Montesquieu
 

XIII.19 Which is more suitable to the prince and to the people, a tax farm or an agency for tributes ?

An agency is the admi­nis­tra­tion of a good pater­fa­mi­lias, who col­lects his reve­nues in a pru­dent and orderly man­ner.

With the agency, the prince is able to press or slow down the rai­sing of tri­bu­tes, in func­tion either of his needs or those of of his peo­ples. With the agency he saves the state the immense pro­fits of the tax far­mers who impo­ve­rish it in count­less ways. With the agency, he spa­res the peo­ple the spec­ta­cle of sud­den for­tu­nes, which aggrieve them. With the agency, the money rai­sed pas­ses through few hands : it goes directly to the prince, and conse­quently returns more promptly to the peo­ple. With the agency, the prince spa­res the peo­ple count­less bad laws which the impor­tu­nate ava­rice of the tax far­mers always pres­ses him for, hol­ding up a pre­sent advan­tage for sta­tu­tes rui­nous for the future.

As the per­son with the money is always the mas­ter of the other, the tax far­mer beco­mes des­po­tic over the prince him­self ; he is not a legis­la­tor, but he for­ces him to decree laws.

In repu­blics, the reve­nues of the state are almost always under an agency. The oppo­site ins­ti­tu­tion was a great flaw in the govern­ment of Rome.1 In des­po­tic sta­tes where an agency is esta­bli­shed, peo­ple are infi­ni­tely bet­ter off, wit­ness Persia and China.2 The worst off are those whose prince farms out his sea­ports and cities of com­merce. The his­tory of monar­chies is full of the evils wrought by tax far­mers.

Nero, ange­red at the extor­tions of the publi­cans, concei­ved the impos­si­ble and magna­ni­mous plan of abo­li­shing all taxes. He did not think of an agency ; he issued four decrees3 : that laws made against the publi­cans, which until then had been kept secret, would be publi­shed ; that they could no lon­ger claim what they had neglec­ted to claim during the year ; that there should be a præ­tor esta­bli­shed to judge their pre­ten­sions without for­ma­lity ; and that mer­chants would pay nothing for ships. Those were that empe­ror’s finest days.

Cæsar was obliged to remove the publicans from the province of Asia and establish there another sort of administration, as we learn from Dio ; and Tacitus tells us that Macedonia and Achæa,

See Chardin, Voyage de Perse, vol. VI.

Tacitus, Annals, book XIII.