The Rationale of Reward

Book II

Rewards Applied to Offices

Chapter I


There are many species of service, and even services of a positive nature, of which governments stand in constant and uninterrupted need: such for the most part are the duties of those who are employed in the different departments of every government. The political state or condition, on account of which individuals possessing it are considered liable to render these services, is called a place, an office, or an employment. To these places it is both natural and customary to attach, under the title of emolument, certain portions of the matter of wealth. If such emolument be determinate in amount, and paid at regularly recurring periods, it is called a salary.

It is the nature of a reward to operate as a motive, and in that capacity to give birth to acts which, by the person by whom the reward is held up to view, are esteemed services: the greater the reward, the greater is the motive it constftutes; the greater the motive, the more strenuous the exertion it has a tendency to produce: and if the value of the service be susceptible of an indefinite degree of perfection, the more strenuous the exertion to perform it, the greater, as far as depends upon the will of the party, will be the value of the service. Hence it follows, that if salary be reward, as far as funds can be found, salaries cannot be too large. How different the state of things presented to us when we consult experience. We see small salaries, and the service admirably well performed: large salaries, and nothing done for them. In certain lines, we see the service regularly worse and worse performed, in proportion to the largeness of the salary. Where then lies the error? In experience there can be none: in the argument there is none. The error lies in its not being properly understood: and that in general it has not been properly understood, the bad management and weak measures so frequent in this line are but too pregnant proofs. To understand the argument aright, two points must be observed; The one is, to consider, for illustration's sake, that just in the same manner as punishment,---and in no other manner, though with less certainty of effect,---is reward capable of acting as a motive: the other point is, to consider what is really the service for which a salary is a reward.

What, then, is the service, with respect to which a salary operates as a motive? The answer which would be generally given to this question is, the continued service belonging to the office to which the salary is annexed. Obvious as this answer may seem, it is not the true one. The service, and the only service, with respect to which a salary can operate as a motive, is either the simple instantaneous service of taking upon one the office, or the permanent service of continuing to stand invested with it. If the duties of the office---the services in the expectation of which the salary annexed to the office is bestowed, happen to be performed, it cannot be owing merely and immediately to the salary: it Must be owing to some other motive. If there were no other motive, the service would not be rendered. Nothing is done without a motive---what, then, is this other motive? It must be either of the nature of reward or punishment. It may by possibility be of the nature of reward; but if it be so, One or other of these rewards would seem superfluous: in common, it is principally of the nature Of punishment. In as far as this is the case, the service for which the salary, considered as a reward, is given, is the service of taking upon one the obligation constituted by the punishment---the obligation of performing the services expected from him who possesses the office.

That the zeal displayed in discharging the duties of an office should not be in proportion to the salary, will now no longer appear strange. Experience is reconciled to theory. This subject will receive elucidation, if we substitute punishment for reward, and conider what tendency such a motive would have to give birth to any service, if connected with it in the same manner as a salary is an exed to an office.

Suppose a scbool-master, intending to connet the business of his school with regularity, were to make it a rule, on a certain day, at be beginning of every quarter, to call all his scholars before him, and to give each ten lashes, committing their behaviour during the rest of the quarter altogether to their discretion:---the policy of this master would be the exact counterpart of the founder of the school towards the master, if be has sought to attach him to the duties of his oftice by bestowing upon him a salary. Suppose the Master, finding that under this discipline the progress of his scholars did not equal his expectations, should resolve to increase his exertions, and accordingly should double the dose of stripes:---his policy in this case would be the exact counterpart of the founder, who by the single operation of increasing the master's salary, should think to increase his diligence.

A salary is not a reward for any individual service of the number of those which are raddered in consequence of a man's acceptance of the office to which the salary is annexed. For the rendering of any one oftbese services, the salary presents him not with any motive wbich can come under the bead of reward: the motives wbirh it gives him belong entirely to the head of punishment. It is by fear only, and not by hope, that be is impelled to the discharge of his duty---by the fear of receiving less than he would otherwise receive, not by the hope of receiving more. Though be work ever so much more or better than a man who holds his office is expected to work, be will receive nothing more than his salary, if the salary be all that be has to hope for, By working to a certain degree less or worse, he may indeed stand a chance of having the salary, or a part of it, taken from him, or be may be made punishable in some other way: but if be continue to keep clear of that extreme degree, in such case let him work ever so little or ever so badly, he will not, as far as artificial punishment is concerned, be ever the worse. He has therefore no motive, so far as the salary is concerned, for endeavouritig to pass the line of mediocrity; and he has a motive, the motive of indolence or love of ease, for stoppinE as far short of it as be can with safety.

Suppose, for instance, a salary of £4000 a-year annexed to the office of a judge: of all the services be may come to perform in the discharge of his function, of which one is this salary the reward? Of no one whatever. Take any one of the causes which would regularly come before him for hearing: thoug he were to attend, and to display ever so much diligence and ever so much ability in the hearing of it, he would receive no more that year than his £4000; though he were to absent himself altogether, and leave the business to his colleagues, he would receive no less: in short, provided he does not so far swerve from his duty as to subject himself to fine or deprivation, whether he perform his duty ever so well, or ever so ill---whether he decide many causes or few- whether his attendance be constant or remiss---whether be display ever so much or ever so little ability,---his salary is the, same. Not that a man in this exalted station is in any want of motives to prompt him to exert himself in the discharge of its duties: he has the pleasures of power, to balance the pains of study---the fear of shame, to keep him from sinking below mediocrity---the hope of celebrity, to elevate him above it, to spur him on to the highest pitch of excellence. These motives are presented to him by his station, but they are not presented to him by his salary.

The services, and the only services, which the salary presents a motive for his performing, are, in the first place, the instantaneous act of taking upon him the station---that is, of subjecting himself to the obligations annexed to it; and in the event of his violating any of those obligations, to the punishments annexed to such violations: in the next place, the discharging of the smallest portion of those obligations which it is necessary be should discharge, in order to his receiving such or such part of the salary. Let it, for instance, be paid him quarterly: if the first quarter be paid him in advance, it will afford him no motive of the nature of reward for doing any of the business of that quarter. He has that quarter's salary; nor can lie fail of enjoying it, unless, in the way of punishment, it be afterwards taken froin him. If it be not paid him till the end of the quarter, the case will be still the same, unless proof of his having rendered certain services---the having attended, for example, at certain times---be necessary to his receiving it. With this exception, it may equally be said, that in both cases, for any other than the instantaneous act of taking upon him the burtben of the station for that quarter, be has no reward, nor any motive but what operates in the way of punishment.

This distinction is of importance; for if the salary given were the inducement of performing the services, the chance of having them performed, and well performed, would be exactly as the magnitude of the salary. If, for example, fifty pounds sterling a-year sufficed to insure fifty grains of piety, assiduity, eloquence, and other sacerdotal virtues in a curate,---five thousand of these same pounds ought to insure five thousand grains of these same virtues in a bishop or archbishop. But what everybody knows is, that this proportion does not hold; on the contrary, it most frequently happens that the proportion is in. verse: the curate labours much, the bishop little, and the archbishop less.

The chance of service is as the magnitude of the punishment; and if the salary can be withdrawn, it is so far indeed as the magnitude of the salary: but it may be equally great without any salary---by the substitution of any other punishment instead of loss of salary.

We see, then, bow it is that a salary, be it great or small, independently of the obligation which it pays a man for contracting, has not in itself the smallest direct tendenev to produce services; whilst experience shows, that in many cases, in proportion to its magnitude, it has a tendency to prevent them.

[RR, Book I, Chapter XVII] [RR, Book II, Chapter II]