On the Taxable Possibilities of Excess Conversation

Has it occurred to anybody in all the discussion of sources of tax revenue, what a steady income might flow from a levy on excess conversation? If the scheme could be put into operation before the next summer-hotel-and-boarding-house season, the national treasury might find itself in November, 1922, computing a surplus instead of concealing a deficit.

Not that this implies any taxation upon good talk. Real talk should be subsidized, not taxed. But when a young and feeble idea carries a load of language heavy enough to support one of Kant’s categorical imperatives, ought not such open extravagance to pay a luxury tax?

There’s the ejaculatory woman: ‘A red rose. A red rose. How beautiful! How wonderful a color! Did you ever see anything more beautiful? Now if you saw that color on a hat you would say it’s horribly crude! I do love red roses. All roses, of course, are lovely, but I always say, give me red roses. Alice, my sister, always says, ‘Maude loves red roses.’ Have n’t I always said red roses are my favorites, Lucy? — and I think I am as fond of flowers as anybody, don’t you? Red is so cheerful! Now a red rose just cheers me up, no matter how I feel. Is n’t this red rose lovely, Mrs. Smith? Does n’t a red rose always cheer you up, Mrs. Jones? Isn’t it wonderful what nature does!'

Or the reminiscent, woman: ‘A red rose. Is n’t it pretty? Father was always so fond of red roses. He died in 1900, you know — yes, years before I knew you; such a long illness. Just that summer we took him to the mountains, and he was so ill at the hotel. Everybody was so kind. That was the summer I met those charming Curtises from Chicago — you must have heard me speak of them. Where was I? Oh, yes, the rose. We always had red roses at home. I remember Cousin Selina’s husband’s sister sent us the first bush. Cousin Selina was n’t really a cousin, you know; just father’s brother’s adopted daughter, and this was her first husband. She married a second cousin of mother’s. That was when I visited them in Illinois. She had two children — one of them died — very sad case — accident it was, and Selina did n’t get over it for years. That’s why they moved to Wisconsin finally. Her second husband we never knew much about — a good bit younger than she. But it was the first husband’s sister that sent father the rosebush—’

Individuals vary, but the type is fixed. There is always the talker who fears silence more than bombs, whose chief idea of social amenity is oral verbosity, who persistently garners a sentence a second from a mental fertility capable of producing hardly an idea a day.

On public highways a definite relation must be kept between the dimensions of the truck and the weight of the load. There is even a clever little mechanical device for establishing the actual ratio in testing for violation of regulations. Are ruts in macadam roads so much more dangerous than in mental highways?

Might not the Government standardize loads of language in relation to tenuity of idea? Some genius might even devise a word-gauge for easy selfdetermination. Then, with a fixed maximum, not, to be exceeded under heavy penalties, a rising scale of taxes could be imposed upon all words over the effective minimum.

However staggering the amount, of the resulting revenue, its exaction is in accord with the more advanced theory of the ability of the surplus to bear taxation. Such a levy would ensure a nice adjustment between public income and public need. Times of public stress, sessions of Congress, political campaigns, revivals, and drives would yield large revenue. The public that endures might find its reward in the availability of larger appropriations for community education and community art.

Of course, exemptions in private life would need to be worked out meticulously. Liberal allowances should be made for first babies, family disagreements, late callers, and golf blunders. For public and semi-public living, the system should be a deal more rigid.

Dinner conversation at boarding-houses ought to be strictly standardized. A heavy tax should be assessed upon any non-essential talk earlier than the meat course. Before the dessert, only the most general topics should escape a levy. A good story or two over the coffee must be wholly exempt; but heavy surtaxes exacted for dawdling converse after the finger-bowls.

The theories of protection and revenue have been linked together for a long time in our taxation system. Taxes upon excess conversation combine the two principles. Either way we cannot lose. If, bet ween acquaintances, t he result is more frequent intervals of blessed silence, we are thereby eased of traffic strain wearying to mind and spirit. If ease does not come, and the load of surplus language continues to rut and ruin our mental pathways, we may yet achieve a certain emotional release. For courteous attention becomes then a patriotic duty, helping to divert increasing revenue to the service of the State.