Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter eight: On the Equilibrium of Production - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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chapter eight: On the Equilibrium of Production - Benjamin Constant, Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments 
Principles of Politics Applicable to a all Governments, trans. Dennis O’Keeffe, ed. Etienne Hofmann, Introduction by Nicholas Capaldi (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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On the Equilibrium of Production
To read a number of writers, you would be tempted to think that nothing could be more stupid, less enlightened, or more careless than individual interest. They gravely inform us sometimes that if the government does not promote agriculture then all labor will turn  toward manufacturing and the fields will lie fallow, sometimes that if the government does not promote manufactures, then all labor will stay in the countryside, that the product of the land will be far more than is needed, and that the country will languish without trade or industry.57 As if it were not clear on the one hand that agriculture will always take account of a people’s needs, since artisans and manufacturers must always have the means of feeding themselves, while on the other that manufactures will always increase as soon as agricultural products are sufficiently plentiful, since individual interest will push people into applying themselves to something more lucrative than increasing commodity production, where quantity will reduce price. Governments can change nothing with respect to men’s physical needs. The output and prices of products, of whatever sort, always comply with the demands arising from these needs. It is absurd to believe that when those who take up a line of work find it useful, this will not itself suffice to increase the scale of production. If there is more labor than is needed to release the fertility of the soil, the people will naturally turn their labor to other branches of production. They will feel, without the government warning them about it, that beyond a certain point competition destroys the advantages of the job. Individual interest will by its very nature be sufficiently stirred, without government support, to seek out some more profitable job. If the nature of the terrain requires a large number of cultivators, artisans and manufacturers will not become more numerous, because a people’s first need is to subsist. A people never neglects its subsistence. Moreover, the farming sector being more crucial, it will for that very reason be more lucrative than any other. When there is no improper privilege such as may invert the natural order, the value of a line of work always comprises its absolute usefulness and its relative scarcity. The real stimulus for all types of work is how much they are needed. Freedom in itself suffices to keep them all in a salutary and accurate balance.
Outputs always tend to move to the level of needs, without government getting involved.58 When one kind of product is scarce, its price rises. With price rising, production, being better paid, attracts to itself activity and funds. The  result is that supply becomes more plentiful. With supply increasing, price falls. With price falling, some activity and some funds go elsewhere. Then with production shrinking, price rises again and activity returns, until output and price have attained a perfect equilibrium.
What misleads many writers is their being struck by the listlessness or malaise which the nation’s working classes experience under despotic governments. They do not go back to the cause of the evil, but delude themselves that it could be remedied by a direct action by the government in favor of the afflicted classes. Thus in the case of farming, for example, when unjust and oppressive institutions expose farmers to harassment by the privileged classes, country areas are soon fallow because they are depopulated. The farming classes flock as fast as they can to the towns to escape from their servitude and humiliation. Then idiotic theorizers recommend positive and preferential supports for farmers. They do not see that everything is interconnected in human societies. Rural depopulation results from bad political organization. Neither help to a few individuals, nor any other artificial and fleeting palliative, will cure it. Our only resource is in freedom and justice. Why do we always delay seizing it as long as possible?
Sometimes it is said that we should ennoble agriculture, lift it up again, render it honorable as the source of the prosperity of nations. Rather enlightened men have developed this idea. One of the most penetrating but most bizarre minds of the last century, the marquis de Mirabeau, repeated it endlessly. Others have said as much for manufacturing. But ennobling is done only by way of distinctions, if indeed ennobling happens at all, by way of distinctions thus deliberately contrived. Now, if work is useful, since it will be profitable, many will pursue it. What distinction do you want to accord to something commonplace? Moreover, the necessary work is always simple. Now, it does not lie within government discretion to influence opinion such that it will attach special merit to what everyone can do equally well.
The only truly imposing distinctions are those which indicate power, because they are real, and the power they embellish can act for good or ill. Distinctions based  on merit are always contested by opinion, because opinion always reserves to itself alone the right to decide what merit is. Power it must recognize, like it or not. Merit, however, it can deny. This is why the cordon bleu commanded respect.59 It established that whoever bore it was a great lord, government being very well able to judge that this or that man is a great lord. The cordon noir on the contrary was ridiculous. It declared the man decorated with it a man of letters, a distinguished artist.60 Now, governments cannot pronounce on writers and artists.
Honorary distinctions for farmers, artisans, and manufacturers are even more illusory. These groups want to reach affluence or wealth through work and peace of mind by the rule of law. They want none of your artificial distinctions, or if they do aspire to them, it is because you have perverted their intelligence by filling their heads with meretricious ideas. Leave them to enjoy in peace the fruits of their labors, the equality of rights, and the freedom of action which belong to them. You will serve them much better by not showering them either with favors or injustices, than in harassing them on the one hand or seeking on the other to honor them.
[59. ]Decoration of the Order of the Holy Spirit, created in 1578 by Henry III and abolished under the Revolution.
[60. ]Decoration of the Order of St. Michael, created in 1469 by Louis XI and abolished under the Revolution.
Gaëtano Filangieri, La science de la législation, Livre II, Ch. 15 and 16, éd. cit., t. II, pp. 186–215. By “many others” Constant certainly means the physiocrats, Quesnay, Gournet, Le Mercier de la Rivière, etc.
Adam Smith, op. cit., t. I, pp. 110–128; we read, for example: “The quantity of each product brought to market naturally adjusts itself to the effective demand.”
Jean-Baptiste Say, op. cit., t. I, pp. 241–251, Livre I, Ch. 30 Si le gouvernement doit prescrire la nature des productions, p. 241. Here one reads: “Truth to say, no government action has any influence on production.”