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BOOK II.—: REWARDS APPLIED TO OFFICES. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 2.
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REWARDS APPLIED TO OFFICES.
SALARY—HOW A REWARD.
There are many species of service, and even services of a positive nature, of which governments stand in constant and uninterrupted need: such for the most part are the duties of those who are employed in the different departments of every government. The political state or condition, on account of which individuals possessing it are considered liable to render these services, is called a place, an office, or an employment. To these places it is both natural and customary to attach, under the title of emolument, certain portions of the matter of wealth. If such emolument be determinate in amount, and paid at regularly recurring periods, it is called a salary.
It is the nature of a reward to operate as a motive, and in that capacity to give birth to acts which, by the person by whom the reward is held up to view, are esteemed services: the greater the reward, the greater is the motive it constitutes; the greater the motive, the more strenuous the exertion it has a tendency to produce: and if the value of the service be susceptible of an indefinite degree of perfection, the more strenuous the exertion to perform it, the greater, as far as depends upon the will of the party, will be the value of the service. Hence it follows, that if salary be reward, as far as funds can be found, salaries cannot be too large. How different the state of things presented to us when we consult experience! We see small salaries, and the service admirably well performed: large salaries, and nothing done for them. In certain lines, we see the service regularly worse and worse performed, in proportion to the largeness of the salary. Where then lies the error? In experience there can be none: in the argument there is none. The error lies in its not being properly understood: and that in general it has not been properly understood, the bad management and weak measures so frequent in this line are but too pregnant proofs. To understand the argument aright, two points must be observed: The one is, to consider, for illustration’s sake, that just in the same manner as punishment,—and in no other manner, though with less certainty of effect,—is reward capable of acting as a motive: the other point is, to consider what is really the service for which a salary is a reward.
What, then, is the service, with respect to which a salary operates as a motive? The answer which would be generally given to this question is, the continued service belonging to the office to which the salary is annexed. Obvious as this answer may seem, it is not the true one. The service, and the only service, with respect to which a salary can operate as a motive, is either the simple instantaneous service of taking upon one the office, or the permanent service of continuing to stand invested with it. If the duties of the office—the services in the expectation of which the salary annexed to the office is bestowed, happen to be performed, it cannot be owing merely and immediately to the salary: it must be owing to some other motive. If there were no other motive, the service would not be rendered. Nothing is done without a motive: what, then, is this other motive? It must be either of the nature of reward or punishment. It may by possibility be of the nature of reward; but if it be so, one or other of these rewards would seem superfluous: in common, it is principally of the nature of punishment. In as far as this is the case, the service for which the salary, considered as a reward, is given, is the service of taking upon one the obligation constituted by the punishment—the obligation of performing the services expected from him who possesses the office.
That the zeal displayed in discharging the duties of an office should not be in proportion to the salary, will now no longer appear strange. Experience is reconciled to theory. This subject will receive elucidation, if we substitute punishment for reward, and consider what tendency such a motive would have to give birth to any service, if connected with it in the same manner as a salary is annexed to an office.
Suppose a schoolmaster, intending to conduct the business of his school with regularity, were to make it a rule, on a certain day, at the beginning of every quarter, to call all his scholars before him, and to give each ten lashes, committing their behaviour during the rest of the quarter altogether to their discretion:—the policy of this master would be the exact counterpart of the founder of the school towards the master, if he has sought to attach him to the duties of his office by bestowing upon him a salary. Suppose the master, finding that under this discipline the progress of his scholars did not equal his expectations, should resolve to increase his exertions, and accordingly should double the dose of stripes:—his policy in this case would be the exact counterpart of the founder, who by the single operation of increasing the master’s salary, should think to increase his diligence.
A salary is not a reward for any individual service of the number of those which are rendered in consequence of a man’s acceptance of the office to which the salary is annexed. For the rendering of any one of these services, the salary presents him not with any motive which can come under the head of reward: the motives which it gives him belong entirely to the head of punishment. It is by fear only, and not by hope, that he is impelled to the discharge of his duty—by the fear of receiving less than he would otherwise receive, not by the hope of receiving more. Though he work ever so much more or better than a man who holds his office is expected to work, he will receive nothing more than his salary, if the salary be all that he has to hope for, By working to a certain degree less or worse, he may indeed stand a chance of having the salary, or a part of it, taken from him, or he may be made punishable in some other way: but if he continue to keep clear of that extreme degree, in such case let him work ever so little or ever so badly, he will not, as far as artificial punishment is concerned, be ever the worse. He has therefore no motive, so far as the salary is concerned, for endeavouring to pass the line of mediocrity; and he has a motive, the motive of indolence or love of ease, for stopping as far short of it as he can with safety.
Suppose, for instance, a salary of £4000 a-year annexed to the office of a judge: of all the services he may come to perform in the discharge of his function, of which one is this salary the reward? Of no one whatever. Take any one of the causes which would regularly come before him for hearing: though he were to attend, and to display ever so much diligence and ever so much ability in the hearing of it, he would receive no more that year than his £4000; though he were to absent himself altogether, and leave the business to his colleagues, he would receive no less: in short, provided he does not so far swerve from his duty as to subject himself to fine or deprivation, whether he perform his duty ever so well, or ever so ill—whether he decide many causes or few—whether his attendance be constant or remiss—whether he display ever so much or ever so little ability,—his salary is the same. Not that a man in this exalted station is in any want of motives to prompt him to exert himself in the discharge of its duties: he has the pleasures of power, to balance the pains of study—the fear of shame, to keep him from sinking below mediocrity—the hope of celebrity, to elevate him above it, to spur him on to the highest pitch of excellence. These motives are presented to him by his station, but they are not presented to him by his salary.
The services, and the only services, which the salary presents a motive for his performing, are, in the first place, the instantaneous act of taking upon him the station—that is, of subjecting himself to the obligations annexed to it; and in the event of his violating any of those obligations, to the punishments annexed to such violations: in the next place, the discharging of the smallest portion of those obligations which it is necessary he should discharge, in order to his receiving such or such part of the salary. Let it, for instance, be paid him quarterly: if the first quarter be paid him in advance, it will afford him no motive of the nature of reward for doing any of the business of that quarter. He has that quarter’s salary; nor can he fail of enjoying it, unless, in the way of punishment, it be afterwards taken from him. If it be not paid him till the end of the quarter, the case will be still the same, unless proof of his having rendered certain services—the having attended, for example, at certain times—be necessary to his receiving it. With this exception, it may equally be said, that in both cases, for any other than the instantaneous act of taking upon him the burthen of the station for that quarter, he has no reward, nor any motive but what operates in the way of punishment.
This distinction is of importance; for if the salary given were the inducement of performing the services, the chance of having them performed, and well performed, would be exactly as the magnitude of the salary. If, for example, fifty pounds sterling a-year sufficed to insure fifty grains of piety, assiduity, eloquence, and other sacerdotal virtues in a curate,—five thousand of these same pounds ought to insure five thousand grains of these same virtues in a bishop or archbishop. But what everybody knows is, that this proportion does not hold; on the contrary, it most frequently happens that the proportion is inverse: the curate labours much, the bishop little, and the archbishop less.
The chance of service is as the magnitude of the punishment; and if the salary can be withdrawn, it is so far indeed as the magnitude of the salary: but it may be equally great without any salary—by the substitution of any other punishment instead of loss of salary.
We see, then, how it is that a salary, he it great or small, independently of the obligation which it pays a man for contracting, has not in itself the smallest direct tendency to produce services; whilst experience shows, that in many cases, in proportion to its magnitude, it has a tendency to prevent them.
RULES AS TO EMOLUMENTS.
Before we enter upon this subject in detail, it may be necessary to remark, that the proper application of the following rules will depend upon the nature of the service required, and its various local circumstances. It is only by observing the peculiar character assumed by abuse in each office, that appropriate remedies for each particular evil can be provided. Since it is impossible to make a complete catalogue of all errors, and to anticipate every species of abuse, the rules laid down may not constitute a perfect system. They may, however, serve as a warning against errors and abuses which have by experience been found to exist, and also against some which may be imagined likely to exist. It is useful to erect beacons upon rocks whose existence has been made known by the shipwrecks they have caused. Among the rules about to be given, some may appear so self-evident as almost to seem superfluous: but if it can be shown that errors have arisen from the neglect of them in practice, such rules, though not entitled to be considered as discoveries, must at least be regarded as necessary warning; they may teach nothing new, but they may serve to recall principles which it is desirable should be constantly and clearly remembered.
Rule I. Emoluments ought in such manner to be attached to offices, as to produce the most intimate connexion between the duty and the interest of the person employed.
This rule may be applied in insuring assiduous attendance on the part of the persons employed. In different offices, different services are required; but the greater number of offices have this one circumstance in common: that their duties may be performed, it is necessary that the individual holding the office should be at a certain time in a certain place. Hence, of all duties, assiduous attendance is the first, the most simple, and the most universal. In many cases, to insure the performance of this duty, is to insure the performance of every other duty. When the clerk is at his desk, the judge upon the bench, the professor in his school,—if there be nothing particularly irksome in their duty, and they can do nothing else, rather than remain idle, it is probable they will perform their duty. In these cases, the service required being of the continual kind, and in point of quality not susceptible of an indefinite degree of perfection—the pay being required not for certain services, but for such services as may come to be performed within a certain space of time,—it may without impropriety be given in the form of a salary. But even here, the policy of making reward keep pace with service* should be pursued as closely as possible; and for this purpose, the long continued mass of service should be broken down into as many separate services as possible—the service of a year into the service of days. In the highest offices, an individual, if paid by his time, should, like the day-labourer, and for the same reason, be paid rather by the day than by the year. In this way he is kept to his duty with more than the effect, and at the same time without any of the odium, of punishment.
In the station of a judge, it is not common to exact attendance by the force of punishment—at least not by the force of punishment to be applied in each instance of failure. But if it were, the infliction of that punishment for trivial transgressions—that is, for one or a few instances of non-performance—would be thought harsh and rigorous, nor would anybody care for the odium of standing forth to enforce it. Excuses would be lightly made, and readily accepted. Punishment in such cases being to the last degree uncertain, would be in a great measure ineffectual. It might prevent continual, but it would never prevent occasional, or even frequent, delinquency. But what cannot be effected by punishment alone, may be effected by punishment and reward together. When the officer is paid separately for each day’s attendance, each particle of service has its reward: there is for each particle of service an inducement to perform it. There will be no wanton excuses, when inconvenience adheres inseparably to delinquency without the parade of punishment.
The members of the French Academy, and the Academy of Science, notwithstanding all their dignity, are paid their salaries by the day, and not by the year. And who are the individuals, how low or how high soever, who cannot, and who ought not, to be paid in this manner? If pride have a legitimate scruple, it is that which refuses to receive the reward for labour which it has not performed; whilst, as to the objection which might arise from the minute apportionment of the salary, it is easily removed by counters given from day to day, and converted into money at fixed periods.
In the act of parliament for establishing penitentiary houses, among other good regulations, this method of insuring assiduity of attendance has been adopted. The three superintendents receive, as the whole of their emoluments, each a share of the sum of five guineas, which is directed to be distributed each day of their attendance equally among those who are present.
A more ancient example of this policy may be found in the incorporated society in London for the assurance of lives. The directors of this establishment receive their trifling emoluments in this manner; and thus applied, these emoluments suffice. This plan has also been adopted in the case of commissioners of bankrupts, and by different associations.
These examples ought not to be lost; and yet, from not having been referred to general principles, they have not possessed the influence they ought to have. How often have regulations been heaped upon regulations without success! How many useless decrees were made in France to insure the residence of the bishops and beneficed clergy!
In England, we have not in this respect been more successful; that is to say, more skilful. Laws have been enacted against the non-residence of the clergy—laws badly contrived, and consequently useless. Punishment has been denounced, and a fine imposed, which being invariable in amount, has sometimes been greater and sometimes less than the advantage to be derived from the offence. For want of a public prosecutor in this, as in so many other cases, it has been necessary to rely upon such casual informers as may be allured by a portion of the fine. The love of gain has seldom proved a motive sufficiently strong to induce an endeavour to obtain this reward; whose value, not to mention the expenses of pursuit, is destroyed by infamy. Till this motive be reinforced by personal animosity, which bursts the bonds of infamy, these laws are powerless.
Such cases, which may occur once or twice in the course of ten years throughout the whole kingdom, are neither sufficiently frequent, nor well known, to operate as examples. The offence remains undiminished: the useless punishment constitutes only an additional evil; whilst such laws and such methods, powerless among friends, serve only to bring enemies into contact! Whenever it is desirable that a clergyman should live in the midst of his parishioners—that is to say, when they are amicable—the law is a dead letter: its power is exerted only when they are irreconcilable enemies; that is, in the only cases wherein its utility is problematical, and it were to be wished that its execution would admit of an exception. His return into his parish is a triumph for his enemies, and a humiliation for himself.
Had the salaries paid to the professors in the universities been interwoven with their services, it might have been the custom for some of these pretended labourers to have laboured for their hire; and to be a professor, might have meant something more than having a title, a salary, and nothing to teach.
A salary paid day by day has an advantage beyond that of insuring assiduity of attendance;—it even renders a service agreeable, which with an annual salary will be regarded as purely burthensome. When reward, instead of being bestowed in a lump, follows each successive portion of labour, the idea of labour becomes associated with pleasure instead of pain. In England, husbandmen, like other labourers, are paid in hard money by the week, and their labour is cheerfully and well performed. In some parts of the continent, husbandmen are still paid as they were formerly in England, by houses and pieces of land given once for all; and the labour is said to be performed with all the slovenliness and reluctance of slavery.
Rule II. Emoluments ought in such manner to be attached to office, as to produce the greatest possible degree of excellence in the service rendered.
Thus far the subject has only been considered as applicable to insuring attendance in cases where assiduity of attendance appears to suffice for insuring the performance of all other duties. There follow some cases, in which it appears possible to apply the same principle either in the prevention of abuse, or in insuring an extraordinary degree of perfection in the employment of the powers which belong to certain stations.
Instead of appointing a fixed salary, invariably of the same amount as the emolument of the superintendent or superintendents of a prison, a poor-house, an asylum for orphans, or any kind of hospital whose inhabitants depend upon the care of one or a small number of individuals, whatever may be the difference in the degree of attention displayed, or the degree of perfection with which the service is performed,—it would be well to make the emolument of such persons in some measure depend upon the care with which their duties have been performed, as evidenced by their success. In a penitentiary, or other prison, that the prisoners might be insured from all negligence or ill-treatment, tending directly or indirectly to shorten their lives, make a calculation of the average number of deaths among the prisoners in the particular prison, compared with the number of persons confined there. Allow the superintendent each year a certain sum for each person of this number, upon condition, that for every prisoner who dies, an equal sum is to be withheld from the amount of his emoluments. It is clear, that having a net profit upon the lives of all whom he preserves, there is scarcely any necessity for any other precaution against ill-treatment, or negligence tending to shorten life.*
In the naval service, the laws of England allow a certain sum for each vessel taken or destroyed, and so much for every individual captured. Why is not this method of encouragement extended to the military service?
Is the commander of an army employed in defending a province,—allow him a pension which shall be diminished in proportion to the territory he loses. Is the governor of an important place besieged,—allow him so much for every day that he continues the defence. Is the conquest of a province desirable,—promise to the general employed, besides the honours he shall receive, a sum of money which shall increase in proportion to the territory he acquires, besides giving him a pension, as above, for preserving it when acquired.
To the principal duty of taking and destroying those who are opposed to him, might be added the subordinate duty of preserving the living machines whose exertions are necessary for its accomplishment. The method proposed for the preservation of prisoners,—why should it not be employed for the preservation of soldiers? It must be acknowledged, that no reward exclusively attached to this subordinate duty could, in the mind of a prudent commander, add anything to the weight of those arguments which arise out of the principal object. A soldier when he is ill, is worth less than nothing: a recruit may not arrive at the moment—may not arrive at all, and when he has arrived, he is not like a veteran. If therefore, it be proper to strengthen motives thus palpable, by a separate and particular reward, it ought at least to be kept in a subordination sufficiently marked with respect to the principal object.
Thus much as to a time of war. In time of peace, the propriety of this method is much less doubtful. It is then that the attention of a general should be more particularly directed to the preservation of his soldiers. Make him the insurer of their lives, and he will become the rival of Esculapius in medical science, and of Howard in philanthropy. He will no longer be indifferent, whether they encamp upon a hill or in a morass. His vigilance will be exercised upon the quality of his supplies and the arrangement of his hospitals; and his discipline will be rendered perfect against those vices of armies, which are sometimes no less destructive than the sword of the enemy.*
The same system might be extended to ships of war, in which negligence is so fatal, and in which general rules are so easily enforced. The admiral, or captain, would thus have an immediate interest in the preservation of each sailor. The admirable example of Captain Cook, who circumnavigated the world, and traversed so many different climates and unknown seas, without the loss of a single sailor, would no longer be unfruitful. His instructions respecting diet, change of air, and cleanliness, would not be neglected. The British navy, it is true, is much improved in these respects: but who can tell how much greater perfection might be attained, if to the already existing motives were added the influence of a constantly acting interest, which, without injuring any virtue, might supply the place of all, if they were wanting?
In the application of these suggestions, there may be difficulties: are they insurmountable? It is for those who have had experience to reply.
In the treaty made by the Landgrave of Hesse Cassel, relative to the troops which the British government hired of him to serve in America, one stipulation was, that for every man not returned to his country, he should receive thirty pounds. I know not whether such a stipulation were customary or not: but whether it were or not, nothing could be more happily imagined, either for the fiscal interest of the sovereign lender, or the interest of the individuals lent. The spirit of party found in this stipulation a theme for declamation, as if its only effect were to give to the prince an interest in the slaughter of his subjects; whilst, if anything could counterbalance the mischievous effects of the treaty, it was this pecuniary condition. It gave to these strangers a security against the negligence or indifference of the borrowers, on account of which they might more willingly have been exposed to danger than native subjects. The price attached to their loss would act as an insurance that care should be taken to preserve them.
It has been said, that in some countries the emoluments of the commanders of regiments increase in proportion to the number of non-effectives; that is to say, that they receive always the same amount for the pay of their corps, though they have not always the same number of men to pay. Such an arrangement is precisely the opposite of what is recommended above. The number of non-effectives increasing by death or desertion, the commander gains in money what he loses in men. Every penny which he is thus permitted to acquire is a reward offered, if not for murder, at least for negligence.
Note.—The principles thus laid down by Mr. Bentham are susceptible of great diversity of application. When Mr. Whitbread brought into parliament his bill for the establishment of schools for the education of the poor, I flattered myself that I had discovered one instance to which they might very readily be applied; and, in a letter addressed to Sir Samuel Romilly, from which the following paragraphs are extracted, I explained my ideas upon the subject. It will be perceived, that the whole plan depends upon the principles laid down in this chapter:—
“Mr. Whitbread has been fully aware of the necessity of superintendence in respect to the masters,—and he has proposed to commit it to the clergymen and justices of the peace; but it is not difficult to foresee, that this burthensome superintendence will be ineflicacious. No good will be effected unless the interest of the master be constantly combined with all parts of his duty. The only method of accomplishing this, consists in making his reward depend upon his success; in giving him no fixed salary; in allowing him a certain sum for each child, payable only when each child has learned to read;—in a word, in paying him, as workmen are sometimes paid, by the work done.
“When he receives a fixed salary, the master has only a slight interest in the progress of his pupils. If he act sufficiently well to prevent his being discharged, this is all that can reasonably be expected.
“If he receive no reward till the service be performed, he has a constant interest in performing it quickly. He can relax his exertions only at his own expense. There is no longer any necessity for superintendence. The master will himself seek to improve the modes of instruction, and to excite the children to emulation. He will be disposed to listen to the advice, and to profit by the experience of others.
“When he receives a fixed salary, every new scholar increases the trouble of the master, diminishes his exertions, and disposes him to complain. Upon the plan which I propose, it is the master who will stir up the negligent parents; it is he who will become the servant of the law. Instead of complaining that he has too many pupils, he will only complain if he have too few. Should he have three or four hundred, or even as many as Mr. Lancaster, like him he would find the means of attending to them all; he would employ the most forward in instructing those who were less advanced, &c. &c.
“Should a negligent or incapable master be appointed, he would be forced to quit his place. Substitute for this plan, examinations, depositions, and decisions, and see what would be the consequence.
“There would be no difficulty in the execution of this proposed plan. It would be sufficient that twice or thrice in the year, the clergyman, and certain justices of the peace, or other persons of consequence, who were willing to promote so useful a work, should meet together for two or three hours at the school-house. The examination of each scholar would not occupy more than half a minute. The master himself might be trusted for selecting only such as were capable of undergoing the test, and an honorary would thus be added to his pecuniary reward, by the publicity given to his success.”
FEES AND PERQUISITES—NONE.
Another expedient is often employed in the payment of public officers: I refer to the fees which they are sometimes authorized to receive on their own account, from those who require their services.
This arrangement is attended with a specious advantage, and a real danger. The advantage is, that the reward seems to be exactly and directly in proportion to the labour performed: the danger lies in the temptation given to such officers to increase their emoluments, by increasing the difficulties of those who need their services. The abuse is easily introduced. It is very natural, for example, that an individual who has been served with an extraordinary expedition, should add something to the accustomed fee. But this reward, bestowed on account of superior expedition in the first instance, infallibly becomes a cause of delay in all which follow. The regulated hours of business are employed in doing nothing, or in doing the least possible, that extraordinary pay may be received for what is done out of office-hours. The industry of all the persons employed will be directed to increasing the profit of their places, by lending one another mutual assistance; and the heads of departments will connive at the disorder, either for their share of the benefit, or out of kindness to their inferiors, or for fear of rendering them discontented.
The inconveniences will be yet greater, if they relate to a service covered with a mysterious veil, which the public cannot raise. Such is the veil of the law. The useless and oppressive delays in legal procedure arise from very complicated causes; but it cannot be doubted, that one of the most considerable of these causes is the sinister interest which lawyers have in multiplying processes and questions, that they may multiply the occasions for receiving fees.
Integrity is more easily preserved in public offices in which there are no fees, than in those where they are allowed. A lawful right often serves as a pretext for extortion. The distinction between what is permitted and what is prohibited, in many cases, is exceedingly minute; and how many temptations may occur of profiting by the ignorance of strangers, when circumstances will insure impunity! An easy method of detecting offences is a great restraint. Whenever therefore fees are allowed, a list of them should be publicly fixed up in the office itself: this will operate as a protection to the persons employed against suspicion, and to the public against vexation.
This mode of rewarding services, supposes that the individuals who stand in need of them should bear the expenses of the establishment. This is true only in case the benefit is solely for those individuals: in all other cases, fees constitute an unequal and very unjustly assessed tax. We shall have occasion to recur to this subject shortly.
Rule III. The amount of the salary, or other emoluments, attached to every office, ought to be the least that the individuals qualified to execute its duties are willing to accept for their performance.
The fair and proper price of any vendible commodity is the least that anybody will take for it: so that the expectation of like payment shall be a sufficient inducement to the labour requisite to produce other like articles in future. The fair and proper price of any service is the least that anybody will do it for: so that if more were given, it would be done either not at all the better, or not so much the better as that the difference of quality should be equivalent to the difference of expense. In this proper and necessary price is included, of course, everything necessary to enable the individual to perform, and to continue to perform, the service; and also whatever is necessary on account of the disadvantages attending the service, and on account of the chance which may be given up of the advantages that might be expected from other services.
At the first establishment of an office, it may be difficult accurately to determine what ought to be the amount of its emoluments: in this, as is the case with every commodity when carried to market for the first time, we can only be guided by chance. The number and character of the candidates will, however, soon determine whether the amount offered be too large or too small.
According to this rule, the salaries paid to the judges in England, which appear so considerable, are scarcely enough; since, as we have already seen, they are not sufficient to induce those who are best qualified to discharge the duty, to undertake the office.
In France, before the Revolution, scarcely any salaries were paid to the judges: they were not drafted from the class of advocates, and no sacrifice was required of them when they entered upon their duties; it was not necessary that they should be possessed of much experience, and their reward consisted principally in the honour and respect attached to their station. In England, the number of judges is so small, that there is no place for cyphers: it is necessary that each judge should possess, from the first day be enters upon his office, that skill which, in the present state of immensity and obscurity in which the law is found, can only be the fruit of long study. In France, among the enormous multitude of her judges, there was always a sufficient number endowed with the requisite skill; and the novice might, so long as he chose, preserve a Pythagorean silence.
A method of ascertaining the proper amount of emoluments for any office, simple as it is efficacious, is afforded by allowing the persons employed to discharge their duty by deputy. If no one employ a deputy, the emoluments cannot be much too great: if many individuals employ deputies, it will be only necessary to observe what is paid to the deputies: the salary of the deputy is the proper salary for the place.
If this rule be applied to the emoluments of the clergy, and it be asked what is the proper price for their services, the answer is not difficult. It is, primâ facie, the price given by one class of the clergy, and received by the other; it is the current price of curacies. I say always primâ facie; for, in reality, the current price is somewhat greater; part of the price being made up in hope. For insuring the due performance of all the duties of their office, this price is found to be sufficient. The possession of any greater emolument is not only useless but pernicious, inasmuch as it enables them to engage in occupations incompatible with the due performance of their function, and as it tends to give them a distaste for the duties of that function.
The inequality observable in the emoluments of the established clergy is also disadvantageous in respect to the greater number of ecclesiastics. The comparison which they make between their condition, and that of the rich incumbents, diminishes still further, in their eyes, the value of what they receive. A reward so unequal, for equal services, degrades those who receive only their proper portion. The whole presents the appearance of a lottery—of favour and injustice, ill according with the moral character of their vocation.
It is a good rule of economy to employ only real labourers, who do not think themselves superior to the work they have to perform. Dutch florists ought not to be employed in the cultivation of potatoes.
It is well also fully to occupy the time of the individuals employed. The duties of many public offices require only three or four hours attendance daily. After the office-hours are passed, such individuals seldom are able profitably to employ their time. The leisure they possess increases their wants. Ennui, the scourge of life, is no less the enemy of economy. It is among this class, that those who are most discontented with their salaries, are generally found.
NO MORE NOMINAL THAN REAL.
Rule IV. The nominal and real amount of salaries ought to correspond.
In other words, no deduction ought to be made from the real value of a salary, without reducing its nominal amount. The practice which has frequently been adopted in England, of reducing the real value of salaries and pensions by taxes and other deductions, while the nominal amount of the salaries has remained unaltered, has given rise to this rule. In some instances, the deductions thus made have amounted to one-third of the nominal salary.
No advantage arises from this arrangement, but its inconveniences are numerous. In the first place, it is an evil in so far as it spreads an exaggerated idea of the sacrifices made by the public, and the expense incurred under the head of salaries. With respect to the public functionaries, it is an evil to possess an income greater in appearance than reality. The erroneous conceptions hence entertained of their wealth, imposes upon them, in deference to public opinion, the necessity of keeping up a correspondent establishment: under the penalty of being considered niggardly, they are compelled to be extravagant. It is true, the public are aware in general, that salaries and pensions are subject to deductions; but they are oftentimes only acquainted with a part of the deductions, and they seldom in such cases enter into minute calculations.*
In this manner, the difference between the nominal and real value of a salary tends to produce an increase in the wants of the individual employed. Call the amount of his salary what it really is, and he will be at ease, but every nominal addition will prove a costly ornament. If the opportunity of illicit profit be presented to him, such nominal addition will be an incentive to corruption; and should he not be dishonest, it will prove a cause of distress.
The remedy is simple as efficacious: the change need only be in words.
COUPLE BURTHEN WITH BENEFIT.
Rule V. The expenses of an office ought to be defrayed by those who enjoy the benefit of the services rendered by the office.
The author of the Wealth of Nations, in investigating† the manner in which the expense of services ought to be divided, has shown that in some cases it ought to be defrayed by the public—in others, exclusively by those who immediately reap the benefit of the service. He has also shown that there is a class of mixed cases, in which the expense ought to be defrayed partly by the public, and partly by the individuals who derive the immediate benefit. To this class belongs public education.
The rule just laid down seems scarcely to stand in need of proof. It may, however, be useful to mention the modes in which it may be violated; as—I. When, for a service rendered to one person or set of persons, the obligation of payment is imposed upon another. This is partly the case of dissenters who support their own clergy, in so far as they are obliged to pay for the support of the clergy of that established sect from which they dissent. 2. When, for a service rendered to a certain number of individuals, the obligation of payment is imposed upon the public: for example, the expenses of a theatre, wholly or in part paid out of the public purse. 3. When, for a service rendered to the public, the obligation of payment is imposed upon an individual.
With respect to this third case, the examples are but too abundant.
I. The most remarkable example will be found in the administration of justice. At first sight, it may be thought that he who obtains a verdict in his favour reaps the principal, or even the only advantage to be obtained; and therefore that it is reasonable he should bear the expense incurred—that he should pay the officers of justice for the time they have been employed. It is in this manner that the subject appeared even to Adam Smith. (B. v. sec. 2.) Upon a closer examination, we shall discover an important error. The individual in whose favour a verdict is given, is precisely the individual who has received least benefit: setting aside the rewards paid to the officers of justice, how many other expenses, which the nature of things render inevitable, remain! It is he who, at the price of his time, his care, and his money, has purchased that protection which others receive for nothing.
Suppose that among a million persons there have been, for example, a thousand lawsuits in a year: without these lawsuits—without the judgments which terminate them, injustice would have had nothing to hold it in check but the defensive energy of individuals. A million acts of injustice would have been perpetrated in the same time. But since, by means of these thousand judgments, a million acts of injustice have been prevented, it is the same thing as if each complainant had himself prevented a thousand. Because he has rendered so important a service—because he has exposed himself to so many mishaps, to so much trouble and expense, does he deserve to be taxed? It is as though the militia who defend the frontiers should be selected to bear the expenses of the campaign.
“Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?” saith St. Paul. It is the poor litigant who makes war upon injustice, who pursues it before the tribunals at his own risk, and who is made to pay for the service which is rendered by him.
When such expenses are thrown upon a defendant, unjustly dragged into the litigious contention, the case is yet worse: instead of anything having been done for his advantage, he has been tormented, and he is made to pay for having been tormented.
If the expenses are altogether thrown upon the party who is found to have done wrong (although it often happens, owing to the uncertainty either of the facts or of the law, that there has been no wilful wrong on either side,) this cannot be done at first: this party can only be known at the termination of the suit. But then such a judgment would be a punishment; and there is a chance that such a punishment may not be deserved; another chance, that the individual may not be in a condition to support it; another chance, that it will be either too great or too little.‡
II. As another violation of this rule, may be cited the practice of taking fees, as carried on in most custom-houses, and which constituted a great abuse in those of England, previously to the reform introduced by Mr. Pitt. Many of the officers, not receiving salaries sufficient for their maintenance, were allowed to make up the deficiency by fees received for their own advantage. This custom had an appearance of reason. “We pass your merchandise through the custom-house,” they might have said; “and you ought to pay for this service.” But this reason is deceptive. “Without this custom-house,” the merchants might have replied, “our merchandise would have gone straight forward. It is not for our advantage that this costly depôt is established—it is for the general wants of the State; the State, therefore, which you serve, ought to pay you, and not us, whom you torment with your services, which we should be very happy to do without.” But it may be said, this expense must be borne by somebody: why should it not be borne by these merchants as well as anybody else? Because it is a partial and unequal tax. Taxes upon merchandise are generally in proportion to the value of the goods; this abusive tax seldom is so. A rich merchant does not feel it; he is reimbursed by the sale of his goods: a poor individual is oppressed by this second contribution, which he finds it necessary to pay to the clerk after be has paid what is due to the Exchequer; and it with reason appears to him the more odious, because it is oftentimes arbitrary.
III. In conclusion as a last example of the violation of this rule, we mention the emoluments of the clergy, in so far as they consist of tithes. If the services of the clergy contribute to the maintenance of public morality, and obedience to the laws, even those to whom these services are not personally directed are benefited by them—they are useful to the whole state: their expense, whatever ought to be its amount, ought to be borne by the whole community. Distributed as this expense is at present, under the system of tithes, in such manner that every one knows how much and to whom he pays it, no advantage is derived from this knowledge; whilst the inconveniences are but too manifest, in that hatred which so frequently subsists between the parishioners and their minister, the shepherd and his flock; by means of which his labours, so long as this enmity subsists, are rendered worse than useless. Were this expense to be defrayed from the general source of the public treasure, these scandalous dissensions would be avoided; and whether the revenues were more or less ample, it would be possible to preserve a more just proportion between them and the different degrees of labour, instead of floating as at present between £20 and £20,000 per annum, under the direction of chance.*
BY EMOLUMENTS EXCLUDE CORRUPTION.
Rule V. In employments which expose the public functionary to peculiar temptations, the emoluments ought to be sufficient to preserve him from corruption.
Setting aside all considerations of the happiness of the individual, the interest of the public requires, that in all employments which afford the means of illicit gain, the individuals employed should be placed above want. If this important consideration be neglected, we ought not to be surprised that men urged on by perpetually recurring wants should abuse the powers they possess. Under such circumstances, if they are found guilty of extortion and peculation, they are less deserving of blame than that government which has spread the snare into which it was scarcely possible that their probity should not fall. Placed between the necessity of providing the means of subsistence, and the impossibility of providing them honestly, they will naturally be led to regard peculation and extortion as a lawful supplement, tacitly authorized by the government. The examples of this mischievous economy, and of the inconveniences resulting from it, are more frequent in Russia than under any other European government.
“M. de Launay (Farmer-general under Frederick II.) represented to the king that the salaries of the custom-house officers were too small for their subsistence, and that it would be but justice to augment them; he added, that he could insure to his Majesty that every one would then discharge his duty better, and that the aggregate receipts in all the offices would be larger at the end of the year.”—“You do not know my subjects,” said Frederick; “they are all rogues where my interests are in question. I have thoroughly studied them, and I am sure they would rob me at the altar. By paying them better, you would diminish my revenues, and they would not rob me less.”—“Sire,” replied M. de Launay, “how can they do otherwise than steal? Their salaries are not enough to buy them shoes and stockings! a pair of boots costs them a month’s pay! at the same time, many of them are married. And where can they obtain food for their wives and families, if it is not by conniving at the smugglers? There is, Sire, a most important maxim, which in matters of government is too frequently neglected. It is, that men in general desire to be honest; but it is always necessary to leave them the ability of being so. If your Majesty will consent to make the trial I propose, I will engage that your revenues will be augmented more than a fourth,” The maxim in morals, thus brought forward by M. de Launay, appeared to the king,—beautiful and just as it really is in itself,—so much the more excellent from being in the mouth of a financier; since men of this class are not in general reputed to know many such. He authorized the experiment; he increased the salaries of the officers by a half, and his revenues were increased a third without any new taxes.*
A salary proportionate to the wants of the functionary operates as a kind of moral antiseptic, or preservative. It fortifies a man’s probity against the influence of sinister and seductive motives. The fear of losing it will in general be more than equivalent to the ordinary temptations held out by illicit gains.
But in the estimation of a man’s wants, it is not merely to what is absolutely necessary that our calculation ought to be confined;—Fabricius and Cincinnatus are not the proper standards to be selected; the actual state of society ought to be considered; the average measure of probity must be our rule. Public opinion assigns to every public functionary a certain relative rank; and, whether reasonably or not, expects from him an expenditure nearly equal to that of persons in a similar rank. If he be compelled to act in defiance of public opinion, he degrades and exposes himself to contempt—a punishment so much the more afflictive, in proportion as his rank is elevated. Wants keep pace with dignity. Destitute of the lawful means of supporting his rank, his dignity presents a motive for malversation, and his power furnishes the means. History abounds with crimes, the result of this ill-judged policy.
If a justification be required for the extraordinarily high salaries, which it is customary to pay to the supreme magistrates who are called Kings, it will be found in the principles above laid down. The Americans, by denominating their chief magistrate a President, have thereby made a small salary, compared with what is paid in England to the sovereign, answer every purpose of a large one. Why? Because the dignity of the president is compared with that of the other officers of the republic, whilst in Europe the dignity of the sovereign is measured by a sort of comparison with that of other kings. If he were unable to maintain a certain pomp amidst the opulence of his courtiers, he would feel himself degraded. Charles II., to relieve himself from the restrictions imposed upon him by the economy of parliament, sold himself to a foreign potentate, who offered to supply his profusion. The hope of escaping from the embarrassments into which he had plunged himself, drove him, like an insolvent individual, to criminal resources. This mistaken economy occasioned the expense of two successive wars, terminating in a peace more disastrous, perhaps, than either of the wars. Our strength was wasted in oppressing a necessary ally, instead of being employed in checking the ambition of a rival, with whom we had afterwards to contend with diminished resources. Thus the establishment of the Civil List, though its amount may appear large, may be considered as a measure of general security,
It is true, that the sum necessary to prevent Charles II. from selling himself, or, in other words, the amount which in this instance would have operated as a moral antiseptic, or preservative, could not have been very accurately calculated. A greater or less portion of this antiseptic must be employed, in proportion as there exists a greater or less proclivity towards corruption. Experience is the touchstone of all calculations in this respect. Provided these abuses are guarded against, a low scale of salaries can never be an evil; it must be a good. If the salary be not a sufficient reward for the service to be performed, the office will not be accepted: if it be sufficient, everything which is added to its amount, is so much lavished in pure waste.
GIVE PENSIONS OF RETREAT.
Rule VII. Pensions of retreat ought to be provided, especially when the emoluments allowed are not more than sufficient to meet the absolute wants of the functionary.†
Pensions of retreat are recommended by considerations of humanity, justice, and good economy: they moreover tend to insure the proper discharge of duty, and constitute a source of responsibility on the part of the individuals employed.
1. There are many cases in which it is not desirable that a public functionary should continue to be employed after his activity and capacity have become impaired. But since the infirmities of age tend to increase his wants, this is not the time in which he will be able to retrench his expenditure; and he will be induced by this consideration, in his old age and impotency, to continue to endeavour to perform, with pain, and even with disgrace, the duties of a station which in his maturity he had filled with pleasure and reputation. To wait till he voluntarily resigns, is to expect a species of suicide; to dismiss him without a pension of retreat, is, in the supposed state of his faculties, a species of homicide. A pension of retreat removes all these difficulties: it is a debt of humanity, paid by the public to its servants.
2. By means of these pensions, the scale of all salaries may be lower than otherwise, without producing any ill effect upon the quality of the services rendered: they will constitute an item in the calculation which every individual makes. In the meantime, government will obtain from all, at a low price, services, the ulterior compensation for which, on account of the casualties of human life, will only be received by a few. It is a lottery in which there are no blanks.
3. In all employments from which the individuals are removable at pleasure, the pension of retreat, in consequence of the approach of the period at which it will become necessary or due, will add an increasing value to the salary, and augment the responsibility of the individual employed. Should he be tempted to malversation, it will be necessary that the profit derivable from his malversation should compensate with certainty, not only for the loss of his annual salary, but also for the value of his future pension of retreat: his fidelity is thus secured to the last moment of his continuing in office.
4. We ought not to forget the happiness insured to the persons employed, resulting from the security given to them by the provision thus made against that period of life which is most menaced with weakness and neglect. Hence an habitual disposition to perform the duties of their office with alacrity will arise; they will consider themselves as permanently provided for, and fixed in a situation in which all their faculties may be applied to the discharge of its duties, without being turned aside by vague apprehensions of future distress, and the desire of improving their condition, which so often leads individuals successively to try different stations. Another advantage to the government: instead of being badly served by novices, it will possess a body of experienced functionaries, expert and worthy of its confidence.
The amount of these pensions ought to be regulated by fixed rules, otherwise they will become a source of abuse: offices will be bestowed for the sake of the pension, instead of the pension being bestowed for the sake of the office. They ought also to increase according to the length of service, leaving at all times an inducement to continued exertion; without which precaution, the services of experienced individuals, which it might be desirable to retain, would frequently be lost.
OF THE SALE OF OFFICES.
If it be desirable that the public servants should be contented with small salaries, it is more desirable that they should be willing to serve gratuitously, and most desirable that they should be willing to pay for the liberty of serving, instead of being paid for their services. Such is the simple but conclusive train of argument in favour of the venality of offices, abstractly considered.
Such an arrangement is attended with another advantage. A sum laid out in the purchase of an office renders the purchaser responsible in a higher degree than he would be, were he to receive a salary equal to, or even exceeding in amount, the interest of the money he has paid. The loss of a salary paid by the public, is merely the cessation of so much gain; the loss of an office which has been purchased, is the positive loss of so much capital which the individual has actually possessed. The impression produced upon the mind by these two species of loss is widely different. The cessation of a gain is generally much less severely felt, than a loss to a corresponding amount. The gain which depends upon external circumstances is always precarious—it cannot be reckoned upon with certainty; on the other hand, if an individual have purchased an office with his own capital, he looks upon it as absolutely his own; it comes to be regarded as a certain, fixed, and permanent source of revenue, and as identified with his original property, upon which he has always reckoned.
When a man purchases an office, it may he fairly presumed that he possesses appropriate aptitude for the discharge of its duties. Are there pecuniary emoluments attached to an office,—the office may be accepted for the sake of these emoluments. Are there no pecuniary emoluments,—the office can be desired only on account of its duties, or of the natural rewards of honour and power which are inseparable from it. Such, at least, is the ordinary state of things. It is, however, possible that such an office might be desired as a means of obtaining some hidden profit prejudicial to the public: but this would be a particular case, whose existence ought to be established by proof.
It is not by names alone that we can determine whether it be most advantageous for the public, that offices should without emoluments be given away, or when with emoluments should be sold: this question can only be determined by an accurate account, exhibiting the balance of the sums paid and received. If, however, there be any offices without emoluments, for which purchasers can be found,—were it possible to sell purely honorary appointments, offices connected with public pomp and show, it would be entirely consistent with good economy: it would be to convert a tax upon honour, unfelt by any one, but established in favour of the purchasers, into hard cash. A tax would thus be levied upon vanity. The gain would be real, though the bargain, like that of the Lapland sorcerers, were only for bags of wind.
As it respects offices of which the emoluments are fixed, the question of economy is simple: the amount of the emoluments does not differ from a perpetual rent. But when an office is sold, the profits of which, whether received from the public or levied upon individuals, are uncertain in amount, this uncertainty causes a presumption against the economy of the bargain: it is disadvantageous to the public to be subject to uncertain expenses, and it is not probable that these uncertain profits will sell for so large a price as would willingly be paid for a salary equal to their average amount.
Again, as to emoluments derived solely from individuals. These are a species of tax often created and alienated at the same time in favour of the office. The general presumption cannot but be unfavourable to taxes imposed under such circumstances. In former times, when the science of political economy was in its cradle—when taxes and the methods of collecting them were little understood—governments have frequently thus alienated large branches of the public revenue: tempted by an immediate supply, they either did not or would not regard the extent of the sacrifices they made. The history of French finance is replete with instances of this kind. The customs of Orleans, which were originally purchased by a Duke of Orleans for 60,000 francs, afterwards yielded to his posterity a yearly revenue of more than 1,000,000 francs.
The venality of offices in that kingdom had created an exceedingly complex, and consequently exceedingly vicious, system. The sale of offices conferring hereditary nobility was especially mischievous, since this nobility enjoyed a multitude of exemptions. The nobles paid no taxes. Hence every creation of nobility was a tax, equal in value to the exemption granted, thrown upon those who continued liable to pay them.
Should the price for which an office is sold form a part of the emoluments of the head of the office, and not be received by the public, this would make no difference in the question of economy as respects giving and selling. That the produce of the sale is afterwards wasted, is an accident unconnected with the sale. The emoluments received by the head of the department may be too large or not: if not too large, the public gains by the operation; since, in suppressing the sale, it would be necessary to increase his emoluments by other means: if too large, the excess might be made applicable to the public service.
The Sale of Offices considered with respect to particular departments.
Public opinion is at present adverse to the sale of public offices. It more particularly condemns their sale in the three great departments of war, law, and religion. This prejudice has probably arisen from the improper use to which it has sometimes been applied; but whether this be the case or not, the use of the word venal, seldom if ever but in an odious and dysolgystic sense, has tended to preserve it.
“He who has bought the right of judging will sell judgments,” is the sort of reasoning in use upon this subject. Instead of an argument, it is only an epigram.* The members of the French parliaments were judges, and they purchased their places; it did not by any means follow that they were disposed to sell their judgments, or that they could have done so with impunity. The greater number of these parliaments were never even suspected of having sold them. Countries may however be cited, in which the judges sell both justice and injustice, though they have not bought their places. The uprightness of a judge does not depend upon these, but upon other circumstances. If the laws be intelligible and known—if the proceedings of the judges are public—if the punishment for injustice surpass the profit to be reaped from it, judges will be upright, even though they purchase their offices.
In England, there are certain judicial offices which the judges sell—sometimes openly, sometimes clandestinely. The purchasers of these offices extract from the suitors as much as they can: if they had not purchased their places, they would not have endeavoured to extract less. The mischief is, not that this right of plundering is sold, but that the right exists.
In the English army, the system of venality has been adopted. Military commissions, from the rank of ensign to that of lieutenant-colonel, are sold, with permission to the purchasers to re-sell them. The epigram upon the judges is not applied here. The complaint is, that the patrimony of merit is invaded by wealth. But it ought to be recollected, that in this career the opportunities for the display of merit do not occur every day. It is only upon extraordinary occasions that extraordinary talents can be displayed; and when these occur, there can be no difficulty, even under this system, of bestowing proportionate and appropriate rewards. Besides, though the patrimony of merit should by this means be invaded by wealth, it would at the same time be defended from favouritism—a divinity in less esteem even than wealth. The circumstance which ought to recommend the system of venality to suspicious politicians is, that it diminishes the influence of the crown. The whole circle over which it extends is so much reclaimed from the influence of the crown. It may be called a corruption, but it serves as an antidote to a corruption more to be dreaded.
It is the sale of ecclesiastical offices which has occasioned the greatest outcry. It has been made a particular sin, to which has been given the name of simony. In the Acts of the Apostles, we are informed that at Samaria there was a magician named Simon, to whose gainful practices an immediate stop was put by the preaching and miracles of Philip, one of the deacons of the church of Jerusalem, who had been driven to Samaria by persecution. Simon, therefore, regarding Philip as a more fortunate rival, enrolled himself among the number of his proselytes, and when the apostles Peter and John came down from Jerusalem, and by the laying on of their hands communicated to the disciples the gift of the Holy Ghost, Simon, desirous of possessing something more than the rest, offered to them money, saying, “Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.” Upon which Peter severely reprimanded him; and the magician, supple as he was intriguing, asked forgiveness—and thus his history closes. It is nowhere said that he was punished.
Upon the strength of this story, the Roman Catholic church has converted the act of buying or selling ecclesiastical benefices into a sin; and the English law, copying from the catholic church, has constituted such an act a crime. As the Roman Catholic church, among catholics, is infallible, as to them it must have decided rightly when it declared such acts to be sinful. Our subject, however, leads us only to the consideration of the legal crime: and between this crime and the offence of Simon Magus, there is nothing in common. Presentation to a living, and the reception of the Holy Ghost, are not the same things. If it be the object of this law to exclude improper persons, more direct, simple, and efficacious means might be employed: their qualifications might be ascertained by public examinations; their good conduct by the previous publication of their names, with liberty to all the world to object against them. Their moral and intellectual capacity being thus proved, why should they not be allowed to purchase the employment, or to discharge it gratuitously? An idiot, once admitted to priest’s orders, may hold an ecclesiastical benefice; but were a man gifted like an apostle to give five guineas to be permitted to discharge the duties of that benefice, he would be borne down by the outcry against the simony he had committed.
What, then, is the effect of these anti-simoniacal laws? A priest may not purchase a benefice for himself; but his friend, whether priest or layman, may purchase it for him: He may not purchase the presentation to a vacant benefice; but he may purchase the right of presentation to a benefice filled by a dying man, or by a person in good health who will have the complaisance to resign, and receive it again with an obligation again to resign whenever his patron requires it. In reading these self-styled anti-simoniacal laws, it is difficult to discover whether they are intended to prohibit or to allow the practice of simony. Their only real effects are to encourage deception and fraud. Blackstone complains of their inexecution: he did not perceive that a law which is not executed is ridiculous.
We have already seen that a salary may be employed as a means of insuring the responsibility of an individual, and as a moral antiseptic to preserve him from the influence of corruption. By the sale of offices, it has been seen that the actual expense of a salary may be diminished, and even reduced to nothing. It is therefore evident that the important circumstance is, that the individual should possess the requisite portion of the precious matter of reward, and not that it should have been given to him. If he possess it of his own, so much the better; and the more he already possesses, the less is it necessary to give him. In England, such are the attractions of power and dignity, that the number of candidates for their possession has been found so large, that it has been thought desirable to limit the selection to the number of those who possess the required quantity of this moral antiseptic; and this circumstance has given birth to what have been called qualifications.
The most remarkable and important offices to which these pecuniary qualifications have been attached, are those of justices of the peace and members of parliament. A justice of the peace ought to possess at least £100 per annum of landed property. There is no reasonable objection against this law. The office is one of those for which an ordinarily liberal education is sufficient. It is at the same time such an office, that the individual invested with it might do much mischief were he not restrained by powerful motives.
As a qualification for the more important office of member of parliament, the law requires of the member for a borough or city a similar qualification of £300 per annum, and of the member for a county of £600 per annum. This case differs widely from the other. Sufficient talent for carrying the laws into execution is possessed by a multitude of individuals; but few are able to determine what laws ought to be framed. The science of legislation is still in its cradle—it has scarcely been begun to be formed in the cabinets of philosophers: among legislators in name, scarcely any other practice can be found than that of children, who in their prattle copy what they have learned of their nurses. That a science may be learned, a motive is necessary; that the science of legislation may be learned, or rather may be created, motives so much the more powerful are necessary, as this science is most repulsive and thorny. For the pursuit of this study, an ardent and persevering mind is required, which can scarcely be expected to be formed in the lap of ease, of luxury, and of wealth. Among those whose wants have been forestalled from their cradle—among those who become legislators to gratify their vanity or relieve their ennui—there can scarcely be found one who could be called a legislator without mockery How shall he who possesses everything without the trouble of thinking, be led to subject himself to the labour of thought? If it be desirable that legislators should be men of enlarged and well-instructed minds, they must be sought among those who possess but little wealth—among those who, oppressed with their insignificance, are stimulated by ambition, and even by hunger, to distinguish themselves; they must be sought among those who possess the habits of Cyrus and not of Sardanapalus. Among the children of luxury, of whom the great mass of senators chosen by a rich people will always be composed, there are but few who will undergo the fatigue of studying the lessons which, at the expense of so much labour, have been furnished them by Beccaria and Adam Smith! Can it be expected, then, that from among their number the rivals of these great masters should be found? Qualifications in this case tend to exclude the individuals endowed with the greatest moral and intellectual capacity.
The reasons, however, in favour of qualifications are plausible. It is alleged, that the possession of a certain property tends to guarantee the independence of its possessor, and that in no other situation is independence more desirable than in that of a deputy appointed to watch over and defend the interests of the people against the encroachments of the executive power, supplied as that power almost necessarily is with so many means of seduction. To this it may be replied, that it is not the poor alone who are liable to be seduced: multitudes possessing property exceeding in value the qualifications required, are biassed by the seductive influence of places and pensions, whilst the poor remain unmoved.
A law of this nature, whose effect, were it strictly executed, would be to exclude the most capable, is made to be evaded, and in fact has constantly been evaded: among those who have acted the most conspicuous parts in the British House of Commons, many have been able to enter there only by an evasion of this law. Means might be provided which would afford a perfect guarantee against such evasions; but happily, upon this, as upon many other occasions, the veil that hides from human weakness the distant inconveniences of bad laws, hides also the means necessary for rendering such laws efficacious.
Some years ago, a member, the honesty of whose intentions could not be doubted, proposed to augment the qualifications for cities and boroughs from £300 to £600 per annum. The proposition, after having made considerable progress, fell to the ground. I know not whether this happened from a conviction of its trifling utility, or from one of those accidents which in that slippery path equally befall the most useful and most mischievous projects.
When the greatest possible freedom is given to popular suffrage, and even when no corrupt influence is used, the popular employment of wealth, being of all species of merit that of which people in general are best qualified to judge, and most disposed to esteem, there naturally exists an aristocracy of wealth. Is it desirable that this aristocracy should be rendered necessary and complete?
OF TRUST AND CONTRACT MANAGEMENT.
The capacity of the individuals to discharge the duties required of them having been ascertained, and the most intimate connexion between their interest and the discharge of these duties having been established, the only desirable circumstance remaining is to reduce the amount of the emoluments to be paid for the discharge of these duties to the lowest term. Suppose the amount expended in the purchase of a given service to be a certain sum, and that an individual equally capable of rendering this service, should offer to render it at less expense: is there any good reason for refusing such an offer? I can discover none. The acceptance of such a proposition is the acceptance of a contract: the service thus agreed to be performed, is said to be contracted for, or let to farm. To this method, the mode of obtaining services by employing commissioners and managers, is opposed.
General reasonings upon this subject are insufficient to determine which of these two opposite systems will be most advantageous in any particular department: the nature of the service must be ascertained, before the question can be decided.
If we confine ourselves to general principles, contracts must be preferred to commissions. Under the system of contracts, the interests about which the individual is employed are his own; whilst, under the system of commissions, the interests about which he is employed remain the interests of the state; that is, the interests of another. In the first case, the sub-functionaries employed are the servants of an individual; in the other, they are the servants of the public—fellow-servants of those who are to watch over them. “But the servants of the most negligent master,” says Adam Smith, “are better superintended than the servants of the most vigilant sovereign.” If this cannot be admitted as an infallible rule, it is at least more frequently true than otherwise.
Public opinion is, however, but little favourable to the system of contracts. The savings which result to the state are forgotten, whilst the profits reaped by the farmers are recollected and exaggerated. Upon this subject, the ignorant and the philosopher—those who judge without thought, and those who pretend to have examined the subject—are nearly agreed. The objections which they bring forward against contractors (for they relate to individuals rather than to the system) are sufficiently specious.
I. The contractors are rich. If they are so, this is not the fault of the system, but of the conditions of the bargain made with them.
II. The contractors are ostentatious and vain. And if they burst with vanity, what then? Such inappreciable, or rather imaginary evils, cannot be brought into political calculations. Their vanity will find a sufficient counterpoise and punishment in the vanity of those whom they incommode, whilst their ostentation will distribute their wealth among those whom it employs.
III. The contractors excite envy. This is the fault of those who are envious, and not of the contractors: it is another imaginary evil, in opposition to which may be placed the pleasure of detraction. Besides, if the contracts are open to all, unless improvident bargains are made through favour, corruption, or ignorance, rapid fortunes will not often be accumulated by contractors: should they still become rich, it will be because they have deserved it.
IV. Contractors never find the laws too severe to insure the collection of the taxes for which they have contracted. They will procure severe and sanguinary laws to be enacted. If the laws are severe and sanguinary, the legislature is in fault, and not the contractors. Whether the taxes are managed by contractors or commissioners, it is equally proper that the most efficacious system of laws for their collection should be established; and certainly severe and sanguinary laws are not the most efficacious. Contractors, therefore, are not likely to seek the enactment of the most severe laws: there are many reasons for supposing the contrary will be the case. The better the law is executed, that is to say, the more certainly punishment follows the transgression of the law, the less severe need it be. But under the inspection of the contractor, who has so strong an interest in its execution, the law has a better chance of being put in execution, than when under the inspection of a commissioner who has so little, if any, interest in the matter. Upon this point it is impossible to imagine by what means two interests can be more intimately connected, than those of the contractor and the state. It is the interest of the contractor that all who illegally evade the payment of the taxes should be punished: this also is the interest of the state. But it can never be the interest of the contractor to punish the innocent: this would tend to excite the whole people against him. Of every species of injustice, this is one which is least likely to meet with tranquil and acquiescent spectators.
Adam Smith, who has adopted all these objections, little calculated as they seem to me to appear in such a work as his, also contends that “the best and most frugal way of levying a tax, can never be by farm.”* If this were true, it would be a conclusive reason against ever letting taxes to farm, and it would be useless to seek for others. When a fact is proved, it is useless to trouble one’sself with prejudices and probabilities.
It is true, that without the hope of gain, no contractor would undertake to collect the produce of a tax, and to make the advances required. But whence ought the profit of the farmer to rise? This is what Adam Smith has not examined. He supposes that the state would make the same profit, by establishing an administration under its own inspection. The truth of this supposition is altogether doubtful. The personal interest of a minister is to have as many individuals, that is to say, as many dependants, employed under him as possible—that their salaries should be as large as possible; and he will lose nothing by their negligence. The interest of the farmer, or contractor, is to have as few individuals employed under him as possible, and to pay each one no more than he deserves; and he will lose by every instance of their negligence. In these circumstances, though no greater amount should be received from the people than would have been collected by the state, a contractor might reasonably hope to find a source of profit.
Adam Smith has attacked, with as much force as reason, the popular prejudices against the dealers in corn, so odious and so much suspected under the name of forestallers. He has shown that the interest of the public is most intimately connected with the natural, and almost necessary, interests of this suspected class of merchants. He might with equal justice have extended his protection to farmers of the public revenue, a class of men nearly as little beloved.
In every branch of politics, and especially in so wide a field as his subject embraced, it was nearly impossible that he should examine everything with his own eyes: it was almost of necessity that he was sometimes guided by general opinion. This seems to me to have happened upon this occasion. He forgot in this instance to apply the principle already cited, and of which he had elsewhere made such beautiful applications. I had myself once written an essay against farmers of the revenue; I have thrown it into the fire, for which alone it was fit. I know not how long I should have retained the opinions it advocated, had I not been better instructed by Adam Smith.
Note.—In Burgoyne’s “Picture of Spain,” vol. ii. page 4, &c. it is stated, that in that country, trust was found more economical than contract management. But he does not state in what manner contracts were granted: whether favour or corruption did not preside at their disposal; whether the trust management had not superior means of enforcing the payment of the taxes; nor whether their increased produce was not, in part at least, owing to the increase of trade and wealth.
The emoluments annexed to any office being shown to be in excess, and the mischiefs resulting from such an excess being ascertained, the next question which occurs is, What remedy ought to be applied? The most obvious answer is a short one: Strike them off at once. But thus unqualified, this answer is far from being the proper one.
Reform is the practical conclusion expected as the reward for all the labour bestowed on the examination of these theoretic propositions. Upon this subject, nothing farther remains but to point out one limitation, without which every reform can only be a greater abuse than the whole of those which it pretends to correct. This limitation is, that no reform ought to be carried into effect without granting complete indemnity to those whose emoluments are diminished, or whose offices are suppressed;—in a word, that the only legitimate benefit to be derived by the public from economical reform, consists in the conversion of perpetual into life annuities.
Will it be said, that the immediate suppression of these offices would be a gain to the public? This would be a mere sophism. The sum in question would, without doubt, be gained by the public, if it came from abroad, if it were obtained by commerce &c.; but it is not gained when it is taken from individuals who form a part of that same public. Would a family be richer, because the father disinherited one of his children, that he might the more richly endow the others? In this instance, as the disinheriting of one child would increase the inheritance of the others, the mischief would not be without some countervailing advantage; it would be productive of good to some part of the family. But when it relates to the public, the emoluments of a suppressed place being divided amongst the whole community,—the gain, being distributed among a multitude, is divided into impalpable quantities; whilst the loss, being confined to one, is felt in its entirety by him who supports it alone. The result of the operation is in no respect to enrich the party who gains, whilst it reduces the party who loses to poverty. Instead of one place suppressed, suppose a thousand, or ten thousand, or a hundred thousand,—the total disadvantage will remain the same: the plunder taken from thousands will have to be distributed among millions; your public places will be filled with unfortunate citizens whom you will have plunged into indigence, whilst you will scarcely see one individual who is sensibly enriched in consequence of all these cruel operations. The groans of sorrow and the cries of despair will resound on every side; the shouts of joy, if any such are heard, will not be the expressions of happiness, but of that malevolence which rejoices in the agony of its victims.
By what means do individuals deceive themselves and others into the sanction of such mischievous acts? It is by having recourse to certain vague maxims, consisting of a mixture of truth and falsehood, and which give to a question, in itself simple, an appearance of deep and mysterious policy. The interest of individuals, it is said, must give way to the public interest. But what does this mean? Is not one individual as much a part of the public as any other? This public interest, which is thus personified, is only an abstract term; it only represents the aggregate of individual interests: they must all be taken into the account, instead of considering a part as the whole, and the rest as nothing. If it were proper to sacrifice the fortune of one individual to augment that of the others, it would be still more desirable to sacrifice a second and a third, and so on to any greater number, without the possibility of assigning limits to the operation; since, whatever number may have been sacrificed, there still remains the same reason for adding one more. In a word, the interest of the first is sacred, or the interest of no one can be so.
The interests of individuals are the only real interests. Take care of individuals;—never molest them—never suffer them to be molested, and you have done enough for the public.
Among the multiplicity of human affairs, individuals have often been injured by the operation of particular laws, without daring to complain, or without being able to obtain a hearing for their complaints, on account of this vague and false notion, that the interest of individuals ought to give way to the public interest. Considered as a question of generosity, by whom ought this virtue to be displayed? By all towards one—or by one towards all? Which, then, is the most selfish—he who would preserve what he already possesses—or he who would seize, even by force, what belongs to another?
An evil felt, and a good unfelt,—such is the result of those magnificent reforms, in which the interests of individuals are sacrificed to those of the public.
The principles here laid down, it may be said, are applicable to offices and pensions held for life, but not to offices and pensions held during pleasure, and which consequently may be revoked at any time. May not these he reformed at any time? No: the difference between the two is only verbal. In all those cases in which it has been customary for those places which are granted during pleasure to be held for life, though the possessor may have been led to expect other causes of removal, he has never expected this. “My superior,” he has said to himself, “may dismiss me, I know; but I flatter myself I shall never deserve to be dismissed; I shall therefore retain my office for life.” Hence the dismission of such an individual without indemnity, is as great an evil, as much unforeseen, and equally unjust, as in the former case.
To these reasons, arising from justice and humanity, may be added a prudential consideration. By such indemnification, the interests of individuals and the public are reconciled, and a better chance of securing the latter is obtained. Assure those who are interested that they shall not be injured,—they will be among the foremost in facilitating reforms. By thus removing the grand obstacle of contrary interests, the politician prevents those clandestine intrigues, and private solicitations, which so often arrest the progress of the noblest plans.
It was thus that Leopold, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, proceeded. “Notwithstanding the multitude of reforms introduced by his Royal Highness since his accession to the throne, there has not been a single office reformed in Tuscany, the holder of which has not either been placed in some other office, [equal to that suppressed, must be understood] or who has not received as a pension a salary equal in value to the emoluments of his office.”* Upon such conditions, the pleasure of reform is pure: nothing is hazarded; good only is accomplished; at least the principal object is secured, and the happiness of no one is interrupted.
[* ]See Book I. Chap. X. Rule 3.
[* ]“The managers of L’Hôtel Dieu were used to charge fifty livres for each patient who either died or was cured. M. de Chamousset and Co. offered to undertake the management for fifty livres, for those only who were cured. All who died were not to be reckoned in the bargain, and were to be at their expense. The offer was so admirable, it was not accepted: it was feared that they would not be able to fulfil their engagement. Every abuse which it is attempted to reform is the patrimony of those who have more credit than the reformers.”—Quest. Encycl. art. Charité.
[* ]A slight sketch is all that can be attempted: the details would occupy too much space. A general might be made the insurer, as it respects those who die of disease, but not of those who are killed.
[* ]A further inconvenience frequently arises from the expense of collecting and managing such peculiar contributions.
[† ]Book V.
[‡ ]There are many other objections to taxes-upon law proceedings, but they do not belong to the present subject. Under the head of procedure, it might be shown that these taxes oppose the ends of justice: under the head of finance, that they constitute a bad source of revenue. The subject has been more fully discussed in the “Protest against Law Taxes.”
[* ]Tithes, considered as a tax, are attended with other inconveniences: they belong not to our present subject. They have been exposed by Adam Smith, with that force and precision which characterize that great master.
[* ]Thiébault, Mes Souvenirs de Berlin, tome iv. p. 126.
[† ]The reader ought to be apprised, that having found in Mr. Bentham’s MSS. upon this subject, only the memorandum,a “Pensions of Retreat,” I have confined myself to the most simple exposition of the subject: its details would have been too widely extended.—Note by Dumont.
[* ]“Vendere jure potest, emerat ille prius.” Apply the reasoning to another subject:—“He who has bought apples, will sell apples.” The consequence does not follow; for he may chance to eat or to give them away.
[* ]Wealth of Nations, book v. ch. ii.
[* ]“Indication Sommaire des Réglemens de Léopold, Grand Duc de Toscane.” Bruxelles, 1778.
[† ]The reader ought to be apprised, that having found in Mr. Bentham’s MSS. upon this subject, only the memorandum,a “Pensions of Retreat,” I have confined myself to the most simple exposition of the subject: its details would have been too widely extended.—Note by Dumont.
[a]See note by Mr. Bentham on this subject p. 191.