The Rationale of Reward

Book II

Rewards Applied to Offices

Chapter XII


The emoluments annexed to any office being shown to be in excess, and the mischiefs resulting from such an excess being ascertained, the next question which occurs is, What remedy ought to be applied? The most obvious answer is a short one: strike them off at once. But thus unqualified, this answer is far from being the proper one.

Reform is the practical conclusion expected as the reward for all the labour bestowed on the examination of these theoretic propositions. Upon this subject, nothing further remains but to point out one limitation, without which every reform can only be a greater abuse than the whole of those which it pretends to correct. This limitation is, that no reform ought to be carried into effect without granting complete indemnity to those whose emoluments are diminished, or whose offices are suppressed;---in a word, that the only legitimate benefit to be derived by the public from economical reform, consists in the conversion of perpetual into life annuities.

Will it be said, that the immediate suppression of these offices would be a gain to the public? This would be a mere sophism. The sum in question would, without doubt, be gained by the public, if it came from abroad, if it were obtained by commerce &c.; but it is not gained when it is taken from individuals who form a part of that same public. Would a family be richer, because the father disinherited one of his children, that he might the more richly endow the others? In this instance, as the disinheriting of one child would increase the inheritance of the others, the mischief would not be without some countervailing advantage; it would be productive of good to some part of the family. But when it relates to the public, the emoluments of a suppressed place being divided amongst the whole community,---the gain, being distributed among a multitude, is divided into impalpable quantities; whilst the loss, being confined to one, is felt in its entirety by him who supports it alone. The result of the operation is in no respect to enrich the party who gains, whilst it reduces the party who loses to poverty. Instead of one place suppressed, suppose a thousand, or ten thousand, or a hundred thousand,---the total disadvantage will remain the same: the plunder taken from thousands will have to be distributed among millions; your public places will be filled with unfortunate citizens whom you will have plunged into indigence, whilst you will scarcely see one individual who is sensibly enriched in consequence of all these cruel operations. The groans of sorrow and the cries of despair will resound on every side; the shouts of joy, if any such are heard, will not be the expressions of happiness, but of that malevolence which rejoices in the agony of its victims.

By what means do individuals deceive themselves and others into the sanction of such mischievous acts? It is by having recourse to certain vague maxims, consisting of a mixture of truth and falsehood, and which give to a question, in itself simple, an appearance of deep and mysterious policy. The interest of individuals, it is said, must give way to the public interest. But what does this mean? Is not one individual as much a part of the public as any other? This public interest, which is thus personified, is only an abstract term; it only represents the aggregate of individual interests: they must all be taken into the account, instead of considering a part as the whole, and the rest as nothing. If it were proper to sacrifice the fortune of one individual to augment that of the others, it would be still more desirable to sacrifice a second and a third, and so on to any greater number, without the possibility of assigning limits to the operation; since, whatever number may have been sacrificed, there still remains the same reason for adding one more. In a word, the interest of the first is sacred, or the interest of no one can be so.

The interests of individuals are the only real interests. Take care of individuals; never molest them---never suffer them to be molested, and you have done enough for the public.

Among the multiplicity of human affairs, individuals have often been injured by the operation of particular laws, without daring to complain, or without being able to obtain a hearing for their complaints, on account of this vague and false notion, that the interest of individuals ought to give way to the public interest. Considered as a question of generosity, by whom ought this virtue to be displayed? By all towards one---or by one towards all? Which, then, is the most selfish---he who would preserve what he already possesses---or he who would seize, even by force, what belongs to another?

An evil felt, and a good unfelt,---such is the result of those magnificent reforms, in which the interests of individuals are sacrificed to those of the public.

The principles here laid down, it may be said, are applicable to offices and pensions held for life but not to offices and pensions held during pleasure, and which consequently may be revoked at any time. May not these be reformed at any time? No: the difference between the two is only verbal. In all those cases in which it has been customary for those places which are granted during pleasure to be held for life, though the possessor may have been led to expect other causes of removal, be has never expected this. ``My superior'', be has said to himself, ``may dismiss me, I know; but I flatter myself I shall never deserve to be dismissed; I shall therefore retain my office for life.'' Hence the dismission of such an individual without indemnity, is as great an evil, as much unforeseen, and equally unjust, as in the former case.

To these reasons, arising from justice and humanity, may be added a prudential consideration. By such indemnification, the interests of individuals and the public are reconciled, and a better chance of securing the latter is obtained. Assure those who are interested that they shall not be injured,---they will be among the foremost in facilitating reforms. By thus removing the grand obstacle of contrary interests, the politician prevents those clandestine intrigues, and private solicitations, which so often arrest the progress of the noblest plans.

It was thus that Leopold, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, proceeded. ``Notwithstanding the multitude of reforms introduced by his Royal Highness since his accession to the throne, there has not been a single office reformed in Tuscany, the holder of which has not either been placed in some other office, [equal to that suppressed, must be understood] or who has not received as a pension a salary equal in value to the emoluments of his office.'' [1] Upon such conditions, the pleasure of reform is pure: nothing is hazarded; good only is accomplished; at least the principal object is secured, and the happiness of no one is interrupted.

[RR, Book II, Chapter XI] [RR, Book III, Chapter I]