garynorth.com / Gary North /
I do not celebrate the fourth of July. This goes back to a term paper I wrote in graduate school. It was on colonial taxation in the British North American colonies in 1775. Not counting local taxation, I discovered that the total burden of British imperial taxation was about 1% of national income. It may have been as high as 2.5% in the southern colonies.
In 2008, Alvin Rabushka’s book of almost 1,000 pages appeared: Taxation in Colonial America (Princeton University Press). In a review published in the Business History Review, the reviewer summarizes the book’s findings.
Rabushka’s most original and impressive contribution is his measurement of tax rates and tax burdens. However, his estimate of comparative trans-Atlantic tax burdens may be a bit of moving target. At one point, he concludes that, in the period from 1764 to 1775, “the nearly two million white colonists in America paid on the order of about 1 percent of the annual taxes levied on the roughly 8.5 million residents of Britain, or one twenty-fifth, in per capita terms, not taking into account the higher average income and consumption in the colonies” (p. 729). Later, he writes that, on the eve of the Revolution, “British tax burdens were ten or more times heavier than those in the colonies” (p. 867). Other scholars may want to refine his estimates, based on other archival sources, different treatment of technical issues such as the adjustment of intercolonial and trans-Atlantic comparisons for exchange rates, or new estimates of comparative income and wealth. Nonetheless, no one is likely to challenge his most important finding: the huge tax gap between the American periphery and the core of the British Empire.
The colonists had a sweet deal in 1775. Great Britain was the second freest nation on earth. Switzerland was probably the most free nation, but I would be hard-pressed to identify any other nation in 1775 that was ahead of Great Britain. And in Great Britain’s Empire, the colonists were by far the freest.