A Treatise on Political Economy
BOOK III, CHAPTER VI
ON PUBLIC CONSUMPTION
Of the Nature and general Effect of Public Consumption.
Besides the wants of individuals and of families which it is the object of private consumption to satisfy, the collection of many individuals into a community gives rise to a new class of wants, the wants of the society in its aggregate capacity, the satisfaction of which is the object of public consumption. The public buys and consumes the personal service of the minister, that directs its affairs, the soldier, that protects it from external violence, the civil or criminal judge, that protects the rights and interests of each member against the aggression of the rest. All these different vocations have their use, although they may often be unnecessarily multiplied or overpaid; but that arises from a defective political organization, which it does not fall within the scope of this work to investigate.
We shall see presently whence it is, that the public derives all the values, wherewith it purchases the services of its agents, as well as the articles its wants require. All we have to consider in this chapter is, the mode in which its consumption is effected, and the consequences resulting from it.
If I have made myself understood in the commencement of this third book, my readers will have no difficulty in comprehending, that public consumption, or that which takes place for the general utility of the whole community, is precisely analogous to that consumption, which goes to satisfy the wants of individuals or families. In either case, there is a destruction of values, and a loss of wealth; although, perhaps, not a shilling of specie goes out of the country.
By way of insuring conviction of the truth of this position, let us trace from first to last the passage of a product towards ultimate consumption on the public account.
The government exacts from a tax-payer the payment of a given tax in the shape of money. To meet this demand, the tax-payer exchanges part of the products at his disposal for coin, which he pays to the tax-gatherer:*25 a second set of government agents is busied in buying with that coin, cloth and other necessaries for the soldiery. Up to this point, there is no value lost or consumed: there has only been a gratuitous transfer of value, and a subsequent act of barter: but the value contributed by the subject still exists in the shape of stores and supplies in the military depôt. In the end, however, this value is consumed; and then the portion of wealth, which passes from the hands of the tax-payer into those of the tax-gatherer, is destroyed and annihilated.
Yet it is not the sum of money that is destroyed: that has only passed from one hand to another, either without any return, as when it passed from the tax-payer to the tax-gatherer; or in exchange for an equivalent, as when it passed from the government agent to the contractor for clothing and supplies. The value of the money survives the whole operation, and goes through three, four, or a dozen hands, without any sensible alteration; it is the value of the clothing and necessaries that disappears, with precisely the same effect, as if the tax-payer had, with the same money, purchased clothing and necessaries for his own private consumption. The sole difference is, that the individual in the one case, and the state in the other enjoys the satisfaction resulting from that consumption.
The same reasoning may be easily applied to all other kinds of public consumption. When the money of the tax-payer goes to pay the salary of a public officer, that officer sells his time, his talents, and his exertions, to the public, all of which are consumed for public purposes. On the other hand, that officer consumes, instead of the tax-payer, the value he receives in lieu of his services; in the same manner as any clerk or person in the private employ of the tax-payer would do.
There has been long a prevalent notion, that the values, paid by the community for the public service, return to it again in some shape or other; in the vulgar phrase, that what government and its agents receive, is refunded again by their expenditure. This is a gross fallacy; but one that has been productive of infinite mischief, inasmuch as it has been the pretext for a great deal of shameless waste and dilapidation. The value paid to government by the tax-payer is given without equivalent or return: it is expended by the government in the purchase of personal service, of objects of consumption; in one word, of products of equivalent value, which are actually transferred. Purchase or exchange is a very different thing from restitution.*26
Turn it which way you will, this operation, though often very complex in the execution, must always be reducible by analysis to this plain statement. A product consumed must always be a product lost, be the consumer who he may; lost without return, whenever no value or advantage is received in return; but, to the tax-payer, the advantage derived from the services of the public functionary, or from the consumption effected in the prosecution of public objects, is a positive return.
If, then, public and private expenditure affect social wealth in the same manner, the principles of economy, by which it should be regulated, must be the same in both cases. There are not two kinds of economy, any more than two kinds of honesty, or of morality. If a government or an individual consume in such a way, as to give birth to a product larger than that consumed, a successful effort of productive industry will be made. If no product result from the act of consumption, there is a loss of value, whether to the state or to the individual; yet, probably, that loss of value may have been productive of all the good anticipated. Military stores and supplies, and the time and labour of civil and military functionaries, engaged in the effectual defence of the state, are well bestowed, though consumed and annihilated; it is the same with them, as with the commodities and personal service, that have been consumed in a private establishment. The sole benefit resulting in the latter case is, the satisfaction of a want; if the want had no existence, the expense or consumption is a positive mischief, incurred without an object. So likewise of the public consumption; consumption for the mere purpose of consumption, systematic profusion, the creation of an office for the sole purpose of giving a salary, the destruction of an article for the mere pleasure of paying for it, are acts of extravagance either in a government or an individual, in a small state or a large one, a republic or a monarchy. Nay, there is more criminality in public, than in private extravagance and profusion; inasmuch as the individual squanders only what belongs to him; but the government has nothing of its own to squander, being, in fact, a mere trustee of the public treasure.*27
What, then, are we to think of the principles laid down by those writers, who have laboured to draw an essential distinction between public and private wealth; to show, that economy is the way to increase private fortune, but, on the contrary, that public wealth increases with the increase of public consumption: inferring thence this false and dangerous conclusion, that the rules of conduct in the management of private fortune and of public treasure, are not only different, but in direct opposition?
If such principles were to be found only in books, and had never crept into practice, one might suffer them without care or regret to swell the monstrous heap of printed absurdity; but it must excite our compassion and indignation to hear them professed by men of eminent rank, talents, and intelligence; and still more to see them reduced into practice by the agents of public authority, who can enforce error and absurdity at the point of the bayonet or mouth of the cannon.*28
Madame de Maintenon mentions in a letter to the Cardinal de Noailles, that, when she one day urged Louis XIV. to be more liberal in charitable donations, he replied, that royalty dispenses charity by its profuse expenditure; a truly alarming dogma, and one that shows the ruin of France to have been reduced to principle.*29 False principles are more fatal than even intentional misconduct; because they are followed up with erroneous notions of self-interest, and are long persevered in without remorse or reserve. If Louis XIV. had believed his extravagant ostentation to have been a mere gratification of his personal vanity, and his conquests the satisfaction of personal ambition alone, his good sense and proper feeling would probably, in a short time, have made it a matter of conscience to desist, or at any rate, he would have stopped short for his own sake; but he was firmly persuaded, that his prodigality was for the public good as well as his own; so that nothing could stop him, but misfortune and humiliation.*30
So little were the true principles of political economy understood, even by men of the greatest science, so late as the 18th century, that Frederick II. of Prussia, with all his anxiety in search of truth, his sagacity, and his merit, writes thus to D'Alembert, in justification of his wars: "My numerous armies promote the circulation of money, and disburse impartially amongst the provinces the taxes paid by the people to the state." Again I repeat, this is not the fact; the taxes paid to the government by the subject are not refunded by its expenditure. Whether paid in money or in kind, they are converted into provisions and supplies, and in that shape consumed and destroyed by persons, that never can replace the value, because they produce no value whatever.*31 It was well for Prussia that Frederick II. did not square his conduct to his principles. The good he did to his people, by the economy of his internal administration, more than compensated for the mischief of his wars.
Since the consumption of nations or the governments which represent them, occasions a loss of value, and consequently, of wealth, it is only so far justifiable, as there results from it some national advantage, equivalent to the sacrifice of value. The whole skill of government, therefore, consists in the continual and judicious comparison of the sacrifice about to be incurred, with the expected benefit to the community; for I have no hesitation in pronouncing every instance, where the benefit is not equivalent to the loss, to be an instance of folly, or of criminality, in the government.
It is yet more monstrous, then, to see how frequently governments, not content with squandering the substance of the people*32 in folly and absurdity, instead of aiming at any return of value, actually spend that substance in bringing down upon the nation calamities innumerable; practise exactions the most cruel and arbitrary, to forward schemes the most extravagant and wicked; first rifle the pockets of the subject, to enable them afterwards to urge him to the further sacrifice of his blood. Nothing, but the obstinacy of human passion and weakness, could induce me again and again to repeat these unpalatable truths, at the risk of incurring the charge of declamation.
The consumption effected by the government*33 forms so large a portion of the total national consumption, amounting sometimes to a sixth, a fifth, or even a fourth part*34 of the total consumption of the community, that the system acted upon by the government, must needs have a vast influence upon the advance or decline of the national prosperity. Should an individual take it into his head, that the more he spends the more he gets, or that his profusion is a virtue; or should he yield to the powerful attractions of pleasure, or the suggestions of perhaps a reasonable resentment, he will in all probability be ruined, and his example will operate upon a very small circle of his neighbours. But a mistake of this kind in the government, will entail misery upon millions, and possibly end in the national downfal or degradation. It is doubtless very desirable, that private persons should have a correct knowledge of their personal interests; but it must be infinitely more so, that governments should possess that knowledge. Economy and order are virtues in a private station; but, in a public station, their influence upon national happiness is so immense, that one hardly knows how sufficiently to extol and honour them in the guides and rulers of national conduct.
An individual is fully sensible of the value of the article he is consuming; it has probably cost him a world of labour, perseverance, and economy; he can easily balance the satisfaction he derives from its consumption against the loss it will involve. But a government is not so immediately interested in regularity and economy, nor does it so soon feel the ill consequences of the opposite qualities. Besides, private persons have a further motive than even self-interest; their feelings are concerned; their economy may be a benefit to the objects of their affection; whereas, the economy of a ruler accrues to the benefit of those he knows very little of; and perhaps he is but husbanding for an extravagant and rival successor.
Nor is this evil remedied, by adopting the principle of hereditary rule. The monarch has little of the feelings common to other men in this respect. He is taught to consider the fortune of his descendants as secure, if they have ever so little assurance of the succession. Besides, the far greater part of the public consumption is not personally directed by himself; contracts are not made by himself, but by his generals and ministers; the experience of the world hitherto all tends to show, that aristocratical republics are more economical, than either monarchies or democracies.
Neither are we to suppose, that the genius which prompts and excites great national undertakings, is incompatible with the spirit of public order and economy. The name of Charlemagne stands among the foremost in the records of renown; he achieved the conquest of Italy, Hungary, and Austria; repulsed the Saracens; broke the Saxon confederacy; and obtained at length the honours of the purple. Yet Montesquieu has thought it not derogatory to say of him, that "the father of a family might take a lesson of good housekeeping from the ordinances of Charlemagne. His expenditure was conducted with admirable system; he had his demesnes valued with care, skill, and minuteness. We find detailed in his capitularies the pure and legitimate sources of his wealth. In a word, such were his regularity and thrift, that he gave orders for the eggs of his poultry-yards, and the surplus vegetables of his garden, to be brought to market."*35 The celebrated Prince Eugene, who displayed equal talent in negotiation and administration as in the field, advised the Emperor Charles VI. to take the advice of merchants and men of business, in matters of finance.*36 Leopold, when Grand Duke of Tuscany, towards the close of the 18th century, gave an eminent example of the resources, to be derived from a rigid adherence to the principles of private economy, in the administration of a state of very limited extent. In a few years, he made Tuscany one of the most flourishing states of Europe.
The most successful financiers of France, Suger, Abbé de St. Dennis, the Cardinal D'Amboise, Sully, Colbert, and Necker, have all acted on the same principle. All found means of carrying into effect the grandest operations by adhering to the dictates of private economy. The Abbé de St. Dennis furnished the outfit of the second crusade; a scheme that required very large supplies, although one I am far from approving. The Cardinal furnished Louis XII. with the means of making his conquest of the Milanese. Sully accumulated the resources, that afterwards humbled the house of Austria.—Colbert supplied the splendid operations of Louis XIV. Necker provided the ways and means of the only successful war waged by France in the 18th century.*37
Those governments, on the contrary, that have been perpetually pressed with the want of money, have been obliged, like individuals, to have recourse to the most ruinous, and sometimes the most disgraceful, expedients to extricate themselves. Charles the Bald put his titles and safe-conducts up to sale. Thus, too, Charles II. of England sold Dunkirk to the French king, and took a bribe of 80,000l. from the Dutch, to delay the sailing of the English expedition to the East Indies, 1680, intended to protect their settlements in that quarter, which, in consequence, fell into the hands of the Dutchmen.*38 Thus, too, have governments committed frequent acts of bankruptcy, sometimes in the shape of adulteration of their coin, and sometimes by open breach of their engagements.
Louis XIV. towards the close of his reign, having utterly exhausted the resources of a noble territory, was reduced to the paltry shift of creating the most ridiculous offices, making his counsellors of state, one an inspector of fagots, another a licenser of barber-wig-makers, another, visiting inspector of fresh, or taster of salt, butter, and the like. Such paltry and mischievous expedients can never long defer the hour of calamities, that must sooner or later befal the extravagant and spendthrift governments. "When a man will not listen to reason," says Franklin, "she is sure to make herself felt."
Fortunately, an economical administration soon repairs the mischiefs of one of an opposite character. Sound health can not be restored all at once; but there is a gradual and perceptible improvement; every day some cause of complaint disappears, and some new faculty comes again into play. Half the remaining resources of a nation, impoverished by an extravagant administration, are neutralized by alarm and uncertainty; whereas, credit*39 doubles those of a nation, blessed with one of a frugal character. It would seem, that there exists in the politic, to a stronger degree than even in the natural, body a principle of vitality and elasticity, which can not be extinguished without the most violent pressure. One can not look into the pages of history, without being struck with the rapidity, with which this principle has operated. It has nowhere been more strikingly exemplified, than in the frequent vicissitudes that our own France has experienced since the commencement of the revolution. Prussia has afforded another illustration in our time. The successor of Frederick the Great squandered the accumulations of that monarch, which were estimated at no less a sum than 42 millions of dollars, and left behind him, besides, a debt of 27 millions. In less than eight years, Frederick William III. had not only paid off his father's debts, but actually began a fresh accumulation; such is the power of economy, even in a country of limited extent and resources.
Of the principal Objects of National Expenditure.
In the preceding section, it has been endeavoured to show, that, since all consumption by the public is in itself a sacrifice of value, an evil balanced only by such benefit, as may result to the community from the satisfaction of any of its wants, a good administration will never spend for the mere sake of spending, but take care to ascertain that the public benefit, resulting, in such instance, from the satisfaction of a public want, shall exceed the sacrifice incurred in its acquirement.
A comprehensive view of the principal public wants of a civilized community, can alone qualify us to estimate with tolerable accuracy the sacrifice it is worth while for the community to make for their gratification.*40
The public consumes little else, but what have been denominated Immaterial products, that is to say, products destroyed as soon as created; in other words, the services or agency, either of human beings, or of other objects, animate or inanimate.*41
It consumes the personal service of all its functionaries, civil, judicial, military, or ecclesiastical. It consumes the agency of land and capital. The navigation of rivers and seas, utility of roads and ground open to the public, are so much agency derived by the public from land, of which either the absolute property, or the beneficial enjoyment, is vested in the public. Where capital has been vested in the land, in the shape of buildings, bridges, artificial harbours, causeways, dikes, canals, &c. the public then consumes the agency, or the rent of the land, plus the agency, or the interest, of the capital so vested.
Sometimes the public maintains establishments of productive industry for instance, the porcelain manufacture of Sevres, the Gobelin tapestry, the salt-works of Lorraine and of the Jura, &c., in France. When concerns of this kind bring more than their expenditure, which is but rarely the case, they furnish part of the national revenue, and must by no means be classed among the items of national charge.
Of the Charge of Civil and Judicial Administration.
The charge of civil and judicial administration is made up, partly of the specific allowances of magistrates and other officers, and partly of such degree of pomp and parade, as may be deemed necessary in the execution of their duties. Even if the burthen of that pomp and parade be thrown wholly or partially upon the public functionary, it must ultimately fall upon the shoulders of the public, for the salary of the functionary must be raised, in proportion to the appearance he is expected to make. This observation applies to every description of functionary, from the prince to the constable inclusive consequently, a nation, which reverences its prince only when surrounded with the externals of greatness, with guards, horse and foot, laced liveries, and such costly trappings of royalty, must pay dearly for its taste. If, on the contrary, it can be content, to respect simplicity rather than pageantry, and obey the laws, though unaided by the attributes of pomp and ceremony, it will save in proportion. This is what made the charges of government so light in many of the Swiss cantons, before the revolution, and in the North American colonies before their emancipation. It is well known, that those colonies, though under the dominion of England, had separate governments, of which they respectively defrayed the charge; yet the whole annual expenditure all together amounted to no more than 64,700l. sterling. "An ever memorable example," observes Smith, "at how small an expense three millions of people may not only be governed, but well governed."*42
Causes entirely of a political nature as well as the form of government which they help to determine, have an influence in apportioning the salaries of public officers, civil and judicial, the charge of public display, and those likewise of public institutions and establishments. Thus, in a despotic government, where the subject holds his property at the will of the sovereign, who fixes himself the charge of his household, that is to say, the amount of the public money which he chooses to spend on his personal necessities and pleasures, and the keeping up of the royal establishment, that charge will probably be fixed at a higher rate, than where it is arranged and contested between the representatives of the prince and of the tax payers respectively.
The salaries of inferior public officers in like manner depend, partly upon their individual importance, and partly upon the general plan of government. Their services are dear or cheap to the public, not merely in proportion to what they actually cost, but likewise in proportion as they are well or ill executed. A duty ill performed is dearly bought, however little be paid for it; it is dear too, if it be superfluous, or unnecessary; resembling in this respect an article of furniture, that, if it do not answer its purpose, or be not wanted, is merely useless lumber. Of this description, under the old régime of France, were the officers of high-admiral, high-steward of the household, the king's cup-bearer, the master of his hounds, and a variety of others, which added nothing even to the splendour of royalty, and were merely so many means of dispensing personal favour and emolument.
For the same reason, whenever the officers of government are needlessly multiplied, the people are saddled with charges, which are not necessary to the maintenance of public order. It is only giving an unnecessary form to that benefit, or product, which is not at all the better of it, if indeed it be not worse.*43 A bad government, that can not support its violence, injustice, and exaction, without a multitude of mercenaries, satellites, and spies, and gaols innumerable, makes its subjects pay for its prisons, spies, and soldiers, which nowise contribute to the public happiness.
On the other hand, a public duty may be cheap, although very liberally paid. A low salary is wholly thrown away upon an incapable and inefficient officer; his ignorance will probably cost the public ten times the amount of his salary; but the knowledge and activity of a man of ability are fully equivalent to the pay he receives; the losses he saves to the public, and the benefits derived from his exertions, greatly outweigh his personal emolument, even if settled on the most liberal scale.
There is real economy in procuring the best of every thing, even at a larger price. Merit can seldom be engaged at a low rate, because it is applicable to more occupations than one. The talent, that makes an able minister, would, in another profession, make a good advocate, physician, farmer, or merchant; and merit will find both employment and emolument in all these departments. If the public service offer no adequate reward for its exertion, it will choose some other more promising occupation.
Integrity is like talent; it can not be had without paying for it, which is not at all wonderful; for the honest man can not resort to those discreditable shifts and contrivances, which dishonesty looks to as a supplemental resource.
The power, which commonly accompanies the exercise of public functions, is a kind of salary, that often far exceeds the pecuniary emolument attached to them. It is true, that in a well ordered state, where law is supreme, and little is left to the arbitrary control of the ruler, there is little opportunity of indulging the caprice and love of domination implanted in the human breast. Yet the discretion, which the law must inevitably vest in those who are to enforce it, and particularly in the ministerial department, together with the honour commonly attendant on the higher offices of the state, have a real value, which makes them eagerly sought for, even in countries where they are by no means lucrative.
The rules of strict economy would probably make it advisable to abridge all pecuniary allowance, wherever there are other sufficient attractions to excite a competition for office, and to confer it on none but the wealthy, were there not a risk of losing, by the incapacity of the officer, more than would be gained by the abridgment of his salary. This, as Plato well observes in his Republic, would be like entrusting the helm to the richest man on board. Besides, there is some danger, that a man, who gives his services for nothing, will make his authority a matter of gain, however rich he may be. The wealth of a public functionary is no security against his venality: for ample fortune is commonly accompanied with desires as ample, and probably even more ample, especially if he have to keep up an appearance, both as a man of wealth and a magistrate. Moreover, supposing what is not altogether impossible, namely, that one can meet with wealth united with probity, and with, besides, the activity requisite to the due performance of public duty, is it wise to run the risk of adding the preponderance of authority to that of wealth, which is already but too manifest? With what grace could his employers call to account an agent, who could assume the merit of generosity, both with the people and with the government? There are, however, some ways, in which the gratuitous services of the rich may be employed with advantage; particularly in those departments, that confer more honour than power: as in the administration of institutions of public charity, or of public correction or punishment.
In France under the old régime, the government, when harassed with the want of money, was in the habit of putting up its offices to sale. This is the very worst of all expedients; it introduces all the mischiefs of gratuitous service; for the emolument is then no more, than the interest of the capital expended in the purchase of the office; and has the additional evil of costing to the state as much as if the service were not gratuitously performed; for the public remains charged with the interest of a capital, that has been consumed and lost.
It has been sometimes the practice to consign certain civil functions, such as the registry of births, marriages, and deaths, to the ecclesiastical body, whose emoluments, arising from their clerical duties, may be supposed to enable them to execute these without pay. But there is always danger in confiding the execution of civil duties to a class of men, that pretend to a commission from a still higher than a national authority.*44
In spite of every precaution, the public or the monarch will never be served so well or so cheaply as individuals. Inferior public agents can not be so narrowly watched by their superiors, as private ones; nor have the superiors themselves an equal interest in vigilant superintendence. Besides, it is easy enough for underlings to impose on a superior, who has many to look after, is perhaps placed at a distance, and can give but little attention to each individually; and whose vanity makes him more alive to the officious zeal of his inferior, than to the real service and utility, that the public good requires. As to the monarch and the nation, who are the parties most interested in good public administration, because it consolidates the power of the one and enlarges the happiness of the other, it is next to impossible for them to exert a perpetual and effectual control. In most cases, this duty must of necessity devolve on agents, who will deceive them when it is their interest to do so, as is proved by abundance of examples. "Public services," says Smith, "are never better performed than when their reward comes only in consequence of their being performed, and is proportioned to the diligence employed in performing them." Accordingly, he recommends, that the salaries of judges should be paid at the final determination of each suit, and the share of each judge proportioned to their respective trouble in the progress of it. This would be some encouragement to the diligence of each particular judge, as well as to that of the court, in bringing litigation to an end. There would be some difficulty in applying this method to all the branches of the public service; and it would probably introduce as great abuses in the opposite way; but it would at least be productive of one good; viz. preventing the needless multiplication of offices. It would likewise give the public the same advantage of competition as is enjoyed by individuals, in respect to the services they call for.
Not only are the time and labour of public men in general better paid for than those of other persons, besides being often wasted by their own mismanagement, without the possibility of an efficient check; but there is often a further enormous waste, occasioned by compliance with the customs of the country, and court etiquette. It would be curious to calculate the time wasted in the toilet, or to estimate, if possible, the many dearly-paid hours lost, in the course of the last century, on the road between Paris and Versailles.
Thus, in the governments of Asia, there is an immense waste of the time of the superior public servants in tedious and ceremonious observances. The monarch, after allowing for the hours of customary parade, and those of personal pleasure, has little time left to look after his own affairs, which, consequently, soon go to ruin. Frederick II. of Prussia, by adopting a contrary line of conduct, and by the judicious distribution and apportionment of his time contrived to get through a great deal of business himself. By this means, he really lived longer than older men than himself, and succeeded in raising his kingdom to a first-rate power. His other great qualities, doubtless, contributed to his success; but they would not have been sufficient, without a methodical arrangement of his time.
Of Charges, Military and Naval.
When a nation has made any considerable progress in commerce, manufacture, and the arts, and its products have, consequently, become various and abundant, it would be an immense inconvenience, if every citizen were liable to be dragged from a productive employment, which has become necessary to society, for the purposes of national defence. The cultivator of the soil works no longer for the sustenance of himself and family only, but also for that of many other families, who are either owners of the soil, and share in its produce, or traders and manufacturers, that supply him with articles he cannot do without. He must, therefore, cultivate a larger extent of surface, must vary his tillage, keep a larger stock of cattle, and follow a complex mode of cultivation that will fully occupy his leisure between seed-time and harvest.*45
Still less can the trader and manufacturer afford thus to sacrifice time and talents, whereof the constant occupation, except during the intervals of rest, is necessary to the production, from which they are to derive their subsistence.
The owners of land let out to farm may, undoubtedly, serve as soldiers without pay; as, indeed, the nobility and gentry do, in some measure, in monarchical states; but they are, for the most part, so much accustomed to the sweets of social existence, so little goaded by necessity towards the conception and achievement of great enterprises, and feel so little of the enthusiasm of emulation and esprit de corps, that they commonly prefer a pecuniary sacrifice to that of comfort, and possibly of life. And these motives operate equally with the owners of capital.
All these reasons have led individuals, in most modern states, to consent to a taxation, that may enable the monarch or the republic to defend the country against external violence with a hired and professional soldiery, who are, however, too apt to become the tools of their leader's ambition or tyranny.
When war has become a trade, it benefits, like all other trades, from the division of labour. Every branch of human science is pressed into its service. Distinction or excellence, whether in the capacity of general, engineer, subaltern, or even private soldier, can not be obtained without long training, perhaps, and constant practice. The nation, which should act upon a different principle, would lie under the disadvantage of opposing the imperfection, to the perfection, of art. Thus, excepting the cases, in which the enthusiasm of a whole nation has been roused to action, the advantage has uniformly been on the side of a disciplined and professional soldiery. The Turks, although professing the utmost contempt for the arts of their Christian neighbours, are compelled by the dread of extermination, to be their scholars in the art of war. The European powers were all forced to adopt the military tactics of the Prussians; and, when the violent agitation of the French revolution pressed every resource of science to the aid of the armies of the republic, the enemies of France were obliged to follow the example.
This extensive application of science, and adaptation of fresh means and more ample resources to military purposes, have made war far more expensive now than in former times. It is necessary now-a-days, to provide an army beforehand, with supplies of arms, ammunition, magazines of provision, ordnance, &c., equal to the consumption of one campaign at the least. The invention of gunpowder has introduced the use of weapons more complex and expensive, and very chargeable in the transport, especially the field and battering trains. Moreover, the wonderful improvement of naval tactics, the variety of vessels of every class and construction, all requiring the utmost exertion of human genius and industry; the yards, docks, machinery, store-houses, &c. have entailed upon nations addicted to war almost as heavy an expense in peace, as in times of actual hostility; and obliged them not only to expend a great portion of their income, but to vest a great amount of capital likewise in military establishments. In addition to which, it is to be observed, that the modern colonial system, that is to say, the system of retaining the sovereignty of towns and provinces in distant parts of the world, has made the European states open to attack and aggression in the most remote quarters of the globe, and the whole world the theatre of warfare, when any of the leading powers are the belligerents.*46
Wealth has, consequently, become as indispensable as valour to the prosecution of modern warfare; and a poor nation can no longer withstand a rich one. Wherefore, since wealth can be acquired only by industry and frugality, it may safely be predicted, that every nation, whose agriculture, manufacture, and commerce, shall be ruined by bad government, or exorbitant taxation, must infallibly fall under the yoke of its more provident neighbours. We may further conclude, that henceforward national strength will accompany national science and civilization; for none but civilized nations can maintain considerable standing armies; so that there is no reason to apprehend the future recurrence of those sudden overthrows of civilized empires by the influx of barbarous tribes, of which history affords many examples.
War costs a nation more than its actual expense; it costs besides, all that would have been gained, but for its occurrence.
When Louis XIV. in 1672, resolved in a fit of passion, to chastise the Dutch for the insolence of their newspaper writers, Boreel, the Dutch ambassador, laid before him a memorial showing that France through the medium of Holland, sold produce annually to foreign nations, to the amount of sixty millions fr. at the then scale of price; which will fall little short of 120 millions (22,000,000 of dollars) at the present. But the court treated his representations as the mere empty bravado of an ambassador.
To conclude: the charges of war would be very incorrectly estimated, were we to take no account of the havoc and destruction it occasions; for that one at least of the belligerents, whose territory happens to be the scene of operations, must be exposed to its ravages. The more industrious the nation, the more does it suffer from warfare. When it penetrates into a district abounding in agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial establishments, it is like a fire in a place full of combustibles; its fury is aggravated, and the devastation prodigious. Smith calls the soldier an unproductive labourer; would to God he were nothing more, and not a destructive one into the bargain! he not only adds no product of his own*47 to the general stock of wealth, in return for the necessary subsistence he consumes, but is often set to work to destroy the fruits of other people's labour and toil, without doing himself any benefit.
The tardy, but irresistible expansion of intelligence will probably operate a still further change in external political relations, and with it a prodigious saving of expenditure for the purposes of war. Nations will be taught to know that they have really no interest in fighting one another; that they are sure to suffer all the calamities incident to defeat, while the advantages of success are altogether illusory. According to the international policy of the present day, the vanquished are sure to be taxed by the victor, and the victor by domestic authority: for the interest of loans must be raised by taxation. There is no instance on record, of any diminution of national expenditure being effected by the most successful issue of hostilities. And, what is the glory it can confer more than a mere toy of the most extravagant price, that can never even amuse rational minds for any length of time? Dominion by land or sea will appear equally destitute of attraction, when it comes to be generally understood, that all its advantages rest with the rulers, and that the subjects at large derive no benefit whatever. To private individuals, the greatest possible benefit is entire freedom of intercourse, which can hardly be enjoyed except in peace. Nature prompts nations to mutual amity; and, if their governments take upon themselves to interrupt it, and engage them in hostility, they are equally inimical to their own people, and to those they war against. If their subjects are weak enough to second the ruinous vanity or ambition of their rulers in this propensity, I know not now to distinguish such egregious folly and absurdity, from that of the brutes that are trained to fight and tear each other to pieces, for the mere amusement of their savage masters.
But human intelligence will not stand still; the same impulse that has hitherto borne it onwards, will continue to advance it yet further.*48 The very circumstance of the vast increase of expense attending national warfare has made it impossible for governments henceforth to engage in it, without the public assent, express or implied; and that assent will be obtained with the more difficulty, in proportion as the public shall become more generally acquainted with their real interest. The national military establishment will be reduced to what is barely sufficient to repel external attack; for which purpose little more is necessary, than a small body of such kinds of troops as can not be had without long training and exercise; as of cavalry and artillery. For the rest, nations will rely on their militia, and on the excellence of their internal polity: for it is next to impossible to conquer a people unanimous in their attachment to their national institutions; and their attachment will always be proportionate to the loss they will incur by a change of domination.*49
Of the Charges of Public Instruction.
Two questions have been raised in political economy; 1. Whether the public be interested in the cultivation of science in all its branches? 2. Whether it be necessary, that the public should be at the expense of teaching those branches, it has an interest in cultivating?
Whatever be the position of man in society, he is in constant dependence upon the three kingdoms of nature. His food, his clothing, his medicines, every object either of business or of pleasure, is subject to fixed laws; and the better those laws are understood, the more benefit will accrue to society. Every individual, from the common mechanic, that works in wood or clay, to the prime minister that regulates with the dash of his pen the agriculture, the breeding of cattle, the mining, or the commerce of a nation, will perform his business the better, the better he understands the nature of things, and the more his understanding is enlightened.
For this reason, every advance of science is followed by an increase of social happiness. A new application of the lever, or of the power of wind or water, or even a method of reducing the friction of bodies, will, perhaps, have an influence on twenty different arts. An uniformity of weights and measures, arranged upon mathematical principles, would be a benefit to the whole commercial world, if it were wise enough to adopt such an expedient. An important discovery in astronomy or geology may possibly afford the means of ascertaining the longitude at sea with precision, which would be an immense advantage to navigation all over the world. The naturalisation in Europe of a new botanical genus or species might possibly influence the comfort of many millions of individuals.*50
Among the numerous classes of science, theoretical and practical, which it is the interest of the public to advance and promote, there are fortunately many, that individuals have a personal interest in pursuing, and which the public, therefore, is not called upon to pay the expense of teaching. Every adventurer in any branch of industry is urged most strongly by self-interest to learn his business and whatever concerns it. The journeyman gains in his apprenticeship, besides manual dexterity, a variety of notions and ideas only to be learnt in the work-shop, and which can be no otherwise recompensed, than by the wages he will receive.
But it is not every degree or class of knowledge, that yields a benefit to the individual, equivalent to that accruing to the public. In treating above*51 of the profits of the man of science, I have shown the reason, why his talents are not adequately remunerated; yet theoretical is quite as useful to society as practical knowledge; for how could science ever be applied to the practical utility of mankind, unless it were discovered and preserved by the theorist? It would rapidly degenerate into mere mechanical habit, which must soon decline; and the downfall of the arts would pave the way for the return of ignorance and barbarism.
In every country that can at all appreciate the benefits to be derived from the enlargement of human faculties, it has been deemed by no means a piece of extravagance, to support academies and learned institutions, and a limited number of very superior schools, intended not as mere repositories of science, and of the most approved mode of instruction, but as a means of its still further extension. But it requires some skill in the management, to prevent such establishments from operating as an impediment, instead of a furtherance, to the progress of knowledge, and as an obstruction rather than as an avenue to the improvement of education. Long before the revolution, it had become notorious, that most of our French universities had been thus perverted from the intention of their founders. All the principal discoveries were made elsewhere; and most of them had to encounter the weight of their influence over the rising generation and credit with men in power.*52 *53
From this example, we may see how dangerous it is, to entrust them with any discretionary control. If a candidate presents himself for examination, he must not be referred to teachers, who are at the same time judges and interested parties, sure to think well of their own scholars, and ill of those of every body else. The merit of the candidate should alone decide, and not the place where he happens to have studied, nor the length of his probation; for to oblige a student in any science, medicine for instance, to learn it at a particular place, is, possibly, to prevent his learning it better elsewhere; and, to prescribe any fixed routine of study, is, possibly, to prevent his fixing a shorter road. Moreover, in deciding upon comparative merit, there is much unfairness to be apprehended from the esprit de corps of such communities.
Encouragement may, with perfect safety, be held out to a mode of instruction of no small efficacy; I mean, the composition of good elementary*54 works. The reputation and profit of a good book in this class do not indemnify the labour, science, and skill, requisite to its composition.*55 A man must be a fool to serve the public in this line where the natural profit is so little proportioned to the benefit derived to the public. The want of good elementary books will never be thoroughly supplied, until the public shall hold out temptations, sufficiently ample to engage first-rate talents in their composition. It does not answer to employ particular individuals for the express purpose; for the man of most talents will not always succeed the best: nor to offer specific premiums; for they are often bestowed on very imperfect productions, and the encouragement ceases the moment the premium is awarded. But merit in this kind should be paid proportionately to its degree, and always liberally. A good work will thus be sure to be superseded by a better, till perfection is at last attained in each class. And I must observe, by the way, that there is no great expense incurred by liberally rewarding excellence; for it must always be extremely rare; and what is a great sum to an individual, is a small matter to the pockets of a nation.
These are the kinds of instruction most calculated to promote national wealth, and most likely to retrograde, if not in some measure supported by the public. There are others, which are essential to the softening of national manners, and stand yet more in need of that support.
When the useful arts have arrived at a high degree of perfection, and labour has been very generally and minutely subdivided, the occupation of the lowest classes of labourers is reduced to one or two operations, for the most part simple in themselves, and continually repeated: to these their whole thought and attention are directed; and from them they are seldom diverted by any novel or unforeseen occurrence: their intellectual faculties, being rarely or never called into play, must of course be degraded and bratified, and themselves rendered incapable of uttering two words of common sense out of their peculiar line of business, and utterly devoid of any generous ideas or elevated notions. Elevation of mind is generated by enlarged views of men and things, and can never exist in a being incapable of conceiving the general bearings and connexions of objects. A plodding mechanic can conceive no connexion between the inviolability of property and public prosperity, or how he can be more interested in that prosperity, than his more wealthy neighbour; but is apt to consider all these important benefits as so many encroachments on his rights and happiness. A certain degree of education, of reading, of reflection while at work, and of intercourse with persons of his own condition, will open his mind to these conceptions, as well as introduce a little more delicacy of feeling into his conduct, as a father, a husband, a brother, or a citizen.
But, in the vast machinery of national production, the mere manual labourer is so placed, as to earn little or nothing more than a bare subsistence. The most he can do is, to rear his young family, and bring them up to some occupation: he cannot be expected to give them that education, which we have supposed the well-being of society to require. If the community wish to have the benefit of more knowledge and intelligence in the labouring classes, it must dispense it at the public charge.
This object may be obtained by the establishment of primary schools, of reading, writing, and arithmetic. These are the groundwork of all knowledge, and are quite sufficient for the civilization of the lower classes. In fact, one can not call a nation civilized, nor consequently possessed of the benefits of civilization, until the people at large be instructed in these three particulars: till then it will be but partially reclaimed from barbarism. With the help of these advantages alone, it may safely be affirmed, that no transcendent genius or superior mind will long remain in obscurity, or be prevented from displaying itself to the infinite benefit of the community. The faculty of reading alone, will, for a few dollars, put a man in possession of all that eminent men have said or done, in the line to which the bent of genius impels. Nor should the female part of the creation be shut out from this elementary education; for the public is equally interested in their civilization; and they are indeed the first, and often the only teachers of the rising generation.
It would be the more unpardonable in governments to neglect the business of education, and abandon to their present ignorance the great majority of the population in those nations of Europe, that pretend to the character of refinement and civilization, now that the improved methods of mutual instruction, that have been tried with such complete success, afford a ready and most economical means of universally diffusing knowledge amongst the inferior classes.*56
Thus, none but elementary and abstract science,—the highest and the lowest branches of knowledge, are so much less favoured in the natural course of things, and so little stimulated by the competition of demand, as to require the aid of that authority, which is created purposely to watch over the public interests. Not that individuals have no interest in the support and promotion of these, as well as of the other, branches of knowledge; but they have not so direct an interest,—the loss occasioned by their disappearance is neither so immediate nor so perceptible; a flourishing empire might retrograde, until it reached the confines of barbarism, before individuals had observed the operating cause of its decline.
I would not be understood to find fault with public establishments for purposes of education, in other branches than those I have been describing. I am only endeavouring to show, in what branches a nation may wisely, and with due regard to its own interest, defray the charge out of the public purse. Every diffusion of such knowledge, as is founded upon fact and experience, and does not proceed upon dogmatical opinions and assertions, every kind of instruction, that tends to improve the taste and understanding, is a positive good; and, consequently, an institution calculated to diffuse it must be beneficial. But care must be taken, that encouragement of one branch shall not operate to discourage another. This is the general mischief of premiums awarded by the public; a private teacher or institution will not be adequately paid, where the same kind of instruction is to be had for nothing, though, perhaps, from inferior teachers. There is, therefore, some danger, that talent may be superseded by mediocrity; and a check be given to private exertions, from which the resources of the state might expect incalculable benefit.
The only important science, which seems to me not susceptible of being taught at the public charge, is that of moral philosophy, which may be considered as either experimental or doctrinal. The former consists in the knowledge of moral qualities, and of the chain of connexion between events dependent upon human will; and forms indeed a part of the study of man, which is best pursued by social converse and intercourse. The latter is a series of maxims and precepts, possessing very little influence upon human conduct, which is best guided in the relations of public and of private life, by the operation of good laws, of good education, and of good example.*57
The sole encouragement to virtue and good conduct, that can be relied on, is, the interest that every body has in discovering and employing no persons but those of good character. Men the most independent in their circumstances want something more to make them happy; that is to say, the general esteem and good opinion of their fellow-creatures; and these can only be acquired by putting on the appearance at least of estimable qualities, which it is much easier to acquire than to simulate. The influence of the sovereign or ruling body, upon the manners of the nation, is very extensive, because it employs a vast number of people; but it operates less beneficially than that of individuals, because it is less interested in employing none but persons of integrity. If to its lukewarmness in this particular be added, the example of immorality and contempt for honesty and economy too frequently held out to people by their rulers, the corruption of national morals will be wonderfully accelerated.*58 But a nation may be rescued from moral degradation by the re-action of opposite causes. Colonies are, for the most part, composed of by no means the most estimable classes of the mother-country: in a very short time, however, when the hopes of return are wholly abandoned, and the settlers have made up their minds to pass the rest of their lives in their new abode, they gradually feel the necessity of conciliating the esteem of their fellow-citizens, and the morals of the colony improve rapidly. By morals, I mean the general course of human conduct and behavior.
These are the causes, that have a positive influence upon national morality. To these must be added, the effect of education in general, in opening the eyes of mankind to their real interests, and softening the temper and disposition.
Religious instruction ought, strictly speaking, to be defrayed by the respective religious communions and societies, each of which regards the opinions of the rest as heretical, and naturally revolts at the injustice of contributing to the propagation of what it deems erroneous, if not criminal.
Of the Charges of Public Benevolent Institutions.
It has been much debated, whether individual distress has any title to public relief. I should say none, except inasmuch as it is an unavoidable consequence of existing social institutions. If infirmity and want be the effect of the social system, they have a title to public relief: provided always, that it be shown, that the same system affords no means of prevention or cure. But it would be foreign to the matter to discuss the question of right in this place. All we need do is, to consider benevolent institutions with regard to their nature and consequences.
When a community establishes at the public charge any institution for benevolent purposes, it forms a kind of saving-bank, to which every member contributes a portion of his revenue, to entitle him to claim a benefit, in the event of accident or misfortune. The wealthy are generally impressed with an idea, that they shall never stand in need of public charitable relief; but a little less confidence would become them better. No man can reckon in his own case upon the continuance of good fortune, with as much certainty as upon the permanence of wants and infirmities; the former may desert him; but the latter are inseparable companions. It is enough to know, that good fortune is not inexhaustible, to infuse an apprehension that it may some day or other be exhausted: one has but to look round, and this apprehension will be confirmed by the experience of numbers, whose misfortunes were to themselves quite unexpected.
Hospitals for the sick, almshouses and asylums for old age and infancy, inasmuch as they partially relieve the poorer classes from the charge of maintaining those who are naturally dependent on them, and thereby to allow population to advance somewhat more rapidly, have a natural tendency a little to depress the wages of labour. That depression would be greater still, if such establishments should be so multiplied, as to take in all the sick, aged, and infants of those classes, who would then have none but themselves to provide for out of their wages. If they were entirely done away, there would be some rise of wages, although not sufficient to maintain so large a labouring population, as may be kept up with their help; for the demand for their labour would be somewhat reduced by the advance of its price.
From these two extreme suppositions, we may judge of the effect of those efforts to relieve indigence, which all nations have made in some degree or other; and see the reason, why the distress and relief go on increasing together, although not exactly in the same ratio.
Most nations preserve a middle course between the two extremes, affording public relief to a part only of those, who are helpless from age, infancy, or casual sickness. Of the rest they endeavour to rid themselves in one of two ways; either by requiring certain qualifications in the applicants, whether of age, of specific disease, or, perhaps, of mere interest and favouritism; or by limiting narrowly the extent of the relief, giving it upon hard terms to the applicants, or attaching some degree of shame to the acceptance.*59
It is a distressing reflection, that there are no other methods of confining the number of applicants for relief within the means available to the community, except the offer of hard conditions, or the want of a patron. It were to be desired, that asylums of the more comfortable class, instead of favouritism, should be open to unmerited misfortune only; and that, to prevent improper nominations, the pretensions of the candidate should be ascertained by the inquest of a jury. The rest can probably be protected from too great an influx of indigence, by no other means consistent with humanity, except the observance of severe, though impartial, discipline, sufficient to invest them with some degree of terror.
This evil does not apply to the asylums devoted to invalid soldiers and sailors. The qualification is so plain and intelligible, that the doors ought to be shut against none who are possessed of it; and the comforts of the institution can never increase the number of applicants. Their being nursed in the public asylums with the same domestic care and comfort, as are to be found in the homes of persons in the same class of life, and indulged in repose, and some even of the whims of old age, will undoubtedly somewhat enhance the charge, that is to say, so far as it might prolong lives, that otherwise might fall a sacrifice to wretchedness; but this is the utmost increase of charge; and it is one, that neither patriotism nor humanity will grudge.*60
The houses of industry, that are multiplying so rapidly in America, Holland, Germany, and France, are noble and excellent institutions of public benevolence. They are designed to provide all persons of sound health with work according to their respective capacities; some of them are open to any workman out of employ, that chooses to apply; others are a kind of houses of correction, where vagrants, beggars, and offenders, are kept to work for fixed periods. Convicts have sometimes been set to hard labour in their respective vocations, during their confinement; whereby the public has been wholly or partially relieved from the charge of keeping up gaols, and a method contrived for reforming the morals of the criminals, and rendering them a blessing, instead of a curse, to society.
Indeed, such establishments can hardly be reckoned among the items of public charge; for, the moment their production equals their consumption, they are no longer an incumbrance to any body. They are of immense benefit in a dense population, where, amidst the vast variety of occupations, some must unavoidably be in a state of temporary inaction. The perpetual shiftings of commerce, the introduction of new processes, the withdrawing of capital from a productive concern, accidental fire, or other calamity, may throw numbers out of employment; and the most deserving individual may, without any fault of his own, be reduced to the extreme of want. In these institutions, he is sure of earning at least a subsistence, if not in his own line, in one of a similar description.
The grand obstacle to such establishments is, the great outlay of capital they require. They are adventures of industry, and as such must be provided with a variety of tools, implements, and machines, besides raw material of different kinds to work upon. Before they can be said to maintain themselves, they must earn enough to pay the interest of the capital embarked, as well as their current expenses.
The favour shown them by the public authority, in the gratuitous supply of the capital and buildings, and in many other particulars, would make them interfere with private undertakings, were they not subject, on the other hand, to some peculiar disadvantages. They are obliged to confine their operations to such kinds of work, as sort with the feebleness and general inferiority in skill of the inmates, and can not direct them to such as may be most in demand. Moreover, it is in most of them a matter of regulation and police, to lay by always the third or fourth part of the labourer's wages or earnings, as a capital to set him up, on his quitting the establishment: this is an excellent precaution, but prevents their working at such cheap rates, as to drive all competition out of the market.
Although the honour, attached to the direction and management of institutions of public benevolence, will generally attract the gratuitous service of the affluent and respectable part of the community, yet, when the duties become numerous and laborious, they are commonly discharged by gratuitous administrators with the most unfeeling negligence. It was probably by no means wise, to subject all the hospitals of Paris to a general superintendence. At London, each hospital is separately administered; and the whole are managed with more economy and attention in consequence. A laudable emulation is thereby excited amongst the managers of rival establishments; which affords an additional proof of the practicability and benefit of competition in the business of public administration.
Of the Charges of Public Edifices and Works.
I shall not here attempt to enumerate the great variety of works requisite for the use of the public; but merely lay down some general rules, for calculating their cost to the nation. It is often impossible to estimate with any tolerable accuracy the public benefit derived from them. How is one to calculate the utility, that is to say, the pleasure which the inhabitants of a city derive from a public terrace or promenade? It is a positive benefit to have, within an easy distance of the close and crowded streets of a populous town, some place where the population can breathe a pure and wholesome atmosphere, and take health and exercise, under the shade of a grove, or with a verdant prospect before the eye; and where schoolboys can spend their hours of recreation; yet this advantage it would be impossible to set a precise value upon.
The amount of its cost, however, may be ascertained or estimated. The cost of every public work or construction consists:—
1. Of the rent of the surface whereon it is erected; which rent amounts to what a tenant would give to the proprietor.
Sometimes, one or more of these items may be curtailed. When the soil, whereon a public work is erected, will fetch nothing from either a purchaser, or a tenant, the public will be charged with nothing in the nature of rent; for no rent could be got if the spot had never been built on. A bridge, for instance, costs nothing but the interest of the capital expended in its construction, and the annual charge of keeping it in repair. If it be suffered to fall into decay, the public consumes, annually, the agency of the capital vested, reckoned in the shape of interest on the sum expended, and, gradually, the capital itself, into the bargain; for, as soon as the bridge ceases to be passable, not only is the agency or rent of the capital lost, but the capital is gone likewise.
Supposing one of the dikes in Holland to have cost in the outset, 20,000 dollars; the annual charge on the score of interest, at 5 per cent., will be 1000 dollars; and, if it cost 600 dollars more in the keeping it up, the total annual charge will be 1600 dollars.
The same mode of reckoning may be applied to roads and canals. If a road be broader than necessary, there is annually a loss of the rent of all the superfluous land it occupies, and, besides, of all the additional charge of repair. Many of the roads out of Paris are 180 feet wide, including the unpaved part on each side; whereas, a breadth of 60 feet would be full wide for all useful purposes, and would be quite magnificent enough, even for the approaches to a great metropolis. The surplus is only so much useless splendour; indeed, I hardly know how to call it so; for the narrow pavement in the centre of a broad road, the two sides of which are impassable the greater part of the year, is an equal imputation upon the liberality, and upon the good sense and taste of the nation. It gives a disagreeable sensation, to see so much loss of space, more particularly if it be badly kept. It appears like a wish to have magnificent roads, without having the means of keeping them uniform and in good condition; like the palaces of the Italian nobles, that never feel the effects of the broom.
Be it as it may, on the sides of the road I am speaking of, there is a space of 120 feet, that might be restored to cultivation; that is to say, 48 acres to the ordinary league. Add together the rent of the surplus land, the interest of the sum expended in the first cost and preparation, and the annual charge of keeping up the unnecessary space, which is something, badly as it is kept up; you will then ascertain the sum France pays annually for the very questionable honour of having roads too wide, by more than the half, leading to streets too narrow, by three-fourths.*61
Roads and canals are costly public works, even in countries where they are under judicious and economical management. Yet, probably, in most cases, the benefits they afford to the community far exceed the charges. Of this the reader may be convinced, on reference to what has been said above of the value generated by the mere commercial operation of transfer from one spot to another,*62 and of the general rule, that every saving in the charges of production is so much gain to the consumer.*63 Were we to calculate what would be the charge of carriage upon all the articles and commodities that now pass along any road in the course of a year, if the road did not exist, and compare it with the utmost charge under present circumstances, the whole difference that would appear, will be so much gain to the consumers of all those articles, and so much positive and clear net profit to the community.*64
Canals are still more beneficial; for in them the saving of carriage is still more considerable.*65
Public works of no utility, such as palaces, triumphal arches, monumental columns, and the like, are items of national luxury. They are equally indefensible, with instances of private prodigality. The unsatisfactory gratification afforded by them to the vanity of the prince or the people, by no means balances the cost, and often the misery they have occasioned.
Notes for this chapter
Although the capitalist and landholder receive their interest and rent originally in the shape of money, and have, therefore, no occasion to go through any previous act of exchange, to obtain wherewithal to pay the tax, yet such a previous exchange must have been effected by the adventurer, who turns the land or capital to account. The effect is precisely the same, as if the rent or interest had been paid in kind; that is, in the immediate products of the land or capital; and the landholder or capitalist had paid the tax either by the direct transfer of part of those products, or by first selling them, and afterwards paying over the proceeds. On this subject, vide suprà, Book II. chap. 5, for the mode in which revenue is distributed amongst the community.
Dr. Hamilton, in his valuable tract upon The National Debt of Great Britain, illustrates the absurdity of the position here attacked, by comparing it to the "forcible entry of a robber into a merchant's house, who should take away his money, and tell him he did him no injury, for the money, or part of it, would be employed in purchasing the commodities he dealt in, upon which he would receive a profit." The encouragement afforded by the public expenditure is precisely analogous.
It is mere usurpation in a government, to pretend to a right over the property of individuals, or to act as if possessing such a right; and usurpation can never constitute right; although it may confer possession. Were it otherwise, a thief, who had once, by force or fraud, obtained possession of another man's property, could never be called upon to make restitution, when overpowered and taken prisoner, for he might set up the plea of legitimate ownership.
The reader will readily perceive, that this and many other passages, were written under the pressure of a military despotism, which had assumed the absolute disposal of the national resources, and suffered no one to express a doubt of the justice and policy of its acts.
Fenelon, Vauban, and a very few more, of the most distinguished talent, had a confused idea of the ruinous tendency of this system; but they failed in impressing the rest of the world with the same conviction; for want of just notions on the subject of the production and consumption of wealth. Thus Vauban, in his Dixme royale, says, 'the present misery of France is attributable, not to the rigour of the climate, the character of the inhabitants, or the barrenness of the soil: for the climate is most favourable, the people active, diligent, dexterous, and numerous: but to the frequency and long continuance of war, and the ignorance and neglect of economy.' Fenelon had expressed the same sentiments in several admirable passages of his Telemaque, but they passed for mere declamation, as well they might; for he was not qualified to prove their truth and accuracy.
When Voltaire tells us, speaking of the superb edifices of Louis XIV., that they were by no means burthensome to the nation, but served to circulate money in the community, he gives a decisive proof of the utter ignorance of the most celebrated French writers of his day upon these matters. He looked no further than the money employed on the occasion; and, when the view is limited to that alone, the extreme of prodigality exhibits no appearance of loss; for money is, in fact, an item, neither of revenue, nor of annual consumption. But a little closer attention will convince us of the fallacy of this position, which would lead us to the absurd inference, that no consumption whatever has occurred within the year, whenever the amount of specie at the end of it is found to be nowise diminished. The vigilance of the historian should have traced the 167 millions of dollars expended on the chateau of Versailles alone, from the original production by the laborious efforts of the productive classes of the nation, to the first exchange into money, wherewith to pay the taxes, through the second exchange into building materials, painting, gilding, &c. to the ultimate consumption in that shape, for the personal gratification of the vanity of the monarch. The money acted as a mere means of facilitating the transfers of value in the course of the transaction; and the winding up of the account will show, a destruction of value to the amount of 167 millions of dollars, balanced by the production of a palace, in need of constant repair, and of the splendid promenade of the gardens.
Even land, though imperishable, may be consumed in the shape of the value received for it. It has been asserted, that France lost nothing by the sale of her national domains after the revolution, because they were all sold and transferred to French subjects; but what became of the capital paid in the shape of purchase-money, when it left the pockets of the purchasers? Was it not consumed and lost?
In the execution of the national military enterprise, two different values pass through the hands of the government or its agents: 1. The value paid in taxes by the public at large: 2. The value received in supplies and services from the parties affording them. For the first of these no return whatever is made; for the second, an equivalent is paid in wages or purchase-money. Wherefore, there it has no ground for saying that the government refunds with one hand what is received with the other; that the whole transaction is a mere circulation of value, and causes no loss to the nation; for the government returns but one, where it receives two; the loss of the other half falls upon the community at large. Thus, the national, being but the aggregate of individual wealth, is diminished to the extent of the total consumption of the government, minus the product of the public establishment; as we shall presently see more in detail.
It has been seen in the concluding chapter of Book II. that, inasmuch as population is always commensurate with production, the obstruction of the progressive multiplication of products is a preventive check to the further multiplication of the human race; and that the waste of capital, the extinction of industry, and the exhaustion of the sources of production, amount to positive decimation of those in actual existence. A wicked or ignorant administration may, in this way, be a far more destructive scourge, than war with all its atrocities.
By government, I mean, the ruling power in all its branches, and under whatever constitutional form; it would be wrong to limit the term to the executive branch alone; the first enactment of a law is as much an act of authority, as its subsequent enforcement.
The consumption of a nation may undoubtedly exceed its aggregate annual revenue; but we can hardly suppose that of Great Britain to have done so; for she has evidently been advancing in opulence, up to the present time, whence it may be inferred, that her consumption, at the very utmost, only equals her revenue. Gentz, who will hardly be accused of underrating the financial resources of that country, estimated her total annual revenue at no more than two hundred millions sterling; Dr. Beeke at two hundred and eighteen millions, inclusive of one hundred millions for the revenues of industry. Granting her to have made some further progress since those estimates were made, and that her total revenue in 1813 had advanced to two hundred and twenty-four millions, we are told by Colquhoun, in his Wealth, Power, and Resources of the British Empire, that her public expenditure in that year amounted to one hundred and twelve millions. By this statement it should seem, that her public expenditure then amounted to the half of the total expenditure of the nation! Moreover, the expenses of her central government do not include all her public charges; there are to be added, county and parish rates, poor rates, &c. &c. The business of government might be conducted, even in extensive empires, at a charge of not more than one per cent. upon the aggregate of individual revenue; but, to attain this degree of perfection, a vast improvement is still requisite in the department of practical policy.*
Estimating, on such authority, the annual income of Great Britain and Ireland at 500 millions sterling, we perceive that this income, even after the payment of the taxes, enormous as they have been, is much greater now than at any former period of her history; and there therefore can be no doubt that a continued augmentation of the national capital must take place, even in defiance of many obstructions. The public expenditure, too, of the same kingdom, is in course of gradual reduction. During the late war, as has been observed by our author, on the authority of Colquhoun, the public expenditure of the year 1813 amounted to 112 millions, whereas in 1830 it was about 34 millions, in 1831, 33 millions, and in 1832 not so much by 100,000l. sterling. American Editor.
Esprit des Lois, liv. xxxi. c. 18.
Memoires du Prince Eugene par luimème, p. 187. The authenticity of this work has been contested, as well as the Testament Politique of Richelieu. If not themselves the authors, they must at least have been men of equal capacity, of which there is still less probability.
He contrived to meet the charges of the American war, without the imposition of any additional taxes. He has been reproached, indeed, with having incurred heavy loans; but it is obvious, that, so long as he found means to pay the interest upon them without fresh taxation, they were nowise burthensome upon the nation; and that the interest must have been defrayed by retrenchment of the expenditure.
Raynal. Histoire des Etab. des Europ. dans les Indes, tom. ii. p. 36
The expressions, credit is declining, credit is reviving, are common in the mouths of the generality, who are, for the most part, ignorant of the precise meaning of credit. It does not imply confidence in the government exclusively; for the bulk of the community have no concern with government, in respect to their private affairs. Neither is it exclusively applied to the mutual confidence of individuals; for a person in good repute and circumstances, does not forfeit them all at once; and, even in times of general distress, the forfeiture of individual character is by no means so universal, as to justify the assertion, that credit is at an end. It would rather seem to imply, confidence in future events. The temporary dread of taxation, arbitrary exaction, or violence, will deter numbers from exposing their persons or their property; undertakings, however promising and well-planned, become too hazardous; new ones are altogether discouraged, old ones feel a diminution of profit; merchants contract their operations; and consumption in general falls off, in consequence of the decline and the uncertainty of individual revenue. There can be no confidence in future events, either under an enterprising, ambitious, or unjust government, or under one, that is wanting in strength, decision, or method. Credit, like crystallization, can only take place in a state of quiescence.
A mere sketch is all that can be expected in a work like the present: a complete treatise on government would be equally appropriate with a survey of the arts, when it became incidentally necessary to touch upon the processes of manufacture. Yet, either would be a valuable addition to literary wealth.
This rule must be taken with some qualification. The habitual largesses of corn, distributed by the emperors to the people of ancient Rome, were material objects of public consumption. So likewise the provisions of all kinds consumed in hospitals and prisons, and the fireworks used on occasions of public display or rejoicing, for the amusement of the people at large.
It should be recollected, however, that they were at no charge of defence from external attack, except in respect to the savage tribes of the interior.
From the official account of the receipts and disbursements of the United States, in the year 1806, presented by Mr. Gallatin, then Secretary of the Treasury, it appears that the total expenditure fell short of twelve millions of dollars, of which eight millions went to pay the interest of the public debt; leaving a sum of four millions only for the charge of government, that is to say, the civil, judicial, military, and other public functions of a population of twelve millions: which is wholly defrayed by taxes on imports.*
The whole public expenditure of the people of the United States necessarily embraces the local disbursements of the different states, as well as the expenditure of the general government. Of the former, we have, as yet, no means of presenting our readers with any accurate or official account, and we will not venture to indulge in any loose estimates. Of the latter, however, we are enabled to furnish a tabular view, extracted from the letter of the Secretary of the Treasury to the Chairman of the Committee of the House of Representatives on Retrenchment, April 9, 1830, and from the subsequent annual Treasury Reports, which will exhibit an authentic and accurate view of the receipts and expenditures of the Federal Government, from the 4th of March, 1789, the period of its commencement, to the 31st of December, 1832, the last date to which the accounts have been all made up.
We also subjoin the last official revision of the population returns of the several states and territories, according to the five enumerations of the years 1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, and 1830.
An example occurs to me of a city of France, whose municipal administration was both mildly and efficiently conducted before 1789, at a charge of 1000 crowns per annum only, but under the imperial government, though it cost 30,000 fr. (5,580 dollars) afforded no security against the caprice and arbitrary will of the sovereign.
Several times during the last century the Molinist priesthood refused to execute their clerical duties in favour of the Jansenists, in spite of all the government could do; on the pretence, that it was better to obey the divine command as conveyed by the voice of the Pope, than that of any human authority.*
The Greeks, until the second Persian war, and the Romans, until the siege of Veii, regularly made their military campaigns in that interval. Nations of hunters or shepherds, that pay little attention to the arts, and none to agriculture, like the Tartars and Arabs, are less circumscribed in time, and can prosecute their warlike enterprises in any quarter, that promises booty, and furnishes pasturage. Hence the vast area of the conquests of Attila, Genghis Khan, and Tamerlane and of the Moors and the Turks.
It has been calculated that every soldier, brought into the field by Great Britain, during her last war with America, cost her twice as much as one on the continent of Europe. And the other charges of warfare must of course be aggravated by the distance in an equal ratio.
This is too generally expressed. Where security from external attack is only to be had by means of a professional soldiery, the soldier is a productive agent—productive of the immaterial product, security from external attack, than which, under certain circumstances, none can be more valuable. Translator.
Those who deny the progressive influence of human reason must have studied history to very little purpose. The perfidy and cruelty of war have considerably abated, in Europe, more than in Asia or America, and most of all amongst the most polished of the European nations. The ungenerous character of some recent military enterprises roused so much public indignation, as to make them recoil upon the projectors with ruinous violence.
I am here speaking of the only sure reliance in an enlightened age. A people, that has nothing to lose by a change of domination, may defend itself with the most determined gallantry. The Mussulman will rush on certain destruction, in defence of a prince and a faith, that are neither of them worth defending. But political and religious prejudice will sooner or later fall to the ground; and leave mankind to seek for some more reasonable object of devotion.
Should the expected success attend the attempt to naturalise in Europe the flax of New Zealand, which is greatly superior to that of Europe in the length and delicacy of the fibre, as well as in the abundance of the crop, it is possible that fine linen may be produced at the rate now paid for the coarsest quality; which would greatly improve the cleanliness and health of the lower classes.
Book II. chap. 7. sect. 2.
What was denominated an University, under the reign of Napoleon, was a still more mischievous institution; being, in fact, but a most expensive and vexatious contrivance, for depraving the intellectual faculties of the rising generation, by substituting, in the place of just and correct notions of things, opinions calculated to perpetuate the political slavery of their country.
["It is chiefly," observes Dugald Stewart, "in judging of questions coming home to their business and bosoms, that casual associations lead mankind astray; and of such associations, how incalculable is the number arising from false systems of religion, oppressive forms of government, and absurd plans of education. The consequence is, that while the physical and mathematical discoveries of former ages present themselves to the hand of the historian, like masses of pure and native gold, the truths which we are here in quest of may be compared to iron, which although at once the most necessary and the most widely diffused of all the metals, commonly requires a discriminating eye to detect its existence, and a tedious as well as nice process, to extract it from the ore."
"To the same circumstance it is owing, that improvements in Moral and in Political Science do not strike the imagination with nearly so great force as the discoveries of the Mathematician or of the Chemist. When an inveterate prejudice is destroyed by extirpating the casual associations on which it was grafted, how powerful is the new impulse given to the intellectual faculties of man! Yet how slow and silent the process by which the effect is accomplished! Were it not, indeed, for a certain class of learned authors, who, from time to time, heave the log into the deep, we should hardly believe that the reason of the species is progressive. In this respect, the religious and academical establishments in some parts of Europe are not without their use to the historian of the human mind. Immovably moored to the same station by the strength of their cables, and the weight of their anchors, they enable him to measure the rapidity of the current by which the rest of the world are borne along."
Vide Preface to Stewart's Dissertations, p. 28, Boston edition.]
Under this head, I would include, the fundamental parts of knowledge in every department, and the familiar instruction adapted to each specific calling, respectively; such as would impart at a cheap rate to the hatter, the metal-founder, the potter, the dyer, &c., the general principles of their respective arts. Works of this kind keep up a constant channel of communication between the practical and theoretical branches, and enable them to profit mutually by each other's experience.
This can only be true where the demand for such works is limited. In England, works of instruction are probably amongst the most profitable to the authors. Translator.
According to the new method, introduced by Lancaster, and perfected by subsequent teachers, a single master with very little aid of books, pens, or paper, can rapidly and effectually teach reading, writing, and vulgar arithmetic, to five or six hundred scholars at a time. This truly economical result is produced, by taking advantage of the slightest superiority of intelligence of one above another, and directing the motive of emulation, natural to the human breast, towards an useful object. A large school is commonly divided into forms, consisting each of eight children, as nearly equal in advancement as possible, and instructed by a child somewhat more advanced, called the Monitor. These forms again are divided into eight classes; of which the lowest learns to pronounce the letters of the alphabet, and to trace their figures rudely with the finger upon sand spread out upon a flat board; and the highest is able to write upon paper, and to practise the four rules of arithmetic. The children of each form are ranged according to their progress; and whoever cannot give the answer, is immediately superseded by a more apt scholar. As soon as a child is perfected in one class, he is transferred to the next in degree. The lessons are received, sometimes in a sitting posture, and sometimes upright, with slates affixed to the walls. The instruction is thus always accommodated to the age and faculties of the child; it necessarily arrests and rewards his attention; and involves that personal activity, essential to the infant frame. The whole is conducted in a single apartment, and usually under the superintendence of a single master or mistress. The general adoption of this method will probably be for some time opposed by custom and prejudice; but its utility and conformity to the order of nature will ensure its ultimate and universal prevalence.
I am strongly disposed to say the same of logic. Were nothing taught, but what is consistent with truth and good sense, logic would follow of itself as a matter of course: all the teaching in the world will never make a man a good reasoner, whose notions and ideas of things are unsound and erroneous; and, with the foundation of just notions, he will require no teaching to make him reason well. Just ideas of things are only to be acquired by attentive examination; by taking account of every particular concerning them, and of nothing but what concerns them; which is the object of all knowledge in general, and by no means of logic alone.
The bad example of a vicious prince is of the most fatal tendency; it is notorious to all the world, and protected and abetted by public authority; and it is sure to be reflected by the subservience of courtiers to the extreme point of imitative servility.
At Paris, the limitation of relief afforded by the Hospice des Incurables, and those of Petites Maisons, of St. Louis, of Charite, and many others, is of the former kind; the admissions to the Hotel-Dieu, Bicêtre, Saltpétrière, and Enfans-Trouvés, are subject to a limitation of the latter kind. As the number of applicants duly qualified for admission in the establishment first mentioned always exceeds their capacity, the choice must ultimately be decided by favour or interest.
Yet it is well worth consideration, whether it be not more to the advantage, both of the state and of its pensioners, to maintain them at their own homes upon a fixed income, or to board them out with individuals. The Abbé de St. Pierre, whose mind was ever actively at work for the public good, has estimated the charge of maintaining the invalids in their sumptuous establishment at Paris, to be three times as much as that of their maintenance at their respective homes Annales Polit. p. 209.
With all this waste of space in the great roads of France, there are in none of them either paved or gravelled foot-ways, passable at all seasons, or stone seats, for the travellers to rest upon, or places of temporary shelter from the weather, or cisterns to quench the thirst; all which might be added with a very trifling expense.
Book I. chap. 9.
Book II. chap. 3.
To say, that if the road were not in existence, the charge of transport could never be so enormous as here suggested, because the transport would never take place at all, and people would contrive to do without the objects of transport, would be a strange way of eluding the argument. Self-denial of this kind, enforced by the want of means to purchase, is an instance of poverty, not of wealth. The poverty of the consumer is extreme, in respect to every object he is thus made too poor to purchase; and he becomes richer in respect to it, in proportion as its price or value declines.
In lieu of canals, iron rail-roads from one town to another will probably be one day constructed. The saving in the cost of transport would probably exceed the interest of the very heavy expense in the outset. Besides the additional facility of movement, roads of this kind would remedy the violent jolting of passengers and goods. Undertakings of such magnitude can only be prosecuted in countries where capital is very abundant, and where the government inspires the adventurers with the firm assurance of reaping themselves the profit of the adventure.
Book III, Chapter VII
End of Notes
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