The Rationale of Reward

Book II

Rewards Applied to Offices

Chapter VII


Rule V. In employments which expose the public functionary to peculiar temptations, the emoluments ought to be sufficient to preserve him from corruption.

Setting aside all considerations of the happiness of the individual, the interest of the public requires, that in all employments which afford the means of illicit gain, the individuals employed should be placed above want. If this important consideration be neglected, we ought not to be surprised that men urged on by perpetually recurring wants should abuse the powers they possess. Under such circumstances, if they are found guilty of extortion and peculation, they are less deserving of blame than that government which has spread the snare into which it was scarcely possible that their probity should not fall. Placed between the necessity of providing the means of subsistence, and the impossibility of providing them honestly, they will naturally be led to regard peculation and extortion as a lawful supplement, tacitly authorized by the government. The examples of this mischievous economy, and of the inconveniences resulting from it, are more frequent in Russia than under any other European government.

``M. de Launay (Farmer-general under Frederick II.) represented to the king that the salaries of the custom-house officers were too small for their subsistence, and that it would be but justice to augment them; be added, that he could insure to his Majesty that every one would then discharge his duty better, and that the aggregate receipts in all the offices would be larger at the end of the year.''---``You do not know my subjects'', said Frederick; ``they are all rogues where my interests are in question. I have thoroughly studied them, and I am sure they would rob me at the altar. By paying them better, you would diminish my revenues, and they would not rob me less''.---``Sire'', replied M. de Launay, ``how can they do otherwise than steal? Their salaries are not enough to buy them shoes and stockings! a pair of boots costs them a month's pay at the same time, many of them are married. And where can they obtain food for their wives and families, if it is not by conniving at the smugglers? There is, Sire, a most important maxim, which in matters of government is too frequently neglected. It is, that men in general desire to be honest; but it is always necessary to leave them the ability of being so. If your Majesty will consent to make the trial I propose, I will engage that your revenues will be augmented more than a fourth,'' The maxim in morals, thus brought forward by M. de Launay, appeared to the king,---beautiful and just as it really is in itself,---so much the more excellent from being in the mouth of a financier; since men of this class are not in general reputed to know many such. He authorized the experiment; he increased the salaries of the officers by a half, and his revenues were increased a third without any new taxes.[1]

A salary proportionate to the wants of the functionary operates as a kind of moral antiseptic, or preservative. It fortifies a man's probity against the influence of sinister and seductive motives. The fear of losing it will in general be more than equivalent to the ordinary temptations held out by illicit gains.

But in the estimation of a man's wants, it is not merely to what is absolutely necessary that our calculation ought to be confined;---Fabricius and Cincinnatus are not the proper standards to be selected; the actual state of society ought to be considered; the average measure of probity must be our rule. Public opinion assigns to every public functionary a certain relative rank; and, whether reasonably or not, expects from him an expenditure nearly equal to that of persons in a similar rank, If he be compelled to act in defiance of public opinion, he degrades and exposes himself to contempt---a punishment so much the more afflictive, in proportion as his rank is elevated. Wants keep pace with dignity. Destitute of the lawful means of supporting his rank, his dignity presents a motive for malversation, and his power furnishes the means. History abounds with crimes, the result of this ill-judged policy.

If a justification be required for the extraordinarily high salaries, which it is customary to pay to the supreme magistrates who are called Kings, it will be found in the principles above laid down. The Americans, by denominating their chief magistrate a President, have thereby made a small salary, compared with what is paid in England to the sovereign, answer every purpose of a large one. Why? Because the dignity Of the president is compared with that of the other officers of the republic, whilst in Europe the dignity of the sovereign is measured by a sort of comparison with that of other kings. If he were unable to maintain a certain pomp amidst the opulence of his courtiers, he would feel himself degraded. Charles Il., to relieve himself from the restrictions imposed upon him by the economy of parliament, sold himself to a foreign potentate, who offered to supply his profusion. The hope of escaping, from the embarrassments into which he had plunged himself, drove him, like an insolvent individual, to criminal resources. This mistaken economy occasioned the expense of two successive wars, terminating in a peace more. disastrous, perhaps, than either of the wars. Our strength was wasted in oppressing a necessary ally, instead of being employed in checking the ambition of a rival, with whom we had afterwards to contend with diminished resources. Thus the establishment of the Civil List, though its amount may appear large, may be considered as a measure of general security,

It is true, that the sum necessary to prevent Charles II. from selling himself, or, in other words, the amount which in this instance would have operated as a moral antiseptic, or preservative, could not have been very accurately calculated. A greater or less portion of this antiseptic must be employed, in proportion as there exists a greater or less proclivity towards corruption, Experience is the touchstone of all calculations in this respect. Provided these abuses are guarded against, a low scale of salaries can never be an evil; it must be a good. If the salary be not a sufficient reward for the service to be performed, the office will not be accepted: if it be sufficient, everything which is added to its amount, is so much lavished in pure waste.

[RR, Book II, Chapter VI] [RR, Book II, Chapter VIII]