The Philosophy of Misery
Joseph-Pierre Proudhon

Part 2 out of 9

whatever nature, which the proprietor derives from the loan of
his property. Quidquid sorti accrescit usura est, say the
theologians. Usury, the foundation of credit, was one of the
first of the means which social spontaneity employed in its work
of organization, and whose analysis discloses the profound laws
of civilization. The ancient philosophers and the Fathers of the
Church, who must be regarded here as the representatives of
socialism in the early centuries of the Christian era, by a
singular fallacy,--which arose however from the paucity of
economic knowledge in their day,--allowed farm-rent and condemned
interest on money, because, as they believed, money was
unproductive. They distinguished consequently between the loan
of things which are consumed by use--among which they included
money--and the loan of things which, without being consumed,
yield a product to the user.

The economists had no difficulty in showing, by generalizing the
idea of rent, that in the economy of society the action of
capital, or its productivity, was the same whether it was
consumed in wages or retained the character of an instrument;
that, consequently, it was necessary either to prohibit the rent
of land or to allow interest on money, since both were by the
same title payment for privilege, indemnity for loan. It
required more than fifteen centuries to get this idea accepted,
and to reassure the consciences that had been terrified by the
anathemas pronounced by Catholicism against usury. But finally
the weight of evidence and the general desire favored the
usurers: they won the battle against socialism; and from this
legitimation of usury society gained some immense and
unquestionable advantages. Under these circumstances socialism,
which had tried to generalize the law enacted by Moses for the
Israelites alone, Non foeneraberis proximo tuo, sed alieno, was
beaten by an idea which it had accepted from the economic
routine,-- namely, farm-rent,--elevated into the theory of the
productivity of capital.

But the economists in their turn were less fortunate, when they
were afterwards called upon to justify farm-rent in itself, and
to establish this theory of the product of capital. It may be
said that, on this point, they have lost all the advantage they
had at first gained against socialism.

Undoubtedly--and I am the first to recognize it--the rent of
land, like that of money and all personal and real property, is a
spontaneous and universal fact, which has its source in the
depths of our nature, and which soon becomes, by its natural
development, one of the most potent means of organization. I
shall prove even that interest on capital is but the
materialization of the aphorism, ALL LABOR SHOULD LEAVE AN
EXCESS. But in the face of this theory, or rather this fiction,
of the productivity of capital, arises another thesis no less
certain, which in these latter days has struck the ablest
economists: it is that all value is born of labor, and is
composed essentially of wages; in other words, that no wealth has
its origin in privilege, or acquires any value except through
work; and that, consequently, labor alone is the source of
revenue among men. How, then, reconcile the theory of farm-rent
or productivity of capital--a theory confirmed by universal
custom, which conservative political economy is forced to accept
but cannot justify--with this other theory which shows that value
is normally composed of wages, and which inevitably ends, as we
shall demonstrate, in an equality in society between net product
and raw product?

The socialists have not wasted the opportunity. Starting with
the principle that labor is the source of all income, they began
to call the holders of capital to account for their farm-rents
and emoluments; and, as the economists won the first victory by
generalizing under a common expression farm-rent and usury, so
the socialists have taken their revenge by causing the seignorial
rights of capital to vanish before the still more general
principle of labor. Property has been demolished from top to
bottom: the economists could only keep silent; but, powerless to
arrest itself in this new descent, socialism has slipped clear to
the farthest boundaries of communistic utopia, and, for want of a
practical solution, society is reduced to a position where it can
neither justify its tradition, nor commit itself to experiments
in which the least mistake would drive it backward several
thousand years.

In such a situation what is the mandate of science?

Certainly not to halt in an arbitrary, inconceivable, and
impossible juste milieu; it is to generalize further, and
discover a third principle, a fact, a superior law, which shall
explain the fiction of capital and the myth of property, and
reconcile them with the theory which makes labor the origin of
all wealth. This is what socialism, if it wishes to proceed
logically, must undertake. In fact, the theory of the real
productivity of labor, and that of the fictitious productivity of
capital, are both essentially economical: socialism has
endeavored only to show the contradiction between them, without
regard to experience or logic; for it appears to be as destitute
of the one as of the other. Now, in law, the litigant who
accepts the authority of a title in one particular must accept it
in all; it is not allowable to divide the documents and proofs.
Had socialism the right to decline the authority of political
economy in relation to usury, when it appealed for support to
this same authority in relation to the analysis of value? By no
means. All that socialism could demand in such a case was,
either that political economy should be directed to reconcile its
theories, or that it might be itself intrusted with this
difficult task.

The more closely we examine these solemn discussions, the more
clearly we see that the whole trouble is due to the fact that one
of the parties does not wish to see, while the other refuses to

It is a principle of our law that no one can be deprived of his
property except for the sake of general utility, and in
consideration of a fair indemnity payable in advance.

This principle is eminently an economic one; for, on the one
hand, it assumes the right of eminent domain of the citizen
expropriated, whose consent, according to the democratic spirit
of the social compact, is necessarily presupposed. On the other
hand, the indemnity, or the price of the article taken, is
fixed, not by the intrinsic value of the article, but by the
general law of commerce,--supply and demand; in a word, by
opinion. Expropriation in the name of society may be likened to
a contract of convenience, agreed to by each with all; not only
then must the price be paid, but the convenience also must be
paid for: and it is thus, in reality, that the indemnity is
estimated. If the Roman legists had seen this analogy, they
undoubtedly would have hesitated less over the question of
expropriation for the sake of public utility.

Such, then, is the sanction of the social right of expropriation:

Now, practically, not only is the principle of indemnity not
applied in all cases where it ought to be, but it is impossible
that it should be so applied. Thus, the law which established
railways provided indemnity for the lands to be occupied by the
rails; it did nothing for the multitude of industries dependent
upon the previous method of conveyance, whose losses far exceeded
the value of the lands whose owners received compensation.
Similarly, when the question of indemnifying the manufacturers of
beet-root sugar was under consideration, it occurred to no one
that the State ought to indemnify also the large number of
laborers and employees who earned their livelihood in the
beet-root industry, and who were, perhaps, to be reduced to want.

Nevertheless, it is certain, according to the idea of capital and
the theory of production, that as the possessor of land, whose
means of labor is taken from him by the railroad, has a right to
be indemnified, so also the manufacturer, whose capital is
rendered unproductive by the same railroad, is entitled to
indemnification. Why, then, is he not indemnified? Alas!
because to indemnify him is impossible. With such a system of
justice and impartiality society would be, as a general thing,
unable to act, and would return to the fixedness of Roman
justice. There must be victims. The principle of indemnity is
consequently abandoned; to one or more classes of citizens the
State is inevitably bankrupt.

At this point the socialists appear. They charge that the sole
object of political economy is to sacrifice the interests of the
masses and create privileges; then, finding in the law of
expropriation the rudiment of an agrarian law, they suddenly
advocate universal expropriation; that is, production and
consumption in common.

But here socialism relapses from criticism into utopia, and its
incapacity becomes freshly apparent in its contradictions. If
the principle of expropriation for the sake of public utility,
carried to its logical conclusion, leads to a complete
reorganization of society, before commencing the work the
character of this new organization must be understood; now,
socialism, I repeat, has no science save a few bits of physiology
and political economy. Further, it is necessary in accordance
with the principle of indemnity, if not to compensate citizens,
at least to guarantee to them the values which they part with; it
is necessary, in short, to insure them against loss. Now,
outside of the public fortune, the management of which it
demands, where will socialism find security for this same

It is impossible, in sound and honest logic, to escape this
circle. Consequently the communists, more open in their dealings
than certain other sectarians of flowing and pacific ideas,
decide the difficulty; and promise, the power once in their
hands, to expropriate all and indemnify and guarantee none. At
bottom, that would be neither unjust nor disloyal.
Unfortunately, to burn is not to reply, as the interesting
Desmoulins said to Robespierre; and such a discussion ends
always in fire and the guillotine. Here, as everywhere, two
rights, equally sacred, stand in the presence of each other, the
right of the citizen and the right of the State; it is enough to
say that there is a superior formula which reconciles the
socialistic utopias and the mutilated theories of political
economy, and that the problem is to discover it. In this
emergency what are the contending parties doing? Nothing. We
might say rather that they raise questions only to get an
opportunity to redress injuries. What do I say? The questions
are not even understood by them; and, while the public is
considering the sublime problems of society and human destiny,
the professors of social science, orthodox and heretics, do not
agree on principles. Witness the question which occasioned these
inquiries, and which its authors certainly understand no better
than its disparagers,--THE RELATION OF PROFITS AND WAGES.

What! an Academy of economists has offered for competition a
question the terms of which it does not understand! How, then,
could it have conceived the idea?

Well! I know that my statement is astonishing and incredible; but
it is true. Like the theologians, who answer metaphysical
problems only by myths and allegories, which always reproduce the
problems but never solve them, the economists reply to the
questions which they ask only by relating how they were led to
ask them: should they conceive that it was possible to go
further, they would cease to be economists.

For example, what is profit? That which remains for the manager
after he has paid all the expenses. Now, the expenses consist of
the labor performed and the materials consumed; or, in fine,
wages. What, then, is the wages of a workingman? The least
that can be given him; that is, we do not know. What should be
the price of the merchandise put upon the market by the manager?
The highest that he can obtain; that is, again, we do not know.
Political economy prohibits the supposition that the prices of
merchandise and labor can be FIXED, although it admits that they
can be ESTIMATED; and that for the reason, say the economists,
that estimation is essentially an arbitrary operation, which
never can lead to sure and certain conclusions. How, then, shall
we find the relation between two unknowns which, according to
political economy, cannot be determined? Thus political economy
proposes insolvable problems; and yet we shall soon see that it
must propose them, and that our century must solve them. That is
why I said that the Academy of Moral Sciences, in offering for
competition the question of the relation of profits and wages,
spoke unconsciously, spoke prophetically.

But it will be said, Is it not true that, if labor is in great
demand and laborers are scarce, wages will rise, while profits on
the other hand will decrease; that if, in the press of
competition, there is an excess of production, there will be a
stoppage and forced sales, consequently no profit for the manager
and a danger of idleness for the laborer; that then the latter
will offer his labor at a reduced price; that, if a machine is
invented, it will first extinguish the fires of its rivals; then,
a monopoly established, and the laborer made dependent on the
employer, profits and wages will be inversely proportional?
Cannot all these causes, and others besides, be studied,
ascertained, counterbalanced, etc.?

Oh, monographs, histories!--we have been saturated with them
since the days of Adam Smith and J. B. Say, and they are scarcely
more than variations of these authors' words. But it is not thus
that the question should be understood, although the Academy has
given it no other meaning. The RELATION OF PROFITS AND WAGES
should be considered in an absolute sense, and not from the
inconclusive point of view of the accidents of commerce and the
division of interests: two things which must ultimately receive
their interpretation. Let me explain myself.

Considering producer and consumer as a single individual, whose
recompense is naturally equal to his product; then dividing this
product into two parts, one which rewards the producer for his
outlay, another which represents his profit, according to the
axiom that all labor should leave an excess,--we have to
determine the relation of one of these parts to the other. This
done, it will be easy to deduce the ratio of the fortunes of
these two classes of men, employers and wage-laborers, as well
as account for all commercial oscillations. This will be a
series of corollaries to add to the demonstration.

Now, that such a relation may exist and be estimated, there must
necessarily be a law, internal or external, which governs wages
and prices; and since, in the present state of things, wages and
prices vary and oscillate continually, we must ask what are the
general facts, the causes, which make value vary and oscillate,
and within what limits this oscillation takes place.

But this very question is contrary to the accepted principles;
for whoever says OSCILLATION necessarily supposes a mean
direction toward which value's centre of gravity continually
tends; and when the Academy asks that we DETERMINE THE
OSCILLATIONS OF PROFIT AND WAGES, it asks thereby that we
DETERMINE VALUE. Now that is precisely what the gentlemen of
the Academy deny: they are unwilling to admit that, if value is
variable, it is for that very reason determinable; that
variability is the sign and condition of determinability. They
pretend that value, ever varying, can never be determined. This
is like maintaining that, given the number of oscillations of a
pendulum per second, their amplitude, and the latitude and
elevation of the spot where the experiment is performed, the
length of the pendulum cannot be determined because the pendulum
is in motion. Such is political economy's first article of

As for socialism, it does not appear to have understood the
question, or to be concerned about it. Among its many organs,
some simply and merely put aside the problem by substituting
division for distribution,--that is, by banishing number and
measure from the social organism: others relieve themselves of
the embarrassment by applying universal suffrage to the wages
question. It is needless to say that these platitudes find dupes
by thousands and hundreds of thousands.

The condemnation of political economy has been formulated by
Malthus in this famous passage:--

A man who is born into a world already occupied, his family
unable to support him, and society not requiring his labor,--such
a man, I say, has not the least right to claim any nourishment
whatever: he is really one too many on the earth. At the great
banquet of Nature there is no plate laid for him. Nature
commands him to take himself away, and she will not be slow to
put her order into execution.[6]

[6 The passage quoted may not be given in the exact words used by
Malthus, it having reached its present shape through the medium
of a French rendering--Translator.

This then is the necessary, the fatal, conclusion of political
economy,--a conclusion which I shall demonstrate by evidence
hitherto unknown in this field of inquiry,--Death to him who does
not possess!

In order better to grasp the thought of Malthus, let us translate
it into philosophical propositions by stripping it of its
rhetorical gloss:--

"Individual liberty, and property, which is its expression, are
economical data; equality and solidarity are not.

"Under this system, each one by himself, each one for himself:
labor, like all merchandise, is subject to fluctuation: hence the
risks of the proletariat.

"Whoever has neither income nor wages has no right to demand
anything of others: his misfortune falls on his own head; in the
game of fortune, luck has been against him."

From the point of view of political economy these propositions
are irrefutable; and Malthus, who has formulated them with such
alarming exactness, is secure against all reproach. From the
point of view of the conditions of social science, these same
propositions are radically false, and even contradictory.

The error of Malthus, or rather of political economy, does not
consist in saying that a man who has nothing to eat must die; or
in maintaining that, under the system of individual
appropriation, there is no course for him who has neither labor
nor income but to withdraw from life by suicide, unless he
prefers to be driven from it by starvation: such is, on the one
hand, the law of our existence; such is, on the other, the
consequence of property; and M. Rossi has taken altogether too
much trouble to justify the good sense of Malthus on this point.
I suspect, indeed, that M. Rossi, in making so lengthy and loving
an apology for Malthus, intended to recommend political economy
in the same way that his fellow-countryman Machiavel, in his book
entitled "The Prince," recommended despotism to the
admiration of the world. In pointing out misery as the necessary
condition of industrial and commercial absolutism, M. Rossi seems
to say to us: There is your law, your justice, your political
economy; there is property.

But Gallic simplicity does not understand artifice; and it would
have been better to have said to France, in her immaculate
tongue: The error of Malthus, the radical vice of political
economy, consists, in general terms, in affirming as a definitive
state a transitory condition,-- namely, the division of society
into patricians and proletaires; and, particularly, in saying
that in an organized, and consequently solidaire, society, there
may be some who possess, labor, and consume, while others have
neither possession, nor labor, nor bread. Finally Malthus, or
political economy, reasons erroneously when seeing in the faculty
of indefinite reproduction--which the human race enjoys in
neither greater nor less degree than all animal and vegetable
species--a permanent danger of famine; whereas it is only
necessary to show the necessity, and consequently the existence,
of a law of equilibrium between population and production.

In short, the theory of Malthus--and herein lies the great merit
of this writer, a merit which none of his colleagues has dreamed
of attributing to him--is a reductio ad absurdum of all political

As for socialism, that was summed up long since by Plato and
Thomas More in a single word, UTOPIA,--that is, NO-PLACE, a

Nevertheless, for the honor of the human mind and that justice
may be done to all, this must be said: neither could economic and
legislative science have had any other beginning than they
did have, nor can society remain in this original position.

Every science must first define its domain, produce and collect
its materials: before system, facts; before the age of art, the
age of learning. The economic science, subject like every other
to the law of time and the conditions of experience, before
seeking to ascertain how things OUGHT TO TAKE PLACE in society,
had to tell us how things DO TAKE PLACE; and all these processes
which the authors speak of so pompously in their books as LAWS,
PRINCIPLES, and THEORIES, in spite of their incoherence and
inconsistency, had to be gathered up with scrupulous diligence,
and described with strict impartiality. The fulfilment of this
task called for more genius perhaps, certainly for more
self-sacrifice, than will be demanded by the future progress of
the science.

If, then, social economy is even yet rather an aspiration towards
the future than a knowledge of reality, it must be admitted that
the elements of this study are all included in political economy;
and I believe that I express the general sentiment in saying that
this opinion has become that of the vast majority of minds. The
present finds few defenders, it is true; but the disgust with
utopia is no less universal: and everybody understands that the
truth lies in a formula which shall reconcile these two terms:

Thus, thanks to Adam Smith, J. B. Say, Ricardo, and Malthus, as
well as their rash opponents, the mysteries of fortune, atria
Ditis, are uncovered; the power of capital, the oppression of the
laborer, the machinations of monopoly, illumined at all points,
shun the public gaze. Concerning the facts observed and
described by the economists, we reason and conjecture:
abusive laws, iniquitous customs, respected so long as the
obscurity which sustained their life lasted, with difficulty
dragged to the daylight, are expiring beneath the general
reprobation; it is suspected that the government of society must
be learned no longer from an empty ideology, after the fashion of
the Contrat social, but, as Montesquieu foresaw, from the
RELATION OF THINGS; and already a Left of eminently socialistic
tendencies, composed of savants, magistrates, legists,
professors, and even capitalists and manufacturers,--all born
representatives and defenders of privilege,--and of a million of
adepts, is forming in the nation above and outside of
PARLIAMENTARY opinions, and seeking, by an analysis of economic
facts, to capture the secrets of the life of societies.

Let us represent political economy, then, as an immense plain,
strewn with materials prepared for an edifice. The laborers
await the signal, full of ardor, and burning to commence the
work: but the architect has disappeared without leaving the plan.

The economists have stored their memories with many things:
unhappily they have not the shadow of an estimate. They know the
origin and history of each piece; what it cost to make it; what
wood makes the best joists, and what clay the best bricks; what
has been expended in tools and carts; how much the carpenters
earned, and how much the stone-cutters: they do not know the
destination and the place of anything. The economists cannot
deny that they have before them the fragments, scattered
pell-mell, of a chef-d'oeuvre, disjecti membra poetae; but it
has been impossible for them as yet to recover the general
design, and, whenever they have attempted any comparisons, they
have met only with incoherence. Driven to despair at last by
their fruitless combinations, they have erected as a dogma the
architectural incongruity of the science, or, as they say, the
INCONVENIENCES of its principles; in a word, they have denied the

[7] "The principle which governs the life of nations is not pure
science: it is the total of the complex data which depend on the
state of enlightenment, on needs and interests." Thus expressed
itself, in December, 1844, one of the clearest minds that France
contained, M. Leon Faucher. Explain, if you can, how a man of
this stamp was led by his economic convictions to declare that
the COMPLEX DATA of society are opposed to PURE SCIENCE.

Thus the division of labor, without which production would be
almost nothing, is subject to a thousand inconveniences, the
worst of which is the demoralization of the laborer; machinery
causes, not only cheapness, but obstruction of the market and
stoppage of business; competition ends in oppression; taxation,
the material bond of society, is generally a scourge dreaded
equally with fire and hail; credit is necessarily accompanied by
bankruptcy; property is a swarm of abuses; commerce degenerates
into a game of chance, in which it is sometimes allowable even to
cheat: in short, disorder existing everywhere to an equal extent
with order, and no one knowing how the latter is to banish the
former, taxis ataxien diokein, the economists have decided that
all is for the best, and regard every reformatory proposition as
hostile to political economy.

The social edifice, then, has been abandoned; the crowd has burst
into the wood-yard; columns, capitals, and plinths, wood, stone,
and metal, have been distributed in portions and drawn by lot:
and, of all these materials collected for a magnificent temple,
property, ignorant and barbarous, has built huts. The work
before us, then, is not only to recover the plan of the edifice,
but to dislodge the occupants, who maintain that their city is
superb, and, at the very mention of restoration, appear in
battle-array at their gates. Such confusion was not seen of old
at Babel: happily we speak French, and are more courageous than
the companions of Nimrod.

But enough of allegory: the historical and descriptive method,
successfully employed so long as the work was one of examination
only, is henceforth useless: after thousands of monographs and
tables, we are no further advanced than in the age of Xenophon
and Hesiod. The Phenicians, the Greeks, the Italians, labored in
their day as we do in ours: they invested their money, paid their
laborers, extended their domains, made their expeditions and
recoveries, kept their books, speculated, dabbled in stocks, and
ruined themselves according to all the rules of economic art;
knowing as well as ourselves how to gain monopolies and fleece
the consumer and laborer. Of all this accounts are only too
numerous; and, though we should rehearse forever our statistics
and our figures, we should always have before our eyes only
chaos,--chaos constant and uniform.

It is thought, indeed, that from the era of mythology to the
present year 57 of our great revolution, the general welfare has
improved: Christianity has long been regarded as the chief cause
of this amelioration, but now the economists claim all the honor
for their own principles. For after all, they say, what has been
the influence of Christianity upon society? Thoroughly utopian
at its birth, it has been able to maintain and extend itself only
by gradually adopting all the economic categories,--labor,
capital, farm-rent, usury, traffic, property; in short, by
consecrating the Roman law, the highest expression of political

Christianity, a stranger in its theological aspect to the
theories of production and consumption, has been to European
civilization what the trades-unions and free-masons were not long
since to itinerant workmen,--a sort of insurance company and
mutual aid society; in this respect, it owes nothing to political
economy, and the good which it has done cannot be invoked by the
latter in its own support. The effects of charity and
self-sacrifice are outside of the domain of economy, which must
bring about social happiness through justice and the organization
of labor. For the rest, I am ready to admit the beneficial
effects of the system of property; but I observe that these
effects are entirely balanced by the misery which it is the
nature of this system to produce; so that, as an illustrious
minister recently confessed before the English Parliament, and as
we shall soon show, the increase of misery in the present state
of society is parallel and equal to the increase of
wealth,--which completely annuls the merits of political economy.

Thus political economy is justified neither by its maxims nor by
its works; and, as for socialism, its whole value consists in
having established this fact. We are forced, then, to resume the
examination of political economy, since it alone contains, at
least in part, the materials of social science; and to ascertain
whether its theories do not conceal some error, the correction of
which would reconcile fact and right, reveal the organic law of
humanity, and give the positive conception of order.



% 1.--Opposition of value in USE and value in EXCHANGE.

Value is the corner-stone of the economic edifice. The divine
artist who has intrusted us with the continuation of his work has
explained himself on this point to no one; but the few
indications given may serve as a basis of conjecture. Value, in
fact, presents two faces: one, which the economists call value in
USE, or intrinsic value; another, value in EXCHANGE, or of
opinion. The effects which are produced by value under this
double aspect, and which are very irregular so long as it is not
established,--or, to use a more philosophical expression, so long
as it is not constituted,--are changed totally by this

Now, in what consists the correlation between USEFUL value and
value in EXCHANGE? What is meant by CONSTITUTED value, and by
what sudden change is this constitution effected? To answer
these questions is the object and end of political economy. I
beg the reader to give his whole attention to what is to follow,
this chapter being the only one in the work which will tax his
patience. For my part, I will endeavor to be more and more
simple and clear.

Everything which can be of any service to me is of value to me,
and the more abundant the useful thing is the richer I am: so
far there is no difficulty. Milk and flesh, fruits and grains,
wool, sugar, cotton, wine, metals, marble; in fact, land, water,
air, fire, and sunlight,-- are, relatively to me, values of use,
values by nature and function. If all the things which serve to
sustain my life were as abundant as certain of them are, light
for instance,--in other words, if the quantity of every valuable
thing was inexhaustible,--my welfare would be forever assured: I
should not have to labor; I should not even think. In such a
state, things would always be USEFUL, but it would be no longer
true to say that they ARE VALUABLE; for value, as we shall soon
see, indicates an essentially social relation; and it is solely
through exchange, reverting as it were from society to Nature,
that we have acquired the idea of utility. The whole development
of civilization originates, then, in the necessity which the
human race is under of continually causing the creation of new
values; just as the evils of society are primarily caused by the
perpetual struggle which we maintain against our own inertia.
Take away from man that desire which leads him to think and fits
him for a life of contemplation, and the lord of creation stands
on a level with the highest of the beasts.

But how does value in use become value in exchange? For it
should be noticed that the two kinds of value, although
coexisting in thought (since the former becomes apparent only in
the presence of the latter), nevertheless maintain a relation of
succession: exchangeable value is a sort of reflex of useful
value; just as the theologians teach that in the Trinity the
Father, contemplating himself through all eternity, begets the
Son. This generation of the idea of value has not been noted by
the economists with sufficient care: it is important that we
should tarry over it.

Since, then, of the objects which I need, a very large number
exist in Nature only in moderate quantities, or even not at all,
I am forced to assist in the production of that which I lack;
and, as I cannot turn my hand to so many things, I propose to
other men, my collaborators in various functions, to yield me a
portion of their products in exchange for mine. I shall then
always have in my possession more of my own special product than
I consume; just as my fellows will always have in their
possession more of their respective products than they use. This
tacit agreement is fulfilled by COMMERCE. Here we may observe
that the logical succession of the two kinds of value is even
more apparent in history than in theory, men having spent
thousands of years in disputing over natural wealth (this being
what is called PRIMITIVE COMMUNISM) before their industry
afforded opportunity for exchange.

Now, the capacity possessed by all products, whether natural or
the result of labor, of serving to maintain man, is called
distinctively value in use; their capacity of purchasing each
other, value in exchange. At bottom this is the same thing,
since the second case only adds to the first the idea of
substitution, which may seem an idle subtlety; practically, the
consequences are surprising, and beneficial or fatal by turns.

Consequently, the distinction established in value is based on
facts, and is not at all arbitrary: it is for man, in submitting
to this law, to use it to increase his welfare and liberty.
Labor, as an author (M. Walras) has beautifully expressed it, is
a war declared against the parsimony of Nature; by it wealth and
society are simultaneously created. Not only does labor produce
incomparably more wealth than Nature gives us,--for instance, it
has been remarked that the shoemakers alone in France produce
ten times more than the mines of Peru, Brazil, and Mexico
combined,--but, labor infinitely extending and multiplying its
rights by the changes which it makes in natural values, it
gradually comes about that all wealth, in running the gauntlet of
labor, falls wholly into the hands of him who creates it, and
that nothing, or almost nothing, is left for the possessor of the
original material.

Such, then, is the path of economic progress: at first,
appropriation of the land and natural values; then, association
and distribution through labor until complete equality is
attained. Chasms are scattered along our road, the sword is
suspended over our heads; but, to avert all dangers, we have
reason, and reason is omnipotence.

It results from the relation of useful value to exchangeable
value that if, by accident or from malice, exchange should be
forbidden to a single producer, or if the utility of his product
should suddenly cease, though his storehouses were full, he would
possess nothing. The more sacrifices he had made and the more
courage he had displayed in producing, the greater would be his
misery. If the utility of the product, instead of wholly
disappearing, should only diminish,--a thing which may happen in
a hundred ways,--the laborer, instead of being struck down and
ruined by a sudden catastrophe, would be impoverished only;
obliged to give a large quantity of his own value for a small
quantity of the values of others, his means of subsistence would
be reduced by an amount equal to the deficit in his sale: which
would lead by degrees from competency to want. If, finally, the
utility of the product should increase, or else if its production
should become less costly, the balance of exchange would turn to
the advantage of the producer, whose condition would thus be
raised from fatiguing mediocrity to idle opulence. This
phenomenon of depreciation and enrichment is manifested under a
thousand forms and by a thousand combinations; it is the essence
of the passional and intriguing game of commerce and industry.
And this is the lottery, full of traps, which the economists
think ought to last forever, and whose suppression the Academy of
Moral and Political Sciences unwittingly demands, when, under the
names of profit and wages, it asks us to reconcile value in use
and value in exchange; that is, to find the method of rendering
all useful values equally exchangeable, and, vice versa, all
exchangeable values equally useful.

The economists have very clearly shown the double character of
value, but what they have not made equally plain is its
contradictory nature. Here begins our criticism.

Utility is the necessary condition of exchange; but take away
exchange, and utility vanishes: these two things are indissolubly
connected. Where, then, is the contradiction?

Since all of us live only by labor and exchange, and grow richer
as production and exchange increase, each of us produces as much
useful value as possible, in order to increase by that amount his
exchanges, and consequently his enjoyments. Well, the first
effect, the inevitable effect, of the multiplication of values is
to LOWER them: the more abundant is an article of merchandise,
the more it loses in exchange and depreciates commercially. Is
it not true that there is a contradiction between the necessity
of labor and its results?

I adjure the reader, before rushing ahead for the explanation, to
arrest his attention upon the fact.

A peasant who has harvested twenty sacks of wheat, which he with
his family proposes to consume, deems himself twice as rich
as if he had harvested only ten; likewise a housewife who has
spun fifty yards of linen believes that she is twice as rich as
if she had spun but twenty- five. Relatively to the household,
both are right; looked at in their external relations, they may
be utterly mistaken. If the crop of wheat is double throughout
the whole country, twenty sacks will sell for less than ten would
have sold for if it had been but half as great; so, under similar
circumstances, fifty yards of linen will be worth less than
twenty-five: so that value decreases as the production of utility
increases, and a producer may arrive at poverty by continually
enriching himself. And this seems unalterable, inasmuch as there
is no way of escape except all the products of industry become
infinite in quantity, like air and light, which is absurd. God
of my reason! Jean Jacques would have said: it is not the
economists who are irrational; it is political economy itself
which is false to its definitions. Mentita est iniquitas sibi.

In the preceding examples the useful value exceeds the
exchangeable value: in other cases it is less. Then the same
phenomenon is produced, but in the opposite direction: the
balance is in favor of the producer, while the consumer suffers.
This is notably the case in seasons of scarcity, when the high
price of provisions is always more or less factitious. There are
also professions whose whole art consists in giving to an article
of minor usefulness, which could easily be dispensed with, an
exaggerated value of opinion: such, in general, are the arts of
luxury. Man, through his aesthetic passion, is eager for the
trifles the possession of which would highly satisfy his vanity,
his innate desire for luxury, and his more noble and more
respectable love of the beautiful: upon this the dealers in this
class of articles speculate. To tax fancy and elegance is no
less odious or absurd than to tax circulation: but such a tax is
collected by a few fashionable merchants, whom general
infatuation protects, and whose whole merit generally consists in
warping taste and generating fickleness. Hence no one complains;
and all the maledictions of opinion are reserved for the
monopolists who, through genius, succeed in raising by a few
cents the price of linen and bread.

It is little to have pointed out this astonishing contrast
between useful value and exchangeable value, which the economists
have been in the habit of regarding as very simple: it must be
shown that this pretended simplicity conceals a profound mystery,
which it is our duty to fathom.

I summon, therefore, every serious economist to tell me,
otherwise than by transforming or repeating the question, for
what reason value decreases in proportion as production augments,
and reciprocally what causes this same value to increase in
proportion as production diminishes. In technical terms, useful
value and exchangeable value, necessary to each other, are
inversely proportional to each other; I ask, then, why scarcity,
instead of utility, is synonymous with dearness. For--mark it
well--the price of merchandise is independent of the amount of
labor expended in production; and its greater or less cost does
not serve at all to explain the variations in its price. Value
is capricious, like liberty: it considers neither utility nor
labor; on the contrary, it seems that, in the ordinary course of
affairs, and exceptional derangements aside, the most useful
objects are those which are sold at the lowest price; in other
words, that it is just that the men who perform the most
attractive labor should be the best rewarded, while those whose
tasks demand the most exertion are paid the least. So that, in
following the principle to its ultimate consequences, we
reach the most logical of conclusions: that things whose use is
necessary and quantity infinite must be gratuitous, while those
which are without utility and extremely scarce must bear an
inestimable price. But, to complete the embarrassment, these
extremes do not occur in practice: on the one hand, no human
product can ever become infinite in quantity; on the other, the
rarest things must be in some degree useful, else they would not
be susceptible of value. Useful value and exchangeable value
remain, then, in inevitable attachment, although it is their
nature continually to tend towards mutual exclusion.

I shall not fatigue the reader with a refutation of the
logomachies which might be offered in explanation of this
subject: of the contradiction inherent in the idea of value there
is no assignable cause, no possible explanation. The fact of
which I speak is one of those called primitive,--that is, one of
those which may serve to explain others, but which in themselves,
like the bodies called simple, are inexplicable. Such is the
dualism of spirit and matter. Spirit and matter are two terms
each of which, taken separately, indicates a special aspect of
spirit, but corresponds to no reality. So, given man's needs of
a great variety of products together with the obligation of
procuring them by his labor, the opposition of useful value to
exchangeable value necessarily results; and from this opposition
a contradiction on the very threshold of political economy. No
intelligence, no will, divine or human, can prevent it.

Therefore, instead of searching for a chimerical explanation, let
us content ourselves with establishing the necessity of the
contradiction. Whatever the abundance of created values and the
proportion in which they exchange for each other, in order
that we may exchange our products, mine must suit you when you
are the BUYER, and I must be satisfied with yours when you are
the SELLER. For no one has a right to impose his own
merchandise upon another: the sole judge of utility, or in other
words the want, is the buyer. Therefore, in the first case, you
have the deciding power; in the second, I have it. Take away
reciprocal liberty, and exchange is no longer the expression of
industrial solidarity: it is robbery. Communism, by the way,
will never surmount this difficulty.

But, where there is liberty, production is necessarily
undetermined, either in quantity or in quality; so that from the
point of view of economic progress, as from that of the relation
of consumers, valuation always is an arbitrary matter, and the
price of merchandise will ever fluctuate. Suppose for a moment
that all producers should sell at a fixed price: there would be
some who, producing at less cost and in better quality, would get
much, while others would get nothing. In every way equilibrium
would be destroyed. Do you wish, in order to prevent business
stagnation, to limit production strictly to the necessary amount?

That would be a violation of liberty: for, in depriving me of the
power of choice, you condemn me to pay the highest price; you
destroy competition, the sole guarantee of cheapness, and
encourage smuggling. In this way, to avoid commercial
absolutism, you would rush into administrative absolutism; to
create equality, you would destroy liberty, which is to deny
equality itself. Would you group producers in a single workshop
(supposing you to possess this secret)? That again does not
suffice: it would be necessary also to group consumers in a
common household, whereby you would abandon the point. We are
not to abolish the idea of value, which is as impossible as to
abolish labor, but to determine it; we are not to kill
individual liberty, but to socialize it. Now, it is proved that
it is the free will of man that gives rise to the opposition
between value in use and value in exchange: how reconcile this
opposition while free will exists? And how sacrifice the latter
without sacrificing man?

Then, from the very fact that I, as a free purchaser, am judge of
my own wants, judge of the fitness of the object, judge of the
price I wish to pay, and that you on the other hand, as a free
producer, control the means of production, and consequently have
the power to reduce your expenses, absolutism forces itself
forward as an element of value, and causes it to oscillate
between utility and opinion.

But this oscillation, clearly pointed out by the economists, is
but the effect of a contradiction which, repeating itself on a
vast scale, engenders the most unexpected phenomena. Three years
of fertility, in certain provinces of Russia, are a public
calamity, just as, in our vineyards, three years of abundance are
a calamity to the wine-grower I know well that the economists
attribute this distress to a lack of markets; wherefore this
question of markets is an important one with them. Unfortunately
the theory of markets, like that of emigration with which they
attempted to meet Malthus, is a begging of the question. The
States having the largest market are as subject to
over-production as the most isolated countries: where are high
and low prices better known than in the stock-exchanges of Paris
and London?

From the oscillation of value and the irregular effects resulting
therefrom the socialists and economists, each in their own way,
have reasoned to opposite, but equally false, conclusions: the
former have made it a text for the slander of political economy
and its exclusion from social science; the latter, for the
denial of all possibility of reconciliation, and the affirmation
of the incommensurability of values, and consequently the
inequality of fortunes, as an absolute law of commerce.

I say that both parties are equally in error.

1. The contradictory idea of value, so clearly exhibited by the
inevitable distinction between useful value and value in exchange
does not arise from a false mental perception, or from a vicious
terminology, or from any practical error; it lies deep in the
nature of things, and forces itself upon the mind as a general
form of thought,--that is, as a category. Now, as the idea of
value is the point of departure of political economy, it follows
that all the elements of the science--I use the word science in
anticipation--are contradictory in themselves and opposed to each
other: so truly is this the case that on every question the
economist finds himself continually placed between an affirmation
and a negation alike irrefutable. ANTINOMY, in fine, to use a
word sanctioned by modern philosophy, is the essential
characteristic of political economy; that is to say, it is at
once its death-sentence and its justification.

ANTINOMY, literally COUNTER-LAW, means opposition in principle
or antagonism in relation, just as contradiction or ANTILOGY
indicates opposition or discrepancy in speech. Antinomy,--I ask
pardon for entering into these scholastic details, comparatively
unfamiliar as yet to most economists,--antinomy is the conception
of a law with two faces, the one positive, the other negative.
Such, for instance, is the law called ATTRACTION, by which the
planets revolve around the sun, and which mathematicians have
analyzed into centripetal force and centrifugal force. Such also
is the problem of the infinite divisibility of matter, which, as
Kant has shown, can be denied and affirmed successively by
arguments equally plausible and irrefutable.

Antinomy simply expresses a fact, and forces itself imperatively
on the mind; contradiction, properly speaking, is an absurdity.
This distinction between antinomy (contra-lex) and contradiction
(contra-dictio) shows in what sense it can be said that, in a
certain class of ideas and facts, the argument of contradiction
has not the same value as in mathematics.

In mathematics it is a rule that, a proposition being proved
false, its opposite is true, and vice versa. In fact, this is
the principal method of mathematical demonstration. In social
economy, it is not the same: thus we see, for example, that
property being proved by its results to be false, the opposite
formula, communism, is none the truer on this account, but is
deniable at the same time and by the same title as property.
Does it follow, as has been said with such ridiculous emphasis,
that every truth, every idea, results from a contradiction,--
that is, from a something which is affirmed and denied at the
same moment and from the same point of view,--and that it may be
necessary to abandon wholly the old-fashioned logic, which
regards contradiction as the infallible sign of error? This
babble is worthy of sophists who, destitute of faith and honesty,
endeavor to perpetuate scepticism in order to maintain their
impertinent uselessness. Because antinomy, immediately it is
misunderstood, leads inevitably to contradiction, these have been
mistaken for each other, especially among the French, who like to
judge everything by its effects. But neither contradiction nor
antinomy, which analysis discovers at the bottom of every simple
idea, is the principle of truth. Contradiction is always
synonymous with nullity; as for antinomy, sometimes called by
the same name, it is indeed the forerunner of truth, the material
of which, so to speak, it supplies; but it is not truth, and,
considered in itself, it is the efficient cause of disorder, the
characteristic form of delusion and evil.

An antinomy is made up of two terms, necessary to each other, but
always opposed, and tending to mutual destruction. I hardly dare
to add, as I must, that the first of these terms has received the
name thesis, position, and the second the name anti-thesis,
counter-position. This method of thought is now so well-known
that it will soon figure, I hope, in the text-books of the
primary schools. We shall see directly how from the combination
of these two zeros unity springs forth, or the idea which dispels
the antinomy.

Thus, in value, there is nothing useful that cannot be exchanged,
nothing exchangeable if it be not useful: value in use and value
in exchange are inseparable. But while, by industrial progress,
demand varies and multiplies to an infinite extent, and while
manufactures tend in consequence to increase the natural utility
of things, and finally to convert all useful value into
exchangeable value, production, on the other hand, continually
increasing the power of its instruments and always reducing its
expenses, tends to restore the venal value of things to their
primitive utility: so that value in use and value in exchange are
in perpetual struggle.

The effects of this struggle are well-known: the wars of commerce
and of the market; obstructions to business; stagnation;
prohibition; the massacres of competition; monopoly; reductions
of wages; laws fixing maximum prices; the crushing inequality of
fortunes; misery,--all these result from the antinomy of value.
The proof of this I may be excused from giving here, as it will
appear naturally in the chapters to follow.

The socialists, while justly demanding that this antagonism be
brought to an end, have erred in mistaking its source, and in
seeing in it only a mental oversight, capable of rectification by
a legal decree. Hence this lamentable outbreak of
sentimentalism, which has rendered socialism so insipid to
positive minds, and which, spreading the absurdest delusions,
makes so many fresh dupes every day. My complaint of socialism
is not that it has appeared among us without cause, but that it
has clung so long and so obstinately to its silliness.

2. But the economists have erred no less gravely in rejecting a
priori, and just because of the contradictory, or rather
antinomical, nature of value, every idea and hope of reform,
never desiring to understand that, for the very reason that
society has arrived at its highest point of antagonism,
reconciliation and harmony are at hand. This, nevertheless, is
what a close study of political economy would have shown to its
adepts, had they paid more attention to the lights of modern
metaphysics. It is indeed demonstrated, by the most positive
evidence known to the human mind, that wherever an antinomy
appears there is a promise of a resolution of its terms, and
consequently an announcement of a coming change. Now, the idea
of value, as developed by J. B. Say among others, satisfies
exactly these conditions. But the economists, who have remained
for the most part by an inconceivable fatality ignorant of the
movement of philosophy, have guarded against the supposition that
the essentially contradictory, or, as they say, variable,
character of value might be at the same time the authentic sign
of its constitutionality,--that is, of its eminently harmonious
and determinable nature. However dishonorable it may be to the
economists of the various schools, it is certain that their
opposition to socialism results solely from this false
conception of their own principles; one proof, taken from a
thousand, will suffice.

The Academy of Sciences (not that of Moral Sciences, but the
other), going outside of its province one day, listened to a
paper in which it was proposed to calculate tables of value for
all kinds of merchandise upon the basis of the average product
per man and per day's labor in each branch of industry. "Le
Journal des Economistes" (August, 1845) immediately made this
communication, intrusive in its eyes, the text of a protest
against the plan of tariff which was its object, and the occasion
of a reestablishment of what it called true principles:--

"There is no measure of value, no standard of value," it said in
its conclusions; "economic science tells us this, just as
mathematical science tells us that there is no perpetual motion
or quadrature of the circle, and that these never will be found.
Now, if there is no standard of value, if the measure of value is
not even a metaphysical illusion, what then is the law which
governs exchanges? . . . . . As we have said before, it is, in a
general way, SUPPLY and DEMAND: that is the last word of

Now, how did "Le Journal des Economistes" prove that there is no
measure of value? I use the consecrated expression: though I
shall show directly that this phrase, MEASURE OF VALUE, is
somewhat ambiguous, and does not convey the exact meaning which
it is intended, and which it ought, to express.

This journal repeated, with accompanying examples, the exposition
that we have just given of the variability of value, but without
arriving, as we did, at the contradiction. Now, if the estimable
editor, one of the most distinguished economists of the
school of Say, had had stricter logical habits; if he had been
long used, not only to observing facts, but to seeking their
explanation in the ideas which produce them,--I do not doubt that
he would have expressed himself more cautiously, and that,
instead of seeing in the variability of value the LAST WORD OF
SCIENCE, he would have recognized unaided that it is the first.
Seeing that the variability of value proceeds not from things,
but from the mind, he would have said that, as human liberty has
its law, so value must have its law; consequently, that the
hypothesis of a measure of value, this being the common
expression, is not at all irrational; quite the contrary, that it
is the denial of this measure that is illogical, untenable.

And indeed, what is there in the idea of measuring, and
consequently of fixing, value, that is unscientific? All men
believe in it; all wish it, search for it, suppose it: every
proposition of sale or purchase is at bottom only a comparison
between two values,--that is, a determination, more or less
accurate if you will, but nevertheless effective. The opinion of
the human race on the existing difference between real value and
market price may be said to be unanimous. It is for this reason
that so many kinds of merchandise are sold at a fixed price;
there are some, indeed, which, even in their variations, are
always fixed,--bread, for instance. It will not be denied that,
if two manufacturers can supply one another by an account
current, and at a settled price, with quantities of their
respective products, ten, a hundred, a thousand manufacturers can
do the same. Now, that would be a solution of the problem of the
measure of value. The price of everything would be debated upon,
I allow, because debate is still our only method of fixing
prices; but yet, as all light is the result of conflict, debate,
though it may be a proof of uncertainty, has for its object,
setting aside the greater or less amount of good faith that
enters into it, the discovery of the relation of values to each
other,-- that is, their measurement, their law.

Ricardo, in his theory of rent, has given a magnificent example
of the commensurability of values. He has shown that arable
lands are to each other as the crops which they yield with the
same outlay; and here universal practice is in harmony with
theory. Now who will say that this positive and sure method of
estimating the value of land, and in general of all engaged
capital, cannot be applied to products also? . . . . .

They say: Political economy is not affected by a priori
arguments; it pronounces only upon facts. Now, facts and
experience teach us that there is no measure of value and can be
none, and prove that, though the conception of such an idea was
necessary in the nature of things, its realization is wholly
chimerical. Supply and demand is the sole law of exchange.

I will not repeat that experience proves precisely the contrary;
that everything, in the economic progress of society, denotes a
tendency toward the constitution and establishment of value; that
that is the culminating point of political economy--which by this
constitution becomes transformed--and the supreme indication of
order in society: this general outline, reiterated without proof,
would become tiresome. I confine myself for the moment within
the limits of the discussion, and say that SUPPLY and DEMAND,
held up as the sole regulators of value, are nothing more than
two ceremonial forms serving to bring useful value and
exchangeable value face to face, and to provoke their
reconciliation. They are the two electric poles, whose
connection must produce the economical phenomenon of affinity
called EXCHANGE. Like the poles of a battery, supply and demand
are diametrically opposed to each other, and tend continually to
mutual annihilation; it is by their antagonism that the price of
things is either increased, or reduced to nothing: we wish to
know, then, if it is not possible, on every occasion, so to
balance or harmonize these two forces that the price of things
always may be the expression of their true value, the expression
of justice. To say after that that supply and demand is the law
of exchange is to say that supply and demand is the law of supply
and demand; it is not an explanation of the general practice, but
a declaration of its absurdity; and I deny that the general
practice is absurd.

I have just quoted Ricardo as having given, in a special
instance, a positive rule for the comparison of values: the
economists do better still. Every year they gather from tables
of statistics the average prices of the various grains. Now,
what is the meaning of an average? Every one can see that in a
single operation, taken at random from a million, there is no
means of knowing which prevailed, supply--that is, useful
value--or exchangeable value,--that is, demand. But as every
increase in the price of merchandise is followed sooner or later
by a proportional reduction; as, in other words, in society the
profits of speculation are equal to the losses,--we may regard
with good reason the average of prices during a complete period
as indicative of the real and legitimate value of products. This
average, it is true, is ascertained too late: but who knows that
we could not discover it in advance? Is there an economist who
dares to deny it?

Nolens volens, then, the measure of value must be sought for:
logic commands it, and her conclusions are adverse to
economists and socialists alike. The opinion which denies
the existence of this measure is irrational, unreasonable. Say
as often as you please, on the one hand, that political economy
is a science of facts, and that the facts are contrary to the
hypothesis of a determination of value, or, on the other, that
this troublesome question would not present itself in a system of
universal association, which would absorb all antagonism,--I will
reply still, to the right and to the left:--

1. That as no fact is produced which has not its cause, so none
exists which has not its law; and that, if the law of exchange is
not discovered, the fault is, not with the facts, but with the

2. That, as long as man shall labor in order to live, and shall
labor freely, justice will be the condition of fraternity and the
basis of association; now, without a determination of value,
justice is imperfect, impossible.

% 2.--Constitution of value; definition of wealth.

We know value in its two opposite aspects; we do not know it in
its TOTALITY. If we can acquire this new idea, we shall have
absolute value; and a table of values, such as was called for in
the memoir read to the Academy of Sciences, will be possible.

Let us picture wealth, then, as a mass held by a chemical force
in a permanent state of composition, in which new elements,
continually entering, combine in different proportions, but
according to a certain law: value is the proportional relation
(the measure) in which each of these elements forms a part of the

From this two things result: one, that the economists have been
wholly deluded when they have looked for the general measure of
value in wheat, specie, rent, etc., and also when, after having
demonstrated that this standard of measure was neither here nor
there, they have concluded that value has neither law nor
measure; the other, that the proportion of values may continually
vary without ceasing on that account to be subject to a law,
whose determination is precisely the solution sought.

This idea of value satisfies, as we shall see, all the
conditions: for it includes at once both the positive and fixed
element in useful value and the variable element in exchangeable
value; in the second place, it puts an end to the contradiction
which seemed an insurmountable obstacle in the way of the
determination of value; further, we shall show that value thus
understood differs entirely from a simple juxtaposition of the
two ideas of useful and exchangeable value, and that it is
endowed with new properties.

The proportionality of products is not a revelation that we
pretend to offer to the world, or a novelty that we bring into
science, any more than the division of labor was an unheard-of
thing when Adam Smith explained its marvels. The proportionality
of products is, as we might prove easily by innumerable
quotations, a common idea running through the works on political
economy, but to which no one as yet has dreamed of attributing
its rightful importance: and this is the task which we undertake
today. We feel bound, for the rest, to make this declaration in
order to reassure the reader concerning our pretensions to
originality, and to satisfy those minds whose timidity leads them
to look with little favor upon new ideas.

The economists seem always to have understood by the measure of
value only a standard, a sort of original unit, existing by
itself, and applicable to all sorts of merchandise, as the yard
is applicable to all lengths. Consequently, many have thought
that such a standard is furnished by the precious metals. But
the theory of money has proved that, far from being the measure
of values, specie is only their arithmetic, and a conventional
arithmetic at that. Gold and silver are to value what the
thermometer is to heat. The thermometer, with its arbitrarily
graduated scale, indicates clearly when there is a loss or an
increase of heat: but what the laws of heat-equilibrium are; what
is its proportion in various bodies; what amount is necessary to
cause a rise of ten, fifteen, or twenty degrees in the
thermometer,--the thermometer does not tell us; it is not certain
even that the degrees of the scale, equal to each other,
correspond to equal additions of heat.

The idea that has been entertained hitherto of the measure of
value, then, is inexact; the object of our inquiry is not the
standard of value, as has been said so often and so foolishly,
but the law which regulates the proportions of the various
products to the social wealth; for upon the knowledge of this law
depends the rise and fall of prices in so far as it is normal and
legitimate. In a word, as we understand by the measure of
celestial bodies the relation resulting from the comparison of
these bodies with each other, so, by the measure of values, we
must understand the relation which results from their comparison.

Now, I say that this relation has its law, and this comparison
its principle.

I suppose, then, a force which combines in certain proportions
the elements of wealth, and makes of them a homogeneous whole: if
the constituent elements do not exist in the desired proportion,
the combination will take place nevertheless; but, instead of
absorbing all the material, it will reject a portion as useless.
The internal movement by which the combination is produced, and
which the affinities of the various substances determine--this
movement in society is exchange; exchange considered no longer
simply in its elementary form and between man and man, but
exchange considered as the fusion of all values produced by
private industry in one and the same mass of social wealth.
Finally, the proportion in which each element enters into the
compound is what we call value; the excess remaining after the
combination is NON-VALUE, until the addition of a certain
quantity of other elements causes further combination and

We will explain later the function of money.

This determined, it is conceivable that at a given moment the
proportions of values constituting the wealth of a country may be
determined, or at least empirically approximated, by means of
statistics and inventories, in nearly the same way that the
chemists have discovered by experience, aided by analysis, the
proportions of hydrogen and oxygen necessary to the formation of
water. There is nothing objectionable in this method of
determining values; it is, after all, only a matter of accounts.
But such a work, however interesting it might be, would teach us
nothing very useful. On the one hand, indeed, we know that the
proportion continually varies; on the other, it is clear that
from a statement of the public wealth giving the proportions of
values only for the time and place when and where the statistics
should be gathered we could not deduce the law of proportionality
of wealth. For that, a single operation of this sort would not
be sufficient; thousands and millions of similar ones would be
necessary, even admitting the method to be worthy of confidence.

Now, here there is a difference between economic science and
chemistry. The chemists, who have discovered by experience such
beautiful proportions, know no more of their how or why than of
the force which governs them. Social economy, on the contrary,
to which no a posteriori investigation could reveal directly the
law of proportionality of values, can grasp it in the very force
which produces it, and which it is time to announce.

This force, which Adam Smith has glorified so eloquently, and
which his successors have misconceived (making privilege its
equal),--this force is LABOR. Labor differs in quantity and
quality with the producer; in this respect it is like all the
great principles of Nature and the most general laws, simple in
their action and formula, but infinitely modified by a multitude
of special causes, and manifesting themselves under an
innumerable variety of forms. It is labor, labor alone, that
produces all the elements of wealth, and that combines them to
their last molecules according to a law of variable, but certain,
proportionality. It is labor, in fine, that, as the principle of
life, agitates (mens agitat) the material (molem) of wealth, and
proportions it.

Society, or the collective man, produces an infinitude of
objects, the enjoyment of which constitutes its WELL-BEING.
This well-being is developed not only in the ratio of the
QUANTITY of the products, but also in the ratio of their
VARIETY (quality) and PROPORTION. From this fundamental datum
it follows that society always, at each instant of its life, must
strive for such proportion in its products as will give the
greatest amount of well-being, considering the power and means of
production. Abundance, variety, and proportion in products are
the three factors which constitute WEALTH: wealth, the object of
social economy, is subject to the same conditions of existence as
beauty, the object of art; virtue, the object of morality; and
truth, the object of metaphysics.

But how establish this marvelous proportion, so essential that
without it a portion of human labor is lost,--that is, useless,
inharmonious, untrue, and consequently synonymous with poverty
and annihilation?

Prometheus, according to the fable, is the symbol of human
activity. Prometheus steals the fire of heaven, and invents the
early arts; Prometheus foresees the future, and aspires to
equality with Jupiter; Prometheus is God. Then let us call
society Prometheus.

Prometheus devotes, on an average, ten hours a day to labor,
seven to rest, and seven to pleasure. In order to gather from
his toil the most useful fruit, Prometheus notes the time and
trouble that each object of his consumption costs him. Only
experience can teach him this, and this experience lasts
throughout his life. While laboring and producing, then,
Prometheus is subject to an infinitude of disappointments. But,
as a final result, the more he labors, the greater is his
well-being and the more idealized his luxury; the further he
extends his conquests over Nature, the more strongly he fortifies
within him the principle of life and intelligence in the exercise
of which he alone finds happiness; till finally, the early
education of the Laborer completed and order introduced into his
occupations, to labor, with him, is no longer to suffer,--it is
to live, to enjoy. But the attractiveness of labor does not
nullify the rule, since, on the contrary, it is the fruit of it;
and those who, under the pretext that labor should be attractive,
reason to the denial of justice and to communism, resemble
children who, after having gathered some flowers in the garden,
should arrange a flower-bed on the staircase.

In society, then, justice is simply the proportionality of
values; its guarantee and sanction is the responsibility of the

Prometheus knows that such a product costs an hour's labor, such
another a day's, a week's, a year's; he knows at the same time
that all these products, arranged according to their cost, form
the progression of his wealth. First, then, he will assure his
existence by providing himself with the least costly, and
consequently most necessary, things; then, as fast as his
position becomes secure, he will look forward to articles of
luxury, proceeding always, if he is wise, according to the
natural position of each article in the scale of prices.
Sometimes Prometheus will make a mistake in his calculations, or
else, carried away by passion, he will sacrifice an immediate
good to a premature enjoyment, and, after having toiled and
moiled, he will starve. Thus, the law carries with it its own
sanction; its violation is inevitably accompanied by the
immediate punishment of the transgressor.

Say, then, was right in saying: "The happiness of this class
(the consumers), composed of all the others, constitutes the
general well- being, the state of prosperity of a country." Only
he should have added that the happiness of the class of
producers, which also is composed of all the others, equally
constitutes the general well-being, the state of prosperity of a
country. So, when he says: "The fortune of each consumer is
perpetually at war with all that he buys," he should have added
again: "The fortune of each producer is incessantly attacked by
all that he sells." In the absence of a clear expression of this
reciprocity, most economical phenomena become unintelligible; and
I will soon show how, in consequence of this grave omission, most
economists in writing their books have talked wildly about the
balance of trade.

I have just said that society produces first THE LEAST COSTLY,
cheapness of products is always a correlative of their necessity,
and vice versa; so that these two words, NECESSITY and
CHEAPNESS, like the following ones, COSTLINESS and
SUPERFLUITY, are synonymes?

If each product of labor, taken alone, would suffice for the
existence of man, the synonymy in question would not be doubtful;
all products having the same qualities, those would be most
advantageously produced, and therefore the most necessary, which
cost the least. But the parallel between the utility and price
of products is not characterized by this theoretical precision:
either through the foresight of Nature or from some other cause,
the balance between needs and productive power is more than a
theory,--it is a fact, of which daily practice, as well as social
progress, gives evidence.

Imagine ourselves living in the day after the birth of man at the
beginning of civilization: is it not true that the industries
originally the simplest, those which required the least
preparation and expense, were the following: GATHERING,
PASTURAGE, HUNTING, and FISHING, which were followed long
afterwards by agriculture? Since then, these four primitive
industries have been perfected, and moreover appropriated: a
double circumstance which does not change the meaning of the
facts, but, on the contrary, makes it more manifest. In fact,
property has always attached itself by preference to objects of
the most immediate utility, to MADE VALUES, if I may so speak;
so that the scale of values might be fixed by the progress of

In his work on the "Liberty of Labor" M. Dunoyer has positively
accepted this principle by distinguishing four great classes of
industry, which he arranges according to the order of their
development,--that is, from the least labor-cost to the greatest.

These are EXTRACTIVE INDUSTRY,--including all the semi-barbarous
functions mentioned above,--COMMERCIAL INDUSTRY, MANUFACTURING,
INDUSTRY, AGRICULTURAL INDUSTRY. And it is for a profound reason
that the learned author placed agriculture last in the list.
For, despite its great antiquity, it is certain that this
industry has not kept pace with the others, and the succession of
human affairs is not decided by their origin, but by their entire
development. It may be that agricultural industry was born
before the others, and it may be that all were contemporary; but
that will be deemed of the latest date which shall be perfected

Thus the very nature of things, as well as his own wants,
indicates to the laborer the order in which he should effect the
production of the values that make up his well-being. Our law of
proportionality, then, is at once physical and logical, objective
and subjective; it has the highest degree of certainty. Let us
pursue the application.

Of all the products of labor, none perhaps has cost longer and
more patient efforts than the calendar. Nevertheless, there is
none the enjoyment of which can now be procured more cheaply, and
which, consequently, by our own definitions, has become more
necessary. How, then, shall we explain this change? Why has the
calendar, so useless to the early hordes, who only needed the
alternation of night and day, as of winter and summer, become at
last so indispensable, so unexpensive, so perfect? For, by a
marvelous harmony, in social economy all these adjectives are
interconvertible. How account, in short, by our law of
proportion, for the variability of the value of the calendar?

In order that the labor necessary to the production of the
calendar might be performed, might be possible, man had to find
means of gaining time from his early occupations and from those
which immediately followed them. In other words, these
industries had to become more productive, or less costly, than
they were at the beginning: which amounts to saying that it was
necessary first to solve the problem of the production of the
calendar from the extractive industries themselves.

Suppose, then, that suddenly, by a fortunate combination of
efforts, by the division of labor, by the use of some machine, by
better management of the natural resources,--in short, by his
industry,--Prometheus finds a way of producing in one day as much
of a certain object as he formerly produced in ten: what will
follow? The product will change its position in the table of the
elements of wealth; its power of affinity for other products, so
to speak, being increased, its relative value will be
proportionately diminished, and, instead of being quoted at one
hundred, it will thereafter be quoted only at ten. But this
value will still and always be none the less accurately
determined, and it will still be labor alone which will fix the
degree of its importance. Thus value varies, and the law of
value is unchangeable: further, if value is susceptible of
variation, it is because it is governed by a law whose principle
is essentially inconstant,--namely, labor measured by time.

The same reasoning applies to the production of the calendar as
to that of all possible values. I do not need to explain
how--civilization (that is, the social fact of the increase of
life) multiplying our tasks, rendering our moments more and more
precious, and obliging us to keep a perpetual and detailed record
of our whole life--the calendar has become to all one of the most
necessary things. We know, moreover, that this wonderful
discovery has given rise, as its natural complement, to one of
our most valuable industries, the manufacture of clocks and

At this point there very naturally arises an objection, the only
one that can be offered against the theory of the proportionality
of values.

Say and the economists who have succeeded him have observed that,
labor being itself an object of valuation, a species of
merchandise indeed like any other, to take it as the principal
and efficient cause of value is to reason in a vicious circle.
Therefore, they conclude, it is necessary to fall back on
scarcity and opinion.

These economists, if they will allow me to say it, herein have
shown themselves wonderfully careless. Labor is said TO HAVE
VALUE, not as merchandise itself, but in view of the values
supposed to be contained in it potentially. The VALUE OF LABOR
is a figurative expression, an anticipation of effect from cause.

It is a fiction by the same title as the PRODUCTIVITY OF
CAPITAL. Labor produces, capital has value: and when, by a sort
of ellipsis, we say the value of labor, we make an enjambement
which is not at all contrary to the rules of language, but which
theorists ought to guard against mistaking for a reality. Labor,
like liberty, love, ambition, genius, is a thing vague and
indeterminate in its nature, but qualitatively defined by its
object,--that is, it becomes a reality through its product.
When, therefore, we say: This man's labor is worth five francs
per day, it is as if we should say: The daily product of this
man's labor is worth five francs.

Now, the effect of labor is continually to eliminate scarcity and
opinion as constitutive elements of value, and, by necessary
consequence, to transform natural or indefinite utilities
(appropriated or not) into measurable or social utilities: whence
it follows that labor is at once a war declared upon the
parsimony of Nature and a permanent conspiracy against property.

According to this analysis, value, considered from the point of
view of the association which producers, by division of labor and
by exchange, naturally form among themselves, is the PROPORTIONAL
call the value of any special product is a formula which
expresses, in terms of money, the proportion of this product to
the general wealth.--Utility is the basis of value; labor fixes
the relation; the price is the expression which, barring the
fluctuations that we shall have to consider, indicates this

Such is the centre around which useful and exchangeable value
oscillate, the point where they are finally swallowed up and
disappear: such is the absolute, unchangeable law which regulates
economic disturbances and the freaks of industry and commerce,
and governs progress. Every effort of thinking and laboring
humanity, every individual and social speculation, as an
integrant part of collective wealth, obeys this law. It was the
destiny of political economy, by successively positing all its
contradictory terms, to make this law known; the object of social
economy, which I ask permission for a moment to distinguish from
political economy, although at bottom there is no difference
between them, will be to spread and apply it universally.

The theory of the measure or proportionality of values is, let it
be noticed, the theory of equality itself. Indeed, just as in
society, where we have seen that there is a complete identity
between producer and consumer, the revenue paid to an idler
is like value cast into the flames of Etna, so the laborer who
receives excessive wages is like a gleaner to whom should be
given a loaf of bread for gathering a stalk of grain: and all
that the economists have qualified as UNPRODUCTIVE CONSUMPTION
is in reality simply a violation of the law of proportionality.

We shall see in the sequence how, from these simple data, the
social genius gradually deduces the still obscure system of
organization of labor, distribution of wages, valuation of
products, and universal solidarity. For social order is
established upon the basis of inexorable justice, not at all upon
the paradisical sentiments of fraternity, self-sacrifice, and
love, to the exercise of which so many honorable socialists are
endeavoring now to stimulate the people. It is in vain that,
following Jesus Christ, they preach the necessity, and set the
example, of sacrifice; selfishness is stronger, and only the law
of severity, economic fatality, is capable of mastering it.
Humanitarian enthusiasm may produce shocks favorable to the
progress of civilization; but these crises of sentiment, like the
oscillations of value, must always result only in a firmer and
more absolute establishment of justice. Nature, or Divinity, we
distrust in our hearts: she has never believed in the love of man
for his fellow; and all that science reveals to us of the ways of
Providence in the progress of society--I say it to the shame of
the human conscience, but our hypocrisy must be made aware of
it--shows a profound misanthropy on the part of God. God helps
us, not from motives of goodness, but because order is his
essence; God promotes the welfare of the world, not because he
deems it worthy, but because the religion of his supreme
intelligence lays the obligation upon him: and while the vulgar
give him the sweet name Father, it is impossible for the
historian, for the political economist, to believe that he
either loves or esteems us.

Let us imitate this sublime indifference, this stoical ataraxia,
of God; and, since the precept of charity always has failed to
promote social welfare, let us look to pure reason for the
conditions of harmony and virtue.

Value, conceived as the proportionality of products, otherwise
called CONSTITUTED VALUE, necessarily implies in an equal degree
UTILITY and VENALITY, indivisibly and harmoniously united. It
implies utility, for, without this condition, the product would
be destitute of that affinity which renders it exchangeable, and
consequently makes it an element of wealth; it implies venality,
since, if the product was not acceptable in the market at any
hour and at a known price, it would be only a non-value, it would
be nothing.

But, in constituted value, all these properties acquire a
broader, more regular, truer significance than before. Thus,
utility is no longer that inert capacity, so to speak, which
things possess of serving for our enjoyments and in our
researches; venality is no longer the exaggeration of a blind
fancy or an unprincipled opinion; finally, variability has ceased
to explain itself by a disingenuous discussion between supply and
demand: all that has disappeared to give place to a positive,
normal, and, under all possible circumstances, determinable idea.

By the constitution of values each product, if it is allowable to
establish such an analogy, becomes like the nourishment which,
discovered by the alimentary instinct, then prepared by the
digestive organs, enters into the general circulation, where it
is converted, according to certain proportions, into flesh, bone,
liquid, etc., and gives to the body life, strength, and beauty.

Now, what change does the idea of value undergo when we rise from
the contradictory notions of useful value and exchangeable value
to that of constituted value or absolute value? There is, so to
speak, a joining together, a reciprocal penetration, in which the
two elementary concepts, grasping each other like the hooked
atoms of Epicurus, absorb one another and disappear, leaving in
their place a compound possessed, but in a superior degree, of
all their positive properties, and divested of all their negative
properties. A value really such--like money, first-class
business paper, government annuities, shares in a
well-established enterprise--can neither be increased without
reason nor lost in exchange: it is governed only by the natural
law of the addition of special industries and the increase of
products. Further, such a value is not the result of a
compromise,--that is, of eclecticism, juste-milieu, or mixture;
it is the product of a complete fusion, a product entirely new
and distinct from its components, just as water, the product of
the combination of hydrogen and oxygen, is a separate body,
totally distinct from its elements.

The resolution of two antithetical ideas in a third of a superior
order is what the school calls SYNTHESIS. It alone gives the
positive and complete idea, which is obtained, as we have seen,
by the successive affirmation or negation--for both amount to the
same thing--of two diametrically opposite concepts. Whence we
deduce this corollary, of the first importance in practice as
well as in theory: wherever, in the spheres of morality, history,
or political economy, analysis has established the antinomy of an
idea, we may affirm on a priori grounds that this antinomy
conceals a higher idea, which sooner or later will make its

I am sorry to have to insist at so great length on ideas familiar
to all young college graduates: but I owed these details to
certain economists, who, apropos of my critique of property, have
heaped dilemmas on dilemmas to prove that, if I was not a
proprietor, I necessarily must be a communist; all because they
did not understand THESIS, ANTITHESIS, and SYNTHESIS.

The synthetic idea of value, as the fundamental condition of
social order and progress, was dimly seen by Adam Smith, when, to
use the words of M. Blanqui, "he showed that labor is the
universal and invariable measure of values, and proved that
everything has its natural price, toward which it continually
gravitates amid the fluctuations of the market, occasioned by
ACCIDENTAL CIRCUMSTANCES foreign to the venal value of the

But this idea of value was wholly intuitive with Adam Smith, and
society does not change its habits upon the strength of
intuitions; it decides only upon the authority of facts. The
antinomy had to be expressed in a plainer and clearer manner: J.
B. Say was its principal interpreter. But, in spite of the
imaginative efforts and fearful subtlety of this economist,
Smith's definition controls him without his knowledge, and is
manifest throughout his arguments.

"To put a value on an article," says Say, "is to DECLARE that it
should be ESTIMATED equally with some other designated article.
. . . . . The value of everything is vague and arbitrary UNTIL
IT IS RECOGNIZED. . . . . ." There is, therefore, a method of
recognizing the value of things,--that is, of determining it;
and, as this recognition or determination results from the
comparison of things with each other, there is, further, a common
feature, a principle, by means of which we are able to DECLARE
that one thing is worth more or less than, or as much as,

Say first said: "The measure of value is the value of another
product." Afterwards, having seen that this phrase was but a
tautology, he modified it thus: "The measure of value is the
QUANTITY of another product," which is quite as unintelligible.
Moreover, this writer, generally so clear and decided,
embarrasses himself with vain distinctions: "We may APPRECIATE
the value of things; we cannot MEASURE it,--that is, COMPARE it
with an invariable and known standard, for no such standard
exists. We can do nothing but ESTIMATE THE VALUE of things by
comparing them." At other times he distinguishes between REAL
values and RELATIVE values: "The former are those whose value
changes with the cost of production; the latter are those whose
value changes relatively to the value of other kinds of

Singular prepossession of a man of genius, who does not see that
every measure, being only a comparison, indicates for that very
reason a true relation, provided the comparison is accurate;
that, consequently, value, or real measure, and value, or
relative measure, are perfectly identical; and that the
difficulty is reduced, not to the discovery of a standard of
measure, since all quantities may serve each other in that
capacity, but to the determination of a point of comparison. In
geometry the point of comparison is extent, and the unit of
measure is now the division of the circle into three hundred and
sixty parts, now the circumference of the terrestrial globe, now
the average dimension of the human arm, hand, thumb, or foot. In
economic science, we have said after Adam Smith, the point of
view from which all values are compared is labor; as for the unit
of measure, that adopted in France is the FRANC. It is
incredible that so many sensible men should struggle for forty
years against an idea so simple. But no: THE COMPARISON OF
AND WITHOUT A UNIT OF MEASURE,--such is the proposition which the
economists of the nineteenth century, rather than accept the
revolutionary idea of equality, have resolved to maintain against
all comers. What will posterity say?

I shall presently show, by striking examples, that the idea of
the measure or proportion of values, theoretically necessary, is
constantly realized in every-day life.

% 3.--Application of the law of proportionality of values.

Every product is a representative of labor.

Every product, therefore, can be exchanged for some other, as
universal practice proves.

But abolish labor, and you have left only articles of greater or
less usefulness, which, being stamped with no economic character,
no human seal, are without a common measure,--that is, are
logically unexchangeable.

Gold and silver, like other articles of merchandise, are
representatives of value; they have, therefore, been able to
serve as common measures and mediums of exchange. But the
special function which custom has allotted to the precious
metals,--that of serving as a commercial agent,--is purely
conventional, and any other article of merchandise, less
conveniently perhaps, but just as authentically, could play this
part: the economists admit it, and more than one example of it
can be cited. What, then, is the reason of this preference
generally accorded to the metals for the purpose of money, and
how shall we explain this speciality of function, unparalleled in
political economy, possessed by specie? For every unique thing
incomparable in kind is necessarily very difficult of
comprehension, and often even fails of it altogether. Now, is it
possible to reconstruct the series from which money seems to have
been detached, and, consequently, restore the latter to its true

In dealing with this question the economists, following their
usual course, have rushed beyond the limits of their science;
they have appealed to physics, to mechanics, to history, etc.;
they have talked of all things, but have given no answer. The
precious metals, they have said, by their scarcity, density, and
incorruptibility, are fitted to serve as money in, a degree
unapproached by other kinds of merchandise. In short, the
economists, instead of replying to the economic question put to
them, have set themselves to the examination of a question of
art. They have laid great stress on the mechanical adaptation of
gold and silver for the purpose of money; but not one of them has
seen or understood the economic reason which gave to the precious
metals the privilege they now enjoy.

Now, the point that no one has noticed is that, of all the
various articles of merchandise, gold and silver were the first
whose value was determined. In the patriarchal period, gold and
silver still were bought and sold in ingots, but already with a
visible tendency to superiority and with a marked preference.
Gradually sovereigns took possession of them and stamped them
with their seal; and from this royal consecration was born
money,--that is, the commodity par excellence; that which,
notwithstanding all commercial shocks, maintains a determined
proportional value, and is accepted in payment for all things.

That which distinguishes specie, in fact, is not the durability
of the metal, which is less than that of steel, nor its utility,
which is much below that of wheat, iron, coal, and numerous other
substances, regarded as almost vile when compared with gold;
neither is it its scarcity or density, for in both these respects
it might be replaced, either by labor spent upon other materials,
or, as at present, by bank notes representing vast amounts of
iron or copper. The distinctive feature of gold and silver, I
repeat, is the fact that, owing to their metallic properties, the
difficulties of their production, and, above all, the
intervention of public authority, their value as merchandise was
fixed and authenticated at an early date.

I say then that the value of gold and silver, especially of the
part that is made into money, although perhaps it has not yet
been calculated accurately, is no longer arbitrary; I add that it
is no longer susceptible of depreciation, like other values,
although it may vary continually nevertheless. All the logic and
erudition that has been expended to prove, by the example of gold
and silver, that value is essentially indeterminable, is a mass
of paralogisms, arising from a false idea of the question, ab
ignorantia elenchi.

Philip I., King of France, mixed with the livre tournois of
Charlemagne one-third alloy, imagining that, since he held the
monopoly of the power of coining money, he could do what every
merchant does who holds the monopoly of a product. What was, in
fact, this adulteration of money, for which Philip and his
successors are so severely blamed? A very sound argument from
the standpoint of commercial routine, but wholly false in the
view of economic science,--namely, that, supply and demand being
the regulators of value, we may, either by causing an artificial
scarcity or by monopolizing the manufacture, raise the
estimation, and consequently the value, of things, and that this
is as true of gold and silver as of wheat, wine, oil, tobacco.
Nevertheless, Philip's fraud was no sooner suspected than his
money was reduced to its true value, and he lost himself all that
he had expected to gain from his subjects. The same thing
happened after all similar attempts. What was the reason of this

Because, say the economists, the quantity of gold and silver in
reality being neither diminished nor increased by the false
coinage, the proportion of these metals to other merchandise was
not changed, and consequently it was not in the power of the
sovereign to make that which was worth but two worth four. For
the same reason, if, instead of debasing the coin, it had been in
the king's power to double its mass, the exchangeable value of
gold and silver would have decreased one-half immediately, always
on account of this proportionality and equilibrium. The
adulteration of the coin was, then, on the part of the king, a
forced loan, or rather, a bankruptcy, a swindle.

Marvelous! the economists explain very clearly, when they choose,
the theory of the measure of value; that they may do so, it is
necessary only to start them on the subject of money. Why, then,
do they not see that money is the written law of commerce, the
type of exchange, the first link in that long chain of creations
all of which, as merchandise, must receive the sanction of
society, and become, if not in fact, at least in right,
acceptable as money in settlement of all kinds of transactions?

"Money," M. Augier very truly says, "can serve, either as a means
of authenticating contracts already made, or as a good medium of
exchange, only so far as its value approaches the ideal of
permanence; for in all cases it exchanges or buys only the value
which it possesses."[8]

[8] "History of Public Credit."

Let us turn this eminently judicious observation into a general

Labor becomes a guarantee of well-being and equality only so far
as the product of each individual is in proportion with the mass;
for in all cases it exchanges or buys a value equal only to its

Is it not strange that the defence of speculative and fraudulent
commerce is undertaken boldly, while at the same time the attempt
of a royal counterfeiter, who, after all, did but apply to gold
and silver the fundamental principle of political economy, the
arbitrary instability of values, is frowned down? If the
administration should presume to give twelve ounces of tobacco
for a pound,[9] the economists would cry robbery; but, if the
same administration, using its privilege, should increase the
price a few cents a pound, they would regard it as dear, but
would discover no violation of principles. What an imbroglio is
political economy!

[9] In France, the sale of tobacco is a government monopoly.--

There is, then, in the monetization of gold and silver something
that the economists have given no account of; namely, the
consecration of the law of proportionality, the first act in the
constitution of values. Humanity does all things by infinitely
small degrees: after comprehending the fact that all products of
labor must be submitted to a proportional measure which makes all
of them equally exchangeable, it begins by giving this attribute
of absolute exchangeability to a special product, which shall
become the type and model of all others. In the same way, to
lift its members to liberty and equality, it begins by creating
kings. The people have a confused idea of this providential
progress when, in their dreams of fortune and in their legends,
they speak continually of gold and royalty; and the philosophers
only do homage to universal reason when, in their so-called moral
homilies and their socialistic utopias, they thunder with equal
violence against gold and tyranny. Auri sacra fames! Cursed
gold! ludicrously shouts some communist. As well say cursed
wheat, cursed vines, cursed sheep; for, like gold and silver,
every commercial value must reach an exact and accurate
determination. The work was begun long since; today it is making
visible progress.

Let us pass to other considerations.

It is an axiom generally admitted by the economists that ALL

I regard this proposition as universally and absolutely true; it
is a corollary of the law of proportionality, which may be
regarded as an epitome of the whole science of economy. But--I
beg pardon of the economists--the principle that ALL LABOR
SHOULD LEAVE AN EXCESS has no meaning in their theory, and is not
susceptible of demonstration. If supply and demand alone
determine value, how can we tell what is an excess and what is a
SUFFICIENCY? If neither cost, nor market price, nor wages can
be mathematically determined, how is it possible to conceive of a
surplus, a profit? Commercial routine has given us the idea of
profit as well as the word; and, since we are equal politically,
we infer that every citizen has an equal right to realize profits
in his personal industry. But commercial operations are
essentially irregular, and it has been proved beyond question
that the profits of commerce are but an arbitrary discount forced
from the consumer by the producer,--in short, a displacement, to
say the least. This we should soon see, if it was possible to
compare the total amount of annual losses with the amount of
profits. In the thought of political economy, the principle that
ALL LABOR SHOULD LEAVE AN EXCESS is simply the consecration
of the constitutional right which all of us gained by the
revolution,-- the right of robbing one's neighbor.

The law of proportionality of values alone can solve this
problem. I will approach the question a little farther back: its
gravity warrants me in treating it with the consideration that it

Most philosophers, like most philologists, see in society only a
creature of the mind, or rather, an abstract name serving to
designate a collection of men. It is a prepossession which all
of us received in our infancy with our first lessons in grammar,
that collective nouns, the names of genera and species, do not
designate realities. There is much to say under this head, but I
confine myself to my subject. To the true economist, society is
a living being, endowed with an intelligence and an activity of
its own, governed by special laws discoverable by observation
alone, and whose existence is manifested, not under a material
aspect, but by the close concert and mutual interdependence of
all its members. Therefore, when a few pages back, adopting the
allegorical method, we used a fabulous god as a symbol of
society, our language in reality was not in the least
metaphorical: we only gave a name to the social being, an organic
and synthetic unit. In the eyes of any one who has reflected
upon the laws of labor and exchange (I disregard every other
consideration), the reality, I had almost said the personality,
of the collective man is as certain as the reality and the
personality of the individual man. The only difference is that
the latter appears to the senses as an organism whose parts are
in a state of material coherence, which is not true of society.
But intelligence, spontaneity, development, life, all that
constitutes in the highest degree the reality of being, is
as essential to society as to man: and hence it is that the
government of societies is a SCIENCE,-- that is, a study of
natural relations,--and not an ART,-- that is, good pleasure and
absolutism. Hence it is, finally, that every society declines
the moment it falls into the hands of the ideologists.

undemonstrable by political economy,--that is, by proprietary
routine,--is one of those which bear strongest testimony to the
reality of the collective person: for, as we shall see, this
principle is true of individuals only because it emanates from
society, which thus confers upon them the benefit of its own

Let us turn to facts. It has been observed that railroad
enterprises are a source of wealth to those who control them in a
much less degree than to the State. The observation is a true
one; and it might have been added that it applies, not only to
railroads, but to every industry. But this phenomenon, which is
essentially the result of the law of proportionality of values
and of the absolute identity of production and consumption, is at
variance with the ordinary notion of useful value and
exchangeable value.

The average price charged for the transportation of merchandise
by the old method is eighteen centimes per ton and kilometer, the
merchandise taken and delivered at the warehouses. It has been
calculated that, at this price, an ordinary railroad corporation
would net a profit of not quite ten per cent., nearly the same as
the profit made by the old method. But let us admit that the
rapidity of transportation by rail is to that by wheels, all
allowances made, as four to one: in society time itself being
value, at the same price the railroad would have an advantage
over the stage-wagon of four hundred per cent. `Nevertheless,
this enormous advantage, a very real one so far as society is
concerned, is by no means realized in a like proportion by the
carrier, who, while he adds four hundred per cent. to the social
value, makes personally less than ten per cent. Suppose, in
fact, to make the thing still clearer, that the railroad should
raise its price to twenty- five centimes, the rate by the old
method remaining at eighteen; it would lose immediately all its
consignments; shippers, consignees, everybody would return to the
stage-wagon, if necessary. The locomotive would be abandoned; a
social advantage of four hundred per cent. would be sacrificed to
a private loss of thirty-three per cent.


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