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CHAPTER II.: of the sufferings and difficulties which will accompany the transition. - Michel Chevalier, On the Probable Fall in the Value of Gold: The Commercial and Social Consequences which may ensue, and the Measures which it invites 
On the Probable Fall in the Value of Gold: The Commercial and Social Consequences which may ensue, and the Measures which it invites. Translated from the French, with preface, by Richard Cobden, Esq. (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1859).
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of the sufferings and difficulties which will accompany the transition.
It is not merely the ultimate result that should be considered: the statesman and the administrator ought also to take largely into account the transition, that is to say, the rather lengthened period which must intervene before gold shall have achieved its fall, and regained almost a stable value; or, it might be more proper to say, the space of time which must elapse before the full effects of the fall in gold shall have been realised in all their bearings. This transition will be an interval painful to pass over, and will be marked by innumerable shocks and sufferings, of which I am about to give a summary idea: it will be the occasion for offering a few details upon the different interests which are likely to be affected by the fall in the value of the precious metal.
During this transition, then, the value of all properties will be subjected to a painful uncertainty, and to injurious fluctuations. It will be still worse for those persons to whom I have already alluded, whose incomes consist of a sum of money (Napoleons or sovereigns) fixed in advance. They will live in a perpetual state of trouble, anxiety, and uneasiness. They will sink by whole sections from their present state to another in which they will enjoy only the half of their previous comforts; reasoning, as I always do, upon the assumption that gold falls to the half of its present value. They will be flung headlong, without rule or measure, down to a lower station, and without ever having the chance of preparation, for it is the very essence of changes of this kind, subjected as they are to many opposing influences, to pursue an irregular and disorderly course. Now, the persons of whom I am here speaking, comprise a very numerous and various class. They are, in the first place, the creditors of the State, of departments, of cities, and of joint-stock companies. To form an idea of the number of persons and families who would be comprehended under this head, it suffices to call to mind that, in England, the capital of the national debt amounts to 20 milliards of francs (£ 800,000,000). I am unable to say what may be the amount of the debts owing by local bodies, and by public companies in the British islands; but I run no risk of deceiving myself in asserting that it is an enormous sum. In France, the capital of the funded debt is nearly 7¼ milliards (£ 290,000,000), deducting the amount belonging to the sinking fund. The number of persons interested, if it were determined by that of the entries in the books, would amount to more than a million.* The departments and the cities owe a very large sum, and the bonds of the railway companies, without speaking of the debts of other companies, rise to a very great amount.
There would be, besides, all the superannuated public servants, from whose salaries had previously been deducted the amount of their pensions, as well as all those who might undergo a similar ordeal up to the time when the law should have fixed a new scale of pensions; all persons who should have lent money for a long term on mortgage; all those who lived upon fixed incomes of long duration; individuals or companies like that of the credit fonder, who were in the receipt of annuities in payment for loans of capital; those who might have invested their property for life; and all those proprietors who might have let their land on long leases. In the latter case, until the metal had found a stable value, long leases, so much advocated by agriculturists, would be a serious evil to the landowner, and thus the monetary crisis would react in a disastrous manner on agriculture, and tend to place it in a retrograde position.
We might add to this list, in a great measure, the multitude of public servants, civil and military. Not that they would be precluded from the hope, under such circumstances, of an augmentation of salary; we may suppose that a time would come, when by successive additions to their pay, they would receive in the number of francs double their present salary; but it is in the nature of things that additions of this kind arrive by a very slow process. This is proved by what we see taking place with regard to many functionaries, even those who enjoy the greatest public esteem, as, for instance, the magistracy. For how many years has the same tale been told them, that they are always on the eve of an increase of their incomes, which are notoriously inadequate, but the morrow never comes. The painful and almost humiliating position of a petitioner for an increase of salary, would have to be again and again submitted to by the government employés, because the force which causes the depreciation in the value of gold, acting only successively, it would be by three or four intermediate steps, with difficulty climbed, that they would have to pass before their salary reached its normal rate. For them, then, there would be a constant anxiety; they would always feel themselves in danger of being left with insufficient means for the subsistence of their families.
There is reason to believe that the administration of the affairs of the country would suffer from this sad condition, moral and material, of the servants of the State. It is natural that they who believe themselves insufficiently rewarded for the pains they bestow, and the services they render, should fall off in their devotion and slacken in their zeal. There may be exceptional cases of individuals who are above these worldly motives; but the majority bow to them, especially after a little time. “We are not justified, after all, in requiring from functionaries all the activity and care which the business of the State demands, if we persist in paying them badly. Inadequate salaries deter numbers of men, who know their own value, from entering the public service, and drive them into private employments. The best of natures may, under such circumstances, become embittered. No one can be more inclined than myself to bear testimony to the disinterestedness of French functionaries. They are, at least, in this respect, upon a par with those of any other nation. But there is no reason why they should be subjected to the temptation which flows from straitened circumstances, and which has perverted the administrative morals of a certain great State which I could mention.
All the liberal professions, such as barristers, physicians, professors of every kind, engineers, architects, and a multitude of agents of every description, would also have to raise, again and again, the amount of their fees, a process which would often endanger their position, which they had flattered themselves to be secure.
For the working classes it would be a trying ordeal. In a certain point of view they may be said to work for fixed salaries; because, in those countries, especially, where population is somewhat dense, the employers of labour resist the increase of wages, which deranges their plans and baffles their calculations. Experience shows that when provisions rise wages are not necessarily raised in the same proportion. Not that an upward movement of wages does not follow a continued dearness of provisions, hut in the majority of employments it follows far behind. The working population are of all classes of society the most dependent, because they are the most necessitous. Being the least able to wait, owing to the pressure of want, they are the more apt to resign themselves to the terms offered them. Hence it is that the benefits which they expect to derive from a rise of wages are only yielded to them after many delays. It were easy to cite examples in proof of this assertion. It has been the subject of remark by Mr. Tooke, in his important work the History of Prices. In his historical inquiry respecting the precious metals,* Mr. Jacob has several remarks in the same sense, and among others he states his opinion that the institution of the Poor-Law, which it is known dates from the reign of Elizabeth, was in England the effect of the changes caused by the fall in the precious metals. This opinion has been recently reproduced by an English writer, Mr. James Maclaren, in a remarkable publication, the title of which even is calculated to excite an interest, and to which I shall again shortly refer.†
The same observation applies to the numerous class of other employés in manufactures and commerce, because these employments are also overburdened. Those only, who by their talents are above the average, would be able to command an immediate increase of remuneration in metallic money; men of capacity, in whatever walk of life, are the exceptions; manufacturing capitalists, or intelligent merchants, are too happy to find them, and neglect no means of retaining them. But it is not with the exceptions, but the masses, that we ought to occupy ourselves.
Landed proprietors would be a privileged class in the midst of this general derangement, inasmuch as the value of land would increase gradually in proportion to the fall of gold, at the same time that the price of provisions, which constitutes their income, would also rise. Yet even they would, during the transition, have their share of care and embarrassment. Their path would be strewn with difficulties every time they had to sell their land; for what was at each instant the legitimate rise, the justifiable increase of price, would be difficult if not impossible to determine with any accuracy. In this article, as with a multitude of others, transactions would assume a gambling character.
It would be easy to cite many investments, at present very much sought after, which would become hazardous, inasmuch as the capital would diminish by a self-acting process, and waste away, so to speak, by a species of consumption. Such investments, so long as the transition lasted, would lose the favour with which they are now regarded. In this category I should include all those which may be termed financial investments, that is to say, those of which not only the capital is valued in money, but which will or may at a given moment be converted into a sum of money fixed or nearly so beforehand, I mean into a weight of metal previously determined with greater or less precision. I have already cited the public funds and railway bonds. Bank shares, and those of similar establishments, partake of the same character. In the countries to which my present statement refers,—and I repeat that it is those which should possess in their monetary system the gold standard, as well as those which should leave things to take their course as if gold were legally invested with that attribute,—the loans of the State, of provinces, and of cities, as well as those of public companies, would, as we have already said, be negotiated, so long as the transition lasted, on harder terms than they had been previously.
But there are grounds for apprehending many other difficulties, political or administrative. It would be necessary to enlarge the budget, for wherever the State appeared as a customer, it would have to pay dearer than formerly. It would, besides, be necessary to increase the salaries of all its employés, civil and military. Even to half satisfy only the just demand of its impoverished functionaries, it would be obliged to call for further contributions from the taxpayers, for how numerous in certain countries, in France for example, are the servants of the State! The augmentation of the budget, assuming it to be considerable, means an aggravation of the public burdens, which excites, even when justifiable, the popular discontent, just in proportion to the degree to which taxation is increased. I believe I run no risk of contradiction, by any politician, in saying that a government which should have to double the taxes in the course of a few years would thereby incur very great perils.
Not but that several taxes could be named, and some of them very productive, which, in the event of a fall in gold, would yield spontaneously an increased revenue, just in proportion to the fall in the precious metal. The duties which adjust themselves to the value of the articles taxed are of this number. This would be the case in France with the registration tax, which is nearly always a percentage on the amount of capital employed in the transaction subjected to the tax. It is the same with the duties on beverages sold by retail. As for the customs duties, those which are levied ad valorem, would afford this natural increase; but in nearly all countries, and especially in France, they are the exception. But such imposts as the land tax, which are expressed by fixed sums of money, would have to be augmented by law, to be made to yield to the treasury a revenue of equal value. Now, is the government of France disposed to present itself before the legislative body to demand the doubling of the land tax, by successive additions extending over ten or fifteen, or even twenty years? Does it believe that such a process would benefit it much, or increase its popularity? and yet to some such measure as this would it have to resort.
Thus the budget would be subjected to a perpetual revision, both in its expenditures and receipts. Every three or four years it would be necessary to re-arrange the tariff of the different imposts; and to fix the rate of all the salaries, from the pay of the soldier and sailor, or that of the rural policeman, or the Custom-House officer, to the income of the prefect, or the marshal of France, the stipend of the great officers of State, and, in all conscience, the civil list of the sovereign himself. It would also be necessary to revise, more or less often, the scale of charges of ministerial officers or agents of every kind, lawyers, barristers, registrars, &c, a class of persons with whom there is no escaping a reckoning, as recent experience has shown.
A similar operation would be necessary with the tariffs of charges which have been fixed for a multitude of companies, such as those of railways, canals, docks, and bridges. In some cases these have been fixed so high, originally, that the companies have not found it necessary to levy the full rates. Of this number, however, we can hardly specify more than those which relate to the freight traffic on the railways; beyond that, as, for instance, for passenger fares, the full charge allowed by law is (in France) levied. It would seem to me only consistent with equity that the fares should be raised from the moment that a state of things, so unforeseen and so uncontrollable, arose as a recognised fall in the value of the metal of which money was made. All these changes of tariffs would be a labour of infinite difficulty for government, and an endless source of discussions with the legislative body.
The endowments and incomes of charitable institutions, which are frequently invested in the public funds, a mode of investment which they are now urged to adopt in preference to all others, would gradually diminish in value, and, to maintain them on their original scale, it would be necessary to resort for assistance to the State, or to the localities.
Optimists will tell us that the inconveniences which have been here indicated as the consequence of an increase of the budget will not be serious, inasmuch as the value of the pieces of money having fallen, the taxpayer will not find himself surcharged if he be only called upon to pay an increased number of pounds sterling, or of francs corresponding simply with the depreciation of the metal. But it must be borne in mind that it is only after a certain lapse of time that the public at large will have familiarised itself with the idea of a depreciation of the currency, and will have become reconciled to the consequence in the form of an increase of taxation. If the rise in every description of property, and in incomes of all kinds, such as salaries, fees, &c, were to be effected uniformly, according to the same gradation, the public intelligence would soon accommodate itself to the change; but matters would take a very different course. It is in the very nature of things, I repeat, that such an event as the fall in gold would be accomplished, so to speak, by jerks, and by very unequal steps as respects the various objects affected. It would be a confused state of things, arising out of the action of accidental causes, which would frequently and unexpectedly arise, and which would baffle all control. To some extent it would be a justification for the instinctive antipathy which the people feel for an increase of taxation, and supply them with arguments which in their minds would have considerable force.
I do not believe I exaggerate in saying that the transition period, which it would be necessary to pass over before the fall had achieved its full effect, and gold had regained a somewhat stable value, would offer features of instability and discontent characteristic of revolutionary epochs. On this subject I shall be excused if I here quote an observation made by Mr. Jacob, in his work on the Precious Metals, when describing the effects of the rise of prices which followed the discovery of the mines of America.
“There is some ground for the opinion,” says he, “that the tendency to increased expenditure (caused by this rise of prices), whilst a large part of the revenue of the crown remained stationary, was one of the causes which gave rise to the civil war under Charles I., the result of which was the loss of that unfortunate prince's life,”*
[*]On the 1st January, 1857, the capital of the funded debt amounted to 8,031,992,446 francs (£321,279,700). The interest of the sinking fund amounted to 25,462,159 francs (£1,018,486), which is equal to a capital of about 750 millions (£30,000,000). The number of entries in the great book was 1,028,284. The interest, including that of the sinking fund, amounted to 299,099,242 francs (£11,963,970).
[*]On the Precious Metals, Vol. II., Chap. XX.
[†]Letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the resolution to which the German States have come to adopt the silver standard, and on some circumstances which render an invariable measure of value of more importance to England than to any other country.
[*]On the Precious Metals, Vol. II., p. 103.