The Elements of Politics

Henry Sidgwick

Chapter X


§4. The same may be said of much of the public expenditure that most modern communities recognise as desirable for the promotion of education, general, technical, or professional. So far as public funds spent on education tend to make labourers more efficient, though the labourers will be thereby enabled to earn more wages, the employers of labour and the consumers of its products will, generally speaking, share in the gain resulting from the increased efficiency; so that we may regard such expenditure as primarily designed to benefit the community, though in also an important tendency to mitigate the inequalities in the distribution of wealth. It may perhaps be objected that if this expenditure were really profitable to the community, it would be remunerative to individuals to undertake it, and it might therefore be left to private enterprise. But this does not necessarily follow; since the labourers in question or their parents may be unable to provide the requisite means, while the difficulty of making effectual contracts with the labourers or their parents, and the trouble and expense of enforcing such contracts, may suffice to render the provision of such means an undesirable speculation for other private individuals. On similar grounds, the expenditure of public money in transferring human beings from overpopulated to underpopulated regions, within the territory of the same community, may be ultimately profitable to the community as a whole, from the increased efficiency of the labour thus transferred, although it would not present a profitable sphere for private enterprise.

The question of public provision for education is not, however, commonly viewed in relation to industrial efficiency alone. It is widely held to be in the interest of the community at large---and not merely of the poorer classes primarily benefited---that public funds should be employed in the moral and intellectual improvement of its members generally, by the maintenance of religious teaching and worship, and the promotion of scientific and literary culture, through the means not only of schools for the young, but also of museums, libraries, and universities for adults. So far as this view is sound, all such expenditure may be classed as Socialistic in the wider sense above explained.

The propriety of governmental provision for, and regulation of, moral and religious teaching will be more suitably discussed after we have considered the general relations of Law and Morality. The promotion of secular culture might doubtless to a great extent be adequately provided for by private enterprise, if the aim of benefiting the poorer classes, by bringing about a more equal distribution of the capacities and opportunities of living cultivated lives, were left out of consideration. Still a considerable amount of public expenditure under this head may be justified, apart from any such distributional aim. In the first place, as we have already observed, the social utility furnished by scientific discoveries is generally unsaleable, except in the cases in which it can be immediately turned to account in some technical invention: it is therefore reasonable that a certain number of persons who have proved themselves capable of advancing knowledge should receive salaries from public funds: and that public provision should be made for the costly instruments required for the effective performance of scientific research:---such as libraries, museums, laboratories, observatories, and their equipment. Again, the expenditure of money on educational machinery, to bring opportunities of good scientific instruction within the reach of children of comparatively poor parents who show decided scientific ability, may be justified by the consideration of the increased chance thus obtained of scientific discoveries and technical inventions valuable to the community at large. Similarly, the provision for literary and artistic instruction given by public maintenance of libraries and picture galleries, and endowment of teachers and students, may be expected to benefit the community at large by aiding the development of talents that might otherwise have been crushed beneath adverse circumstances. Moreover, though there is no such need of providing salaries for artists and men of letters generally, as we have seen in the case of savants, since the utility of artistic products can be appropriated and sold; still, apart from any special consideration for the poor, it would seem that the advantage to the community of the best obtainable appliances for artistic and literary instruction and study has too indirect and remote a connection with the interests of individuals to be safely left altogether for private enterprise. Up to a certain point, then in all these cases the benefit of the community as a whole may be taken as the primary aim of the intervention of Government.

[Back to:] [Elempol, Chapter 10, Section 3]
[Forward to:] [Elempol, Chapter 10, Section 5]
[Up to:]
[Elempol Intro and Table of Contents]