Front Page Titles (by Subject) 6: Blows Directed Against Commerce: Taxes on Industry - Commerce and Government Considered in their Mutual Relationship
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6: Blows Directed Against Commerce: Taxes on Industry - 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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Blows Directed Against Commerce: Taxes on Industry
Our cities from their foundation, and consequently a long time before the monarchy, had recognised the obligation citizens have to contribute to public expenditure.
Composed solely of settlers, it was only from the settlers that they could ask for subsidies. Consequently they levied them on each field and everyone paid by reason of the products he harvested.
This subsidy was raised at little expense. Its assessment was made in each canton by the settlers themselves. Each person paid without being forced, and as no one could complain of being overcharged, so no one thought of paying less than he owed. When, afterwards, some citizens found themselves without belongings, people did not think of demanding subsidies from them. It could not even occur to anyone to make men who had nothing pay. Custom, which determines the rules when it is reasonable, did not allow it.
These citizens who only had their strength thus lived on their work, or on the wage they received from the settlers, and they paid nothing.
This custom continued with the progress of the arts because every custom lasts. Therefore the artisans and the merchants, as well as the farmers and the day-labourers, lived on their wages and no one thought at all of asking them for subsidies.
So long as this custom lasted, everything flourished. Industry, assured of a wage regulated by competition alone and from which nothing had to be deducted, busied itself with ways of increasing this wage, whether by creating new crafts or by perfecting already known skills.
Then everything became useful. The surplus found a use in step with the progress of the arts and commerce. People consumed more: products grew by reason of consumption; and the lands were better cultivated every day.
Matters continued in this state right up to the time of the monarchy. They remained there still even under the first kings. But at length there had to be a transformation.
Because the artisans and merchants lived in ease, people asked: but why should these men who are rich not make a contribution to the subsidies? How have they been able to be exempt? Must the settlers alone [landowners alone: 1798] pay all the expenses, and does not every citizen have the duty to contribute to public expenditure? This reasoning seemed a gleam of enlightenment.
So taxes were placed on industry, and it was no longer permissible to undertake any kind of work, unless one had paid a certain sum of money to the state. It was no longer permitted to work! There is a very strange law. However, when one wishes someone who has nothing to pay for a licence to earn his subsistence, it is very necessary to forbid work to those who do not pay; and in consequence to take from them every means of subsistence.
One does not make the same profit in every occupation any more than in every kind of trade. It therefore seemed fair to create different classes, whether of artisans or of merchants, in order to tax each of them in proportion to the profits they could make.
This operation was not easy. How is one to estimate the amount a man can earn from his hard work? It is bound to happen that in the same occupation and in the same trade the person who earns less will pay as much as the person who earns more. That is a disadvantage which was not seen or which people did not want to see.
The name Guild was given to the different classes of artisans; and because one could only be admitted to them if one had passed as master, they were further given the name of Masteries. As for the classes of merchants, they were called Corporations.
As many guilds were created as the trades that could be distinguished in the mechanical arts; and as many corporations were created as branches of trade were distinguished.
When these distinctions had been made, the tax that each guild or corporation had to pay was set; and, in consequence, those who formed themselves into these bodies not only had the right to work, they also had the right to forbid all work to those who had been excluded; that is to say, to reduce them to begging for their bread.
To work without being a member of one of these bodies was a misdemeanour; and because an individual would not have wanted to stay idle, or rather, because he had been forced to work for his own and his family’s subsistence, he was apprehended and condemned to a fine he could not pay, or that he could only pay to fall into wretchedness.
As the chief branches of trade meet at the trunk from which they arise, still more are joined to these principal branches, and so forth; you may imagine that it will be all the more difficult to disentangle all these branches, as one divides the corporations of merchants and subdivides them again. However, they will divide and subdivide, because the sovereign, seeing that he is paid a new tax as each new corporation emerges, will believe himself richer when he has caused them to multiply.
Then the corporations will entangle like branches at the trunk they join. They will no longer be able to distinguish their privileges: they will blame each other for encroachment, and law suits will be born. It will be the same with the guilds.
All these bodies will be forced to incur great expense, whether to pay taxes, or to pursue their law suits, or to hunt out those who are working without having been incorporated into a guild or a corporation.
Forced to this expense, each of them will levy common funds from its members; and these funds will be wasted in assemblies, meals, buildings, and often in embezzlement.
These expenses will be recouped on the merchandise they sell. They will lay down the law to the consumers because, having the sole right to work, they fix the price of their work as they please. However many artisans and merchants there are, everything must become more expensive; because the guilds and corporations must always find the wherewithal to renew the common funds that they waste.
Besides, there exists in these guilds and corporations an esprit de corps, a kind of point of honour, which forces people to sell at the same price as the others. A person would pass for a traitor if he sold at a lower price; and he would expose himself to unpleasantness if he gave the slightest suspicion there.
Accustomed to laying down the law, these bodies sell dear the advantage of sharing in their privileges. It is not enough to pay for apprenticeship. So long as it lasts one only works for the master’s account; and one must expend many years to learn a trade which one could sometimes know at the end of a few months. The person who has the greatest aptitude is sentenced to an apprenticeship as long as the person who has the least aptitude. From that it results that all those who have no means are excluded for ever from every guild. Have you been received? If you do not succeed there is no more time to serve another apprenticeship: you would no longer have the means to pay for it, and you are condemned to beg.
When the professions were free in our cities, the artisans somehow found themselves scattered widely. The ploughmen, in the moments when they did not apply themselves to cultivation, could work at some mechanical art. They could give work to some children who were not yet strong enough to work in the fields, and they used the profits they had made for cultivation. This expedient was taken from them when all the trades had been formed into guilds.
Thus the guilds and the corporations take all comfort away from the country inhabitants: they reduce to beggary the hard-working citizens who have not the means to pay for an apprenticeship: they force them to pay a high price to a master to learn from him what one could often learn much better on one’s own: finally, they deliver a blow to commerce because, by making everything more expensive, they reduce consumption and consequently production, cultivation and the population. Can one reflect on these abuses and not recognise how contrary they are to public welfare?