Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Boz Among The Radicals: Charles Dickens And Tax Reform

Stephen Utz (Connecticut), Boz Among the Radicals: Charles Dickens and Tax Reform, 2 British Tax Rev. 221 (2021):

Taxes on consumption items necessary for subsistence burdened the British middle and workings classes heavily throughout the early nineteenth century. The Weekly True Sun urged the Whig government to replace the window tax, not with a house tax, but with an income tax, and urged taxpayers to refuse to pay the window tax. Charles Dickens transcribed the seditious libel trial of the True Sun editors when he was very young and later remembered the Whig indecision on tax policy in a strongly negative editorial of his own. This article describes how Dickens played a prominent role in tax reform that followed.

Dickens’ involvement with the True Sun may have contributed to his wary posture in later political debate, but it appears also to have given him a sophisticated understanding of how the burdens of the window and house tax distinguished them from the “property” or income tax for which the True Sun had so strenuously argued. Even after the income tax had become resistant to repeal and primary among British taxes, the persistence of the window tax irritated Dickens sufficiently to prompt hisfirst political essay in Household Words. Moreover, Dickens’ prolonged indulgence of Harriet Martineau’s very different understanding of who bore the burden of the assessed taxes, as well as his silent preference for the income tax, may have prompted his abrupt and unusual response to her harsh insults over the factory issues.

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