Montesquieu

In order for the price of the item and the duty on it to be confla­ted in the mind of the payer, there must be some rela­tion­ship bet­ween the value of the mer­chan­dise and the tax, and exces­sive duty must not be impo­sed on a sta­ple of lit­tle value. There are coun­tries where the duty exceeds the value of the mer­chan­dise by seven­teen or eigh­teen times. In that case the prince lea­ves his sub­jects with no illu­sion : they see that they are being led in a man­ner that is not rea­so­na­ble, which makes them acu­tely aware of their sub­jec­tion.

Moreover, for the prince to levy a duty so dis­pro­por­tio­nate to the value of the item, he has to sell the mer­chan­dise him­self, and the peo­ple have to be una­ble to go buy it elsew­here, which is sub­ject to a thou­sand disad­van­ta­ges.

Fraud being very lucra­tive in this case, the natu­ral penalty, the one rea­son calls for, which is the confis­ca­tion of the mer­chan­dise, beco­mes inca­pa­ble of stop­ping it, espe­cially since this mer­chan­dise is ordi­na­rily very cheap. So recourse must be had to extra­va­gant punish­ments, equal to those inflic­ted for the grea­test cri­mes. The whole pro­por­tion of punish­ments is lost. Persons who can­not be consi­de­red wicked are puni­shed like scoun­drels, which of all things on earth is most oppo­sed to the spi­rit of mode­rate govern­ment.

I add that the more you put the peo­ple in a posi­tion to cheat the tax col­lec­tor, the more you enrich him and impo­ve­rish them. To stop the fraud, the tax col­lec­tor must be pro­vi­ded with extra­or­di­nary means of harass­ment, and the sys­tem fails.