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Modern tax increases and Boyle's law of gases

In the 17th century, Robert Boyle made thousands of experiments, expertly observed them, methodically described them, and then defended them against attack.


Boyle, with his air-pump in the background, 1664
Image: Sutherland Collection, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Born in 1627, the fourteenth child of a father who had moved to Ireland from England to make his fortune, Boyle spent his early years studying with tutors, travelling in Europe, learning biblical languages and writing on Christian ethics before becoming enthralled with experimentation at the age of twenty-two.

Roger Bacon in the 13th century and Francis Bacon in the 16th century had worked to establish scientific ideas on the basis of controlled experiments. Boyle systematically achieved this. He became known as the "father of chemistry", but during his lifetime, a number of men attacked his ideas and methods.

During one defence, Boyle revealed what later became known as Boyle's law -

For a fixed amount of gas kept at a fixed temperature, Pressure and Volume are inversely proportional (while one increases, the other decreases).

Writing in the Wall Street Journal on 20 May (no link), David Ranson has tried to suggest that there is a law "as central to the economics of taxation as Boyle's Law is to the physics of gases". This, he contends, is Hauser’s law -

As taxes increase, revenues decline - "there are draconian constraints on the ability of tax increases to generate fresh revenues".

One reason may be that once taxes reach a certain percentage, people hide and underreport their income. They lose incentives to work, produce, invest and save. Entrepreneurs won't risk money in new enterprises, which results in fewer jobs and less tax revenue. Some of the 2 million British people who left Britain in the last ten years have migrated to escape high taxes. The country has lost their enterprise and revenue.

Still, while all these ideas make sense, they don't have the finality of Boyle's law.

That is the trouble with economics theory. Even when we think some action of the Chancellor's is bound to lead to tears, we can't absolutely prove it. We can only say that history suggests that the more a government taxes its people, the more it smothers and reduces private enterprise and depresses the economy, at considerable cost to individual lives.