The Rationale of Reward

Book I

Of Rewards in General

Chapter IV


What has been said in the preceding chapter will serve to elucidate the meaning of the above two expressions, which, though in familiar use with political writers, have never yet been completely explained.

The legislator should, say they, endeavour to unite interest with duty: this accomplished, they consider perfection as attained. But how is this union to be brought about?---what constitutes it? To create a duty and affix a punishment to the violation of it, is to unite a man's interest with his duty, and even to unite it more strongly than by any prospect of reward. But this is not universally at least what they mean; for if punishment alone were sufficient for the establishment of the desired connexion between interest and duty, what legislator is there who would fail in its accomplishment?---what would there be to boast of in a contrivance which surpasses not the ingenuity of the most clumsy politician?

In this phrase, by the word interest, pleasure or profit is understood: the idea designed to be expressed is, the existence of such a provision in the law, as that conformity to it shall be productive of certain benefits which will cease of themselves so soon as the law ceases to be observed.

In a word, the union in question is produced whenever such a species of interest can be formed as shall combine the force which is peculiar to punishment with the certainty which is peculiar to reward.

This connexion between duty and interest is to a high degree attained in the case of pensions and places held during pleasure. Let us suppose, for example, that the continuance of the pension is made to depend upon the holder's paying at all times absolute obedience to the will of his superior. The pensioner ceases to give satisfaction; the pension ceases. There are none of the embarrassments and uncertainties attendant on ordinary procedure; there are no complaints of disobedience made against persons thus circumstanced. It is against the extreme efficacy of this plan, rather than against its weakness, that complaints are heard.

In some countries, by the revenue laws, and particularly in the case of the customhouse duties, it is not uncommon to allow the officers, as a reward a portion of the goods seized by them in the act of being smuggled This is the only mode that has appeared effectually to combat the temptations to which they are perpetually exposed. The price which it would be worth while for individuals to offer to the officers for connivance, can scarcely equal, upon an average the advantage they derive from the performance of their duty. So far from there being any apprehension of their being remiss in its discharge, when every instance of neglect is followed by immediate punishment, the danger is, lest they should be led to exceed their duty, and the innocent should be exposed to suspicion and vexation.

The legislator should enact laws which will execute themselves. What is to be understood by this? Speaking with precision, no law can execute itself In a state of insulation, a law is inoperative: to produce its desired effects, it must be supported and enforced by some other law, which, in its turn, requires for its support the assistance of other laws. It is thus that a body of laws forms a group, or rather a circle, in which each is reciprocally supported and supports. When it is said, therefore, that the law executes itself, it is not meant that it can subsist without the assistance of other laws, but that its provisions are so arranged that punishment immediately follows its violation, unaided by any form of procedure; that to one offence, another more easily susceptible of proof, or more severely punished, is substituted.

Mr. Burke's law, which has already been mentioned, is justly entitled to be ranked under this head. The clause which forbids the ministers and treasurers to pay themselves till all other persons have been paid, possesses in effect the properties of a punishment annexed to any retardation of payments---a punishment which commences with the offence, which lasts as long as the offence, which is inflicted without need of procedure; in a word, a punishment, the imposition of which does not require the intervention of any third person.

Before the passing of this law, large arrears on the civil list were allowed to accumulate: their accumulation bore the character merely of a simple act of omission, which could not be classed under any particular head of offence, and the evil of which might moreover be palliated by a thousand pretexts. After the passing of this law, the ministers, it is true, might still, in spite of the law, continue to give to themselves a preference over the other creditors on the civil list---there is no physical force other than existed before to prevent them: but in virtue of this law, any such preference would be a palpable offence---a species of peculation which would be strongly reprobated by public opinion.

Another example is furnished by the laws respecting the payment of stamp duties---These laws are represented as among the number of those which execute themselves, and are panegyrized accordingly. This is true with regard to so much of these taxes as is levied upon contracts and law proceedings. Let us explain their mechanism. The sanction given to private contracts, and the protection afforded by the law to person and property, are services which the public receives at the hands of the ministers of justice. The method in which these duties, then, are levied, is this: these services are at first refused to all persons without exception; they are then offered to all persons who at the price set upon them, have the means and inclination to become purchasers. Thus a protection, which might be considered as a debt due from the state to all its subjects, is converted into a reward, by means of the precedent condition annexed to it. This is not the time for examining whether this duty, which palpably amounts to the selling of justice, is a judicious tax: all that is here necessary to be observed is, that the payment is insured by the security it affords, and the danger with which the omission is accompanied.

To range over the whole field of legislation, in order to ascertain the different eases in which this species of political mechanism has been employed, or in which it might be introduced with advantage, does not belong to our present subject:---general directions might easily be framed for the construction of self-executing laws, and their application might occupy a place in ``The recreations of legislation''.

[RR, Book I, Chapter III] [RR, Book I, Chapter V]