones, shall not be started."

Fifthly. The Tax on Life Assurance is reduced from 2s. 6d. to 6d.—another instance of the same paltering spirit; indentures of apprenticeship, without consideration, from £1 to 2s. 6d.; attorneys' certificates from £12 and £8 to £9 and £6; and the articles of clerks from £120 to £80. The first and two last items of the above are again a manifest relief to the middle class, but not the shadow of a benefit to the poor—while the tax of 6d. is kept on advertisements, the Newspaper Stamp Duties and the Taxes on Paper are retained, in order that those on servants, dogs, and horses, may be reduced to benefit the rich.

Sixthly. In Scotland and Ireland an addition is to be made to the Spirit Duties—and the distillers are to have an allowance for "waste."

Seventhly. Tradesmen's Licences (another boon to the middle class) are to be more equalised.

Eighthly. The Soap Duties, and a host of others, are to be dealt with, and the Duty on Tea is to be reduced from 2s. 2¼ d. to 1s. 10d. up to '54; to 1 s. 3d. to '56; and to 1s. after that date.

Such is a fair outline of the Whig Budget; and we ask our readers whether a more contemptible piece of "Penny Legislation," to use the Chancellor's own expression, ever emanated from the Treasury Bench? It is plausible, specious, and sets forth some showy points; but what real benefit, what real relief, is conferred on the working classes of this country? The reduction of the du-ties on soap and tea are the only features at which one can catch; but small indeed is the relief thus conferred. The margin has everywhere been nicely measured, beyond which the working man would gain the aristocrat and middle classes lose; and the transgression of that margin has been studiously avoided. The Budget is likely to catch the thoughtless among the people: "Reduction of Advertisement Duty to 6d. and Suppression of the Supplement Stamp!" But what does it practically amount to for the people? Nothing! "Penny Receipt Stamps!" But what is that to the wages-slaves who "receive" starvation? Absolutely nothing. "Life Assurances reduced from 2s. 6d. to 6d." What is it to the toiler at 6s., 8s., 10s., per week who cannot insure his life from the crushing slavery of Manchester? Ay, or even to him at £ 1 and 30s? Nothing! What is it to the workingman that attorneys can get certificates for £3 less? Or clerks be articled for £80 instead of £40 more? What to them is the lightening of the legacy duty in one item, and its general extension so easily avoided? Does it ease their burthen by the weight of a single feather? What is it to them that the shopkeepers' licences shall be more equalised, while their profits on labour's wants find no equality with labour's wage? "Financial Reform" was the one cry out of two which seated this Parliament and raised this ministry. There you have it the Reform of Whigs, aristocrats, and moneymongers. Something was necessary some slight concession the task was to make it so slight, that it should scarcely be perceptible, and admirably has the financial artist succeeded in his attempt. In his own words to use his own expressions Gladstone's Budget is framed "for the convenience of the trading classes," and yet it is but a piece of "Penny Legislation."

Written about April 20, 1853
First published in The People's Paper, No. 51, April 23, 1853
Reproduced from the newspaper


[a] Benjamin Disraeli.—Ed.

[b] See this volume, pp. 44-49.—Ed.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 12 (pp.63-66), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
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