Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I.: INTRODUCTION. * - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 3
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER I.: INTRODUCTION. * - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 3 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 3.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Political Economy is at once a science and an art. The value of the science has for its efficient cause and measure, its subserviency to the art.†
According to the principle of utility in every branch of the art of legislation, the object or end in view should be the production of the maximum of happiness in a given time in the community in question.
In the instance of this branch of the art, the object or end in view should be the production of that maximum of happiness, in so far as this more general end is promoted by the production of the maximum of wealth and the maximum of population.
The practical questions, therefore, are—How far the measures respectively suggested by these two branches of the common end agree?—how far they differ, and which requires the preference?—how far the end in view is best promoted by individuals acting for themselves? and in what cases these ends may be best promoted by the hands of government?
Those cases in which, and those measures or operations by which, the end is promoted by individuals acting for themselves, and without any special interference exercised with this special view on the part of government, beyond the distribution made and maintained, and the protection afforded by the civil and penal branches of the law, may be said to arise sponte acta.
What the legislator and the minister of the interior have it in their power to do towards increase either of wealth or population, is as nothing in comparison with what is done of course, and without thinking of it, by the judge, and his assistant the minister of police.
The cases in which, and the measures by which, the common end may be promoted by the hands of government, may be termed agenda.
With the view of causing an increase to take place in the mass of national wealth, or with a view to increase of the means either of subsistence or enjoyment, without some special reason, the general rule is, that nothing ought to be done or attempted by government. The motto, or watchword of government, on these occasions, ought to be—Be quiet.
For this quietism there are two main reasons:—1. Generally speaking, any interference for this purpose on the part of government is needless. The wealth of the whole community is composed of the wealth of the several individuals belonging to it taken together. But to increase his particular portion is, generally speaking, among the constant objects of each individual’s exertions and care. Generally speaking, there is no one who knows what is for your interest, so well as yourself—no one who is disposed with so much ardour and constancy to pursue it.
2. Generally speaking, it is moreover likely to be pernicious, viz. by being unconducive, or even obstructive, with reference to the attainment of the end in view. Each individual bestowing more time and attention upon the means of preserving and increasing his portion of wealth, than is or can be bestowed by government, is likely to take a more effectual course than what, in his instance and on his behalf, would be taken by government.
It is, moreover, universally and constantly pernicious in another way, by the restraint or constraint imposed on the free agency of the individual. Pain is the general concomitant of the sense of such restraint, wherever it is experienced.
Without being productive of such coercion, and thereby of such pain—in a way more or less direct—more or less perceptible, with this or any other view, the interposition of government can hardly take place. If the coercion be not applied to the very individual whose conduct is endeavoured to be made immediately subservient to this purpose, it is at any rate applied to others—indeed, to the whole community taken together.
In coercive measures, so called, it is only to the individual that the coercion is applied. In the case of measures of encouragement, the field of coercion is vastly more extensive. Encouragements are grants of money or money’s worth, applied in some shape or other to this purpose. But for this, any more than any other purpose, money is not raised but by taxes, and taxes are the produce of coercive laws applied to the most coercive purpose.
This would not be the less true, though the individual pieces of money thus applied happened to come from a source which had not been fed by any such means. In all communities, by far the greatest share of the money disposed of by government being supplied by taxes, whether this or that particular portion of money so applied, be supplied from that particular source, makes no sort of difference.
To estimate the good expected from the application of any particular mass of government money, compare it always with the mischief produced by the extraction of an equal sum of money by the most burthensome species of tax; since, by forbearing to make application of that sum of money, you might forbear levying the amount of that same sum of money by that tax, and thereby forbear imposing the mass of burthen that results from it.
It would, however, be a gross error, and an extremely mischievous one, to refer to the defalcation thus resulting from the mass of liberty or free agency, as affording a conclusive objection against the interposition of the law for this or any other purpose. Every law which does not consist in the repeal, total or partial, of a coercive law, is itself a coercive law. To reprobate as a mischief resulting from this or that law, a property which is of the very essence of all law, is to betray a degree of blindness and ignorance one should think hardly possible on the part of a mind accustomed to the contemplation of any branch of the system of laws—a total unacquaintance with what may be called the logic of the laws.
Yet so imperfect is the state of legal knowledge,—marks of this perfectly surprising, as it will one day be, as well as much to be lamented ignorance, are to be found among the most experienced pens, not to mention the most loquacious tongues.
Power, knowledge* or intelligence, and inclination: where these requisites concur on the part of him on whom the production of the desirable effect in question depends, it is produced; when any one of them is wanting, it is not produced.
When these requisites exist already in perfection with reference to the production of any effect operating in addition to the mass of wealth on the part of the members of the community taken respectively in their individual capacities, it will be produced without the interference of the government; and as this interference is never a matter of pure indifference,—never otherwise than hurtful when it is not beneficial, these cases are among the cases in which that interference is not desirable.
In the cases where any one of these requisites is deficient, insomuch that for want of it the effect cannot be produced,—in such case the interposition of government may be desirable or not, according to the state of the account—according as the inconveniences attached to the measures in which the interposition of government consists, preponderate or fail of preponderating over the advantage attached to the effect which it is proposed should be produced.
If the effect fail of being produced without the interposition of government for want of any one or more of these requisites, it is by the supply of the requisite or requisites so wanting that the action of government may display itself. Thence, on every such occasion, these questions present themselves for consideration:—
1. Whether the effect in question fail of being produced in the degree in which it might be produced?
2. To the want of what requisite or requisites such failure is to be ascribed?
3. What are the means by which such failure may be supplied by government at the least expense?
4. When reduced to its least dimensions, is the expense necessary for the purpose in question such that the advantage will preponderate over the expense?
In a general view of the three requisites, inclination appears least apt to be deficient on the part of individuals. The general mass of national wealth is composed of the particular masses appertaining to individuals. On the part of the individual there is seldom any deficiency in respect of inclination to make addition to the amount of that particular mass of wealth which has fallen to his share.
It is in respect to the two other requisites, power and intelligence, that deficiency is much more apt to take place.
To these deficiencies the abilities of government are happily adapted. Inclination it could not give—it has not power to give it in the great mass of cases:—not by punishments, on account of the expensiveness, and in such cases the comparative inefficacy of such means;—not by reward, for want of a sufficient stock of that scarce and valuable matter which is not to be extracted but by taxes—that is, by punishments.
Intelligence and power may be administered by government at a much cheaper rate. A mite of reward, skilfully applied, is often sufficient to produce an immensity of intelligence. In many instances, it frequently requires nothing more than the removal of coercion from one hand to another, or even the repeal of it altogether, in order to confer the sort and degree of requisite power;* the operation, in either case, not being attended, in the shape of pain, with any perceptible effect.
The two most extensive descriptions of the cases in which it is necessary or expedient to interfere for the purpose of regulating the exertions of individuals in respect to the increase of wealth, are those in which it is necessary to regulate the pursuit of the several objects in view, according to the order of their importance:—in giving to the matter of wealth that modification which adapts it to the several purposes of subsistence and defence—security in respect of subsistence, and security in respect of defence—in preference to that which adapts it to the mere purpose of enjoyment.
With few exceptions, and those not very considerable ones, the attainment of the maximum of enjoyment will be most effectually secured by leaving each individual to pursue his own maximum of enjoyment, in proportion as he is in possession of the means. Inclination in this respect will not be wanting on the part of any one. Power, the species of power applicable to this case—viz. wealth, pecuniary power—could not be given by the hand of government to one, without being taken from another; so that by such interference there would not be any gain of power upon the whole.
The gain to be produced in this article by the interposition of government, respects principally the head of knowledge. There are cases in which, for the benefit of the public at large, it may be in the power of government to cause this or that portion of knowledge to be produced and diffused, which, without the demand for it produced by government, would either not have been produced, or would not have been diffused.
We have seen above the grounds on which the general rule in this behalf—Be quiet—rests. Whatever measures, therefore, cannot be justified as exceptions to that rule, may be considered as non agenda on the part of government.† The art, therefore, is reduced within a small compass: security and freedom are all that industry requires. The request which agriculture, manufactures, and commerce present to governments, is modest and reasonable as that which Diogenes made to Alexander: “Stand out of my sunshine.” We have no need of favour—we require only a secure and open path.
[* ]Some parts of the following work were formerly published as the fourth Book of the work entitled Rationale of Reward:—they are now inserted in the places they were originally designed to occupy in Bentham’s Manual of Political Economy.—Ed.
[† ]To Adam Smith, the science alone has been the direct and constant object in view: the art the collateral and occasional one.
[* ]Knowledge may be considered as a branch of power. It is power so far as it depends upon the mental condition of the party whose power is in question. Power, in the narrower sense of the word, depends upon the state and condition of external objects—objects exterior with reference to him.
[* ]Supplying capital is supplying power. Capital might be supplied in England by taking off, quoad hoc, the restraints imposed on the accumulation of capital by partnership.
[† ]Among these several classes, agenda, sponte acta, and non-agenda, the distribution of the imaginable stock of institutions will differ in a very considerable degree, according to the different circumstances of the several political communities. In regard to defalcations from general opulence for the security of subsistence, an arrangement of that sort which in one country may be at once needful and practicable, may in another be either not needful, or, what is more apt to be the case, not practicable. The greater the degree of opulence, the greater the list of sponte acta—the less, therefore, that of agenda. In England, abundance of useful things are done by individuals, which in other countries are done either by government, or not at all. Docks, harbours, canals, roads; institutions for relief against misfortune in a variety of shapes, and from a variety of causes—bodily affliction, death of friends, fire, hostile captures, and criminal depredation. In Russia, under Peter the Great, the list of sponte acta being a blank, that of agenda was proportionally abundant.