Front Page Titles (by Subject) 10: Through What Types of Labour Wealth Is Produced, Distributed and Preserved - Commerce and Government Considered in their Mutual Relationship
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10: Through What Types of Labour Wealth Is Produced, Distributed and Preserved - Étienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac, Commerce and Government Considered in their Mutual Relationship 
Commerce and Government Considered in their Mutual Relationship, translated by Shelagh Eltis, with an Introduction to His Life and Contribution to Economics by Shelagh Eltis and Walter Eltis (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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This book was originally published by Edward Elgar Publishing in 1997, copyright 1997 by Shelagh Eltis and Walter Eltis. Reprinted by permission of Edward Elgar Publishing.
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Through What Types of Labour Wealth Is Produced, Distributed and Preserved
We have just seen two kinds of work. One kind brings produce into being, the other gives raw materials the forms which make them fitted to various uses, and, for this reason, to have a value.
If the farmer works with intelligence and persistence, he multiplies his products and improves their types.
If the artisan works with the same intelligence and the same assiduity, he multiplies his works, and he gives more value to the forms which he gives to the raw materials.
The farmer and the artisan thus enrich themselves in proportion as they work more, and to better effect.
The farmer thrives because he produces more than he can consume.
The artisan grows rich, in giving shape to prime materials, because he produces value equivalent to all the consumption he can make.
People will doubtless say that the farmer and the artisan have expenses to pay, and I agree that the expenses could reduce them to a wretched state. But to simplify, I assume them to be free from every tax. I shall deal elsewhere with subsidies due to the state.
All tasks are not equally easy.
In the easiest, people have more competitors, and are reduced to lower wages. So they consume less, or even only consume the absolutely essential. If this essential were never lacking, they would be rich in relation to their estate in life. But how is one to ensure oneself subsistence, if one does not earn more than subsistence? If in the days when one is working, one uses up all one’s wage, how is one to subsist in the days when one is not working?
In more difficult work people have fewer competitors, and they obtain higher wages. Therefore they can consume more. They will be better fed, better dressed, better housed. Then if they want to save or cut back on their consumption they will have the extra, and will be rich in the real sense of the word.
When writing one is constantly pulled up short, and precisely by the words that are in everyone’s mouth; because it is often those words whose sense is the least fixed. Thus I say that people are not rich in absolute terms; but they are in relation to their estate; and in their estate they are rich with regard to the neighbourhood and the times they live in. If Crassus came back today with his ideas of wealth, he would find very few rich men among us.
Men, who only earned the absolutely essential from day to day, would live harshly, and would not be rich, even in relation to their estate. They would always be in a strained and precarious situation.
To be rich in relation to one’s estate, one does not just have to be able to make savings on one’s consumption, one must also not have to make greater savings than one’s equals. It must be the case that by working as much and as well as them, one can obtain the same pleasures for oneself.
At the birth of each art, a new type of work brings a new type of wealth, and our wealth multiplies and varies as our needs do.
Liberal arts follow on from the mechanical arts. The latter are more essential, and yet the former are more highly esteemed. That is, if ever a thing is thought to be useful, it has great value whenever it is rare. Now good artists are in finitely scarcer than good artisans. With higher wages they can therefore consume more and acquire more wealth.
So it is that farmers, artisans and artists come to divide the riches they produce.
The merchants make the riches circulate. If the riches could not leave the places where they were in surplus, they would necessarily lose their price; but, merely through the offer the merchants make to take them to places where they are deficient, they maintain the same value for them everywhere. The merchants produce nothing; they transport from producer to consumer; and they find in the wage given for their work a larger portion if they have fewer rivals, and a smaller one if they have more rivals.
But if they are to be produced in plenty and to circulate freely, riches require a power which protects the farmer, the artisan, the artist and the merchant.
This power is called sovereign. It protects, because it maintains order internally and externally. It maintains it internally through the laws it passes and enforces; it maintains it externally through the fear or the respect it inspires in the foes who threaten the state.
A grandee protects a simple individual because he advances him, because he wants to bring him some benefit, without considering that he hurts other individuals, or even worrying about harming them. The sovereign power must not protect in this fashion. It is important to note and not forget that its protection is confined to the maintenance of order, and that it would disturb such order if it had partialities.
This power has work to do. It has tasks as legislative power, as executive power, as armed power for the defence of the state; and I should add as priestly power; for, although in all nations the priesthood is not joined to the imperium, they must come together in maintaining order, as if they were one and the same power.
The work of the sovereign power is owed a recompense [salaire]. With this claim it participates in sharing the wealth it does not produce; and its share is large, because it is due to the services it renders, and these services demand rare talents. It is under its protection that all the arts flourish, and that wealth is preserved and multiplied.
When one considers the labours which produce wealth, those which make it circulate, and those which keep the order appropriate to preserve and multiply it, one can see that all are needed, and it would be difficult to say which is the most useful. Are they not all equally so, as each has need of the other? Indeed, on which could one cut back?
I agree that in times of disorder great wealth becomes the recompense of work that is often more harmful than useful. But in my assumptions we are not at that point. I assume that all is in order, because that must be one’s starting point. Disorder will come only too soon.
Now, when everything is in order, all work is useful. It is true that these labours divide up wealth unequally but that is fair since they require talents that are scarcer or more common. So no one has cause to complain and everyone stays in his place. To keep the citizens in perfect equality you would have to forbid any division, ignore talent, put all their property in common, and condemn them for the most part to live in idleness.