Monday, November 26, 2007

Turgot, Reflections on the Formation and Distribution of Wealth

M. Turgot, the Author of the Essay, who, for three years held the important office of Intendant or Comptroller of the finances of FRANCE, was, without exception, one of the first political characters which the present century produced: In the various employments of the Master of Requests, Intendant of the province of Lismoges, Minister of the French marine, and Comptroller General of the finances of France, he laboured assiduously to benefit his country. This, however, is his least eulogium: his writings entitle him to a higher praise; and he there shines in the revered character of a friend of mankind.
An author who sends into the world detached pieces will seldom have the good fortune to reach that degree of celebrity which attends a more voluminous compiler, although his works may at the same time possess a greater degree of intrinsic merit. Such has been the fate of M. Turgot: his writings, being in detached pieces, are little known beyond the limits of his own country; nor even there have his countrymen paid the tribute due to his excellent productions, by collecting and publishing them together.
His Essays on the Commerce of Grain, on Loans, on Mines and Quarries, the preambles to the arrests issued during his administration, and the various important articles in the Encyclopedæa on Etymology, Existence, Expansibility, Fair and Foundation, are all pieces of great merit; but in no one does his capacious mind shine forth with greater lustre than in the work, of which a translation is now offered to the public; a work, on the foundation of which was formed, one of the most approved and justly celebrated treatises in the English language, Dr. Adam Smith's Essay on the Wealth of Nations.
This little piece fell by chance into the hands of the translator some time since, and his admiration of it could only be equalled by his surprize, at finding that no translation had appeared in the English language.—In order, therefore, that such of his countrymen as have not perused this admirable treatise in the original, may not be deprived of the important knowledge it contains, he has ventured to give it to the public in an English dress, in which he has been studious to retain the Author's sense and meaning.
Ostendent terris hunc tantum, fata.—Aen. 6.
§1. The impossibility of the existence of Commerce upon the supposition of an equal division of lands, where every man should possess only what is necessary for his own support.
If the land was divided among all the inhabitants of a country, so that each of them possessed precisely the quantity necessary for his support, and nothing more; it is evident that all of them being equal, no one would work for another. Neither would any of them possess wherewith to pay another for his labour, for each person having only such a quantity of land as was necessary to produce a subsistence, would consume all he should gather, and would not have any thing to give in exchange for the labour of others.
§2. The above hypothesis neither has existed nor could continue. The diversity of soils and multiplicity of wants, compel an exchange of the productions of the earth, against other productions.
This hypothesis never can have existed, because the earth has been cultivated before it has been divided; the cultivation itself having been the only motive for a division, and for that law which secures to every one his property. For the first persons who have employed themselves in cultivation, have probably worked as much land as their strength would permit, and, consequently more than was necessary for their own nourishment.
If this state could have existed, it could not possibly be durable; each one gathering from his field only a subsistence, and not having wherewith to pay others for their labour, would not be enabled to supply his other wants of lodging, cloathing, &c. &c., except by the labour of his hands, which would be nearly impossible, as every soil does not produce every material.
The man whose land was only fit to produce grain, and would neither bring forth cotton or flax, would want linen to cloath him. Another would have ground proper for cotton, which would not yield grain. One would want wood for his fire, and another be destitute of corn to support him. Experience would soon teach every one what species of productions his land was best adapted to, and he would confine himself to the cultivation of it; in order to procure himself those things he stood in need of, by an exchange with his neighbours, who, having on their part acquired the same experience, would have cultivated those productions which were best suited to their fields, and would have abandoned the cultivation of any other.
§3. The productions of the earth require long and difficult preparations, before they are rendered fit to supply the wants of men.
The productions which the earth supplies to satisfy the different wants of man, will not, for the most part, administer to those wants, in the state nature affords them; it is necessary they should undergo different operations, and be prepared by art. Wheat must be converted into flour, then into bread; hides must be dressed or tanned; wool and cotton must be spun; silk must be taken from the cod; hemp and flax must be soaked, peeled, spun, and wove into different textures; then cut and sewed together again to make garments, &c. If the same man who cultivates on his own land these different articles, and who raises them to supply his wants, was obliged to perform all the intermediate operations himself, it is certain he would succeed very badly. The greater part of these preparations require care, attention, and a long experience; all which are only to be acquired by progressive labour, and that on a great quantity of materials. Let us refer, for example, to the preparation of hides: what labourer can pursue all the particular things necessary to those operations, which continue several months, sometimes several years? If he is able to do it, can he do it with a single hide? What a loss of time, of room, and of materials, which might be employed, either at the same time or successively, to tan a large quantity of skins! But should he even succeed in manning a single skin, and wants one pair of shoes, what will he do with the remainder? Will he kill an ox to make this pair of shoes? Will he cut down a tree to make a pair of wooden shoes? We may say the same thing of every other want of every other man, who, if he was reduced to his field, and the labour of his own hands, would waste much time, take much trouble, be very badly equipped in every respect and would also cultivate his lands very ill.
§4. The necessity of these preparations, bring on the exchange of productions for labour.
The same motive which has established the exchange of commodity for commodity, between the cultivators of lands of different natures, has also necessarily brought on the exchange of commodities for labour, between the cultivators and another portion of society, who shall have preferred the occupation of preparing and completing the productions of the earth, to the cultivation of it. Every one profits by this arrangement, for every one attaching himself to a peculiar species of labour, succeeds much better therein. The husbandman draws from his field the greatest quantity it is able to produce, and procures to himself, with greater facility, all the other objects of his wants, by an exchange of his superflux, than he could have done by his own labour. The shoemaker, by making shoes for the husbandman, secures to himself a portion of the harvest of the latter. Every workman labours for the wants of the workmen of every other trade, who, on their side, toil also for him.
§5. Pre-eminence of the husbandman who produces, over the artificer who prepares. The husbandman is the first mover in the circulation of labour: it is he who causes the earth to produce the wages of every artificer.
It must, however, be observed that the husbandman, furnishing every one with the most important and the most considerable objects of their consumption (I mean their food, and the materials of almost all manufactures) has the advantage of a greater degree of independence. His labour, among the different species of labour, appropriated to the different members of society, supports the same pre-eminence and priority, as the procuring of food did among the different works he was obliged, in his solitary state, to employ himself in, in order to minister to his wants of every kind. This is not a pre-eminence of honour or of dignity, but of physical necessity. The husbandman can, generally speaking, subsist without the labour of other workmen; but no other workmen can labour, if the husbandman does not provide him wherewith to exist. It is this circulation, which, by a reciprocal exchange of wants, renders mankind necessary to each other, and which forms the bond of society: it is therefore the labour of the husbandman which gives the first movement. What his industry causes the earth to produce beyond his personal wants, is the only fund for the wages, which all the other members of society receive in recompence for their toil. The latter, by availing themselves of the produce of this exchange, to purchase in their turn the commodities of the husbandman, only return to him precisely what they have received. There is here a very essential difference between these two species of labour, on which it is necessary to reflect, and to be well assured of the ground on which they stand, before we trust to the innumerable consequences which flow from them.
§6. The wages of the workman is limited by the competition among those who work for a subsistence. He only gains a livelihood.
The mere workman, who depends only on his hands and his industry, has nothing but such part of his labour as he is able to dispose of to others. He sells it at a cheaper or a dearer price; but this high or low price does not depend on himself alone; it results from the agreement he has made with the person who employs him. The latter pays him as little as he can help, and as he has the choice from among a great number of workmen, he prefers the person who works cheapest. The workmen are therefore obliged to lower their price in opposition to each other. In every species of labour it must, and, in effect, it does happen, that the wages of the workman is confined merely to what is necessary to procure him a subsistence.
§7. The husbandman is the only one whose industry produces more than the wages of his labour. He, therefore, is the only source of all Wealth.
The situation of the husbandman is materially different. The soil, independent of any other man, or of any agreement, pays him immediately the price of his toil. Nature does not bargain with him, or compel him to content himself with what is absolutely necessary. What she grants is neither limited to his wants, nor to a conditional valuation of the price of his day's work. It is a physical consequence of the fertility of the soil, and of justice, rather than of the difficulty of the means, which he has employed to render the soil fruitful. As soon as the labour of the husbandman produces more than sufficient for his necessities, he can, with the excess which nature affords him of pure freewill beyond the wages of his toil, purchase the labour of other members of society. The latter, in selling to him, only procures a livelihood; but the husbandman, besides his subsistence, collects an independent wealth at his disposal, which he has not purchased, but which he can sell. He is, therefore, the only source of all those riches which, by their circulation, animates the labours of society: because he is the only one whose labour produces more than the wages of his toil.
§8. First division of society into two classes, the one productive, or the cultivators, the other stipendiary, or the artificers.
Here then is the whole society divided, by a necessity founded on the nature of things, into two classes, both industrious, one of which, by its labour, produces, or rather draws from the earth, riches continually renewing, which supply the whole society with subsistence, and with materials for all its wants; while the other is employed in giving to the said materials such preparations and forms as render them proper for the use of man, sells his labour to the first, and receives in return a subsistence. The first may be called the productive, the latter the stipendiary class.
§9. In the first ages of society, the proprietors could not be distinguished from the cultivators.
Hitherto we have not distinguished the husbandman from the proprietor of the land; and in the first origin they were not in fact so distinguished. It is by the labour of those who have first cultivated the fields, and who have inclosed them to secure their harvest, that all land has ceased to be common, and that a property in the soil has been established. Until societies have been formed, and until the public strength, or the laws, becoming superior to the force of individuals, have been able to guarantee to every one the tranquil possession of his property, against all invasion from without; the property in a field could only be secured as it had been acquired, by continuing to cultivate it; the proprietor could not be assured of having his field cultivated by the help of another; and that person taking all the trouble, could not easily have comprehended that the whole harvest did not belong to him. On the other hand, in this early age, when every industrious man would find as much land as he wanted, he would not be tempted to labour for another. It necessarily follows, that every proprietor must cultivate his own field or abandon it entirely.


Blogger Heather said...

I find it interesting that Turgot divides society into two different groups. I’m not sure when this was all written, but this part can certainly still be applied to society today. There are still those people that through their labor take from the Earth and the other being those people that the materials and make them usable. The reason that this point stood out to me is because I believe that all too often the second group doesn’t think about the first group. It could be my ag background, but I realize that not many people know what it takes to produce products for others. All to often people take for granted that there are the select few that will take from the land to help produce. Not that the other group doesn’t deserve any credit, but there are more people within that group. Only 2% of the American population are working in agriculture, that’s not very many to feed the nation. All that set aside, it still amazes me that society will most likely always be able to be broken down into those two groups.

5:52 PM  
Anonymous Eden said...

I agree with Heather, I think all to often the two groups of society mentioned in the writing have feelings of animosity towards each other. Each viewing themselves as superior to the other, yet both are essential. Some toil in the soil, using their own physical labor to make a living often for wealthier individuals. This brings to mind the feudal systems division of classes, and the notion that god intentionally created different stations of society in order to sustain communal living. Personally, I do not agree with this image of society. I’m more in agreement with Locke’s perception of all men as created equal, in the state of nature we are not classified. It is only when we join society that we are grouped and labeled. Perhaps this is the price of society, one must sacrifice not only their claims to individuality, but also to equality. Either way I think Turgot’s ideas on distribution of wealth could be improved upon.

9:12 AM  
Blogger Kayla Meadows said...

The distribution of success and wealth and happiness seems all too uneven in modern society, and, obviously, this was also true for historical societies.

It's pitiful that our government, after 200 years of trying, still hasn't managed to figure out a way to solve this. I suppose that it narrows down to the overall fact that society will always be genred and cliqued into various little sections, and regardless of the efforts made to remedy this, it's going to remain the same.

It's all about human capital. We are lumped into various groups when we begin our adult lives working for various causes, and until we find a better system and stop letting the government use us, there isn't much we can do.

12:14 PM  

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