The Rationale of Reward

Book II

Rewards Applied to Offices

Chapter VI


Rule V. The expenses of an office ought to be defrayed by those who enjoy the benefit of the services rendered by the office.

The author of the Wealth of Nations, in investigating the manner in which the expense of services ought to be divided, has shown that in some cases it ought to be defrayed by the public---in others, exclusively by those who immediately reap the benefit of the service. He has also shown that there---is a class of mixed cases, in which the expense ought to be defrayed partly by the public, and partly by the individuals who derive the immediate benefit. To this class belongs public education.

The rule just laid down seems scarcely to stand in need of proof. It may, however, be useful to mention the modes in which it may be violated; as---1. When, for a service rendered to one person or set of persons, the obligation of payment is imposed upon another. This is partly the case of dissenters who support their own clergy, in so far as they are obliged to pay for the support of the clergy of that established sect from which they dissent. 2. When, for a service rendered to a certain number of individuals, the obligation of payment is imposed upon the public: for example, the expenses of a theatre, wholly or in part paid out of the public purse. 3. When, for service rendered to the public, the obligation of payment is imposed upon an individual.

With respect to this third case, the examples are but too abundant.

I. The most remarkable example will be found in the administration of justice. At first sight, it maybe thought that he who obtains a verdict in his favour reaps the principal, or even the only advantage to be obtained; and therefore that it is reasonable he should bear the expense incurred---that he should pay the officers of justice for the time they have been employed. It is in this manner that the subject appeared even to Adam Smith. (B. v. sec. 2.) Upon a closer examination, we shall discover an important error. The individual in whose favour a verdict is given, is precisely the individual who has received least benefit : setting aside the rewards paid to the officers of justice, bow many other expenses, which the nature Of things render inevitable, remain! It is be who, at the price of his time, his care, and his money, has purchased that protection which others receive for nothing.

Suppose that among a million persons there have been, for example, a thousand lawsuits in a year: without these lawsuits---without the judgments which terminate them, injustice would have had nothing to hold it in check but the defensive energy of individuals. A million acts of injustice would have been perpetrated in the same time. But since, by means of these thousand judgments, a million acts of injustice have been prevented, it is the same thing as if each complainant had himself prevented a thousand. Because he has rendered so important a service---because he has exposed himself to so many mishaps, to so much trouble and expense, does he deserve to be taxed? It is as though the militia who defend the frontiers should be selected to bear the expenses of the campaign.

``Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?'' saith St. Paul. It is the poor litigant who makes war upon injustice, who pursues it before the tribunals at his own risk, and who is made to pay for the service which is rendered by him.

When such expenses are thrown upon a defendant, unjustly dragged into the litigious contention, the case is yet worse: instead of anything having been done for his advantage, he has been tormented, and he is made to pay for having been tormented.

If the expenses are altogether thrown upon the party who is found to have done wrong (although it often happens, owing to the uncertainty either of the facts or of the law, that there has been no wilful wrong on either side,) this cannot be done at first: this party can only be known at the termination of the suit. But then such a judgment would be a punishment; and there is a chance that such a punishment may not be deserved; another chance, that the individual may not be in a. condition to support it; another chance, that it will be either too great or too little.[1]

II. As another violation of this rule, may be cited the practice of taking fees, as carried on in most custom-houses, and which constituted a great abuse in those of England, previously to the reform introduced by Mr. Pitt. Many of the officers, not receiving salaries sufficient for their maintenance, were allowed to make up the deficiency by fees received for their own advantage. This custom had an appearance of reason. ``We pass your merchandise through the custom-house'', they might have said; ``and you ought to pay for this service.'' But this reason is deceptive. ``Without this custom -house'', the merchants might have replied, ``our merchandise would have gone straight forward. It is not for our advantage that this costly depot is established---it is for the general wants of the State; the State, therefore, which you serve, ought to pay you, and not us, whom you torment with your services, which we should be very happy to do without.'' But it may be said, this expense must be borne by somebody: why should it not be borne by these merchants as well as anybody else? Because it is a partial and unequal tax. Taxes upon merchandise are generally in proportion to the value of the goods; this abusive tax seldom is so. A rich merchant does not feel it; he is reimbursed by the sale of his goods: a poor individual is oppressed by this second contribution, which he finds is necessary to pay to the clerk after he has paid what is due to the Exchequer; and it with reason appears to him the more odious, because it is oftentimes arbitrary.

III. In conclusion, as a last example of the violation of this rule, we mention the emoluments of the clergy, in so far as they consist of tithes. If the services of the clergy contribute to the maintenance of public morality, and obedience to the laws, even those to whom these services are not personally directed are benefited by them---they are useful to the whole state: their expense, whatever ought to be its amount, ought to be borne by the whole community. Distributed as this expense is at present, under the system of tithes, in such manner that every one knows bow much and to whom be pays it, no advantage is derived from this knowledge; whilst the inconveniences are but too manifest, in that hatred which so frequently subsists between the parishioners and their minister, the shepherd and his flock; by means of which his labours, so long as this enmity subsists, are rendered worse than useless. Were this expense to be defrayed from the general source of the public treasure, these scandalous dissensions would be avoided; and whether the revenues were more or less ample, it would be possible to preserve a more just proportion between them and the different degrees of labour, instead of floating as at present between £20 and £20,000 per annum, under the direction of chance. [2]

[RR, Book II, Chapter V] [RR, Book II, Chapter VII]