The Lion and The Council Of Beasts

A Lion decided to tax his subjects so he did not have to hunt. The Tiger suggested taxing vice. The Elephant suggested taxing virtue. Nobody won.

The best tax system is voluntary.

JBR CollectionJBR Collection

A certain Lion, who reigned the absolute tyrant of the forest, on a time arbitrarily proposed to exact from his slavish subjects a sufficient part of their daily prey for his own maintenance, that he might not himself toil for his subsistence; and that every beast should contribute according to his means in the form of a tax; but how to adjust this impost was the difficulty. The Tiger was the first who gave his opinion on this knotty point, saying that the properest and justest way would be to lay a tax on vice, and that each Beast should settle the quantity for his neighbour, as by that means it would prevent any selfish partiality. “No, no,” said the Elephant, “that will never be just, as it will give power to ill-will and oppression. The best manner, in my judgment, would be to lay the tax on virtues, and leave it to every one to give in a catalogue of his own, and then there is very little doubt but it would prove the means of raising a most ample and rich exchequer.”


[Note: The Northcote fable is the same fable as in the JBR Collection above. Only the illustrations and Application associated with the fable in the Northcote book are displayed here.]


A tax of this sort would be most just and salutary, could it be adapted to human society, as a most equitable fine and punishment on vanity and self-conceit; and would force mankind to a more strict examination of their real pretensions to those virtues, which they commonly bestow so liberally upon themselves, witbout even a shadow of foundation, as long as no inconvenience accrues to them from the ridiculoua and false estimate of their own perfections.

JN Fable 021

Sketch: James Northcote; Wood drawing: William Harvey (1828)