A Commentary and Review of Montesquieu's "Spirit of Laws"

Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
Thomas Jefferson, trans.
First Pub. Date
Philadelphia: William Duane
Pub. Date
19 of 32


Of the Relation Which Taxes, and the Amount of the Public Revenue, Have to Public Liberty.


Taxes are always an evil, they injure liberty and property in several modes; according to their mode of operation, they affect different classes of citizens in a different manner: to form a proper judgment of their effects, we must consider labor as the source of all our riches, that landed property is in no manner different from other property: and that a plantation may be considered as the machinery of an art or trade.
Spirit of Laws, Book XIII.


Montesquieu here presents a great and important subject, which alone embraces all the departments of social science; but I may venture to say that he has not treated it satisfactorily; he has, however, perceived the great absurdity of supposing that enormous taxation could be good in itself, or that it could excite or encourage industry. It may appear strange that his not professing so great an error should be noticed; but so many well informed men have run into this error, so many writers of the sect of economists have held, that consumption is the source of wealth, and that the causes of public prosperity are of a quite different nature from that of individuals; we should be the better pleased with our author, who has misconceived so many other important points in the principles of social order, for not suffering himself to be seduced by their sophisms and embarrassed by the subtlety of their erroneous metaphysics.


Though he has not taken the trouble of refuting them, which would have been important, he expressly declares that the revenues of the state constitute a sum to make up which each citizen contributes a portion of his property, to be secured in the possession of the remainder; that this portion should be the smallest possible; that it is not requisite to take from men all they can spare, or all that can be taken from them, but only that which is indispensible for the wants of the state; and that under every circumstance, if resort should be had to all the means that can be produced from the sacrifices of the citizens, the demand should not be so excessive as not to leave enough for an annual reproduction.


In effect, society must very much abuse its faculties, if it remain only stationary, since there is in human nature a great capacity for multiplying and accumulating the means of its enjoyments, particularly when arrived at a certain degree of information.


Montesquieu, however, remarks, that the more liberty is enjoyed in any country, the more it may be taxed; and fiscal offences punished with more severity; either because liberty permits enterprize to act, and industry to augment its means, or because the more a government is loved, the more it can exact without risk. But he also remarks, that the governments of Europe have very much abused this advantage, as they likewise have abused the resources of credit; so that almost all betake themselves to such expedients, as a person whose affairs were embarrassed would be ashamed to resort to; and further, he asserts that all modern governments are running fast to destruction; which the custom of keeping numerous armies constantly on foot, accelerates.


All these are truths, but they are nearly all that the book contains: now these few truths, dispersed without explanation, among assertions, very many of which are doubtful, and more are false; intermixed with some vague declamations against farmers of the revenue, are not sufficient to develope the spirit of laws in relation to taxation: it does not even suffice to fulfil the promise implied by the title of the book; for more facts area required, in order to discover the real influence of political liberty on the wants and means of a state; or to discover even what is the reaction of taxation, and the effects which the amount of the public revenue, produce on liberty also. I shall, therefore, venture to offer a few ideas, which I believe may be useful, nay necessary, to the proper understanding of the subject.


1. I shall explain why, and how, taxes are always an evil: this is the more proper, because Montesquieu himself, seems to have been ignorant of the most substantial reasons, which authorise the assertion; since in other places, he speaks of the excess of consumption, as a useful thing, and a source of wealth.


2. I shall explain the peculiar inconvenience of each kind of tax.


3. I shall endeavor to point out those on whom the loss, which is the result of each tax, really and ultimately falls.


4. I shall enquire into the cause of the diversity of opinions on the last point, and unfold the prejudices which have concealed them, while their real characters are easily discernible and pointed out, by certain indications.


Every time society, under whatever form, demands any sacrifice from some of its members, it becomes a collection of means, taken from particulars, and of which government assumes the disposal. To judge what will be the result of the tax, it is only required to know what use government will make of the revenue which it yields; for if it be employed in a manner which may be called profitable, it is evident that taxes then become the cause of an encrease in the mass of national wealth; if employed unprofitably, the opposite conclusion necessarily follows.


In the seventh book, on the subject of luxury, we have offered some reflections on production and consumption, which solve this question; we have seen that the only treasure of man, is the employment of his faculties, that the happiness of human society consists in the proper application of those faculties; its unhappiness in their loss or misapplication; that the only labor which causes the encrease of prosperity, is that which produces more than is consumed by those engaged in it; and that on the contrary, all labor which is unproductive is a cause of impoverishment; for all consumption is the result of previous production, and it is lost when it produces no equivalent; upon this principle, let us examine what idea we should form of the expence of government.


In the first place, almost the whole of the expense, all that which is employed in paying soldiers, seamen, judges, the public administration, priests and ministers, but particularly what is expended in supporting the luxury of the possessors or favorites of power, is absolutely lost; for none of those people produce any thing, which replaces what they consume.


There are, it is true, in every state, some funds required to excite emulation, and reward useful discoveries and improvements in the arts, sciences, and different kinds of industry, all of which may be considered as augmenting the public wealth; but in general, they are weak, inefficient, and so ill applied, that it is doubtful whether, as they have been used, the desired effect would not have been produced more substantially by the mere consumption of those who are amateurs, or can convert the discoveries into practical use, who have a more direct interest in their success, and are in general the best judges thereof.


There is no wise or provident government, which does not appropriate funds, more or less considerable, for the construction of bridges, turnpike roads, canals, and other public works, which enhance the value of land, facilitate the transportation of goods, and encourage industry. It is certain that expenses of this kind, directly encrease the national riches, and are, therefore, in reality productive. Nevertheless, if, as it frequently happens, the government which defrays the expence of construction, profits therefrom by establishing tolls, which, besides the expence of repairs, produces the interest of its money, and thus nothing is alone which individuals would not have done with the same conditions and the same funds, if they had been permitted to do so; it may be said, that these individuals would almost always have attained the same end, with less expence.


From which it results, that almost all public expenditures, should be ranged in the class of expences denominated sterile and unproductive.... and that consequently, all that is paid to the state, either as tax or loan, originates in productive labor, and should be considered as almost entirely consumed and expended, the day it enters the national treasury. But it is not therefore, to be inferred, that sacrifices of this kind, are not necessary, nay indispensable; for it is obvious that we require to have laws, to have them executed, to be defended, judged, governed, and our affairs administered; and unquestionably, every citizen should deduct from the produce of his actual industry, or from the revenues of his capital, originating from anterior labor, what is necessary for the state, for the same reason that it is necessary for him to keep his house in repair, that he may live therein with security. But still he ought to know that it is a sacrifice, and that what he gives is expended, both as it respects the public and his own private wealth; in short, it is laying out, and not storing up money. No man should be so blind, as to believe that expences of any kind are an augmentation of his fortune. Every one should know, that an expensive administration is ruinous to political society as well as to all others, and that the most economical is the best.


I believe the conclusion cannot be denied, and that it is very evident the sums absorbed by state expences are a continual cause of impoverishment, in most nations, and that consequently, the extent of revenue necessary to meet these expences, is an evil, as it respects economy; but it is evident, that the extent of revenue is injurious to national wealth; and it is no less evident, that it is still more so to political liberty, because it places in the hands of government, great means of corruption and oppression; it is not, therefore, and it cannot be too constantly present to our view, because the English pay enormous taxes, that they are free and opulent; but because they are free to a certain extent, that they are rich; it is because they are rich, that they can pay great taxes: but it is also because they are not sufficiently free, that they pay taxes which are enormous; and because their taxes are excessive, they must necessarily and very soon be neither wealthy nor free.


After having examined the general effect of taxes, if we were desirous of enquiring into the particular effects of each of them, we should be obliged to enter into details, which our author has not touched. All possible taxes, and I believe they have all been devised by the very gracious sovereigns of Europe, may be divided into six principal kinds, namely:*18


1. Taxes on land; the real tax or tax on land, the twentieth, and contribution fonciere, in France; and the land tax in England.


2. That on the rent of houses.


3. That on the funds or interest due by the state.


4. Capitation or tax on persons, sumptuary and personal contributions, patents, corporation charters, freedom of corporations, &c.


5. Taxes on civil acts or deeds, social transactions, as stamp acts, registering of muniments, fines of alienation, the hundredth penny, mortmain, and others; to which may be added, the tax or rent or compensation, given by one person to another, for there is no other means of knowing than by the public offices in which the acts constituting them are preserved.


6. The impost, or tax on merchandize, either by monopoly or exclusion, or even the forced sale, as formerly that of salt and tobacco in France, either at their formation, as the taxes on salt works and on mines, and part of those on wine in France and those on breweries in England; either at the time of consumption or in their passage from the manufacturer to the consumer, on an internal excise or an internal duty; tolls on roads, canals, postage, tolls at the entrance of cities, of bridges, &c. Each of these kinds of taxes has one or more means peculiar to itself of affecting distributive justice, and consequently liberty, or of injuring public prosperity.


At the first glance we may perceive, that taxes on land are subject to the inconvenience of a difficult and unequal assessment, and to produce a dislike to the possession of any land the rent of which does not exceed the tax, or exceeds it in too small an amount to induce any one to incur the inevitable risques of seasons and other contingencies, and to make the necessary advances for cultivation.


Taxes on rented houses have the tendency to diminish the income of building, and consequently to prevent the erection of new houses for hire, so that the citizens are obliged to reside in houses less commodious and healthy than might have been otherwise had at the same rent.*19


A tax on the rent or interest due by the state, or a tax on its own debts, is a real bankruptcy; if levied on funds already established, it is a diminution of the interest promised for a capital already received; it is a breach of contract, and it is deceptious; because at the moment of making the contract for the capital, it would have been more reasonable to have offered a smaller interest, than a great one and then retain a part of what was previously engaged to be paid.


Personal taxes occasion very disagreeable enquiries, in order to the equal assessment upon each individual's fortune, and must always be very variable because depending on imperfect information, either when the objects are acquired riches or the means of acquiring them; in the last case, when assessed upon any useful occupation, the effect is to discourage it, because industry is thus deprived of part of its own production, the fruits of that industry are enhanced in value, and the effect is that they are retarded or abandoned altogether.


Taxes on deeds, and in general on all conveyances of property, shackle the sales, lessen their nominal value, and by rendering the transfer expensive, augment the expences of justice so much, that persons who are not wealthy, cannot defray the charges, nor assert their rights; they cause the transaction of legal acts to be troublesome and difficult, lead to litigation and vexations from the officers of the revenue; they furnish temptation to concealments, and to the introduction of deceptious clauses and false valuations, which open wide the doors of injustice, and become the causes of multitudes of contentions and misfortunes.


Respecting duties on merchandize, the inconveniencies are yet more numerous and complex; but no less certain and lamentable.


Monopoly or exclusive sale made by the state, is odious, tyrannical, contrary to the common natural rights which every man has, of buying and selling as he deems to his advantage, and renders a multitude of violent measures necessary. It is yet worse, when the sale is forced, that is to say, when individuals are obliged, as has sometimes happened, to purchase that which they do not want, under the pretext that they cannot do without it, and that if they do not buy, it is to be inferred they must be provided with that which is smuggled.


Duties levied at the moment of production, evidently require, on the part of the person by whom they are produced, an advance of funds, which being a long time unrepaid by the sale of the production, greatly diminishes the mass of reproduction.


It is no less evident, that duties exacted, either on consumption, or during transportation, impede or destroy some branch of industry or commerce, rendering goods that are useful or necessary, scarce or dear; interrupting social happiness, deranging the nature and order of simple transactions, and forming between the different wants, and means of satisfying them, proportions and relations, which did not exist before those constraints, which are necessarily variable, and which continually render the laudable undertakings and resources of the citizens, precarious.


In fine, all those imposts upon merchandize, whatever they may be, require a multitude of restraints, precautions, and formalities. They occasion a variety of ruinous interruptions in the pursuits of the active citizen, and are very much subject to be arbitrary; they cause actions indifferent in themselves, to be converted into crimes, which are often expiated by inhuman penalties. Their collection is expensive, requiring almost an army of officers, and producing a multitude of peculators, all of whom become lost to society, and maintain against it real civil war, and all the consequences fatal to social economy and public morals.


On examining each of these remarks on different taxes, with attention, we may perceive that they are every one of them founded on experience; and after having considered that each tax is a sacrifice, and that the revenue arising therefrom, is almost generally employed in an unproductive manner, and often a fatal one; we have shewn, that each tax has besides a particular manner of becoming injurious to the liberty of the citizens, and to the prosperity of society: even this is perceiving a great deal. However, these are only general observations; they shew that taxes are hurtful, and in several different ways; but we do not yet distinctly perceive upon whom the loss, which is the result, ultimately falls, and who it is that really and unavoidably suffers the whole loss. This last consideration, requires a more close investigation of the subject; the explanations which it requires, are curious and very important, on account of the number of consequences which arise out of the investigation: let us then examine it, without adopting ally system, limiting ourselves scrupulously to facts.


It is evident, that when a tax is laid upon land, the owner really pays it, without having it, in his grower to transfer the burthen to any one else, for the tax dots not furnish him with the means of augmenting his income, since they add nothing either to the demand of produce nor to the fertility of the soil, nor do they enable him to diminish his expences, for they do not alter the nature of those which he already incurs and pays, nor do they procure a greater facility in the manner of employing them; all will agree to this. But it has not been sufficiently remarked, that the proprietor of such lands is not really to be considered as deprived of his annual income, but as having lost a portion of his capital equal to the principal which this part of his income would produce at the current interest. A proof of this is, that if a landed property producing five thousand dollars clear income, and worth one hundred thousand dollars, should on the day after a perpetual tax of one fifth laid on it, be offered for sale, it would not bring more than eighty thousand dollars, all things else equal; and in like manner, it would only be considered worth eighty thousand dollars, compared with other property which had not been subjected to any charge. In effect, when the state declares that it will forever claim the fifth of the income of landed property, it is the same as if it declared itself the proprietor of the fifth part of the capital, for no possession is worth any thing but on account of the utility that may be derived therefrom. This is so true that if in consequence of new taxes, the state negociates a loan, at an interest equal to such taxes, it has really pledged the capital it has claimed and made away with it all at once, instead of annually expending the income that might be derived from it. It is as if Mr. Pitt had all at once demanded of the land holders of England the capital of the land tax they were charged with, and it had been delivered and he had made away with it at once.


From thence it follows, that land, on changing proprietors, from the commencement of the taxes thereon, the taxes are really no longer paid by any person, for those who have acquired it, have only obtained what was left, and consequently lose nothing; the heirs have taken possession of only what they have found, the surplus for them is as if their predecessors had expended or lost it, as indeed they have lost it.


It also follows, that when the state remits all or part of the land tax, which had been previously established as a perpetuity, it purely and simply makes a present to the actual proprietor of the capital of the taxes which it ceases to demand: it is, as respects them, a free gift, to which they have no more right than any other citizen, for this part of the capital was not taken into consideration in the transactions by which they became the proprietors.


It would not absolutely be the same, if the tax had been originally established only for a limited period of years, then there would really have been taken from the proprietors only a portion of the capital corresponding with an annuity for such a number of years; nor could the state borrow more than the amount of an annuity for the years named, from those to whom the taxes thereon might be assigned as a security for the loan; and the lands could be considered in transfers as lessened in value only to that amount. In the event of the tax ceasing, as if the loans corresponding thereto were terminated, then on both sides it is a debt extinguished; as to the rest, the principle is the same as in the case of a tax and sale in perpetuity.


It is, therefore, ever true, that when a tax is levied on land, a value equal to the capital of this tax is taken from the actual possessor, and that afterwards, it is no longer paid in reality by any one: this observation is singular and important.


It is absolutely the same, with respect to the taxes on the income of houses; those possessing them, suffer at the time the taxes are established, the entire loss, for they have no means of indemnifying themselves; for those who buy them afterwards, pay only in proportion to the charges they are encumbered with; those who inherit them, calculate only on the value that remains; and those who build afterwards, make their calculations upon things as they find them established; if a sufficient interest should not arise therefrom to render the undertaking advantageous, they would not attempt it, until through the encreased demand for houses, rents should encrease; as, on the contrary, if it were very profitable, there would soon be a sufficiency of funds employed therein, to render it not more advantageous than any other.


Hence we may conclude, that the proprietors on whom the taxes fall, lose the entire capital thereof; and when they are all either dead, or have transferred their property, such taxes are paid by persons who cannot complain thereof.


The same may be said of the taxes which a government lays on the interest of money it has borrowed; certainly the unfortunate creditor from whom the deduction is made, suffers all the loss, not being able to throw it on any one; but beside, he loses his capital in proportion to the deduction; the proof is, that if he sells his interest or stock, he obtains less for it, in proportion as it is more encumbered, if the general rate of interest on money has not varied; and it also follows, that subsequent possessors of this stock, really pay nothing; for they have received it in this condition, and for the value which remains, in virtue of a purchase freely made, or a succession voluntarily accepted.


The effect of taxes on individuals, is not the same: we cannot distinguish between those which are levied on riches realized, and on the means of acquiring them, that is to say, on industry of any kind. In the first place, it is evidently the person taxed, that undergoes the loss resulting from it, for he cannot put it off on anyone else; but as in relation to each individual, the tax ceases with his life, and that every one is successively subjected thereto, in proportion to his supposed riches; the first person taxed, loses only the sum he pays, and not the capital thereof, but without exonerating those who succeed him; so that at whatever time the tax ceases, it is not a gain to those who had been subject to it, but a heavy burden from which they have been relieved.


In respect to the personal tax on any object of industry, it is not less true, that the person who first pays it does not lose the capital thereof, nor exempt those who succeed him therefrom; but it occasions consequences of another nature. A person engaged on some new object of industry, at the moment it becomes encumbered with a new tax, such as the encrease of the fees on taking out a patent, corporations, and the like, such person has only two courses to pursue, either to renounce his industrious undertaking, or pay the tax, and suffer the loss occasioned by it.... if, notwithstanding this tax, he thinks his undertaking advantageous.


In the first case he certainly suffers, but he does not pay the tax: consequently, I shall not notice it. In the second, the burden certainly falls upon himself; for neither augmenting the demand, nor diminishing the expence it presents him with no immediate means of encreasing his own income, nor of lessening his expences; but a tax sufficiently heavy to force all the persons who pursue a particular branch of industry to abandon it, is never levied at once, because all industrious professions being necessary for society, the extinction of a single one would tend to produce a general disorder among other branches connected with it; so that when a tax is levied on such objects, it is those who are sufficiently rich not to care for a trifling profit, or those whose success is so small, that nothing would remain after paying the tax, that would abandon the profession; the others would continue them, and these, as we have already said, would really pay the tax, at least until a certain number of their fraternity had ceased to do business, and afforded them by the cessation of competition, the opportunity of transferring the tax, by an addition to the selling price, from the manufacturer to the consumer.


This is the condition of those exercising a profession at the time of laying the tax; those who embrace the same kind of industry after the tax has been established, are not in the sauce situation; the law is already made; we may say they agree to the conditions, and that the tax is as to them rated among the expences incident to the business, the same as the necessity of renting such a stand, or buying such a machine: they only enter into the business because, notwithstanding the tax, they think it the best business they can follow, with the capital and industry they possess; so that though they really pay the tax it takes nothing from them. Those to whom the tax is a real burthen are the consumers, who, without this charge, could have procured at a less expence the kind of articles which they purchase, which are the best they can obtain in the existing state of the society; whence it follows that if the taxes be removed, these persons really reap an advantage from it upon which they did not before calculate. They perceive themselves gratuitously and fortuitously transported into a class of society more favored by fortune than that in which they were placed, while those who exercised it anterior to the tax, only return to their first state; we may perceive that personal taxes, founded on industry, have very different effects; but the general effect is to diminish the enjoyments of the consumers, since their tradesmen do not give them goods for that part of their money which goes into the public treasury.


I shall enter into no more details: but we cannot accustom ourselves too much, to examine the operation and effects of indirect taxes, and to follow them with attention through all their modifications. Let us pass to taxes on deeds, records, and other papers, muniments of social transactions.


This part of the subject requires some discrimination. The portion of the tax which augments the expence of justice and makes a part thereof, is undoubtedly paid by the persons on whom the forms of office makes these expences fall, and it is difficult to say to what class of society it is most injurious; however, it is evident that it affects those possessions most which are liable to contention; now when they relate to landed property, the establishment of such taxes certainly diminishes their value in transfers; and this consequence also follows, that those who have purchased lands subsequent to the establishment of such taxes, are somewhat compensated by the reduction of the price; and that those who before possessed them incurred the entire loss if they become parties in one action, and even undergo a loss without any action or paying the tax, for the value of their property is diminished; consequently if the tax ceases, it is only a restitution for the last, and again for the others, for they are placed in a better condition than they had calculated upon, and on which they had formed their speculations.


All these principles are still more applicable, and without qualification of the portion of the tax, on transactions which relate to purchase and sale, such as fines of alienation, the hundredth penny, and others: this portion of the tax is altogether paid by him who holds the property at the time it is thus encumbered, for the person who afterwards buys it from him takes this into consideration, and consequently pays nothing; all that can be said is this, that if this tax on deeds of sale of certain possessions, be accompanied by other duties or other acts which burden other possessions, or different means of investing capital, it will happen that such kinds of property are those alone which suffer a diminution of value; and that thus a part of the loss is indirectly prevented by the effects which are produced upon others, because the price of every kind of revenue is relative to some other kind; so that if all these losses could exactly be balanced, the total loss resulting from the operation of taxes, would be proportionably and very exactly distributed. This is all that can be expected, for it must necessarily exist, since taxes are always a sum of money taken from the governed, to be placed at the disposal of the government.


Duties on merchandize have yet more various and complicated effects; in order to give them an effective examination, let us first observe, that at the time merchandize is delivered to the consumer, it has a natural and necessary value. This value is composed of the value of all that was necessary for the subsistence of those who have produced, manufactured, and transported the merchandize, during the time which they were employed upon it. This price, I say, is natural, because it is founded on the nature of human concerns, independently of any convention; and it is necessary, because if the people so employed did not obtain subsistence by their labor, they would perish, or devote their faculties to something else, and such occupations would no longer be undertaken. But this natural and necessary price has almost nothing in common with the market price, that is to say with the price given for it at a sale free on both sides; for they have cost very little trouble, or if it required a great deal of labor it may have been found or stolen by the person who exposes it to sale; so that he may sell it at a very low price, without losing any thing; but it may at the same time be so useful to him, that he would not part therewith without a considerable sum; and if several persons desire to obtain it, he will get his price and make a great gain; on the contrary, a thing may have cost the person offering it for sale a great deal of trouble, and it not only becomes necessary, but want forces him to part with it; or if there be no person desirous of purchasing it, he will then be obliged to offer it for the smallest possible price, and will suffer a great loss. The natural price is, therefore, composed of anterior sacrifices made by the person who sells it, and the conventional price fixed by the offers of the buyers. These are two things in themselves foreign to each other, only that when the conventional price of labor is constantly below the natural one, people cease to occupy themselves with it; then the produce of such labor becoming scarce, more attempts are made to procure it, if still in demand, so that if any wise productive, the conventional price becomes equal to the natural one, which is essential to production. It is in this manner that all prices in society are formed.


From this it follows, that those who occupy themselves on work of which the conventional price is lower than the natural price, ruin themselves or have to relinquish it; that those who exercise an industrious employment, the conventional price of the products of which is strictly equal to the natural value, that is to say those of which the profit is almost equal to the expenditures required to procure absolute necessaries, obtain no more than a miserable existence; those in possession of talents, the conventional price of the productions whereof is superior to the demands of absolute necessity, enjoy life, prosper and multiply; for the fecundity of all living kind, even among vegetables, is such, that only a want of nourishment far the buds prevents the encrease of individuals. These are the causes of the retrograde, stationary, or progressive state of population among men. Temporary calamities, such as famine or pestilence, have little effect thereon. Unproductive labor, or productive to an insufficient degree, that is to say luxury.... in which war should be comprised.... and unskilfulness, by which should be understood ignorance of all kinds.... are the poisons which deeply infect the sources of life, and continually destroy reproduction. This truth confirms what we have established in the seventh book, or rather is the same in different terms; the population of savage countries, and the weak population of those that are civilized, where an enormous inequality of fortunes has introduced great luxury on one side, and consequently great misery on the other, are incontestible and eternal evidences of the principles.


It is now easy to apprehend that duties on merchandize affect the price in different modes and in different limits, according to the manner in which they are levied, and according to the nature of the goods they operate upon; for example, in the case of a monopoly or exclusive sale made by the state, it is evident that the tax is paid directly or immediately, and without remedy, by the consumer, and that it has the greatest possible extension. But this sale, if forced, cannot either as to the price or quality exceed a certain tern, which is that of the possibility of paying it. It stops when it would be useless to exact it, or that it would cost more than it produces.


This is the point which the duty on salt in France had reached, and is the maximum of exaction.


If the sale be not forced, the duties varying according to the nature of the merchandize, and that not being necessary, as the price encreases the consumption decreases; for there is only a certain sum of money in society, destined to procure certain kinds of enjoyment; it might even happen, that by raising the price a little, the profit may be greatly diminished; for many people may renounce the article entirely, or even replace it by another; however, the duty is always effectively paid by those who continue to consume.


If, on the contrary, the state has the exclusive sale, although optional in the buyer of an article of merchandize of the first necessity, it is in effect a forced sale; for the consumption, it is true, diminishes as the price rises, that is to say, we suffer and die; but as it is necessary the price is always as high as the means of purchase, and it is paid by those who consume it.


From those more than heroic stratagems, employed by governments to disencumber their subjects of their superfluous wealth, the shall pass to humbler artifices, analagous it is true, but not so energetic. The most, efficacious of these, are the duties imposed on merchandize at the time of their production; for no part escapes; not even what is consumed by the manufacturer himself, nor what is damaged or lost in the storehouses before removal for use; such is the duty on salt, at the salt pits of France; that on wine, at the time of the vintage, or before the wine is sold; that on beer in the English brew house, that of the excise under the English system; we may range in the same class the duties on sugar, coffee, and the like goods, exacted at the time of their arrival from the country in which they were produced; for it is only then, that they begin to exist in relation to the country that cannot produce, and yet has to consume them.


This duty, if imposed at the time of production, on goods of no great absolute necessity, is limited according to the taste or demand for them; thus when desirous of making a considerable profit on the article of tobacco, in order to encrease a revenue for the king of France, means were taken by the ministers to render tobacco a necessary among the people; for society is well constituted to satisfy, with ease, the necessities which nature has given us, and which cannot be dispensed with; but governments, which should be formed with a view to the interests of the governed, seem as if destined to create wants in us, of which they refuse us the use of a part, and make us pay heavily for the other part; these are, in fact, manufacctories of privation, instead of enjoyment. I know of no industry which requires to be more carefully looked after than this.... yet this it is which pretends to superintend the others!


When this same duty, at the time of production, is imposed on goods more necessary, it is susceptible of greater extension; however, if such goods have cost a great deal of labor and expence to produce them, the extent of the duty is soon stopt, not from any diminution of desire to possess them, but from the want of means; for those who produce them, must obtain a price sufficient for their support; consequently, there remains less to furnish the taxes for the state.


Duties act with their full power, when the goods are very necessary, and their prime cost is very small; as for example, salt, which is all profit, except to the last consumers; salt has particularly attracted the attention of great financiers and great kings. Rich mines produce, likewise, the same effect, to a certain point; but in general, governments take these into their own possession*20 which simplifies the operation, and is equal to an exclusive sale. The air and water, if possession could have been taken of them, would also have been objects of very advantageous speculations, or at least, of very great deductions.... but nature has diffused them rather too much.*21


I do not doubt that in Arabia a regular government might derive a great revenue from water, if it were so regulated that no one could drink without the permission of government. As to the air, the tax upon windows is a very ingenious means of accomplishing it, and as the phrase is.... rendering it useful.


Wine is not a free gift of nature, it costs much labor, care, and expense, and notwithstanding the demand and great desire of obtaining it, it is surprizing that it can support the enormous charges with which it is burdened at the time of production; but it must also be considered that a part of this burden falls directly on the vineyards, and only occasions a greater diminution in the prices of the leases of vineyards; thus it has only the effect of a land tax, which, as we have seen, takes away a part of the capital of the possessor, without influencing the price of goods or making any encroachments on the value of productions; so that the capitalist is impoverished, but nothing is deranged as to society.


Grain in general, like wine, might be the object of a very heavy duty imposed also at the time of production, independent even of the tythe or tenth with which they are charged in a great part of Europe; a part of the tax would in like manner diminish the income from land by affecting the value of its products; and consequently, without encreasing the price of such articles, fall on the owner. If governments have refrained from imposing such taxes, it is, I am persuaded, not through a superstitious respect for the principal aliment of the industrious, who are generally sufficiently burdened by other means, but on account of the difficulty of entering and superintending every barn, granary, and which is still a greater trouble, of entering every hut and cellar: as to the rest, the similitude is complete.


It should be observed that the imposition laid at the moment of production, on goods of an indispensible use, is in effect, a real capitation tax, and of all capitations it is the most cruel for those who are not rich; because the poor consume the greatest quantity of productions of the first necessity, and because they cannot be supplied by any thing as a substitute; these constitute almost all their expences, and they can provide only for their most pressing wants. So that an additional capitation is thus imposed, and distributed according to the proportions of wretchedness, and not of riches, in the direct ratio of wants, and the inverse ratio of means. Thus we may estimate duties of this kind.... but they are very productive, and occasion little emotion in good company, which is saying what is very much in their favor.


Respecting duties imposed on different merchandize, either at the time of their consumption, or at their different stations, as on a public road, in a market, at the entrance of cities, on deposit in warehouses, and the like, their effects have been already indicated by those we have seen resulting from them, in the case of an exclusive sale, and the duties imposed at the time of production; these are of the same kind, only not so general, because various and seldom capable of embracing a great extent of country; indeed the greatest part of these impositions are local; a toll affects the goods which pass on the road or canal, where it is established at the entrance of towns it only affects the consumers within them; a duty levied in a market or shop, does not affect those who sell in the country, or at an extraordinary fair; so that they only render prices more irregular, and always derange them in the places which they affect; for when an article of merchandize is charged with the tax, either the person who is the producer or the consumer must lose the amount of what is drawn off by it.


It is here, that the consequences of two important conditions, proper to all merchandize, should be stated, in relation to the products and effects of taxation.... one, their being of the first necessity, or only administering to our comforts or luxury.... the other, that the conventional price should be higher than the natural price, or only equal to it; as to being less, we already know it is impossible.


If the article taxed, be of the first necessity, it cannot be dispensed with, and will always be bought, so long as there are means to dispose of for the purpose; and if its natural price be equal to that of convention, the producer cannot abate any thing, so that all the loss must fall on the consumer, who must suffer thereby. Old societies, occupying territory circumscribed for a long time, are only able to encroach upon other territories already occupied; and this is the condition of almost all merchandize, of the first necessity; for the effect of a long contention between the opposed interests of the producer and consumer, is that each infringes somewhat on the social economy and order, according to the force of his capacity: those possessed of skill sufficient to seek or exact more than what absolute necessity calls for, will betake themselves to such methods; those who cannot, are not qualified to succeed by such courses, and will occupy themselves with indispensible productions, because the frequency or constancy of demand will compensate their want of skill; but they are paid only for what is strictly necessary; and there are always a sufficiency of people, of this degree of capacity, who have no other resource but employment of this kind, and it is necessary and natural that it should be so; for the goods of the first necessity, are absolutely requisite for all, and particularly for the poorest of all the other classes, who consume without producing, being otherwise employed; so that these poor people can only subsist in proportion as these articles are easy to be procured. It is therefore in vain, that the dignity and utility of agriculture, or any other necessary profession, is so much extolled; the more indispensible it is, the more inevitably must those occupied therein, want other talents, and thereby be reduced to a strict necessity. There is no other direct means of ameliorating the condition of these men, the last in rank in society, because almost destitute of intellectual knowledge, but by permitting than to exercise the little knowledge they may have, wherever they may think it will be more productive; for which reason, expatriation should always be allowed in every country and to every man, for he is already sufficiently miserable who is reduced to this resource. Many other political measures might also indirectly concur in defending poverty against the iron yoke of necessity, but this is not the place to treat of them; taxes alone, are our present object; moreover, these men, whom with justice we pity, suffer yet less, even in an imperfect state of society, than they would in the savage state; without entering into any details, the proof is, that on the same extent of territory there live more animals of our kind, even those belonging to the soil, and I might even assert a greater number of slaves than savages, for men become extinct only through an excess of misery; the proportions of any thing should be taken into consideration, and nothing exaggerated, even in that which we disapprove, or which afflicts us. The vicinity of immense regions of fertile and uncultivated lands, is an excellent means of remedying these evils; this is the condition of the United States of America, and of Russia in Europe. The different means of profiting by these happy circumstances, shews the difference between the two governments, or rather, the two nations; one of which is not as capable of governing itself as the other, and will continue so for a long time.


If the articles taxed are not of the first necessity, and the conventional price be only equal to its natural price, it is a proof that the consumers do not care much for it, and when duties are levied thereon, the producer has no other resource but to renounce his occupation to obtain subsistence in some other profession, thus encreasing his misery by his own concurrence, and in which he labors under a disadvantage of not having been at first acquainted with his new pursuit. Thus they perish at least in great part; the consumer only loses an enjoyment to which he was not attached, probably because he had substituted some other for it, and thus the tax produces nothing.


If, on the contrary, goods or industry of little necessity are taxed, and bear a conventional price far superior to their natural value, and which is the case with all articles of luxury; there are bounds within which they are confined without reducing any one to misery: the same total sum is expended for this enjoyment, unless the taste which causes it to be sought after decreases: it is the producer that pays the whole of what the tax takes from his entire sum, but as he gains more than what is absolutely a good profit, he succeeds. But we can only say that this is a general truth, for in some trades supposed to be advantageous, there are individuals, who, through want of skill and reputation, or other circumstances, obtain only a scanty subsistence; these, on the imposition of taxes, are forced to abandon their profession, which is always very distressing, for men are not like mathematical points; such changes are not effected without collisions productive of disorder. It is thus that the direct effect of different and partial local duties imposed upon merchandize in their transportation from the producer to the consumer, may be estimated.


But, besides these direct effects, such duties have others that are indirect and of a different character from the first, or which mixing with them render them more complicated; thus a heavy duty on an important article levied at the entrance of a town; on the one side it lowers the rent of houses, by causing it to be a less desirable place of abode; on the other, it diminishes the rent of lands producing the article, by rendering the sale thereof less considerable, or less advantageous; here the capitalists, even though absent and no wise connected with it, are injured in their capital, the same as by a land tax, while it was only contemplated to affect the consumer or producer thereby; this is so true, that the proprietors, if it were proposed to them, would make sacrifices more or less great to pay off a part of the fund of the duty, or directly furnish a part of their annual produce: we have frequently seen it.


What is more than all these economical considerations, we should only consider as real consumers of an article, those who effectively consume it for their personal satisfaction, and employ it for their own use. These only we can speak of under the denomination of consumers; however, they are far from being the only buyers of such articles, often the greatest part of these purchases are made as primary articles of other productions, and as the raw material for their own industry: then the duty imposed on such articles, affects all those productions, and the industry dependant thereon; this is what particularly happens to articles of very general use, and of indispensible necessity; they constitute a part of the expences of many different productions.


We must likewise consider that the duties of which we are treating, never act altogether upon a single article, they are at the same time levied upon many kinds of goods, that is to say.... upon many articles of production and consumption; upon each according to its nature, they operate some of the effects we have explained, so that all of the different effects reciprocally balance and resist each other; for the new duties with which an industrious occupation is burdened, prevent the embracing of it in preference to another which has just received a like injury. The burden which oppresses one kind of consumption, renders it unfit for a substitute to one we are desirous of renouncing; whence it follows, that if it were possible completely to prevent them from clashing, and to form a perfect equilibrium of all the weights, so that by placing them all at the same time in such a situation as that they would every where act with an equal pressure, no proportion would be changed by them. They would together have no other effect than what is common to all taxes.... namely, that the producer acquires a less profit on his industry, and the consumer less enjoyment for his money. Taxes might be considered as good, if to these general and inevitable evils they did not join evils of another and a particular kind, which are too distressing.


Such are the principal considerations that I was desirous of finding in this part of the Spirit of Laws, which treats of the levying of taxes, and the extent of the public revenue as connected with liberty; for we cannot too often repeat, that liberty is happiness. Economical science forms a considerable part of the social science; it is even its principal end, for we desire society to be well organised in order that our enjoyments*22 may be more multiplied, more perfect, and more tranquil; and so long as this end is not well understood, we are liable to a number of errors, from which our celebrated author is not always exempt.


The question, by whom are taxes really paid, is particularly interesting, because it affects the whole mechanism of society, and its true springs are known or unknown, according as it is perfectly or imperfectly resolved. If it should be thought that I have already said too much on this subject, its importance will by my justification; much is yet required fully to explain it, to make all the applications, to develope all the consequences, to the right understanding of it: this I shall leave to the sagacity of the reader; and I am persuaded that the more he takes the trouble to investigate it, the more solid and fruitful he will perceive the principles to be which we have already established. But if they are true, as I believe them to be, and even so true that I think I may confine myself to the bare declaration of them, and leave them to their own strength without any other support than their own evidence, how comes it that contrary opinions have been so generally adopted? This is a point which I demand further permission to discuss, should it even be thought that I trespass beyond the bounds prescribed by a commentator, by causing discussion after discussion to rise out of the subject, with an insupportable perseverance.


The old French economists were enlightened and estimable men, who have rendered great services to mankind; but they were very indifferent metaphysicians, until the physiologists took a share in the subject.




And yet they are scarce; the philosophers exclusively called economists, have not then sufficiently studied the nature of man, and particularly his intellectual dispositions. They did not perceive, that in our faculties and in the manner in which our will employs them, all our treasure consists, and that this employment of nature constitutes the only wealth that in itself has a natural and necessary primitive value, which it communicates to all things upon which it is employed, and which could have no other; consequently, they have imagined, that there might be some useful labor unproductive of any real value. Then more struck with this negative power of nature, which appears to form creations in favor of agriculture which set it in motion, than with the other physical powers through the means of which all our other works are performed; they persuaded themselves, that there was really a gratuitous gift on the part of the earth, and that the labor employed in cultivating it, alone deserved to be called productive; without perceiving that there is as great difference between a bundle of hemp and a shirt, as between a bundle of hempseed and a bundle of hemp; and that the difference is entirely of the same kind, consisting of the labor employed in performing the manufacture.


This false idea of a sort of magical virtue attributed to the earth, has led these philosophers into several consequences yet more false; among which was the notion that there are no true citizens in a state but the proprietors of land, and that they alone constitute society; another pernicious consequence was their admiration of the feodal system, altogether founded on these pretended rights of an inanimate tract of land, which infeoffs and sub-infeoffs the different parts, which establishes a gradation of slavery from the last tenant, and even the persons attached to the soil, up to the first paramount lord, in respect to whom, living on the territory over which he presided, possessed no rights but such as it was his pleasure or displeasure to grant: and in fine, that all things as they erroneously asserted, being derived only from the earth, the earth only should be subject to taxation, and that even when other taxes were levied beside that on land; but as it necessarily happens, from the nature of things, that taxes ultimately fall in the proportion of lands, and even with a heavier weight; and as these results, ever found not to be rigorously exact, several of the economists have rejected some of them, but they have all agreed in that which engages our present attention, the doctrine relative to duties.


This prejudice in relation to gratuitous production by the earth, has so much perplexed and taken such deep root in the mind, that it is difficult entirely to eradicate it. That learned and judicious writer, Adam Smith, perceived very clearly, that the human faculties are the only treasure of man, and that all which composes the wealth of a particular society, is nothing more than the accumulated productions of industry which have not been consumed; he has acknowleged that all labor which makes an addition to the mass of wealth more than the person performing that labor consumes, should be called productive, and that labor is unproductive only in the contrary case; and he has completely refuted those who give the attribute of productiveness only to the cultivation of the earth. Yet he imagines, that there is in the rent of land something else, which he calls profits of capital. He considers it as a production of nature, and expressly says, book II, chap. 5, that.... it is the work of nature that remains, after the deduction or balance is made, of all that can be considered as the work of man. He likewise calls a portion of the accumulated wealth, the fixed capital of a nation, and in this he comprises the amelioration of the soil; but he does not, as he should, comprise therein the soil itself, for the value it has in commerce. It is true, he says that a farm ameliorated, may be considered in the same light as those useful machines, which facilitate labor; but he has not ventured to say explicitly what nevertheless is true, a field is a tool in the hands of a workman, as much as any other tool, and that the rent paid for it, is the same as the hire given for the use of a machine, or the interest on a sum of money borrowed.


J. B. Say, formerly a member of the French institute, is undoubtedly the author of the best work on political economy, that has yet appeared; he wrote a long time after Smith, and acknowleges with him, that the employment of our faculties is the source of all wealth, and it alone, is the cause of the necessary value of all things that possess any; because this value is only the representation of all that was necessary to satisfy the person who had formed any thing by his industry during the time he employed his faculties thereupon. He goes yet farther, and expressly says, that being incapable of creating even an atom of matter, we can never effect any thing but transmutation and transformation, and that what we call producing, is in every imaginable case, giving a greater utility as it respects us, to the elements we combine and operate on, with the assistance of the powers of nature which are put into action by us; as that which we call consuming, is always diminishing or destroying this utility by making use thereof. This luminous principle, is equally applicable to the farmer, manufacturer, and merchant; to cultivate, is by the means of a tool called a field, to convert seeds by means of the air, earth, water, and other principles, into an abundant harvest.*23 To manufacture, is, with the assistance of some instruments, to change hemp first into linen, and then into shirts. To traffic, is, with such machines as ships and waggons, to convey for the consumer useful commodities produced at a distance from him, adding thereto the expence of transportation; while to those whom we take these things from, we send other articles, that they are in want of, and which, in like manner, are not within their reach. On the contrary, to consume food, is to convert it into dung; to consume a suit of clothes, is to change them into rags; to consume water, is to drink, make it foul, or only return it to the river.


With so clear and distinct an idea of the subject, it was impossible not to see things as they are. Mr. Say likewise pronounces, without hesitation, book I, chap. 5, that a tract of land is only a machine; yet influenced by the authority of his predecessor, whom he has so often corrected and excelled, or perhaps only overcome by the power of habit, or by deceptive appearances, he permits himself to be dazzled by the illusions he has so completely destroyed. He persists in considering a tract of land, as a possession of a particular nature, its productive service as something else than a utility to he derived from a tool; and its rent as different from the interest given for a capital lent. In fine, book. IV, chap. 26, he more formally than Smith, says, in discussing with him the same subject, that it is from the action of the earth the profit of its proprietor arises. This single fault, accounts for the ambiguity that prevails on all that he says on capital, revenue, and taxes.


In fact, with such a prepossession, it is impossible to give any consistent account of the progress of society, and of the formation of our wealth; we are obliged, like Mr. Say, to acknowledge as constituent parts of the value of all things, which possess any: 1. Profit of labor or income. 2. Profit on capital; which appears to be a thing quite different from the first. 3. Profit on land, which also appears to be an element of another kind. We know not how to determine the natural and necessary value of each thing; there is always a portion of which we cannot perceive the cause, much less could we see the effects which taxes produce thereon, and the influence of all this on the life of man, the extent of population, and the power of states; all is perplexed and sophisticated by their principles; and on these subjects, arbitrary and incoherent opinions only, can be formed.


On the contrary, by renouncing this prejudice, and firmly persuading ourselves that what we call land.... that is to say, a cube of earth and stone having one of its faces on the superficies of our globe.... is a mass of matter as well as any other, with this difference, that it cannot as a body change its place. This difference, it is true, occasions its being defended and preserved with more difficulty by its proprietor, because it cannot be concealed nor taken with him like movable property: but if society be sufficiently enlightened to acknowlege, and sufficiently powerful to protect it, it is a possession similar to others. This property might be such that its possession would be good for nothing; in which case it has no price in any part of the world, it could neither be sold nor let; on the contrary it may be useful in many ways. It may serve for the foundation of a dwelling house, or store houses for merchandizes, or a work shop; fuel may be procured from it, materials necessary for manure to fertilize other lands; there may be springs thereon well adapted for irrigation; precious metals, diamonds, or other stones, and minerals of great value; it may be particularly adapted to receive grain, yielding great abundance. In all these cases its value is great. It may perhaps be said that the value of the ground has then no proportion to that of the labor of the first person who sought after, examined, and appropriated it to himself; this is true; but a person who should unexpectedly find a large diamond in any other place, would be a great gainer thereby, while the one who after long seeking, should only find a very small one, is very trivially recompensed; however this does not prevent the natural price of the diamond from being the labor of the man who has sought and found it, and its pecuniary price, that which the desire of possessing it offers. This proves no more than that in all kinds of industry, there is labor very unproductive and very profitable. The same may be said as to land, its natural price is very small when not obliged to go far to meet with some which has no owner; it is greater when this requires labor and an expensive removal; its money price varies like all other things, and through the same causes. A very indifferent tract of land may sell very dear, when there are many persons desirous of purchasing it; on the contrary, the United States of America sell very fine land at a very low price in their western territories; and in certain parts of Russia the government grants it far nothing, and even give some provisions and domestic animals to those who accept it, on condition of settling themselves thereon and cultivating it. Whatever it may be, a piece of ground, like any other tool, is susceptible of many uses, as we have just seen. When good for nothing, its value is nothing; when of any use, it has a value; when it belongs to no one, it requires only the trouble of taking possession; when it belongs to any one, some other useful thing must be given in exchange for it. In all cases.... to express myself like others.... it exactly and without any difference is equivalent to the capital that can be procured by giving it up, and may, as most convenient, be given away, or lent, sold or rented,*24 or used immediately by its proprietor, but nothing else can ever be done with either one or the other, but to apply them in one or other of these five ways.


When once satisfied in our own minds, of the truth of these ideas, nothing in the world can be more evident, than that these are the true sources from which one wealth is derived; there is then, no more need of an hundred thousand superfluous distinctions, which serve no purpose but to promote confusion; there is nothing besides the exercise of the human faculties, which can procure subsistence for man, and without this there is nothing; but all useful things, which are at our disposal, must be considered as well the fruit of our intellectual as our manual labor, of our knowledge as well as our industry, and the surplus wealth of society consists of what remains after all are adequately subsisted. It is this labor, and the necessary consumption of those who are occupied therein, which regulates the natural price of things. The market price is governed by the relative value of other useful things, which we are disposed to give for them; but those other useful things are also the products of labor; so that whoever possesses the fruit of accumulated labor, can command actual labor from others, or remunerate them for what they have already performed by giving them an equivalent of this fruit of accumulated labor, whatever it may be; either in perpetuity, which is called selling; or for a time, which is called renting or hiring. If that which he receives for a certain time of any kind of rent, be sufficient for his subsistence, during that period he is said to live upon his income; on the contrary, if it be insufficient, he must either sacrifice part of his capital, or follow some productive employment. But he who is occupied in useful works is often obliged to purchase or to rent other things; in this case, these expences constitute a part of the necessary price of these productions of labor. if this price should not be obtained for the articles when wrought and exposed to sale, he could not subsist, and it would be a proof that what he has destroyed was as useful, if not more so, than what he produced; on the other hand, whoever produces any thing which obtains a value beyond that of the labor and expence employed upon it, in order to give this value, evidently augments the quantity of things which have value, and consequently does good; for the amount or value of all the useful things we possess, or rather the sum of their utility, is the same as the sum of our means of providing for our wants, multiplying our enjoyments, and diminishing our sufferings; to which may be added, that the existence of men collectively having no other limitation than the possibility of maintaining them, their number will always encrease in proportion to this possibility: whence we may conclude, that the happiness and power of a society encreases at the same time and by the same means, and that the multiplication of useful productions by labor, is the means to render it as productive as possible, and to diminish, in like manner, superfluous consumption: the number of people who do nothing else but consume, are the drones of the hive.


I shall confine myself to this small number of principal ideas, which, in my opinion; are of the greatest importance, and which admit of many applications, and lead to many important results. It would, without doubt, have been better to have explained them with some method, and in an elementary manner, instead of presenting them as I have done, incidentally, and only in the manner of a refutation of errors; but I had it not in my power to choose; moreover, such as they are, I hope they will appear more clear than those of the economists; for which they are substituted, and which it will be perceived, render what we have said, more intelligible, besides adding to the light which we have endeavored to throw on the subjects of luxury, labor, price, wealth, population, production, consumption, and the effects of taxation. Why has not Montesquieu undertaken this examination? Is not the spirit of laws, what laws should be? To be acquainted therewith, should not the motives which ought to determine the legislator to be comprehensible, and pointed out distinctly? He has done much: a single man cannot accomplish all that he may wish to do.

Notes for this chapter

To give a proper account of their effects, I believe the best method is to class them.
I cannot agree with some French economists, that taxes should not be levied on houses, or at least should only be in proportion to the net produce of the cultivation of the ground they occupy, all the rest, according to them, being only the interest of the capital employed in building which they say cannot be taxed.

This opinion is a consequence of that which assumes that the cultivation of land is the only productive labor, that taxes can be levied on land, only because there is in the product of the earth a part purely gratuitous and entirely due to nature.... according to these writers, this is the only part which it is reasonable and lawful to subject to taxation.

I hope presently to prove that all this is incorrect.... yet I shall not oppose this tax, nor any of those which follow, though they are reprobated in common upon the principles of this system.

In favor of these possessions, learned writers have established the very delicate maxim, that when an individual takes possession of a tract of land by right of first occupancy, or through a legal title, his right to the ground does not exceed a certain depth! From this luminous principle it results, that the interior of the earth belongs to the prince... wherever it is worth more than the superficies!
Montesquieu gives credit to the emperor Anastatius, for having conceived the happy idea of taxing the air we breathe, pro haustu aeris; we must not, however, flatter this great politician too much, he does not appear to have succeeded better than any one else, in effectually rendering himself master of this merchandize; besides, that the air here appears rather as a motive, than a means; and haustu aeris, is to be taken in a metaphorical sense, for the happiness of breathing and living under the empire of so great a prince, which of course, can never be too well paid for, though capitation fulfils this object.
Moral enjoyments always to be understood; and for the most part, the result of a happy order of society is, that virtue becomes first an effect, and then a cause.
Agriculture is particularly a chemical art: a farmer causes the grain of which he is in want, to grow, as a chemist makes the inflammable gas which he requires for his uses. The farmer ploughs, harrows, manures, sows, and if necessary, waters it, to arrange the elements which are to act in contact with each other, in a convenient manner. The chemist disposes his apparatus, his; acid of manganese, and his sulphuric acid, with the same view. After which, both leave the different affinities to act, and both obtain their object: if that which they produce has more pecuniary value, it is an incontestible proof of its being more useful than what they employed and consumed during the operation.
It is a very absurd mode of expression to say when we part with our money a certain time in consideration of a certain benefit called interest, that we have lent it; for in this case we hire or rent it and we only really lend it when we permit any one to have the benefit of it for a certain time without any recompense. There are between these two actions the same difference as between giving and selling. This inaccuracy of language has caused nonsense to be both spoken of and believed.... where such nonsense has been caused by this inaccuracy of expression, for there is always an action and reaction; to form a science, is to form the language thereof; and to form the language of a science, is to form the science itself.

Books XX-XXI

End of Notes

19 of 32

Return to top