Front Page Titles (by Subject) 12: Of the Right of Ownership - Commerce and Government Considered in their Mutual Relationship
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12: Of the Right of Ownership - 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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Of the Right of Ownership
When, after the formation of our tribe, the land had been divided, each settler could say: “This field is mine, and mine alone.” Such is the origin of the right of property.
At the time of the harvest each settler could again say: “If this field was mine in its fallow state, because it came to me in the division of land, today when it is cultivated it is mine on more than one ground, since its cultivation is my work. It is mine with all its product, because its product is at the same time the product of my labour.”
Ownership of the land is thus based at one and the same time on the division which has been made, and on the work which makes it fertile.
When later on some settlers acquired more land than they could farm themselves, they had no less good a reason to regard all these lands as their own. Their ownership of them was guaranteed by the releasing of them by those to whom they had belonged. Received custom, or laws passed to that end, further guaranteed the lands to them. Now these customs and these laws are the most recent basis of the right of property. It is even usual to go back no further.
But if they continued to have the ownership of all the lands, they could no longer have complete ownership of all the product; since this product was in part the result of the work of the men they employed to cultivate the fields. Their farm hands and day-labourers thus became co-owners of this product.
In this co-ownership, the settler has the lion’s share, because he provides the stock of land, because he makes the advances, and because he works himself. He does not have to plough; it is enough that he supervises the labourers. His vigilance is his main work.
The wage which is contracted with his farm hands and hired labour, and which is regulated by custom, represents the share they have in the produce as co-owners. This wage is the sum total of their ownership, and, when it has been paid, all the product of the fields belongs to the settler.
Once he has retired to a city, the settler no longer supervises the cultivation of his lands himself. So he gives up, from his product, a part of his ownership to the farmer who manages them [who cultivates them: 1798], and that part is the farmer’s wage. The latter gathers the harvest; he gives up the agreed portion to the settler [who properly speaking is now only the owner: 1798], and he acquires a right of ownership to all the rest.
In this order, we see one man who provides the ground, that is the settler [owner: 1798], an entrepreneur who assumes the task of overseeing the cultivation, that is the farmer, and farm workers or hired men who carry out the work.
We shall find the same situation in large undertakings of every kind. Does one want to set up a manufacturing enterprise? A rich man or a company provides the capital, an entrepreneur directs the business, and the workmen toil under his orders.
By that one sees how in each profession the citizens divide into separate classes; and how each of them finds, in his wage, the part which he has, as co-owner, of the enterprise’s return.
But one does not have to work in an enterprise to become a co-owner of the product. It is enough to be working for the entrepreneur. The shoemaker, for example, becomes a co-owner of the land’s product when he works for a settler, and he becomes the co-owner of the returns of a manufacturing business when he works for a manufacturer. So it is that all the citizens are by reason of their work co-owners of society’s riches; and that is right since each of them contributes to producing them by reason of his work.
All this ownership is sacred. One could not without injustice deprive the manufacturer of his business or the worker of his wage. Therefore one should not be able to force the settler to sell his grain below its worth, just as one should not be able to force those who need the grain to pay more than it is worth. These truths are so simple that perhaps one does not notice them and you may be astonished that I have commented on them. You will, however, need to remember them.
We have seen how the settler [become simply a landowner: 1798] retains ownership of the lands he no longer cultivates himself. But we ask if he is limited to having a life interest, or if he is authorised to have the right to dispose of his lands even after his death.
My reply is that when I clear a field, the product of the investment I make can only be mine. I have the sole right to enjoy it: why then, at the time of my death, can I not hand over the enjoyment of it? And how should I hand that over, if I do not have the disposition of the ground?
I have drained the marshes, I have raised the dykes which protect my lands from flooding, I have directed water to the meadows which it makes fertile; I have sown the plantations whose product belongs to me, and which however I shall not enjoy; in a word, I have given these worthless lands a value which is mine as long as it lasts, and over which, for that reason, I hold rights against the time when I shall be no more. Take back these lands in the waste state in which I found them, and leave them to me cultivated and productive. You cannot separate the two things. Therefore agree that I have the right to alienate them equally.
If the man who clears a field acquires the right to dispose of it after his death, he conveys the field with that right to the person to whom he bequeaths it; and from one generation to the next, each owner enjoys the same right. What man would concern himself with the ways of giving a plot of land a value which it would not have in his lifetime, if he were not free to bequeath it in favour of those whom he wishes to enjoy it? Do you say that a love of doing good would make him? But why take from the citizen a motive which will be more efficacious: the interest he takes in his children or in people he loves?
We have dealt with value, price, riches; the arts have multiplied; trade has spread out. Now the need is felt to mark more exactly the value of every good, and money is discovered. That will be the subject of the following chapters.