The Daily News – 26 December 1925
SHOULD CATS BE LICENSED?
By ROBERT LYND
The Edinburgh Town Council, it is said, is considering a proposal that all cats in the Edinburgh area should be licensed. It seems to me to be an inherently vicious proposal. It is vicious because it put a tax upon virtue. Its effect would be to make it more expensive to keep a cat than not to keep a cat—still more expensive to do so, indeed, than it is at present.
There is a growing tendency at the present day to put all the taxes on virtue. If you are industrious and earn a large income, you have to pay a correspondingly large income tax. If you are generous and give your friends good dinners, you have to pay an enormous tax on every glass of wine and every cigar. If you love animals, and keep a dog, you have to pay a tax on him. If you are fond of your children and take them to a theatre, you have to pay a tax on them.
And now the latest proposal is that, if you are a good enough Christian to keep a cat, you shall be taxed yet another shilling. As though keeping a cat were one of the luxuries of a selfish man I contend that, on the contrary, the man who keeps neither a cat nor a dog is the selfish, economical, and unfeeling man. There may be a difference of opinion among the beautiful and good as to whether the cat or the dog is the nobler animal, but none of them will deny that it is better to keep either a cat or a dog than to keep no animal at all. Hence I think that if new taxes must be imposed, they should be imposed on the people who keep neither dogs nor cats. A man who is not willing to go to the expense of keeping a cat should be made to pay the State half-a-crown a year—which is much less than the cost of keeping the animal. For not keeping a dog, on the other hand, a man might reasonably be fined 10 shillings.
In the same way I think the man who has not earned an income should be taxed 10 times more heavily than the man who has, provided it could be shown that his failure to earn an income was due to idleness. Again, the people who give their friends bad dinners, not through necessity, but through meanness, should be compelled to contribute to tho finances of the State. And I doubt whether even the tax on wireless is justified. Surely a better alternative would be to put a tax on all those citizens who are unprogressive enough not to possess a wireless set.
The reason why the State taxes the virtuous, I suppose, is that the virtuous are the only people who can be trusted to pay taxes. The wan who in too lazy to work would be too lazy to pay a non-income tax. The man who is too mean to give his friends as good a dinner as he can afford would be too mean to pay what he has saved to the State. The man who is so lacking in human feeling as to keep neither a dog nor a cat would be too lacking in civic feeling to take out a non-dog-licence or a non-cat-licence. This is obviously a world in which virtue must be its own reward. The Chancellor of the Exchequer sees to it that it has no other.
There is, I know, another argument freely used in favor of taxing cats. It is said that people appreciate things more if they have to pay for them. It this is really so, why not tax fresh air and Bibles and wholemeal bread? We all know, in point of fact, that the people who want to tax cats are the people who regard cats as a nuisance. From one point of view, I admit that they are nuisances. But so are human beings. The man who has not learned to put with his fellow-nuisances—and oven to like them—is not fitted for life on this particular planet.