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ART. VI.-Elements of a Plan for the liquidation of the Public Debt of the United Kingdom. By RICHARD HEATHFIELD, Gent. 5th edit. with supplementary Observations. London: Longman & Co. Edinburgh: Waugh & Innes. 1819.

THERE is great boldness in the announcement of such a plan as that of Mr. Heathfield-not that there is any novelty in the leading idea upon which it is founded, or that it required any uncommon stretch of mind to propose that the capital of the country should be once for all assessed, to pay the principal, instead of perpetually burdening its income, to pay the interest of the public debt, but that the obvious difficulties which present themselves to so vast an operation could have been speculatively overcome only by a mind insensible, from its weakness, to their unquestionable magnitude, or strong in its resources to meet and subdue them. We are inclined to place Mr. Heathfield among the better class of projectors; for although we do not think that he has efficiently grappled with, or put down all the objections which rise in such menacing array to his favourite project, we are very sensible, from the tenor of his remarks, that his failure, and we much fear he has failed,—has not proceeded from ignorance, but that he has fairly met, if he has not been able, at all points, to conquer the difficulties which environ him. There is not much originality, as we have already remarked, in the conception of this plan for extinguishing the public debt, by a general contribution out of the property of the united kingdom; for it must have been obvious at all times, that the same fund which afforded yearly profits sufficient to pay the interest, might, abstractly considered, be rendered available at any time for discharging the capital of the national debt. The perplexity of financial operations, and the embarrassment occasioned even by the most simple modes of computing sums of such magnitude that the imagination expands itself in vain for their complete comprehension, have introduced an apparent intricacy into questions of this description, which does not naturally belong to them. But the petty intricacies of detail have little to do with the great question which now occupies the public mind, and which Mr. Heathfield has had the undoubted merit of bringing, in a more specific and precise form than it had hitherto assumed, before the country. That individual, who has a capital yielding returns sufficient, or more than sufficient to pay the annual interest arising upon his debts, has also the means of discharging those debts by the instantaneous sacrifice of the capital upon

which they are secured. There is no difference in principle betwixt the case of an individual and that of the public, as to this power of discharging the debts due by either, except what arises from the comparative insignificance in the one case, and the enormous magnitude in the other, of the operations to be performed a difference, however, which, although at first sight it may appear to exist only in degree, will be found, upon mature deliberation, to involve the great point of expediency-the point upon which every great question of policy must turn.

We should think ourselves very ill employed indeed, were we to stop and endeavour to shew the advantages which the country would derive from the immediate extinction of the whole, or a considerable portion of the public debt, and the consequent relief from taxation to a large annual amount Every one, we imagine, is aware of the actual distress which is suffered at the present moment, and of the difficulties to which our agricultural and manufacturing industry is exposed--and we do not believe there exists in the land a reasoner so eccentric as not to ascribe these difficulties, in some degree at least, to the actual weight of taxation, of which the debt is the chief procuring cause. The protracted duration. and consequent impoverishment produced by the war recently terminated, and the consequent inability of our old customers to deal with us to the ordinary extent; their jealousy of our commercial greatness. and the prohibitory system which they have vindictively countenanced; the shock of that rapid transition from war to peace, which has deranged all the accustomed relations of commerce, and repelled it towards new channels, of which the course has not yet been explored, or the windings. become familiarised to the spirit of enterprise; all these causes have no doubt had their effect in producing the actual distress which now prevails; but, at the same time, every man who looks at the capital and skill existing to redundance in this island, feels that, were they unclogged by domestic pressure, they would make their way at all points, and vindicate their claim to superiority in every region of the world. Every man feels that it is an unwonted load of taxation that impedes the innate activity of the great commercial machine; and that, were the national debt redeemed, and fifty millions of taxes removed, this country, starting with fresh vigour, would bear away, from all her rivals, that prize to which she is so well entitled by her skill, her enterprise, and her resources.

The high expediency of immediate relief from this load, if it can be granted, is therefore unquestionable; but we cannot concur with those, who urge the absolute necessity of some measure of this kind, as if the country must inevitably decline or

perish, without the assistance of some such specific as that which it is now proposed to administer. It is clear indeed, that there must be a limit to the funding system, because there is a limit to the capital and the income of the country, upon which that system reposes. The infinite accumulation of public debt is chimerical, because the interest must, in one shape or other, be paid out of the revenue of individuals, and that interest must bear a certain, although hitherto undefined proportion, to the total amount of that revenue. This country indeed has been the theatre of financial wonders which have baffled all previous calculation; and the immense accessions, which, from circumstances unusually favourable, have been made of late years to the capital, and of course to the revenue of the community, have enabled the exchequer to find means for meeting the increased demands upon it, such as were never before accessible in any age or country. But after making every allowance for the increased capital and revenue, which an extraordinary course of prosperity has created, it seems now to be generally felt that taxation is pressing upon the limits, which it can never trespass without misery to the people, and ruin to the state-that the sums levied for meeting the demands arising out of the past and present expenditure of the government, have attained their highest practicable proportion to the annual amount of individual revenue-and that some course of reduction is imperiously required, if we wish to resume that attitude which, in a moment of future and too probable emergency, may give the government that command of extraordinary resources which the crisis may require. The people complain of the load of taxation at present; and every enlightened statesman perceives, that it could not, without great difficulty and danger, be increased, were our external relations again to become such as to demand unwonted exertion. We cannot assign by arithmetical proportions, the limit within which taxation ought to be confined, as compared with the actual revenue of the communi. ty; but every one feels that this limit has now been reached, and that something must be done to retrace our steps. We are far indeed from censuring the expenditure which has brought us to this state--we think, on the contrary, that it was wisely and nobly incurred; we only maintain, that the actual amount of taxation, of which this expenditure has been the parent, must invite us to the anxious consideration of any plan by which a reduction can be safely effected, and a provision made for future emergencies.

It is needless to remark, however, that the redemption of the whole, or even of any considerable portion of the national debt by one sudden operation, is a measure of such a nature, that no

precedent can be found for it in the history of finance; and that considering its unparalleled magnitude, and its deep and various influences upon every class of society, even the most acute political economist must be staggered when he attempts to appreciate its consequences, and, distrustful even of the most comprehensive survey which he may be capable of taking, must,-if he be not a mere empiric,-feel conscious that he has omitted much that is important to the real character of the measure. This is no reason, however, for rejecting the project at once, for refusing to consider its more prominent features, or even for declining to act, if the occasion shall appear to demand it, upon the only attainable approximation to the truth, in a case so various and complicated in its bearings. The public, therefore, is indebted to Mr. Heathfield for the courage with which he has called its attention to this vast subject, which, we imagine, that most other persons had relinquished in despair-for the precision with which he has developed his views, and the opportunity which he has thus created of discussing a great question, in which the people of this country are so profoundly interested.-We shall now attempt, in the first instance, to give an analysis of his plan, with as much of the detail contained in his pamphlet as may appear necessary to the full understanding of his views; and shall then state frankly and candidly the objections to this plan which have occurred to us, and which we shall enumerate rather with the view of exciting discussion, and in the hope that the ingenious author may obviate them, than with any purpose of throwing discredit upon what he has done and proposed, with intentions which even the most resolute enemy of his project cannot fail to respect.

Mr. Heathfield's plan is of this nature. He lays down the principle, that a partial relief in the interim, and eventually an entire relief from the burden of the public debt by means of a general contribution levied upon property, may be obtained. He includes the public creditors-with the exception of foreigners not resident in this country-among the contributors; and taking the estimate given by Dr. Colquhoun, of the whole amount of property in Great Britain and Ireland as the basis of his calculation, he assumes that the property in question amounts to two thousand five hundred millions. The amount of the public debt, including that which has been redeemed by the sinking fund, is upwards of eleven hundred millions, upon which the annual charge for interest and expense of management approaches to forty-eight millions, and this exclusive of the expense of collection, which may raise the total amount to nearly fifty millions Sterling. Thus standing the debt, and the means of its imme

diate or speedy redemption, the author proposes the following specific plan for carrying his great design into execution.

The public debt, deducting the amount already redeemed by the operation of the sinking fund, may be stated in round numbers at eight hundred and fifty millions. Taking the amount of private property in the united kingdom at two thousand five hundred millions, and the amount of stock as stated above, the whole property from which a contribution is to be demanded will amount to three thousand three hundred and fifty millions. By levying a contribution of 15 per cent. upon the whole of this property-which is the leading proposition of the ingenious author-a sum of upwards of five hundred millions would be raised, and the debt might instantly, or, at all events, speedily be cancelled to that extent. But a large remainder of about three hundred and fifty millions must still be provided for by some new expedient; and we must now explain to our readers in what manner the author proposes to secure the final extinction of this very considerable balance, which will remain after the first and most vigorous branch of his measure shall have been tried upon the proprietors and capitalists of the country.

We confess, that in this part the machinery of the author appears to us to exhibit much and unnecessary complication. He proposes that government should, in the first instance, borrow three hundred and fifty millions-or as large a proportion of that sum as it can obtain-at an interest of 3 per cent.—and with this borrowed money discharge the existing debt in such a manner as to obtain a great advantage, so far as concerns the rate of interest on its renewed obligations. He assumes that, upon the first part of his plan being put into operation, or so soon as the resolution of the legislature to adopt it is announced, a great advance in the three per cent. stocks will occur, and that they will even rise to a hundred; so that corporations and individuals, accumulating money with a view to its investment in the funds, as the most convenient form in which it can be realised, will become disposed to lend to government at 3 per cent. interest. A new loan, therefore, to the extent of three hundred and fifty millions to relieve the existing balance of debt-or,-what is the same thing, the consent of the actual holders of stock, to put their claims upon the footing which would be demanded by the state of the money market, which Mr. Heathfield assumes,-forms a prelude to the secondary operations recommended by this gentleman. But as this measure strictly relates to the improvement of the terms, not to the final extinction of the public obligations themselves, we shall not stop to comment upon it at present, but hasten to lay before our readers, in the author's own words, his es

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