Philip Schofield, Catherine Pease-Watkin, and Cyprian Blamires (eds), The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: Rights, Representation, and Reform: Nonsense upon Stilts and Other Writings on the French Revolution
pg 205SUPPLY—NEW SPECIESPROPOSEDpg 206
I am proud, as becomes me, of your intentions in my favour. I look out with impatience for the period of their accomplishment. Meantime in addition to the honour of calling the Comte de Mirabeau my Translator and Reviewer,a permit me that of stiling myself his correspondent. As a sincere well-wisher and passionate admirer of the great nation in the affairs of which you are bearing so distinguished and honourable a part, can you allow me a place in your Journal for a few leading ideas relative to the business of finance? I shall study compression as much as possible: writing as I do for those to whose time a minute is a month, and to whose intelligence a page is a volume.
pg 208Letter I.Supply—a new species proposed: Appropriation of Collateral Successions
Appropriationa of remote collateral successions—Extension of the Law of Escheat:— or Establishment of a rule of succession in virtue of which property of every denomination shall lapse, in default of near relations, to the national stock.
The appellation of near relations might be confined in this view to the following persons.
1. Husband or Wife of the deceased.
2. Children and their descendants ad infinitum.
3. Brothers and Sisters and their descendants ad infinitum.
4. Father and Mother and other relations in the ascending line ad infinitum. This last class to have only the interest for life of the capital produced by sale of the estate.
Should the right of disposing by will be admitted to supersede in this instance the general disposition of the law? It ought at least as to a share: say a third or even a half.
Cutting off this right in toto would be productive of the following inconveniences.
1. It would be a discouragement to industry: by putting it out of a man's power to impart any share of the fruits of it to those who are dear to him after his death.
2. It would tend in a considerable degree to frustrate the purpose of the law. Men would turn every thing into life-annuities. Their incomes being thus encreased, industry would be less necessary to them, dissipation would be encreased, and the buyer and seller would pg 209share between them what was meant to be appropriated to the use of the state.
3. It would retrench the comforts that are so much wanted to ballance the afflictions of the aged and the infirm. It would deprive a man of a variety of services very important in his eyes in the case where his circumstances did not admit of his making an adequate return in his life-time, or where a fund of retribution depending upon so uncertain a tenure as that of his life would not afford an adequate source of attachment. Adoptive children, with or without the formality of adoption, come in default of natural ones, and are a great source of comfort to old age.
Advantages of the measure
The principal and peculiar advantage of this species of supply is that its produce would be afforded without exciting any sense of hardship or suffering whatsoever. To the Exchequer, it would be a tax, and that probably a very productive one: to the contributor it would be nothing: or to speak more properly, it would be a contribution without a contributor.
Of all taxes, at least of all such as in your language are stiled direct,a the least burthensome is that on collateral successions. It is so for two reasons: 1. the privation does not come but in company with a gain to a much superior amount: 2. the irksomeness of the privation is much lessened by the uncertainty incident to the quantum of the acquisition, the subject of expectation which the event in question brings to view being an indeterminate something, which is not brought into shape till after charges of all sorts have been deducted: the amount of the tax goes to the account of charges, like the amount of an auctioneer's or lawyer's bill. Hence the advantage which even a tax upon successions must always have in comparison with a tax to the same amount imposed on property in a quiescent state.
But the mode of supply in question, though in effect a tax upon collateral successions encreased to such a degree as to swallow up the whole subject, would not produce the burthensome sensation even of so light a tax. Here we have the Greek paradox reversed: the whole is less than a small part.1 Reserve the whole, nothing appears to be taken from any body: for nothing was ever given: the remote relations of people in general stand upon the same footing as the Nephews of a beneficed Catholic Clergy. Lay a tax upon collateral pg 210sucessions, you confirm and build upon collateral successions: the much that you leave is not placed to your account as given, and the little you reserve is all looked upon as so much taken.
A collateral advantage, attendant on the employment of this resource, would be that of favouring Equality without prejudice done to Security, and the keeping under that tendency to Aristocracy which in the most enlightened of nations is become the object of so general and so just a jealousy. It is scarce necessary to observe to what a degree the influx of successions from different quarters contributes to raise those enormous masses of property which are apt to exercise so dangerous an influence, immediately over their respective neighbourhoods and ultimately over the whole state. To attempt, at the expence of the proprietors for the time being, to reduce them from what they are already grown to, would be an attempt hostile to the general security, and big with mischiefs infinitely beyond every possible advantage: but to check their farther growth by the operation of such mild and gradual alleviatives as that in question would be a policy as consistent with security as it would be productive of ease to the contributing class of citizens, and of encrease to the revenue.
In this country such a measure could not be proposed without a saving for the benefit of that overgrown aristocratical body which has got[?] its yoke so fast about our necks. A tide, at least a title importing power as well as honour, must not descend without an income to support it: but in your happier and more enlightened nation the title would be made to give way to national utility, not national utility to the title.
'But a title without wealth to support it is a burthen'—I doubt it. A titled man without wealth is certainly not so well off as a man who has both wealth and title. But a titled man without wealth is better off than a man who has neither one nor t'other. A title draws wealth after it: a title tells in marriage: and every other line of advancement: a title is a title to respect and to numberless distinctions and advantages which even wealth can scarcely purchase. The question however is scarce worth discussing. You have a short way of getting rid of it, which is by making the title share the fate of the estate. I shall have occasion to offer you farther reason for adopting this expedient and that upon a more extended scale, when I come to that inexhaustible source of depredation, almsgiving to titled beggary.1
Objections to this mode of supply I have looked round for, and can find none.
I know not whether in any eyes it would wear the semblance of injustice: it certainly does not stand chargeable with the reality.
pg 211Injustice in matters of property consists in thwarting expectation. As expectation is equally capable of being thwarted by legislative dispositions as by judicial decisions, the operations of the Legislator are certainly as much exposed to this charge as those of the Judge. In either hand it is susceptible of two different degrees, which it is highly material to distinguish: the first where the suffering produced consists merely of a pain of disappointment and confines itself to the persons immediately affected and their particular connections: the other, where the operation, appearing to be the result of a principle which if pursued would endanger property in general, is productive of a general pain of apprehension, a sense of insecurity, which overspreads the community at large.
The substitution of the public to remote relations, would not be productive of injustice in any shape; even in its first and slightest shape.
Blessed is he that expecteth not, for he shall not be disappointed, is an article proposed by our Dean Swift to be added to the beatitudes.1 Where there has been no expectation formed, there can be no disappointment. Prevent individuals from expecting to obtain any article of property, that article may be disposed of for the benefit of the public without inconvenience. A man will not expect to obtain a thing which it was declared by law before he was born, that he is not to have.a
This faculty of making new dispositions of property without thwarting expectation, we see it exercised by legislative authority in a thousand instances and that without any inconvenience. To put the strongest instance; viz: that of a life annuity or life-estate in land acquired by the father of a family who has children. Were he to take it in the way of ordinary succession, his children would expect to enjoy it after his death as he enjoy'd it after the death of his predecessors. But by the very contract in virtue of which he enjoys it (which contract by being adopted by the legislative or judicial authority has become a kind of particular law of the state) the formation of all such expectations has been stopped in their very source. The father knows pg 212his children are not to have it after him: the children know they are not to have it: he and they, if they have common prudence, make provision and regulate their plan of life accordingly; and when the father drops, no pain of disappointment flows to the children from this source.
Would it be consistent with utility then to turn all estates into life-estates, for the benefit of the public, leaving nothing to descend to the children?—Evidently not. The law must be violated or orphans would be starved. Poverty, rapine, and dissipation would be the result of every death. The expiration of life-hold estates produce no such inconvenience: because fathers knowing what is to happen make provision accordingly, and out of that income which they can not leave to their children, save another which they can leave to them. Previous to the accumulation of property in masses considerable enough to afford income, the expectation of children stood in every instance upon this precarious footing. It stands upon no better now, nor ever can, in the instance of those families whose only source of income is their labour: that is of the great bulk of the community.
To preserve therefore to children the succession of their parents is matter of absolute necessity. It is not matter of equal necessity to preserve to brothers the succession of brothers: still less to nephews the succession of Uncles.—Why so? because the brother has had for his primary and only regular dependence the succession of his father, the common parent. The dependence of the Nephew in like manner has not been upon his Uncle, who perhaps has children of his own, but upon his father. Is the Nephew left by his Father an orphan without provision? But so may any other child be who has no Uncle. Whatever provision is made for orphans in general may serve for this particular case.
Would it not however appear a hardship, were the destitute brother to receive no relief out of the estate of his deceased brother, nor the destitute Nephew out of that of his Uncle?—Yes, certainly.— Why?—Because in cases of such near relationship, succession is in good measure rather the continuation of an accustomed advantage than the acquisition of a new one. Between Parent and Child there exists to a certain degree a necessary intercommunity of goods: between brothers on the one hand and brothers and brothers' children on the other there is at least a natural one: and the greater need either party may stand in of support, the more extensive this intercommunity will naturally be.
In general wherever there has been this sort of advantage reaped by one man from the property of another, the cessation of it is not merely a failure of acquisition, but in some degree a loss. Hence the pg 213reason, though a weaker one, for abstaining to enrich the public fund even to the prejudice of ascendants, relations in the ascending line.
At what precise point the line shall be drawn, principle and reasoning can scarce afford grounds for determining.—I have drawn it at a venture.
Is there any one in whose eyes the notion of indefeasible natural right would appear to afford an objection worth regarding?
The phrase natural right, when opposed to utility, is altogether an unmeaning one. To say to a legislature acknowledged to be supreme, you have no right to do so and so, although it would be of advantage to the state, is only another way of saying—I don't like you should do so and so, though I can't tell why.
Arguments however must be accommodated not only to men's reason, but in some instances to what they are much more governed by, their prejudices and affections.
For subduing this prejudice, which bearing no relation to reason is not to be wrought upon by reason, I know no course that promises better than that of setting it at variance with itself. But an appendix or a note would be the more suitable place, if there be any suitable place, for a discussion so frivolous and uninstructive.a
pg 214It may afford a farther illustration of the principle of expectation , and afford some other lights which may not be without their use, to apply it to the case of the revenues of the Clergy and that of Pensions.
It would be producing a most mischievous effect and one directly opposite to one of the first wishes of my heart, were any thing of my suggesting capable of diminishing that reverence for the respect for the decisions of the National Assembly on which the existence of liberty and good government so absolutely depends. I therefore leave it to your discretion whether to make public the following hints or to suppress them.
On the victory of the nation over the Clergy considered as a body, pg 215accept my sincerest congratulations.1 I need spend [no] time in repeating the advantages of the measure: they are too public and too palpable.
But you must excuse my placing to the account of national advantage any acquisition which the nation may make to the prejudice of the subsisting race of individuals. If my calculation does not fail me, one individual makes as much a part of your nation, and as great a part, as another. If I do not misrecollect, your Declaration of Rights, as far as it goes, informs us of this or somewhat to this effect.2 If then to ease Peter, Paul is plundered, what the nation can be a gainer by the operation, that nation of which Peter and Paul compose each an equal part, is more than I can see. I can see but too plainly what it must suffer. It suffers by all the difference there is in value between the suffering which [Paul]3 experiences who is plundered and the enjoyment which [Peter]4 reaps who has the benefit of the plunder: and that difference I apprehend to be no trifling matter. If there is really any such gain to be got by a nation by plundering one individual for the benefit of another, I must refer you once more to the case of the thief, and beg you to tell me upon what principles you avoid siding with him in prejudice of the honest man. I mean always bating the effect of theft upon the general sense of security, of which more presently.
In two words then, my notion respecting the case of the Clergy. At the death of every incumbent, as he dies without natural heirs, you have a succession vacant which you may take to your own use without prejudice to any body: you have resolved to do so, and you have resolved honestly and wisely.5 But while the present occupier (I take care not to say proprietor) breathes, what good you do yourselves by making him pay more in proportion than any other man, is more than I can see.—'He is an idle man, a man of pleasure, and has never done any thing for his money.'—All this I admitt: but pg 216the Duke or the Marquis or the rich Capitalist whom you do not think of stripping, what has he done more?—Oh, but these, you say, are proprietors.—Be it so—what then? The question of utility is a question not of sounds but of sensations: it depends not upon your choosing to allow or to refuse to this or that class of occupants this or that name, but upon the feelings of men of all classes. The Ecclesiastic, who finds himself disappointed of the expectations he had been led to entertain of continuing to enjoy his income to the end of his life as he had done before, does he feel the less for being denied the title of proprietor than if you had allow'd it him? Is the Ecclesiastic the only sort of man insensible to the distress which in the breast of any other person would attend a sudden and enormous loss of income? Without having the honour to belong to that order, I will venture to pronounce in favour of the negative.
The discussions relative to the question whether the Clergy were to be considered or no as proprietors, were they then a mere abuse of words? I do not say that [either].1 Recollect the two different species of mischiefs which I mentioned as flowing from any forced change made in the course taken by property: the pain of disappointment, and the general sensation of insecurity. Strip the Clergy and by whatever you take from them more than you take from any other class of men in the nation you produce a proportionable pain of disappointment on the part of every individual to whom the operation extends. Do you produce in the same proportion a general sense of insecurity? No: I may venture to say, I hope, in no proportion. Why? because the Clergy, were they admitted to come under the appellation of proprietors, must be allowed to be so in a sense different from that in which the Laity are termed so. But you have declared, and I do not say you have declared wrong, that they were not proprietors.2 What follows? that a clear line being drawn between them and those to whom the title of proprietors can not on any pretence be refused, the spectacle of the fate of the one will not produce any apprehension of a similar fate on the part of the other. Put for arguments sake an odious supposition belied by experience contrary to the fact. Suppose them stript of every penny and left to starve upon a dunghill.—This would be very wrong indeed: but yet certainly not so wrong as if you were to take by lot an equal number of lay-proprietors of the same degree of wealth. Strip the Clergy merely because they are an overpaid class of stipendiaries, and the mischief, great as it is, stops however with them. Strip a class of proprietors only because they are wealthy, the mischief spreads over the whole community: for as nobody could say where the boundary line betwixt moderate pg 217and immoderate wealth would ultimately rest, for then no proprietor could deem himself safe from the like fate, and universal uproar and destruction would be the consequence.
From these considerations you may judge whether I can forbear wishing that in the allowance to be made to the subsisting race of the Clergy, the amount of his present income may be preserved to him as nearly as possible: deducting only what tax may be thought fit to be imposed on this species of placemen for the relief of the nation under its present exigencies. From the same considerations you will also infer that I would give the preference to this act of justice, as I can not but call it, to the generosity meant to be extended to such of the Clergy whose benefices fall short of the L1200 livres proposed as the future minimum of their allowance.1
Pluralities too are an abuse I abominate as much as you can do: but still for the same reasons I do not see what is to be gained by the nation at large, taking in always the pluralist as a part of it, by obliging the pluralist to disgorge. And how inconsistent would it be if one man whose single benefice brought him in 10,000 livres were to retain the income of it entire because the benefice stood but one, while another man who had two benefices that did not bring him in together half the amount of that one were to give up one of them, only because his income happened to stand in two lots instead of one?
Lastly as to Pensions. From the striking them off in every instance and to the whole of their respective amounts, no general alarm among proprietors, no general sentiment of insecurity would be produced. But the pain of disappointment, of privation, would stand upon pretty much the same footing as that of the Clergy.
The circumstance of its being granted for life or only during pleasure does not to my conception make any very material difference. Have I a pension during pleasure? this I assure myself is a pension during life—why? because so long as I live, my resolution is so to conduct myself as always to please. Indeed in the case where the possession of the place has always depended upon the usual instability of ministerial situation, something might justly be deducted from its magnitude in proportion to what it gained in point of certainty by being fixed for life.
What follows?—that all ought to be taxed, that is reduced by the amount of such a tax as shall be deemed a proper one, if such a resource should be found necessary: but that none should be struck off in toto, unless any circumstance of fraud can be proved respecting the manner of obtaining it.
Gradations, I observe, are proposed to be observed in the quantum pg 218to be struck off, proportioned to the comparative amounts of the several pensions.1 My principles, you will see, do not point out to me any advantage in this plan. I should prefer a proportion between the quantum to be left and the private fortune, or other means of living, the pensioner is possessed of, in proportion to his situation in life. Would it not be an inconsistency and a hardship to leave undiminished a pension of 300 livres for example, if so trifling a pension could by any accident have fallen to the share of a man of 100,000 livres a year, while a man of quality who has nothing to live on but a pension of 10,000 livres a year should lose a third or half of it?
But to conclude where I began, would not the above proposed lapse or confiscation of collateral inheritances be, as far as it went, a resource of much less hardship than any such reduction, or in short than any tax whatever?
With us, the notions above developped, are pretty generally observed as far downwards as concerns life incomes. Though no where to my knowledge ever yet deduced from principles and reduced to words, they are as generally felt as if they were. Hence too with us as well as among you the attribute of sanctity so universally and justly ascribed to every part of the national debt. Pensions and places during pleasure have not always in our plans of economy met with the same favour. Out of the multitudes of useless places with which our establishment abounds, a few have been selected for suppression and in some instances the occupiers turned out without any equivalent.2 I had much rather have seen the proscribed list trebled, quadrupled or twice quadrupled as perhaps it might be, provided it were without prejudice to the present occupants. But such a concord between the interest of the public at large and the feelings of individuals would not suit with the views of those who sit at the fountain head of influence, nor of those whose pride and luxury are accustomed to look to its streams for their support.
One reflection more. The more difficult the disease of national prodigality is to cure without making use of remedies worse than the disease, the more religiously it ought to be guarded against—the more rigorous we should be in our attention not to suffer it to creep in in any shape. This leads me to my second head. But of this in another letter.
pg 219Letter II.Retrenchment—Pensions on Retreat—Donations to exalted indigence—Court Pageantry—Commercial Bounties
I come now to my second head—Rule to assist in judging of the propriety of an article of expenditure. It is a very simple one. Compare the benefit expected from it with the burthen of so much of the produce of that tax in the whole list which is most complained of. The Royal allowance to your Opera, for example, might be set in the ballance against an equal amount of the produce of the Gabelle. In a word it is the least necessary expenditure that should always be confronted with the most burthensome tax. For by striking off the one you may rid yourself of the other.
It is with this test in hand that I would run over and try the several items in the list of national expences. Many I believe would melt under the experiment. Immense Churches, magnificent bridges, roads three times as wide as is necessary, would vanish into air. All pretended encouragements to arts and manufactures, all those plans of pretended improvement which require money to be extorted from the poor either to amuse the rich, or to enable them to get richer. All the pomp of royalty would share the same fate. Nothing that contributes to the personal enjoyments of the incomparable Monarch you have the happiness of seeing on the throne can be touched consistently with the principles laid down in the preceding letter. But the heir to the throne is not too old to be taught another lesson. It was a saying of our Milton that the trappings of a Monarchy would furnish out a reasonable Common-wealth.1 He might have added that the trappings of an ill-ordered Monarchy would go a good way towards providing for the real exigencies of a well-ordered one.
The common plea is that the pageantry of a Court is necessary to ensure respect to the Magistrate who is environed with it. This is soon said, but I can see nothing that favours the supposition. This is as easy to say as it is difficult to prove. The experiment of doing pg 220without it is trying in America. But it has long ago been tried in Prussia and has succeeded. The late King of Prussia, you know better than I, had nothing that could be called a Court. The Emperor, I believe, is nearly as ill-provided.1 I believe it will be rather difficult to make out in what degree how much of the obedience paid to your Riot-Act was due to the swarms of Dukes and Marquises in livery whose names I read in your Court Calendar. None of these can be stript any more than the Clergy without injustice. All I plead for is that the species may be suffered to die, like that of the Monks and beneficed Abbots, without posterity.
Of the 25 millions of people for whose edification the pageantry of a Court is pretended to be kept up, 24 can never see so much as the outside of the Court, nor of the remaining million is a twentieth part admitted to see the inside of one. If 24 millions in the Provinces can be kept quiet without any Court at all to gaze at, I see nothing that should render it impracticable to preserve the same tranquillity in the Capital, where something or other in the shape of a Court there will necessarily always be. Ten or twelve guards and a trumpet make out a decent Court upon the stage. Ten or twelve hundred guards with a proportionable number of trumpets I should think might answer the same purpose any where. These being all the Courtiers the body of the people have access to, these are all whose presence can serve to command respect from the people. All the employment I can find for the Dukes and the Marquises is that of looking at one another, and all the use that of commanding respect from one another. As to the person of the King, if it is necessary that he should not only be good but fine, you might incrust him with diamonds from top to toe for a tenth part of the money it costs you to crowd his antichamber with Dukes and Marquises.
In this instance as in so many others the institution comes first, and the reason is made for it afterwards, out of such materials as can be found. When the establishments of Kings were formed upon their present plan of useless immensity, their chief vassals had their establishment upon a similar plan though upon a smaller scale. These members of the aristocracy have long since dismissed their idle hands: it is high time their chief should do the same.
Nor perhaps would it be found necessary that this great chapter in the book of reformation should wait altogether for an event which every true Frenchman must wish to be a very distant one. Might not the useless places be suppressed as they fall in, upon the terms of applying a certain proportion of the Salary during the life of the pg 221present monarch to the encrease of the Privy Purse? Without a compact perfectly free and an acquiescence altogether voluntary on the part of the King, honour and generosity would concur in forbidding every idea of such an operation: but might it not be worth trying whether such acquiescence could not be obtained? This is one of the many things which the King would have it in his power to do now and which he could not have done before. Nominally only at his disposal, in effect the civil list was the patrimony of the Aristocracy: a substantial reform could not have been attempted without exciting such murmurs as to his gentle temper would have been intolerable. The simplicity of his character and his known aversion to useless parade can leave little doubt of his secret wishes. His privy purse must stand in need of a supply, if it be true, as stated in the Cardinal de Lomenie's Compte rendu, that titled beggars, who leave no source of plunder unexplored, have eaten deep even into this moderate fund.1
If wealth, instead of being scraped off the backs and wrung out of the stomachs of the industrious poor, dropt like Moses's manna from the clouds, and like the manna was to be used the same day lest in the morning it should grow stale,2 some of your and some of our heads of expenditure might be justified, but even upon this supposition not all of them. Under the latter head I will venture to place the whole list of Bounties. The plea for Bounties is, I take to be, either defence or subsistence or encrease of wealth. Defence, if that were all that were really aimed at, in a nation like your's or ours, there can never be any occasion for seeking to provide for by such far-fetched and expensive means. Subsistence is of all articles the least in danger of not fetching its price, while there is any thing to pay for it. To money given in Bounties for encrease of wealth, the best that can happen is to be thrown away and do no good, the likeliest is to be worse than thrown away, and to do mischief. If I were obliged to disturb industry in some way or other on pretence of encouraging it, I would much rather do it in the way of taxes and prohibitions upon rival branches than in the way of Bounties. By taxes I should get money, by prohibitions I should spend none, by bounties the best thing I could ever do would be to throw away all the money in paying men for carrying on an unprofitable trade.
pg 222Unhappily it is with [this] species of national extravagance as with most others, the disease is the work of a moment, while the remedy can not take effect with advantage but in a course of years. When you have hired people with public money to lay out their own capital in the purchase of implements for a losing trade, you can not without a breach of faith withdraw your allowance till the implements are either worn out or can be disposed of without loss, which is seldom possible.
I only eccho you: I am sure I do little but eccho Dr Smith:1 but they are notions which can not be ecchoed too often, while the practice of nations is the reverse. But your dissipations in this way would be frugality to our's.
In what concerns the following heads I wish my conjectures may prove equally fortunate.
1. Pensions on Retreat. This head of national expenditure is as boundless as it is unnecessary: it is a double source of prodigality: on the part of the officer, and on the part of the state. Secure of being provided for after he has ceased to serve, he spends more than he ought to do during the continuance of his service. The provision thus assured to him holds out to him a perpetual premium for serving negligently and badly. While he keeps clear of that species and degree of ill-desert that would expose him to positive censure, every other species or degree contributes but to accelerate his retreat. The more murmurs his ill-behaviour gives birth to, the more inconvenience of any kind it is productive of to those who are at the head of the department, the more necessary it becomes to get rid of him in order to find him a successor that shall behave better.
As the provision thus insured may be the means of loading the public with the expence of buying off a bad servant whom this temptation has corrupted, so may it be the means of depriving the service of a good one. This is apt to be the case where the place is become an object of concupiscence to the Minister on behalf of some friend of his own whom he wishes to put into it, either under the notion of facilitating the execution of some plan of his own, or for no better public reason than that a friend of his happens to have taken a particular liking to the place.
More than that, where such a custom is established, the place itself will be apt to be given for no other purpose than that of serving as a ladder to the pension.
Filling the service with bad servants, emptying it of good ones, wasting the public treasure sometimes to these bad purposes, pg 223sometimes to no purposes at all, such are the consequences of this abusive practice.a
What! is there to be no reward then for merit? no compensation made to a man who has spent his best days in laborious and meritorious service, in incessant toil with honour to himself and advantage to the service?—Here opens a copious source of commonplace rhetoric.
Where it is just as easy to give it to a man who has no sort of merit as it is to give it to one who has display'd the most consummate merit, the possibility of its being bestowed upon merit can never be a sufficient warrant for suffering an institution so open to abuse and so mischievous when abused. The necessity of providing factitious rewards at so dear a rate is merely imaginary. Merit in almost every line, more particularly in this line, has its natural reward, and that infinitely less liable to abuse: the honour naturally resulting from the display of it. Between the magnitude of the service and the magnitude of this natural reward, there is a natural proportionality: between the magnitude of the service and the magnitude of the factitious reward or pretended reward in question, the natural proportionality fails altogether, as I have just been shewing. Between merit and honour there is a natural connection: between merit and money there is none.
If factitious reward is to be granted at any rate, better in artificial honour than in money. Honour provokes scrutiny more than money. Money a man will have no apprehension of taking while so much is given, as it always will be, upon any pretence at all. Artificial honour given where no sort of merit is to be shewn for it may lose its power altogether and tarnish the character it was meant to brighten.
In the view of applying some check to the abuse inseparably attached to the exercise of arbitrary discretion in this line, an expedient that has been employ'd in some instances is that of requiring as a condition necessary to the acceptance of such a favour a certain length of service. If the period in question is limited, pg 224the limitation, be it placed where it will, is on both sides productive of inconvenience. If short, the door is still left open to the abuses above specified: limitation may even do more harm than good: at the point where it ends it is apt to operate as a sort of licence or even obligation, as the case may be. Provide that no pension of retreat shall be given to any one who has not served for example ten years: what is the consequence? as soon as a man has served his ten years it comes of course. Besides that, a line of this sort, draw it where you will, must leave hardship on one side of it, as well as excessive indulgence on the other. If a man who has served ten years and a half in such manner as just to escape censure is to have the whole pension allowed, be it what it may, is it reasonable that another who, after a most exemplary service of nine years and a half, finds himself obliged to retire should have absolutely nothing?
The view of this inequality naturally points to a graduated table in which the quantum of pension shall be proportioned to the length of service; and the idea of this table serves finally to demonstrate the non-necessity of any such provision. All this while the artificial scale which, how numerous soever its divisions are made, must still be left exposed to some degree of disproportionality is superseded by a natural one most accurately proportionable. The place whatever it be is all along supposed to have a salary annexed to it, which the pension on retreat would hardly in any case equal, certainly not exceed. But the longer a man has had the place with the pension belonging to it, the more time he has had to accumulate money out of the emoluments of it—savings which, as far as they go, take away the plea for the pension of retreat.
To facilitate this economy so necessary to the individual, it could do no harm and might do some good to draw a line and make a nominal division of the salary into two parts, one allotted for the support of the officer while in office, the other to form an accumulating fund for his support in the event of his losing his office, or for his representatives in case of his decease.
In the arithmetic of official profusion, the computation is apt to be the reverse. The greater the pension annexed to the place, the higher the stile of living which it seems to be enjoined the placeman to support: but the higher his stile of living while in office, the higher he ought to be enabled to keep it even when out of office, that the downfal may not be too severe upon him: the greater therefore the occasion for a pension on retreat.
All this while what seems to escape consideration is that the free professions afford no pensions of retreat.
2. Relief to exalted indigence. This head of national prodigality is pg 225still more pernicious than the former, being much worse founded in its principle and more unbounded in its extent. I will venture to affirm it boldly and without any exception whatsoever: not a penny ever was or can be given with propriety on this score. No such donation can ever be made that is not 1. unjust, 2. of evil example, 3. adverse to its own end, 4. cruel to the very class it means to favour.1
1. Unjust—for it takes from one part of the community the fruits of their labour in order to bestow them upon another part who do not labour.
2. It is unjust in another point of view—aggravating by unnecessary intervention that inequality of condition which to a certain degree must ever subsist between man and man, but which as far as it does subsist is a misfortune to be regretted, not a benefit to be encreased.
3. It is doubly wasteful. Paying men for being idle, it employs the fruits of industry to prevent their growth.
4. It is of evil example. It gives an immoral lesson: by holding out industry in colours of disgrace and holding up idleness as a title to respect. It foments that mischievous prejudice which considers one rank of men as made only for the use of another, and it cherishes those tyrannical dispositions which are the natural consequence.
5. It counteracts its own purposes. The purpose of such donations is to relieve the disease of poverty in the class chosen for the object of the bounty. In effect it extends and aggravates it. That part of the population of a country which is composed of people who are too proud to work and too poor to live without working can not be too thin. All coercive measures employ'd in the view of encouraging population are unnecessary and ridiculous: as rational would it be to make laws for encouraging men to eat. People are as well disposed to the one as to the other. It is the difficulty of finding subsistence, and not the want of the disposition, that sets bounds to an encrease which would otherwise have long ago rendered all farther encrease impossible. But measures which have the effect of encreasing the number of those whose condition renders them a burthen to themselves as well as the community are particularly pernicious: if you must pay them, better pay them for not breeding than for breeding. Donations given to members of this burthensome class contributes to their breeding in two ways. It brings marriage in some instances within the power of the person who is the object of the bounty: and it invites to marriage other persons of the same class by taking away the check that would be opposed to it by a view of the impossibility of subsisting in that state. And thus it is that the more pg 226copiously you apply this remedy, the more copiously you spread the disease: and the more money you waste in this way, the more you are called upon to waste. Nor yet does it afford any encouragement to marriage and population upon the whole: for since it can not be given to the idle without having been first taken from the industrious, it checks marriage in the latter still more than it promotes it in the former. I say still more: for ten times what would maintain a working man will scarcely maintain one high-born idler.a
Thus it is that money given [to]1 a Prince is almost sure to do harm: while money that is fairly spent by him is almost as sure to do good. The former is the wages of idleness: the latter is the reward of industry which, however uneconomically employ'd, is at the worst better than idleness.
a Instead of appropriation, the term confiscation would be more expressive. But bearing on its front the stamp of hardship, it would be apt to shock the many who are under the dominion of sounds. It carries with it the idea of suffering, of suffering in the way of punishment, and by an operation which, even when performed for the express purpose of punishment, is deservedly an unpopular one: whereas the great recommendation of the resource in question is that it would produce, as I shall shew presently, no suffering at all.
You would not perhaps care to have it said you had confiscated the possessions of the Clergy: though that after all is exactly what you have done.1
a Taxes on property owned or occupied, such as the Land-Tax and Window-Tax, in opposition to taxes on consumption.
a Here you see the coincidence and the difference between the duty of the judicial power in matters of property, and that of the legislative: neither ought to thwart the current of expectation: the judicial power, to avoid thwarting it has no resource but that of always following it: the legislature may, without thwarting it, lead it, by stepping in in time and turning the channel before the current has begun to flow.
a Natural right, though one were to admitt for arguments sake its existence and its preeminence over considerations of utility, Natural law, make the most of it, decides nothing in favour of the indefeasibility of collateral successions thus remote.
The utmost you can do with such a notion is to make a very general rule out of it in favour of children and other relations in the descending line. Go into details, you will find you can not stir a step without having recourse to positive law.
This unerring lawgiver, whose laws are on no considerations of utility to be controuled, this unerring guide, whose indications should be equally manifest to all nations, receives interpretations which are not the same in any two nations whatsoever. In what proportion shall the succession be shared among children? what, if any, shall in this instance be the effect given to eldership, to juniority, to sex? shall there be any and what difference between the half-blood and the whole-blood? In what proportion shall the estate be shared among children and the descendants of children? Shall the natural or conventional quality of the subject, its mobility or immobility, its reality or personality, make any difference?—and so on for evermore.—For no two countries has the solution given to these questions been ever the same.
Those who would maintain the natural indefeasibleness of the right of succession as against the state, would not perhaps dispute its capacity of being defeated by will Yet the same persons perhaps would not deny, for it is what nobody seems to deny, that the right of disposing by will is a mere creature of positive law. A disposition by will is as much an act of the sovereign power of the state as any other. The testator proposes the law, but it is the sovereign who by his adoption confers on it all its binding force.
No one has ever yet maintained that life-estates as created by deed or disposition of law, are contrary to natural right: that life-estates can not consistently with natural right subsist, when thus limited by the terms of their creation. Yet in this case even children do not come in in any proportions for any share. What then should make it a violation of natural right for the law to do that by a general rule which it does without any such violation in as many separate instances as it pleases? And if even children may without violation of natural right be thus debarred, why not relations so much more remote?
If a limitation of the right of succession were a violation of natural right, much more would every thing of the nature of a tax or forced contribution be so. A tax takes money from a proprietor in possession. The limitation in question prevents every body but the state from acquiring possession or so much as expecting to acquire it. Oh, but a tax when imposed by your representatives is your own gift.— What? the very tax that I have been voting against?—This is as much as to say there is no difference between consent and opposition, between a forced contribution and a voluntary one.
The law of England is full of limitations of this sort, which are full of hardship and injustice because contrary to natural expectation and which would be contrary to indefeasible natural right, if there were any such thing. Younger children of the wealthiest father left without a shilling: half-brothers made strangers to halfbrothers, and parents to children.1 Such laws are fraught with a mischief for which the amplest right of disposition by deed or will can afford no sufficient cure: they are productive of disappointments, which the most perfect system of promulgation applied to the simplest and best compacted body of laws would be scarce sufficient to prevent. Some laws possess a sort of natural notoriety: such are those which are indicated by an obvious utility, or flow naturally from some other simple principle. Such would be the laws of succession if comprised as they might be in about a dozen sentences. Others labour under a sort of natural incapacity of finding their way into the memory. Laws of this stamp continue lurking in a state of natural darkness till called forth by the occasion to the astonishment and dismay of individuals: they exhibit punishment without delinquency, and have the effect of confiscation in every thing but the utility and the name. Such laws would have been long ago cast out with merited abhorrence, if a species of bigotry which lawyers above all others are so prone to imbibe and so assiduous to inculcate did not render men deaf to the voice of reason and to the very cries of nature.
a Thus in England a man is appointed to an office which carries with it an allowance of 2 or 3,000 £'s worth of plate. As soon as the plate is sent home, the placeman resigns, and the place is ready for somebody else.1
a Even in a view to national defence, measures for encreasing population are not less vain than in any other. If the nation is able to defend itself with its present numbers, a fortiori will it be at the end of 20 years when, in the natural course of things and without any thing done by the state to help it, the numbers must be much greater than now. If it is not, it is not any measures which can now be taken that can contribute any thing to the purpose. Let it work as fast as it will, it will require a year to produce a child and at least 19 more to fit him for the field.
The anxiety that has been shewn on this head and the expedients that have been employ'd in this view, the variety of ways in which people have been plagued in order to make them breed, are truly pitiable. The disposition to breed is as indestructible as the passion which leads to breeding. On this ground false views of economy are joined and fortified by prejudices drawn from the principle of asceticism. A hint like this will serve for such as you, and by such as it will not serve for, it were better I should not be understood.
Those who have not enough to live happy upon, had better not have been born at all. Happiness, not population, is the proper end of our endeavours: produce the former, the latter comes of course: aim at the latter, you get neither: more probably you prevent both.