“You have found the solution,” I said to Hilda. “If you impute to a person a virtue he does not possess he probably denies that he has it, but he is really flattered and his denial is not sincere. He would be willing to pay on it; he would rather pay than not.”
At this point Peter grew tired of refraining from comment. “I don’t want you to suppose,” he said, “that I am taking any interest in your fatuous scheme, but doesn’t it occur to you that under your system it would be simply ruinous to have any virtues at all, and that the only people who would flourish would be those who had no virtues and were not ashamed of it?”
“For one thing,” I replied confidently, “the taxes would be graduated in the ordinary way in accordance with means. The slightest flicker of a conscience in Park Lane would be more heavily mulcted than the most blameless life in Bermondsey. But the main point is that under my system taxation would become the measure of a man’s moral worth, and people who did not pay taxes would be simply out of it. All the plums would go the highly-taxed men. Their tax receipts would be certificates of character, and the more they earned the more the Treasury would be able to get out of them. So far from dodging taxation, people would scramble to pay it.”
“But how,” asked Hilda, “would you make the tax receipt a trustworthy testimonial? Your rich man with one virtue would have a better receipt than your poor one with ten.”
“The virtues taxed would be shown on the receipt,” I replied. “Besides, poor and virtuous men would, as I have suggested, get an abatement on their virtue taxes, and the amount of the abatement would be shown on the receipt. So it could easily be seen what proportion a man was paying on his wealth and what on his virtues.”
“Look here,” said Peter, aroused at last, “do you convey that the tobacco duty would be paid by people who didn’t smoke?”
“It would amount to that,” I answered, “assuming that abstention from tobacco were counted a virtue.”
“There may be something in it after all,” said Peter.
* * * * *
[Illustration: Fisherman. “THERE ARE PLENTY OF FISH, BUT YOU’VE GOT TO FISH DRY TO CATCH THEM.”
American Friend. “SAY, YOU MAKE ME REAL HOMESICK.”]
* * * * *
NEW RHYMES FOR OLD CHILDREN.
The chameleon changes his
He can look like a tree or a wall;
He is timid and shy and he hates to be seen,
So he simply sits down in the grass and goes green,
And pretends he is nothing at all.
I wish I could change my complexion
To purple or orange or red;
I wish I could look like the arm of a chair
So nobody ever would know I was there
When they wanted to put me to bed.