The Philosophy of Misery
Joseph-Pierre Proudhon

Part 6 out of 9

axiom, Ex nihilo nihil fit, is not true

Now, that is precisely what happens. Humanity, in imitation of
God, produces everything from nothing, de nihilo hilum just as it
is itself a product of nothing, just as its thought comes out of
the void; and M. Rossi would not have made such a mistake, if,
like the physiocrats, he had not confounded the products of the
INDUSTRIAL KINGDOM with those of the animal, vegetable, and
mineral kingdoms. Political economy begins with labor; it is
developed by labor; and all that does not come from labor,
falling into the domain of pure utility,--that is, into the
category of things submitted to man's action, but not yet
rendered exchangeable by labor,--remains radically foreign to
political economy. Monopoly itself, wholly established as it is
by a pure act of collective will, does not change these relations
at all, since, according to history, and according to the written
law, and according to economic theory, monopoly exists, or is
reputed to exist, only after labor's appearance.

Say's doctrine, therefore, is unassailable. Relatively to the
man of enterprise, whose specialty always supposes other
manufacturers cooperating with him, profit is what remains of the
value produced after deducting the values consumed, among which
must be included the salary of the man of enterprise,--in other
words, his wages. Relatively to society, which contains all
possible specialties, net product is identical with gross

But there is a point the explanation of which I have vainly
sought in Say and in the other economists,--to wit, how the
reality and legitimacy of net product is established. For it is
plain that, in order to cause the disappearance of net product,
it would suffice to increase the wages of the workmen and the
price of the values consumed, the selling-price remaining the
same. So that, there being nothing seemingly to distinguish net
product from a sum withheld in paying wages or, what amounts to
the same thing, from an assessment laid upon the consumer in
advance, net product has every appearance of an extortion
effected by force and without the least show of right.

This difficulty has been solved in advance in our theory of the
proportionality of values.

According to this theory, every exploiter of a machine, of an
idea, or of capital should be considered as a man who increases
with equal outlay the amount of a certain kind of products, and
consequently increases the social wealth by economizing time.
The principle of the legitimacy of the net product lies, then, in
the processes previously in use: if the new device succeeds,
there will be a surplus of values, and consequently a
profit,--that is, net product; if the enterprise rests on a false
basis, there will be a deficit in the gross product, and in the
long run failure and bankruptcy. Even in the case--and it is the
most frequent-- where there is no innovation on the part of the
man of enterprise, the rule of net product remains applicable,
for the success of an industry depends upon the way in which it
is carried on. Now, it being in accordance with the nature of
monopoly that the risk and peril of every enterprise should be
taken by the initiator, it follows that the net product belongs
to him by the most sacred title recognized among men,-- labor and

It is useless to recall the fact that the net product is often
exaggerated, either by fraudulently secured reductions of wages
or in some other way. These are abuses which proceed, not from
the principle, but from human cupidity, and which remain outside
the domain of the theory. For the rest, I have shown, in
discussing the constitution of value (Chapter II., % 2): 1, how
the net product can never exceed the difference resulting from
inequality of the means of production; 2, how the profit which
society reaps from each new invention is incomparably greater
than that of its originator. As these points have been exhausted
once for all, I will not go over them again; I will simply
remark that, by industrial progress, the net product of the
ingenious tends steadily to decrease, while, on the other hand,
their comfort increases, as the concentric layers which make up
the trunk of a tree become thinner as the tree grows and as they
are farther removed from the centre.

By the side of net product, the natural reward of the laborer, I
have pointed out as one of the happiest effects of monopoly the
CAPITALIZATION of values, from which is born another sort of
profit,--namely, INTEREST, or the hire of capital. As for
RENT, although it is often confounded with interest, and
although, in ordinary language, it is included with profit and
interest under the common expression REVENUE, it is a different
thing from interest; it is a consequence, not of monopoly, but of
property; it depends on a special theory., of which we will speak
in its place.

What, then, is this reality, known to all peoples, and
nevertheless still so badly defined, which is called interest or
the price of a loan, and which gives rise to the fiction of the
productivity of capital?

Everybody knows that a contractor, when he calculates his costs
of production, generally divides them into three classes: 1, the
values consumed and services paid for; 2, his personal salary; 3,
recovery of his capital with interest. From this last class of
costs is born the distinction between contractor and capitalist,
although these two titles always express but one faculty,

Thus an industrial enterprise which yields only interest on
capital and nothing for net product, is an insignificant
enterprise, which results only in a transformation of values
without adding anything to wealth,-- an enterprise, in short,
which has no further reason for existence and is immediately
abandoned. Why is it, then, that this interest on capital
is not regarded as a sufficient supplement of net product? Why
is it not itself the net product?

Here again the philosophy of the economists is wanting. To
defend usury they have pretended that capital was productive, and
they have changed a metaphor into a reality. The
anti-proprietary socialists have had no difficulty in overturning
their sophistry; and through this controversy the theory of
capital has fallen into such disfavor that today, in the minds of
the people, CAPITALIST and IDLER are synonymous terms.
Certainly it is not my intention to retract what I myself have
maintained after so many others, or to rehabilitate a class of
citizens which so strangely misconceives its duties: but the
interests of science and of the proletariat itself oblige me to
complete my first assertions and maintain true principles.

1. All production is effected with a view to consumption,--that
is, to enjoyment. In society the correlative terms production
and consumption, like net product and gross product, designate
identically the same thing. If, then, after the laborer has
realized a net product, instead of using it to increase his
comfort, he should confine himself to his wages and steadily
apply his surplus to new production, as so many people do who
earn only to buy, production would increase indefinitely, while
comfort and, reasoning from the standpoint of society, population
would remain unchanged. Now, interest on capital which has been
invested in an industrial enterprise and which has been gradually
formed by the accumulation of net product, is a sort of
compromise between the necessity of increasing production, on the
one hand, and, on the other, that of increasing comfort; it is a
method of reproducing and consuming the net product at the same
time. That is why certain industrial societies pay their
stockholders a dividend even before the enterprise has yielded
anything. Life is short, success comes slowly; on the one hand
labor commands, on the other man wishes to enjoy. To meet all
these exigencies the net product shall be devoted to production,
but meantime (inter-ea, inter-esse)--that is, while waiting for
the new product--the capitalist shall enjoy.

Thus, as the amount of net product marks the progress of wealth,
interest on capital, without which net product would be useless
and would not even exist, marks the progress of comfort.
Whatever the form of government which may be established among
men; whether they live in monopoly or in communism; whether each
laborer keeps his account by credit and debit, or has his labor
and pleasure parcelled out to him by the community,--the law
which we have just disengaged will always be fulfilled. Our
interest accounts do nothing else than bear witness to it.

2. Values created by net product are classed as savings and
capitalized in the most highly exchangeable form, the form which
is freest and least susceptible of depreciation,--in a word, the
form of specie, the only constituted value. Now, if capital
leaves this state of freedom and ENGAGES ITSELF,--that is, takes
the form of machines, buildings, etc.,--it will still be
susceptible of exchange, but much more exposed than before to the
oscillations of supply and demand. Once engaged, it cannot be
DISENGAGED without difficulty; and the sole resource of its owner
will be exploitation. Exploitation alone is capable of
maintaining engaged capital at its nominal value; it may increase
it, it may diminish it. Capital thus transformed is as if it had
been risked in a maritime enterprise: the interest is the
insurance premium paid on the capital. And this premium will be
greater or less according to the scarcity or abundance of

Later a distinction will also be established between the
insurance premium and interest on capital, and new facts will
result from this subdivision: thus the history of humanity is
simply a perpetual distinction of the mind's concepts.

3. Not only does interest on capital cause the laborer to enjoy
the fruit of his toil and insure his savings, but--and this is
the most marvellous effect of interest--while rewarding the
producer, it obliges him to labor incessantly and never stop.

If a contractor is his own capitalist, it may happen that he will
content himself with a profit equal to the interest on his
investment: but in that case it is certain that his industry is
no longer making progress and consequently is suffering. This we
see when the capitalist is distinct from the contractor: for
then, after the interest is paid, the manufacturer's profit is
absolutely nothing; his industry becomes a perpetual peril to
him, from which it is important that he should free himself as
soon as possible. For as society's comfort must develop in an
indefinite progression, so the law of the producer is that he
should continually realize a surplus: otherwise his existence is
precarious, monotonous, fatiguing. The interest due to the
capitalist by the producer therefore is like the lash of the
planter cracking over the head of the sleeping slave; it is the
voice of progress crying: "On, on! Toil, toil!" Man's destiny
pushes him to happiness: that is why it denies him rest.

4. Finally, interest on money is the condition of capital's
circulation and the chief agent of industrial solidarity. This
aspect has been seized by all the economists, and we shall give
it special treatment when we come to deal with credit.

I have proved, and better, I imagine, than it has ever been
proved before:

That monopoly is necessary, since it is the antagonism of

That it is essential to society, since without it society would
never have emerged from the primeval forests and without it would
rapidly go backwards;

Finally, that it is the crown of the producer, when, whether by
net product or by interest on the capital which he devotes to
production, it brings to the monopolist that increase of comfort
which his foresight and his efforts deserve.

Shall we, then, with the economists, glorify monopoly, and
consecrate it to the benefit of well-secured conservatives? I am
willing, provided they in turn will admit my claims in what is to
follow, as I have admitted theirs in what has preceded.

% 2.--The disasters in labor and the perversion of ideas caused
by monopoly.

Like competition, monopoly implies a contradiction in its name
and its definition. In fact, since consumption and production
are identical things in society, and since selling is synonymous
with buying, whoever says privilege of sale or exploitation
necessarily says privilege of consumption and purchase: which
ends in the denial of both. Hence a prohibition of consumption
as well as of production laid by monopoly upon the
wage-receivers. Competition was civil war, monopoly is the
massacre of the prisoners.

These various propositions are supported by all sorts of
evidence,-- physical, algebraic, and metaphysical. What I shall
add will be only the amplified exposition: their simple
announcement demonstrates them.

Every society considered in its economic relations naturally
divides itself into capitalists and laborers, employers and wage-
receivers, distributed upon a scale whose degrees mark the income
of each, whether this income be composed of wages, profit,
interest, rent, or dividends.

From this hierarchical distribution of persons and incomes it
follows that Say's principle just referred to: IN A NATION THE
since, in consequence of monopoly, the SELLING PRICE is much
higher than the COST PRICE. Now, as it is the cost price
nevertheless which must pay the selling price, since a nation
really has no market but itself, it follows that exchange, and
consequently circulation and life, are impossible.

In France, twenty millions of laborers, engaged in all the
branches of science, art, and industry, produce everything which
is useful to man. Their aggregate annual wages amount, it is
estimated, to twenty thousand millions; but, in consequence of
the profit (net product and interest) accruing to monopolists,
twenty-five thousand millions must be paid for their products.
Now, as the nation has no other buyers than its wage- receivers
and wage-payers, and as the latter do not pay for the former, and
as the selling-price of merchandise is the same for all, it is
clear that, to make circulation possible, the laborer would have
to pay five for that for which he has received but four.--What is
Property: Chapter IV.[17]

[17] A comparison of this passage, as given here, with the
English translation of "What is Property" will show a marked
variation in the language. This is explained by the fact that
the author, in reproducing the passage, modified it considerably.

The same is true of another quotation from the same work which
will be found a few pages farther on.--Translator.

This, then, is the reason why wealth and poverty are correlative,
inseparable, not only in idea, but in fact; this is the reason
why they exist concurrently; this is what justifies the
pretension of the wage- receiver that the rich man possesses no
more than the poor man, except that of which the latter has been
defrauded. After the monopolist has drawn up his account of
cost, profit, and interest, the wage-paid consumer draws up his;
and he finds that, though promised wages stated in the contract
as one hundred, he has really been given but seventy- five.
Monopoly, therefore, puts the wage-receivers into bankruptcy, and
it is strictly true that it lives upon the spoils.

Six years ago I brought out this frightful contradiction: why has
it not been thundered through the press? Why have no teachers of
renown warned public opinion? Why have not those who demand
political rights for the workingman proclaimed that he is robbed?

Why have the economists kept silent? Why?

Our revolutionary democracy is so noisy only because it fears
revolutions: but, by ignoring the danger which it dares not look
in the face, it succeeds only in increasing it. "We resemble,"
says M. Blanqui, "firemen who increase the quantity of steam at
the same time that they place weights on the safety-valve."
Victims of monopoly, console yourselves! If your tormentors will
not listen, it is because Providence has resolved to strike them:

Non audierunt, says the Bible, quia Deus volebat occidere eos.

Sale being unable to fulfil the conditions of monopoly,
merchandise accumulates; labor has produced in a year what its
wages will not allow it to consume in less than fifteen months:
hence it must remain idle one-fourth of the year. But, if it
remains idle, it earns nothing: how will it ever buy? And if the
monopolist cannot get rid of his products, how will his
enterprise endure? Logical impossibility multiplies around the
workshop; the facts which translate it are everywhere.

"The hosiers of England," says Eugene Buret, "had come to the
point where they did not eat oftener than every other day.
This state of things lasted eighteen months." And he cites a
multitude of similar cases.

But the distressing feature in the spectacle of monopoly's
effects is the sight of the unfortunate workingmen blaming each
other for their misery and imagining that by uniting and
supporting each other they will prevent the reduction of wages.

"The Irish," says an observer, "have given a disastrous lesson to
the working classes of Great Britain. . . . . They have
taught our laborers the fatal secret of confining their needs to
the maintenance of animal life alone, and of contenting
themselves, like savages, with the minimum of the means of
subsistence sufficient to prolong life. . . . . Instructed by
this fatal example, yielding partly to necessity, the working
classes have lost that laudable pride which led them to furnish
their houses properly and to multiply about them the decent
conveniences which contribute to happiness."

I have never read anything more afflicting and more stupid. And
what would you have these workingmen do? The Irish came: should
they have been massacred? Wages were reduced: should death have
been accepted in their stead? Necessity commanded, as you say
yourselves. Then followed the interminable hours, disease,
deformity, degradation, debasement, and all the signs of
industrial slavery: all these calamities are born of monopoly and
its sad predecessors,--competition, machinery, and the division
of labor: and you blame the Irish!

At other times the workingmen blame their luck, and exhort
themselves to patience: this is the counterpart of the thanks
which they address to Providence, when labor is abundant and
wages are sufficient.

I find in an article published by M. Leon Faucher, in the
"Journal des Economistes" (September, 1845), that the English
workingmen lost some time ago the habit of combining, which
is surely a progressive step on which they are only to be
congratulated, but that this improvement in the morale of the
workingmen is due especially to their economic instruction.

"It is not upon the manufacturers," cried a spinner at the
meeting in Bolton, "that wages depend. In periods of depression
the employers, so to speak, are only the lash with which
necessity is armed; and whether they will or no, they have to
strike. The regulative principle is the relation of supply to
demand; and the employers have not this power. . . . Let us act
prudently, then; let us learn to be resigned to bad luck and to
make the most of good luck: by seconding the progress of our
industry, we shall be useful not only to ourselves, but to the
entire country." [Applause.]

Very good: well-trained, model workmen, these! What men these
spinners must be that they should submit without complaint to the
LASH OF NECESSITY, because the regulative principle of wages is
SUPPLY AND DEMAND! M. Leon Faucher adds with a charming

English workingmen are fearless reasoners. Give them a FALSE
PRINCIPLE, and they will push it mathematically to absurdity,
without stopping or getting frightened, as if they were marching
to the triumph of the truth.

For my part, I hope that, in spite of all the efforts of economic
propagandism, French workingmen will never become reasoners of
such power. SUPPLY AND DEMAND, as well as the LASH OF NECESSITY,
has no longer any hold upon their minds. This was the one misery
that England lacked: it will not cross the channel.

By the combined effect of division, machinery, net product, and
interest, monopoly extends its conquests in an increasing
progression; its developments embrace agriculture as well as
commerce and industry, and all sorts of products. Everybody
knows the phrase of Pliny upon the landed monopoly which
determined the fall of Italy, latifundia perdidere Italiam.
It is this same monopoly which still impoverishes and renders
uninhabitable the Roman Campagna and which forms the vicious
circle in which England moves convulsively; it is this monopoly
which, established by violence after a war of races, produces all
the evils of Ireland, and causes so many trials to O'Connell,
powerless, with all his eloquence, to lead his repealers through
this labyrinth. Grand sentiments and rhetoric are the worst
remedy for social evils: it would be easier for O'Connell to
transport Ireland and the Irish from the North Sea to the
Australian Ocean than to overthrow with the breath of his
harangues the monopoly which holds them in its grasp. General
communions and sermons will do no more: if the religious
sentiment still alone maintains the morale of the Irish people,
it is high time that a little of that profane science, so much
disdained by the Church, should come to the aid of the lambs
which its crook no longer protects.

The invasion of commerce and industry by monopoly is too well
known to make it necessary that I should gather proofs: moreover,
of what use is it to argue so much when results speak so loudly?
E. Buret's description of the misery of the working-classes has
something fantastic about it, which oppresses and frightens you.
There are scenes in which the imagination refuses to believe, in
spite of certificates and official reports. Couples all naked,
hidden in the back of an unfurnished alcove, with their naked
children; entire populations which no longer go to church on
Sunday, because they are naked; bodies kept a week before they
are buried, because the deceased has left neither a shroud in
which to lay him out nor the wherewithal to pay for the coffin
and the undertaker (and the bishop enjoys an income of from four
to five hundred thousand francs); families heaped up over sewers,
living in rooms occupied by pigs, and beginning to rot while
yet alive, or dwelling in holes, like Albinoes; octogenarians
sleeping naked on bare boards; and the virgin and the prostitute
expiring in the same nudity: everywhere despair, consumption,
hunger, hunger! . . And this people, which expiates the crimes
of its masters, does not rebel! No, by the flames of Nemesis!
when a people has no vengeance left, there is no longer any
Providence for it.

Exterminations en masse by monopoly have not yet found their
poets. Our rhymers, strangers to the things of this world,
without bowels for the proletaire, continue to breathe to the
moon their melancholy DELIGHTS. What a subject for
MEDITATIONS, nevertheless, is the miseries engendered by

It is Walter Scott who says:

Formerly, though many years since, each villager had his cow and
his pig, and his yard around his house. Where a single farmer
cultivates today, thirty small farmers lived formerly; so that
for one individual, himself alone richer, it is true, than the
thirty farmers of old times, there are now twenty-nine wretched
day-laborers, without employment for their minds and arms, and
whose number is too large by half. The only useful function
which they fulfil is to pay, WHEN THEY CAN, a rent of sixty
shillings a year for the huts in which they dwell.[18]

[18] This extract from Scott, as well as that from a
parliamentary report cited a few paragraphs later, is here
translated from the French, and presumably differs in form
somewhat, therefore, from the original English.--Translator.

A modern ballad, quoted by E. Buret, sings the solitude of

Le rouet est silencieux dans la vallee:
C'en est fait des sentiments de famille.
Sur un peu de fumee le vieil aieul
Etend ses mains pales; et le foyer vide
Est aussi desole que son coeur.[19]

[19] The spinning-wheel is silent in the valley: family feelings
are at an end. Over a little smoke the aged grandsire spreads
his pale hands; and the empty hearth is as desolate as his

The reports made to parliament rival the novelist and the poet:

The inhabitants of Glensheil, in the neighborhood of the valley
of Dundee, were formerly distinguished from all their neighbors
by the superiority of their physical qualities. The men were of
high stature, robust, active, and courageous; the women comely
and graceful. Both sexes possessed an extraordinary taste for
poetry and music. Now, alas! a long experience of poverty,
prolonged privation of sufficient food and suitable clothing,
have profoundly deteriorated this race, once so remarkably fine.

This is a notable instance of the inevitable degradation pointed
out by us in the two chapters on division of labor and machinery.

And our litterateurs busy themselves with the pretty things of
the past, as if the present were not adequate to their genius!
The first among them to venture on these infernal paths has
created a scandal in the coterie! Cowardly parasites, vile
venders of prose and verse, all worthy of the wages of Marsyas!
Oh! if your punishment were to last as long as my contempt, you
would be forced to believe in the eternity of hell.

Monopoly, which just now seemed to us so well founded in justice,
is the more unjust because it not only makes wages illusory, but
deceives the workman in the very valuation of his wages by
assuming in relation to him a false title, a false capacity.

M. de Sismondi, in his "Studies of Social Economy," observes
somewhere that, when a banker delivers to a merchant bank-notes
in exchange for his values, far from giving credit to the
merchant, he receives it, on the contrary, from him.

"This credit," adds M. de Sismondi, "is in truth so short that
the merchant scarcely takes the trouble to inquire whether the
banker is worthy, especially as the former asks credit instead of
granting it."

So, according to M. de Sismondi, in the issue of bank paper, the
functions of the merchant and the banker are inverted: the first
is the creditor, and the second is the credited.

Something similar takes place between the monopolist and

In fact, the workers, like the merchant at the bank, ask to have
their labor discounted; in right, the contractor ought to furnish
them bonds and security. I will explain myself.

In any exploitation, no matter of what sort, the contractor
cannot legitimately claim, in addition to his own personal labor,
anything but the IDEA: as for the EXECUTION, the result of the
cooperation of numerous laborers, that is an effect of collective
power, with which the authors, as free in their action as the
chief, can produce nothing which should go to him gratuitously.
Now, the question is to ascertain whether the amount of
individual wages paid by the contractor is equivalent to the
collective effect of which I speak: for, were it otherwise, Say's
axiom, EVERY PRODUCT IS WORTH WHAT IT COSTS, would be violated.

"The capitalist," they say, "has paid the laborers their daily
wages at a rate agreed upon; consequently he owes them nothing."
To be accurate, it must be said that he has paid as many times
one day's wage as he has employed laborers,--which is not at all
the same thing. For he has paid nothing for that immense power
which results from the union of laborers and the convergence and
harmony of their efforts; that saving of expense, secured by
their formation into a workshop; that multiplication of product,
foreseen, it is true, by the capitalist, but realized by free
forces. Two hundred grenadiers, working under the direction of
an engineer, stood the obelisk upon its base in a few hours; do
you think that one man could have accomplished the same task in
two hundred days? Nevertheless, on the books of the capitalist,
the amount of wages is the same in both cases, because he allots
to himself the benefit of the collective power. Now, of two
things one: either this is usurpation on his part, or it is
error.--What is Property: Chapter III.

To properly exploit the mule-jenny, engineers, builders, clerks,
brigades of workingmen and workingwomen of all sorts, have been
needed. In the name of their liberty, of their security, of
their future, and of the future of their children, these workmen,
on engaging to work in the mill, had to make reserves; where are
the letters of credit which they have delivered to the employers?

Where are the guarantees which they have received? What!
millions of men have sold their arms and parted with their
liberty without knowing the import of the contract; they have
engaged themselves upon the promise of continuous work and
adequate reward; they have executed with their hands what the
thought of the employers had conceived; they have become, by this
collaboration, associates in the enterprise: and when monopoly,
unable or unwilling to make further exchanges, suspends its
manufacture and leaves these millions of laborers without bread,
they are told to be RESIGNED! By the new processes they have
lost nine days of their labor out of ten; and for reward they are
pointed to the LASH OF NECESSITY flourished over them! Then, if
they refuse to work for lower wages, they are shown that they
punish themselves. If they accept the rate offered them, they
constitute the happiness and dignity of the workingman and
entitle him to the sympathies of the rich. If they combine to
secure an increase of wages, they are thrown into prison!
Whereas they ought to prosecute their exploiters in the courts,
on them the courts will avenge the violations of liberty of
commerce! Victims of monopoly, they will suffer the penalty due
to the monopolists! O justice of men, stupid courtesan, how
long, under your goddess's tinsel, will you drink the blood of
the slaughtered proletaire?

Monopoly has invaded everything,--land, labor, and the
instruments of labor, products and the distribution of pro ducts.

Political economy itself has not been able to avoid admitting it.

"You almost always find across your path," says M. Rossi, "some
monopoly. There is scarcely a product that can be regarded as
the pure and simple result of labor; accordingly the economic law
which proportions price to cost of production is never completely
realized. It is a formula which is profoundly MODIFIED by the
intervention of one or another of the monopolies to which the
instruments of production are subordinated.--Course in Political
Economy: Volume I., page 143.

M. Rossi holds too high an office to give his language all the
precision and exactness which science requires when monopoly is
in question. What he so complacently calls a MODIFICATION OF
ECONOMIC FORMULAS is but a long and odious violation of the
fundamental laws of labor and exchange. It is in consequence of
monopoly that in society, net product being figured over and
above gross product, the collective laborer must repurchase his
own product at a price higher than that which this product costs
him,--which is contradictory and impossible; that the natural
balance between production and consumption is destroyed; that the
laborer is deceived not only in his settlements, but also as to
the amount of his wages; that in his case progress in comfort is
changed into an incessant progress in misery: it is by monopoly,
in short, that all notions of commutative justice are perverted,
and that social economy, instead of the positive science that it
is, becomes a veritable utopia.

This disguise of political economy under the influence of
monopoly is a fact so remarkable in the history of social ideas
that we must not neglect to cite a few instances.

Thus, from the standpoint of monopoly, value is no longer that
synthetic conception which serves to express the relation of
a special object of utility to the sum total of wealth: monopoly
estimating things, not in their relation to society, but in their
relation to itself, value loses its social character, and is
nothing but a vague, arbitrary, egoistic, and essentially
variable thing. Starting with this principle, the monopolist
extends the term PRODUCT to cover all sorts of servitude, and
applies the idea of CAPITAL to all the frivolous and shameful
industries which his passions and vices exploit. The charms of a
courtesan, says Say, are so much CAPITAL, of which the PRODUCT
follows the general LAW of VALUES,--namely, SUPPLY and
DEMAND. Most of the works on political economy are full of such
applications. But as prostitution and the state of dependence
from which it emanates are condemned by morality, M. Rossi will
bid us observe the further fact that political economy, after
having MODIFIED its formula in consequence of the intervention
of monopoly, will have to submit to a new CORRECTIVE, although
its conclusions are in themselves irreproachable. For, he says,
political economy has nothing in common with morality: it is for
us to accept it, to modify or correct its formulas, whenever our
welfare, that of society, and the interests of morality call for
it. How many things there are between political economy and

Likewise, the theory of net product, so highly social,
progressive, and conservative, has been individualized, if I may
say so, by monopoly, and the principle which ought to secure
society's welfare causes its ruin. The monopolist, always
striving for the greatest possible net product, no longer acts as
a member of society and in the interest of society; he acts with
a view to his exclusive interest, whether this interest be
contrary to the social interest or not. This change of
perspective is the cause to which M. de Sismondi attributes the
depopulation of the Roman Campagna. From the comparative
researches which he has made regarding the product of the agro
romano when in a state of cultivation and its product when left
as pasture-land, he has found that the GROSS product would be
twelve times larger in the former case than in the latter; but,
as cultivation demands relatively a greater number of hands, he
has discovered also that in the former case the NET product
would be less. This calculation, which did not escape the
proprietors, sufficed to confirm them in the habit of leaving
their lands uncultivated, and hence the Roman Campagna is

"All parts of the Roman States," adds M. de Sismondi, "present
the same contrast between the memories of their prosperity in the
Middle Ages and their present desolation. The town of Ceres,
made famous by Renzo da Ceri, who defended by turns Marseilles
against Charles V. and Geneva against the Duke of Savoy, is
nothing but a solitude. In all the fiefs of the Orsinis and the
Colonnes not a soul. From the forests which surround the pretty
Lake of Vico the human race has disappeared; and the soldiers
with whom the formidable prefect of Vico made Rome tremble so
often in the fourteenth century have left no descendants. Castro
and Ronciglione are desolated."--Studies in Political Economy.

In fact, society seeks the greatest possible gross product, and
consequently the greatest possible population, because with it
gross product and net product are identical. Monopoly, on the
contrary, aims steadily at the greatest net product, even though
able to obtain it only at the price of the extermination of the
human race.

Under this same influence of monopoly, interest on capital,
perverted in its idea, has become in turn a principle of death to
society. As we have explained it, interest on capital is, on the
one hand, the form under which the laborer enjoys his net
product, while utilizing it in new creations; on the other, this
interest is the material bond of solidarity between producers,
viewed from the standpoint of the increase of wealth. Under
the first aspect, the aggregate interest paid can never exceed
the amount of the capital itself; under the second, interest
allows, in addition to reimbursement, a premium as a reward of
service rendered. In no case does it imply perpetuity.

But monopoly, confounding the idea of capital, which is
attributable only to the creations of human industry, with that
of the exploitable material which nature has given us, and which
belongs to all, and favored moreover in its usurpation by the
anarchical condition of a society in which possession can exist
only on condition of being exclusive, sovereign, and
perpetual,--monopoly has imagined and laid it down as a principle
that capital, like land, animals, and plants, had in itself an
activity of its own, which relieved the capitalist of the
necessity of contributing anything else to exchange and of taking
any part in the labors of the workshop. From this false idea of
monopoly has come the Greek name of usury, tokos, as much as to
say the child or the increase of capital, which caused Aristotle
to perpetrate this witticism: COINS BEGET NO CHILDREN. But the
metaphor of the usurers has prevailed over the joke of the
Stagyrite; usury, like rent, of which it is an imitation, has
been declared a perpetual right; and only very lately, by a
half-return to the principle, has it reproduced the idea of

Such is the meaning of the enigma which has caused so many
scandals among theologians and legists, and regarding which the
Christian Church has blundered twice,--first, in condemning every
sort of interest, and, second, in taking the side of the
economists and thus contradicting its old maxims. Usury, or the
right of increase, is at once the expression and the condemnation
of monopoly; it is the spoliation of labor by organized and
legalized capital; of all the economic subversions it is
that which most loudly accuses the old society, and whose
scandalous persistence would justify an unceremonious and
uncompensated dispossession of the entire capitalistic class.

Finally, monopoly, by a sort of instinct of self-preservation,
has perverted even the idea of association, as something that
might infringe upon it, or, to speak more accurately, has not
permitted its birth.

Who could hope today to define what association among men should
be? The law distinguishes two species and four varieties of
civil societies, and as many commercial societies, from the
simple partnership to the joint-stock company. I have read the
most respectable commentaries that have been written upon all
these forms of association, and I declare that I have found in
them but one application of the routine practices of monopoly
between two or more partners who unite their capital and their
efforts against everything that produces and consumes, that
invents and exchanges, that lives and dies. The sine qua non of
all these societies is capital, whose presence alone constitutes
them and gives them a basis; their object is monopoly,--that is,
the exclusion of all other laborers and capitalists, and
consequently the negation of social universality so far as
persons are concerned.

Thus, according to the definition of the statute, a commercial
society which should lay down as a principle the right of any
stranger to become a member upon his simple request, and to
straightway enjoy the rights and prerogatives of associates and
even managers, would no longer be a society; the courts would
officially pronounce its dissolution, its nonexistence. So,
again, articles of association in which the contracting parties
should stipulate no contribution of capital, but, while
reserving to each the express right to compete with all, should
confine themselves to a reciprocal guarantee of labor and wages,
saying nothing of the branch of exploitation, or of capital, or
of interest, or of profit and loss,--such articles would seem
contradictory in their tenor, as destitute of purpose as of
reason, and would be annulled by the judge on the complaint of
the first rebellious associate. Covenants thus drawn up could
give rise to no judicial action; people calling themselves the
associates of everybody would be considered associates of nobody;
treatises contemplating guarantee and competition between
associates at the same time, without any mention of social
capital and without any designation of purpose, would pass for a
work of transcendental charlatanism, whose author could readily
be sent to a madhouse, provided the magistrates would consent to
regard him as only a lunatic.

And yet it is proved, by the most authentic testimony which
history and social economy furnish, that humanity has been thrown
naked and without capital upon the earth which it cultivates;
consequently that it has created and is daily creating all the
wealth that exists; that monopoly is only a relative view serving
to designate the grade of the laborer, with certain conditions of
enjoyment; and that all progress consists, while indefinitely
multiplying products, in determining their proportionality,--that
is, in organizing labor and comfort by division, machinery, the
workshop, education, and competition. On the other hand, it is
evident that all the tendencies of humanity, both in its politics
and in its civil laws, are towards universalization,--that is,
towards a complete transformation of the idea of society as
determined by our statutes.

Whence I conclude that articles of association which should
regulate, no longer the contribution of the associates,--since
each associate, according to the economic theory, is supposed to
possess absolutely nothing upon his entrance into society,--but
the conditions of labor and exchange, and which should allow
access to all who might present themselves,--I conclude, I say,
that such articles of association would contain nothing that was
not rational and scientific, since they would be the very
expression of progress, the organic formula of labor, and since
they would reveal, so to speak, humanity to itself by giving it
the rudiment of its constitution.

Now, who, among the jurisconsults and economists, has ever
approached even within a thousand leagues of this magnificent and
yet so simple idea?

"I do not think," says M. Troplong, "that the spirit of
association is called to greater destinies than those which it
has accomplished in the past and up to the present time. . . ;
and I confess that I have made no attempt to realize such hopes,
which I believe exaggerated. . . . There are well-defined limits
which association should not overstep. No! association is not
called upon in France to govern everything. The spontaneous
impulse of the individual mind is also a living force in our
nation and a cause of its originality. . . .

"The idea of association is not new. . . . Even among the Romans
we see the commercial society appear with all its paraphernalia
of monopolies, corners, collusions, combinations, piracy, and
venality. . . . The joint-stock company realizes the civil,
commercial, and maritime law of the Middle Ages: at that epoch it
was the most active instrument of labor organized in society. . .
. From the middle of the fourteenth century we see societies
form by stock subscriptions; and up to the time of Law's
discomfiture, we see their number continually increase. . . .
What! we marvel at the mines, factories, patents, and newspapers
owned by stock companies! But two centuries ago such companies
owned islands, kingdoms, almost an entire hemisphere. We
proclaim it a miracle that hundreds of stock subscribers should
group themselves around an enterprise; but as long ago as the
fourteenth century the entire city of Florence was in similar
silent partnership with a few merchants, who pushed the genius of
enterprise as far as possible. Then, if our speculations
are bad, if we have been rash, imprudent, or credulous, we
torment the legislator with our cavilling complaints; we call
upon him for prohibitions and nullifications. In our mania for
regulating everything, EVEN THAT WHICH IS ALREADY CODIFIED; for
enchaining everything by texts reviewed, corrected, and added to;
for administering everything, even the chances and reverses of
commerce,--we cry out, in the midst of so many existing laws:
`There is still something to do!'"

M. Troplong believes in Providence, but surely he is not its man.

He will not discover the formula of association clamored for
today by minds disgusted with all the protocols of combination
and rapine of which M. Troplong unrolls the picture in his
commentary. M. Troplong gets impatient, and rightly, with those
who wish to enchain everything in texts of laws; and he himself
pretends to enchain the future in a series of fifty articles, in
which the wisest mind could not discover a spark of economic
science or a shadow of philosophy. IN OUR MANIA, he cries, FOR
. I know nothing more delicious than this stroke, which paints
at once the jurisconsult and the economist. After the Code
Napoleon, take away the ladder! . . .

"Fortunately," M. Troplong continues, "all the projects of change
so noisily brought to light in 1837 and 1838 are forgotten today.

The conflict of propositions and the anarchy of reformatory
opinions have led to negative results. At the same time that the
reaction against speculators was effected, the common sense of
the public did justice to the numerous official plans of
organization, much inferior in wisdom to the existing law, much
less in harmony with the usages of commerce, much less liberal,
after 1830, than the conceptions of the imperial Council of
State! Now order is restored in everything, and the commercial
code has preserved its integrity, its excellent integrity. When
commerce needs it, it finds, by the side of partnership,
temporary partnership, and the joint-stock company, the free
silent partnership, tempered only by the prudence of the silent
partners and by the provisions of the penal code regarding
swindling."--Troplong: Civil and Commercial Societies: Preface.

What a philosophy is that which rejoices in the miscarriage of
reformatory endeavors, and which counts its triumphs by the
NEGATIVE RESULTS of the spirit of inquiry! We cannot now enter
upon a more fundamental criticism of the civil and commercial
societies, which have furnished M. Troplong material for two
volumes. We will reserve this subject for the time when, the
theory of economic contradictions being finished, we shall have
found in their general equation the programme of association,
which we shall then publish in contrast with the practice and
conceptions of our predecessors.

A word only as to silent partnership.

One might think at first blush that this form of joint-stock
company, by its expansive power and by the facility for change
which it offers, could be generalized in such a way as to take in
an entire nation in all its commercial and industrial relations.
But the most superficial examination of the constitution of this
society demonstrates very quickly that the sort of enlargement of
which it is susceptible, in the matter of the number of
stockholders, has nothing in common with the extension of the
social bond.

In the first place, like all other commercial societies, it is
necessarily limited to a single branch of exploitation: in this
respect it is exclusive of all industries foreign to that
peculiarly its own. If it were otherwise, it would have changed
its nature; it would be a new form of society, whose statutes
would regulate, no longer the profits especially, but the
distribution of labor and the conditions of exchange; it would be
exactly such an association as M. Troplong denies and as the
jurisprudence of monopoly excludes.

As for the personal composition of the company, it naturally
divides itself into two categories,--the managers and the
stockholders. The managers, very few in number, are chosen
from the promoters, organizers, and patrons of the enterprise: in
truth, they are the only associates. The stockholders, compared
with this little government, which administers the society with
full power, are a people of taxpayers who, strangers to each
other, without influence and without responsibility, have nothing
to do with the affair beyond their investments. They are lenders
at a premium, not associates.

One can see from this how all the industries of the kingdom could
be carried on by such companies, and each citizen, thanks to the
facility for multiplying his shares, be interested in all or most
of these companies without thereby improving his condition: it
might happen even that it would be more and more compromised.
For, once more, the stockholder is the beast of burden, the
exploitable material of the company: not for him is this society
formed. In order that association may be real, he who
participates in it must do so, not as a gambler, but as an active
factor; he must have a deliberative voice in the council; his
name must be expressed or implied in the title of the society;
everything regarding him, in short, should be regulated in
accordance with equality. But these conditions are precisely
those of the organization of labor, which is not taken into
consideration by the code; they form the ULTERIOR object of
political economy, and consequently are not to be taken for
granted, but to be created, and, as such, are radically
incompatible with monopoly.[20]

[20] Possibly these paragraphs will not be clear to all without
the explanation that the form of association discussed in them,
called in French the commandite, is a joint-stock company to
which the shareholders simply lend their capital, without
acquiring a share in the management or incurring responsibility
for the results thereof.-- Translator.

Socialism, in spite of its high-sounding name, has so far been no
more fortunate than monopoly in the definition of society:
we may even assert that, in all its plans of organization, it has
steadily shown itself in this respect a plagiarist of political
economy. M. Blanc, whom I have already quoted in discussing
competition, and whom we have seen by turns as a partisan of the
hierarchical principle, an officious defender of inequality,
preaching communism, denying with a stroke of the pen the law of
contradiction because he cannot conceive it, aiming above all at
power as the final sanction of his system,--M. Blanc offers us
again the curious example of a socialist copying political
economy without suspecting it, and turning continually in the
vicious circle of proprietary routine. M. Blanc really denies
the sway of capital; he even denies that capital is equal to
labor in production, in which he is in accord with healthy
economic theories. But he can not or does not know how to
dispense with capital; he takes capital for his point of
departure; he appeals to the State for its silent partnership:
that is, he gets down on his knees before the capitalists and
recognizes the sovereignty of monopoly. Hence the singular
contortions of his dialectics. I beg the reader's pardon for
these eternal personalities: but since socialism, as well as
political economy, is personified in a certain number of writers,
I cannot do otherwise than quote its authors.

"Has or has not capital," said "La Phalange," "in so far as it is
a faculty in production, the legitimacy of the other productive
faculties? If it is illegitimate, its pretensions to a share of
the product are illegitimate; it must be excluded; it has no
interest to receive: if, on the contrary, it is legitimate, it
cannot be legitimately excluded from participation in the
profits, in the increase which it has helped to create."

The question could not be stated more clearly. M. Blanc holds,
on the contrary, that it is stated in a VERY CONFUSED manner,
which means that it embarrasses him greatly, and that he is much
worried to find its meaning.

In the first place, he supposes that he is asked "whether it is
equitable to allow the capitalist a share of the profits of
production EQUAL TO THE LABORER'S." To which M. Blanc answers
unhesitatingly that that would be unjust. Then follows an
outburst of eloquence to establish this injustice.

Now, the phalansterian does not ask whether the share of the
capitalist should or should not be EQUAL TO THE LABORER'S; he
wishes to know simply WHETHER HE IS TO HAVE A SHARE. And to this
M. Blanc makes no reply.

Is it meant, continues M. Blanc, that capital is INDISPENSABLE
to production, like labor itself? Here M. Blanc distinguishes:
he grants that capital is indispensable, AS labor is, but not

Once again, the phalansterian does not dispute as to quantity,
but as to right.

Is it meant--it is still M. Blanc who interrogates--that all
capitalists are not idlers? M. Blanc, generous to capitalists
who work, asks why so large a share should be given to those who
do not work? A flow of eloquence as to the IMPERSONAL services
of the capitalist and the PERSONAL services of the laborer,
terminated by an appeal to Providence.

For the third time, you are asked whether the participation of
capital in profits is legitimate, since you admit that it is
indispensable in production.

At last M. Blanc, who has understood all the time, decides to
reply that, if he allows interest to capital, he does so only as
a transitional measure and to ease the descent of the
capitalists. For the rest, his project leading inevitably to the
absorption of private capital in association, it would be folly
and an abandonment of principle to do more. M. Blanc, if he had
studied his subject, would have needed to say but a single
phrase: "I deny capital."

Thus M. Blanc,--and under his name I include the whole of
socialism,-- after having, by a first contradiction of the title
of his book, "ORGANIZATION OF LABOR," declared that capital was
INDISPENSABLE in production, and consequently that it should be
organized and participate in profits like labor, by a second
contradiction rejects capital from organization and refuses to
recognize it: by a third contradiction he who laughs at
decorations and titles of nobility distributes civic crowns,
rewards, and distinctions to such litterateurs inventors, and
artists as shall have deserved well of the country; he allows
them salaries according to their grades and dignities; all of
which is the restoration of capital as really, though not with
the same mathematical precision, as interest and net product: by
a fourth contradiction M. Blanc establishes this new aristocracy
on the principle of equality,-- that is, he pretends to vote
masterships to equal and free associates, privileges of idleness
to laborers, spoliation in short to the despoiled: by a fifth
contradiction he rests this equalitarian aristocracy on the basis
of a POWER ENDOWED WITH GREAT FORCE,--that is, on despotism,
another form of monopoly: by a sixth contradiction, after having,
by his encouragements to labor and the arts, tried to proportion
reward to service, like monopoly, and wages to capacity, like
monopoly, he sets himself to eulogize life in common, labor and
consumption in common, which does not prevent him from wishing to
withdraw from the effects of common indifference, by means of
national encouragements taken out of the common product, the
grave and serious writers whom common readers do not care for: by
a seventh contradiction. . . . but let us stop at seven, for we
should not have finished at seventy-seven.

It is said that M. Blanc, who is now preparing a history of the
French Revolution, has begun to seriously study political
economy. The first fruit of this study will be, I do not
doubt, a repudiation of his pamphlet on "Organization of Labor,"
and consequently a change in all his ideas of authority and
government. At this price the "History of the French
Revolution," by M. Blanc, will be a truly useful and original

All the socialistic sects, without exception, are possessed by
the same prejudice; all, unconsciously, inspired by the economic
contradiction, have to confess their powerlessness in presence of
the necessity of capital; all are waiting, for the realization of
their ideas, to hold power and money in their hands. The utopias
of socialism in the matter of association make more prominent
than ever the truth which we announced at the beginning: THERE
and this perpetual plagiarism is the irrevocable condemnation of
both. Nowhere is to be seen the dawn of that mother-idea, which
springs with so much eclat from the generation of the economic
categories,--that the superior formula of association has nothing
to do with capital, a matter for individual accounts, but must
bear solely upon equilibrium of production, the conditions of
exchange, the gradual reduction of cost, the one and only source
of the increase of wealth. Instead of determining the relations
of industry to industry, of laborer to laborer, of province to
province, and of people to people, the socialists dream only of
providing themselves with capital, always conceiving the problem
of the solidarity of laborers as if it were a question of
founding some new institution of monopoly. The world, humanity,
capital, industry, business machinery, exist; it is a matter now
simply of finding their philosophy,--in other words, of
organizing them: and the socialists are in search of capital!
Always outside of reality, is it astonishing that they miss it?

Thus M. Blanc asks for State aid and the establishment of
national workshops; thus Fourier asked for six million francs,
and his followers are still engaged today in collecting that sum;
thus the communists place their hope in a revolution which shall
give them authority and the treasury, and exhaust themselves in
waiting for useless subscriptions. Capital and power, secondary
organs in society, are always the gods whom socialism adores: if
capital and power did not exist, it would invent them. Through
its anxieties about power and capital, socialism has completely
overlooked the meaning of its own protests: much more, it has not
seen that, in involving itself, as it has done, in the economic
routine, it has deprived itself of the very right to protest. It
accuses society of antagonism, and through the same antagonism it
goes in pursuit of reform. It asks capital for the poor
laborers, as if the misery of laborers did not come from the
competition of capitalists as well as from the factitious
opposition of labor and capital; as if the question were not
today precisely what it was before the creation of capital,--that
is, still and always a question of equilibrium; as if, in
short,--let us repeat it incessantly, let us repeat it to
satiety,--the question were henceforth of something other than a
synthesis of all the principles brought to light by civilization,
and as if, provided this synthesis, the idea which leads the
world, were known, there would be any need of the intervention of
capital and the State to make them evident.

Socialism, in deserting criticism to devote itself to declamation
and utopia and in mingling with political and religious
intrigues, has betrayed its mission and misunderstood the
character of the century. The revolution of 1830 demoralized us;
socialism is making us effeminate. Like political economy, whose
contradictions it simply sifts again, socialism is powerless
to satisfy the movement of minds: it is henceforth, in those whom
it subjugates, only a new prejudice to destroy, and, in those who
propagate it, a charlatanism to unmask, the more dangerous
because almost always sincere.



In positing its principles humanity, as if in obedience to a
sovereign order, never goes backward. Like the traveller who by
oblique windings rises from the depth of the valley to the
mountain-top, it follows intrepidly its zigzag road, and marches
to its goal with confident step, without repentance and without
pause. Arriving at the angle of monopoly, the social genius
casts backward a melancholy glance, and, in a moment of profound
reflection, says to itself:

"Monopoly has stripped the poor hireling of everything,--bread,
clothing, home, education, liberty, and security. I will lay a
tax upon the monopolist; at this price I will save him his

"Land and mines, woods and waters, the original domain of man,
are forbidden to the proletaire. I will intervene in their
exploitation, I will have my share of the products, and land
monopoly shall be respected.

"Industry has fallen into feudalism, but I am the suzerain. The
lords shall pay me tribute, and they shall keep the profit of
their capital.

"Commerce levies usurious profits on the consumer. I will strew
its road with toll-gates, I will stamp its checks and indorse its
invoices, and it shall pass.

"Capital has overcome labor by intelligence. I will open
schools, and the laborer, made intelligent himself, shall
become a capitalist in his turn.

"Products lack circulation, and social life is cramped. I will
build roads, bridges, canals, marts, theatres, and temples, and
thus furnish at one stroke work, wealth, and a market.

"The rich man lives in plenty, while the workman weeps in famine.
I will establish taxes on bread, wine, meat, salt, and honey, on
articles of necessity and on objects of value, and these shall
supply alms for my poor.

"And I will set guards over the waters, the woods, the fields,
the mines, and the roads; I will send collectors to gather the
taxes and teachers to instruct the children; I will have an army
to put down refractory subjects, courts to judge them, prisons to
punish them, and priests to curse them. All these offices shall
be given to the proletariat and paid by the monopolists.

"Such is my certain and efficacious will."

We have to prove that society could neither think better nor act
worse: this will be the subject of a review which, I hope, will
throw new light upon the social problem.

Every measure of general police, every administrative and
commercial regulation, like every law of taxation, is at bottom
but one of the innumerable articles of this ancient bargain, ever
violated and ever renewed, between the patriciate and the
proletariat. That the parties or their representatives knew
nothing of it, or even that they frequently viewed their
political constitutions from another standpoint, is of little
consequence to us: not to the man, legislator, or prince do we
look for the meaning of his acts, but to the acts themselves.

% 1.--Synthetic idea of the tax.--Point of departure and
development of this idea.

In order to render that which is to follow more intelligible, I
will explain, inverting, as it were, the method which we have
followed hitherto, the superior theory of the tax; then I will
give its genesis; finally I will show the contradiction and
results. The synthetic idea of the tax, as well as its original
conception, would furnish material for the most extensive
developments. I shall confine myself to a simple announcement of
the propositions, with a summary indication of the proofs.

The tax, in its essence and positive destiny, is the form of
distribution among that species of functionaries which Adam Smith
has designated by the word UNPRODUCTIVE, although he admits as
much as any one the utility and even the necessity of their labor
in society. By this adjective, UNPRODUCTIVE, Adam Smith, whose
genius dimly foresaw everything and left us to do everything,
meant that the product of these laborers is NEGATIVE, which is a
very different thing from null, and that consequently
distribution so far as they are concerned follows a method other
than exchange.

Let us consider, in fact, what takes place, from the point of
view of distribution, in the four great divisions of collective
Each producer brings to market a real product whose quantity can
be measured, whose quality can be estimated, whose price can be
debated, and, finally, whose value can be discounted, either in
other services or merchandise, or else in money. In all these
industries distribution, therefore, is nothing but the mutual
exchange of products according to the law of proportionality of

[21] Hunting, fishing, mining,--in short, the gathering of all
natural products.--Translator.

Nothing like this takes place with the functionaries called
PUBLIC. These obtain their right to subsistence, not by the
production of real utilities, but by the very state of
unproductivity in which, by no fault of their own, they are kept.
For them the law of proportionality is inverted: while social
wealth is formed and increased in the direct ratio of the
quantity, variety, and proportion of the effective products
furnished by the four great industrial categories, the
development of this same wealth, the perfecting of social order,
suppose, on the contrary, so far as the personnel of police is
concerned, a progressive and indefinite reduction. State
functionaries, therefore, are very truly unproductive. On this
point J. B. Say agreed with A. Smith, and all that he has written
on this subject in correction of his master, and which has been
stupidly included among his titles to glory, arises entirely, it
is easy to see, from a misunderstanding. In a word, the wages of
the government's employees constitute a social DEFICIT; they
must be carried to the account of LOSSES, which it must be the
object of industrial organization to continually diminish: in
this view what other adjective could be used to describe the men
of power than that of Adam Smith?

Here, then, is a category of services which, furnishing no real
products, cannot be rewarded in the ordinary way; services which
do not fall under the law of exchange, which cannot become the
object of private speculation, competition, joint-stock
association, or any sort of commerce, but which, theoretically
regarded as performed gratuitously by all, but entrusted, by
virtue of the law of division of labor, to a small number of
special men who devote themselves exclusively to them, must
consequently be paid for. History confirms this general datum.
The human mind, which tries all solutions of every problem, has
tried accordingly to submit public functions to exchange; for a
long time French magistrates, like notaries, etc., lived solely
by their fees. But experience has proved that this method of
distribution applied to unproductive laborers was too expensive
and subject to too many disadvantages, and it became necessary to
abandon it.

The organization of the unproductive services contributes to the
general welfare in several ways: first, by relieving producers of
public cares, in which all must participate, and to which,
consequently, all are more or less slaves; secondly, by
establishing in society an artificial centralization, the image
and prelude of the future solidarity of industries; and, finally,
by furnishing a first attempt at balance and discipline.

So we admit, with J. B. Say, the usefulness of magistrates and
the other agents of public authority; but we hold that this
usefulness is wholly negative, and we insist, therefore, on
describing these functionaries by the adjective unproductive
which A. Smith applied to them, not to bring them into discredit,
but because they really cannot be classed in the category of
producers. "Taxation," very well says an economist of Say's
school, M. J. Garnier,--"taxation is a PRIVATION which we should
try to reduce to the furthest point of compatibility with the
needs of society." If the writer whom I quote has reflected upon
the meaning of his words, he has seen that the word PRIVATION
which he uses is synonymous with NON-PRODUCTION, and that
consequently those for whose benefit taxes are collected are very
truly UNPRODUCTIVE laborers.

I insist upon this definition, which seems to me the less
questionable from the fact that, however much they may
dispute over the word, all agree upon the thing, because it
contains the germ of the greatest revolution yet to be
accomplished in the world,--I mean the subordination of the
unproductive functions to the productive functions, in a word,
the effective submission, always asked and never obtained, of
authority to the citizens.

It is a consequence of the development of the economical
contradictions that order in society first shows itself inverted;
that that which should be above is placed below, that which
should be in relief seems sunken, and that which should receive
the light is thrown into the shadow. Thus power, which, in its
essence, is, like capital, the auxiliary and subordinate of
labor, becomes, through the antagonism of society, the spy,
judge, and tyrant of the productive functions; power, whose
original inferiority lays upon it the duty of obedience, is
prince and sovereign.

In all ages the laboring classes have pursued against the
office-holding class the solution of this antinomy, of which
economic science alone can give the key. The oscillations--that
is, the political agitations which result from this struggle of
labor against power--now lead to a depression of the central
force, which compromises the very existence of society; now,
exaggerating this same force beyond measure, give birth to
despotism. Then, the privileges of command, the infinite joy
which it gives to ambition and pride, making the unproductive
functions an object of universal lust, a new leaven of discord
penetrates society, which, divided already in one direction into
capitalists and wage-workers, and in another into producers and
non-producers, is again divided as regards power into monarchists
and democrats. The conflicts between royalty and the republic
would furnish us most marvellous and interesting material
for our episodes. The confines of this work do not permit us so
long an excursion; and after having pointed out this new branch
in the vast network of human aberrations, we shall confine
ourselves exclusively, in dealing with taxation, to the economic

Such, then, in succinctest statement, is the synthetic theory of
the tax,--that is, if I may venture to use the familiar
comparison, of this fifth wheel of the coach of humanity, which
makes so much noise, and which, in governmental parlance, is
styled the State. The State, the police, or their means of
existence, the tax, is, I repeat, the official name of the class
designated in political economy as nonproducers,--in short, as
the domestics of society.

But public reason does not attain at a single bound this simple
idea, which for centuries had to remain in the state of a
transcendental conception. Before civilization can mount to such
a height, it must pass through frightful tempests and innumerable
revolutions, in each of which, one might say, it renews its
strength in a bath of blood. And when at last production,
represented by capital, seems on the point of thoroughly
subordinating the unproductive organ, the State, then society
rises in indignation, labor weeps at the prospect of its
immediate freedom, democracy shudders at the abasement of power,
justice cries out as if scandalized, and all the oracles of the
departing gods exclaim with terror that the abomination of
desolation is in the holy places and that the end of the world
has come. So true is it that humanity never desires what it
seeks, and that the slightest progress cannot be realized without
spreading panic among the peoples.

What, then, in this evolution, is the point of departure of
society, and by what circuitous route does it reach
political reform,--that is, economy in its expenditures, equality
in the assessment of its taxes, and the subordination of power to
industry? That is what we are about to state in a few words,
reserving developments for the sequel.

The original idea of the tax is that of REDEMPTION.

As, by the law of Moses, each first-born was supposed to belong
to Jehovah, and had to be redeemed by an offering, so the tax
everywhere presents itself in the form of a tithe or royal
prerogative by which the proprietor annually redeems from the
sovereign the profit of exploitation which he is supposed to hold
only by his pleasure. This theory of the tax, moreover, is but
one of the special articles of what is called the social

Ancients and moderns all agree, in terms more or less explicit,
in regarding the juridical status of societies as a reaction of
weakness against strength. This idea is uppermost in all the
works of Plato, notably in the "Gorgias," where he maintains,
with more subtlety than logic, the cause of the laws against that
of violence,--that is, legislative absolutism against
aristocratic and military absolutism. In this knotty dispute, in
which the weight of evidence is equal on both sides, Plato simply
expresses the sentiment of entire antiquity. Long before him,
Moses, in making a distribution of lands, declaring patrimony
inalienable, and ordering a general and uncompensated
cancellation of all mortgages every fiftieth year, had opposed a
barrier to the invasions of force. The whole Bible is a hymn to
JUSTICE,--that is, in the Hebrew style, to charity, to kindness
to the weak on the part of the strong, to voluntary renunciation
of the privilege of power. Solon, beginning his legislative
mission by a general abolition of debts, and creating rights and
reserves,--that is, barriers to prevent their return,--was
no less reactionary. Lycurgus went farther; he forbade
individual possession, and tried to absorb the man in the State,
annihilating liberty the better to preserve equilibrium. Hobbes,
deriving, and with great reason, legislation from the state of
war, arrived by another road at the establishment of equality
upon an exception,--despotism. His book, so much calumniated, is
only a development of this famous antithesis. The charter of
1830, consecrating the insurrection made in '89 by the plebeians
against the nobility, and decreeing the abstract equality of
persons before the law, in spite of the real inequality of powers
and talents which is the veritable basis of the social system now
in force, is also but a protest of society in favor of the poor
against the rich, of the small against the great. All the laws
of the human race regarding sale, purchase, hire, property,
loans, mortgages, prescription, inheritance, donation, wills,
wives' dowries, minority, guardianship, etc., etc., are real
barriers erected by judicial absolutism against the absolutism of
force. Respect for contracts, fidelity to promises, the religion
of the oath, are fictions, osselets,[22] as the famous Lysander
aptly said, with which society deceives the strong and brings
them under the yoke.

[22] Little bones taken from the joints of animals and serving as
playthings for children.--Translator.

The tax belongs to that great family of preventive, coercive,
repressive, and vindictive institutions which A. Smith designated
by the generic term police, and which is, as I have said, in its
original conception, only the reaction of weakness against
strength. This follows, independently of abundant historical
testimony which we will put aside to confine ourselves
exclusively to economic proof, from the distinction naturally
arising between taxes.

All taxes are divisible into two great categories: (1) taxes of
assessment, or of privilege: these are the oldest taxes; (2)
taxes of consumption, or of quotite,[23] whose tendency is, by
absorbing the former, to make public burdens weigh equally upon

[23] A tax whose total product is not fixed in advance, but
depends upon the quantity of things or persons upon whom it
happens to fall.-- Translator.

The first sort of taxes--including in France the tax on land, the
tax on doors and windows, the poll-tax, the tax on personal
property, the tax on tenants, license-fees, the tax on transfers
of property, the tax on officials' fees, road-taxes, and
brevets--is the share which the sovereign reserves for himself
out of all the monopolies which he concedes or tolerates; it is,
as we have said, the indemnity of the poor, the permit granted to
property. Such was the form and spirit of the tax in all the old
monarchies: feudalism was its beau ideal. Under that regime the
tax was only a TRIBUTE paid by the holder to the universal
proprietor or sleeping-partner (commanditaire), the king.

When later, by the development of public right, royalty, the
patriarchal form of sovereignty, begins to get impregnated by the
democratic spirit, the tax becomes a quota which each voter owes
to the COMMONWEALTH, and which, instead of falling into the hand
of the prince, is received into the State treasury. In this
evolution the principle of the tax remains intact; as yet there
is no transformation of the institution; the real sovereign
simply succeeds the figurative sovereign. Whether the tax enters
into the peculium of the prince or serves to liquidate a common
debt, it is in either case only a claim of society against
privilege; otherwise, it is impossible to say why the tax is
levied in the ratio of fortunes.

Let all contribute to the public expenses: nothing more just.
But why should the rich pay more than the poor? That is just,
they say, because they possess more. I confess that such justice
is beyond my comprehension. . . . One of two things is true:
either the proportional tax guarantees a privilege to the larger
tax-payers, or else it is a wrong. Because, if property is a
natural right, as the Declaration of '93 declares, all that
belongs to me by virtue of this right is as sacred as my person;
it is my blood, my life, myself: whoever touches it offends the
apple of my eye. My income of one hundred thousand francs is as
inviolable a the grisette's daily wage of seventy-five centimes;
her attic is no more sacred than my suite of apartments. The tax
is not levied in proportion to physical strength, size, or skill:
no more should it be levied in proportion to property.--What is
Property: Chapter II.

These observations are the more just because the principle which
it was their purpose to oppose to that of proportional assessment
has had its period of application. The proportional tax is much
later in history than liege-homage, which consisted in a simple
officious demonstration without real payment.

The second sort of taxes includes in general all those
designated, by a sort of antiphrasis, by the term INDIRECT, such
as taxes on liquor, salt, and tobacco, customs duties, and, in
short, all the taxes which DIRECTLY affect the only thing which
should be taxed,--product. The principle of this tax, whose name
is an actual misnomer, is unquestionably better founded in theory
and more equitable in tendency than the preceding: accordingly,
in spite of the opinion of the mass, always deceived as to that
which serves it as well as to that which is prejudicial to it, I
do not hesitate to say that this tax is the only normal one,
barring its assessment and collection, with which it is not my
purpose now to deal.

For, if it is true, as we have just explained, that the real
nature of the tax is to pay, according to a particular form of
wages, for certain services which elude the usual form of
exchange, it follows that all producers, enjoying these services
equally as far as personal use is concerned, should contribute to
their payment in equal portions. The share for each, therefore,
would be a fraction of his exchangeable product, or, in other
words, an amount taken from the values delivered by him for
purposes of consumption. But, under the monopoly system, and
with collection upon land, the treasury strikes the product
before it has entered into exchange, even before it is
produced,--a circumstance which results in throwing back the
amount of the tax into the cost of production, and consequently
puts the burden upon the consumer and lifts it from monopoly.

Whatever the significance of the tax of assessment or the tax of
quotite, one thing is sure, and this is the thing which it is
especially important for us to know,--namely, that, in making the
tax proportional, it was the intention of the sovereign to make
citizens contribute to the public expenses, no longer, according
to the old feudal principle, by means of a poll-tax, which would
involve the idea of an assessment figured in the ratio of the
number of persons taxed, and not in the ratio of their
possessions, but so much per franc of capital, which supposes
that capital has its source in an authority superior to the
capitalists. Everybody, spontaneously and with one accord,
considers such an assessment just; everybody, therefore,
spontaneously and with one accord, looks upon the tax as a
resumption on the part of society, a sort of redemption exacted
from monopoly. This is especially striking in England, where, by
a special law, the proprietors of the soil and the manufacturers
pay, in proportion to their incomes, a tax of forty million
dollars, which is called the poor-rate.

In short, the practical and avowed object of the tax is to effect
upon the rich, for the benefit of the people, a proportional
resumption of their capital.

Now, analysis and the facts demonstrate:

That the tax of assessment, the tax upon monopoly, instead of
being paid by those who possess, is paid almost entirely by those
who do not possess;

That the tax of quotite, separating the producer from the
consumer, falls solely upon the latter, thereby taking from the
capitalist no more than he would have to pay if fortunes were
absolutely equal;

Finally, that the army, the courts, the police, the schools, the
hospitals, the almshouses, the houses of refuge and correction,
public functions, religion itself, all that society creates for
the protection, emancipation, and relief of the proletaire, paid
for in the first place and sustained by the proletaire, is then
turned against the proletaire or wasted as far as he is
concerned; so that the proletariat, which at first labored only
for the class that devours it,--that of the capitalists,--must
labor also for the class that flogs it,--that of the

These facts are henceforth so well known, and the economists--I
owe them this justice--have shown them so clearly, that I shall
abstain from correcting their demonstrations, which, for the
rest, are no longer contradicted by anybody. What I propose to
bring to light, and what the economists do not seem to have
sufficiently understood, is that the condition in which the
laborer is placed by this new phase of social economy is
susceptible of no amelioration; that, unless industrial
organization, and therefore political reform, should bring about
an equality of fortunes, evil is inherent in police institutions
as in the idea of charity which gave them birth; in short, that
the STATE, whatever form it affects, aristocratic or theocratic,
monarchical or republican, until it shall have become the
obedient and submissive organ of a society of equals, will be for
the people an inevitable hell,--I had almost said a deserved

% 2.--Antinomy of the tax.

I sometimes hear the champions of the statu quo maintain that for
the present we enjoy liberty enough, and that, in spite of the
declamation against the existing order, we are below the level of
our institutions. So far at least as taxation is concerned, I am
quite of the opinion of these optimists.

According to the theory that we have just seen, the tax is the
reaction of society against monopoly. Upon this point opinions
are unanimous: citizens and legislators, economists, journalists,
and ballad-writers, rendering, each in their own tongue, the
social thought, vie with each other in proclaiming that the tax
should fall upon the rich, strike the superfluous and articles of
luxury, and leave those of prime necessity free. In short, they
have made the tax a sort of privilege for the privileged: a bad
idea, since it involved a recognition of the legitimacy of
privilege, which in no case, whatever shape it may take, is good
for anything. The people had to be punished for this egoistic
inconsistency: Providence did not fail in its duty.

From the moment, then, of the conception of the tax as a
counter-claim, it had to be fixed proportionally to means,
whether it struck capital or affected income more especially.
Now, I will point out that the levying of the tax at so much a
franc being precisely that which should be adopted in a country
where all fortunes were equal, saving the differences in the cost
of assessment and collection, the treasury is the most liberal
feature of our society, and that on this point our morals are
really behind our institutions. But as with the wicked the best
things cannot fail to be detestable, we shall see the
equalitarian tax crush the people precisely because the people
are not up to it.

I will suppose that the gross income in France, for each family
of four persons, is 1,000 francs: this is a little above the
estimate of M. Chevalier, who places it at only 63 centimes a day
for each individual, or 919 francs 80 centimes for each
household. The tax being today more than a thousand millions, or
about an eighth of the total income, each family, earning 1,000
francs a year, is taxed 125 francs.

Accordingly, an income of 2,000 francs pays 250 francs; an income
of 3,000 francs, 375; an income of 4,000 francs, 500, etc. The
proportion is strict and mathematically irreproachable; the
treasury, by arithmetic, is sure of losing nothing.

But on the side of the taxpayers the affair totally changes its
aspect. The tax, which, in the intention of the legislator, was
to have been proportioned to fortune, is, on the contrary,
progressive in the ratio of poverty, so that, the poorer the
citizen is, the more he pays. This I shall try to make plain by
a few figures.

According to the proportional tax, there is due to the treasury:
for an income of
1,000 2,000 3,000 4,000 5,000 6,000 francs, etc. a tax of
125 250 375 500 625 750

According to this series, then, the tax seems to increase
proportionally to income.

But when it is remembered that each annual income is made up of
365 units, each of which represents the daily income of the
taxpayer, the tax will no longer be found proportional; it will
be found equal. In fact, if the State levies a tax of 125 francs
on an income of 1,000 francs, it is as if it took from the taxed
family 45 days' subsistence; likewise the assessments of 250,
375, 500, 625, and 750 francs, corresponding to incomes of 2,000,
3,000, 4,000, 5,000, and 6,000 francs, constitute in each case a
tax of 45 days' pay upon each of those who enjoy these incomes.

I say now that this equality of taxation is a monstrous
inequality, and that it is a strange illusion to imagine that,
because the daily income is larger, the tax of which it is the
base is higher. Let us change our point of view from that of
personal to that of collective income.

As an effect of monopoly social wealth abandoning the laboring
class to go to the capitalistic class, the object of taxation has
been to moderate this displacement and react against usurpation
by enforcing a proportional replevin upon each privileged person.
But proportional to what? To the excess which the privileged
person has received undoubtedly, and not to the fraction of the
social capital which his income represents. Now, the object of
taxation is missed and the law turned into derision when the
treasury, instead of taking its eighth where this eighth exists,
asks it precisely of those to whom it should be restored. A
final calculation will make this evident.

Setting the daily income of each person in France at 68 centimes,
the father of a family who, whether as wages or as income from
his capital, receives 1,000 francs a year receives four shares of
the national income; he who receives 2,000 francs has eight
shares; he who receives 4,000 francs has sixteen, etc. Hence it
follows that the workman who, on an income of 1,000 francs, pays
125 francs into the treasury renders to public order half a
share, or an eighth of his income and his family's subsistence;
whereas the capitalist who, on an income of 6,000 francs, pays
only 750 francs realizes a profit of 17 shares out of the
collective income, or, in other words, gains by the tax 425 per

Let us reproduce the same truth in another form.

The voters of France number about 200,000. I do not know the
total amount of taxes paid by these 200,000 voters, but I do not
believe that I am very far from the truth in supposing an average
of 300 francs each, or a total of 60,000,000 for the 200,000
voters, to which we will add twenty-five per cent. to represent
their share of indirect taxes, making in all 75,000,000, or 75
francs for each person (supposing the family of each voter to
consist of five persons), which the electoral class pays to the
State. The appropriations, according to the "Annuaire
Economique" for 1845, being 1,106,000,000, there remains
1,031,000,000, which makes the tax paid by each non-voting
citizen 31 francs 30 centimes,--two-fifths of the tax paid by the
wealthy class. Now, for this proportion to be equitable, the
average welfare of the non-voting class would have to be
two-fifths of the average welfare of the voting class: but such
is not the truth, as it falls short of this by more than

But this disproportion will seem still more shocking when it is
remembered that the calculation which we have just made
concerning the electoral class is altogether wrong, altogether in
favor of the voters.

In fact, the only taxes which are levied for the enjoyment of the
right of suffrage are: (1) the land tax; (2) the tax on polls and
personal property; (3) the tax on doors and windows; (4)
license-fees. Now, with the exception of the tax on polls and
personal property, which varies little, the three other taxes are
thrown back on the consumers; and it is the same with all the
indirect taxes, for which the holders of capital are reimbursed
by the consumers, with the exception, however, of the taxes on
property transfers, which fall directly on the proprietor and
amount in all to 150,000,000. Now, if we estimate that in this
last amount the property of voters figures as one-sixth, which is
placing it high, the portion of direct taxes (409,000,000) being
12 francs for each person, and that of indirect taxes
(547,000,000) 16 francs, the average tax paid by each voter
having a household of five will reach a total of 265 francs,
while that paid by the laborer, who has only his arms to support
himself, his wife, and two children, will be 112 francs. In more
general terms, the average tax upon each person belonging to the
upper classes will be 53 francs; upon each belonging to the
lower, 28. Whereupon I renew my question: Is the welfare of
those below the voting standard half as great as that of those
above it?

It is with the tax as with periodical publications, which really
cost more the less frequently they appear. A daily journal costs
forty francs, a weekly ten francs, a monthly four. Supposing
other things to be equal, the subscription prices of these
journals are to each other as the numbers forty, seventy, and one
hundred and twenty, the price rising with the infrequency of
publication. Now, this exactly represents the increase of the
tax: it is a subscription paid by each citizen in exchange for
the right to labor and to live. He who uses this right in the
smallest proportion pays much; he who uses it a little more pays
less; he who uses it a great deal pays little.

The economists are generally in agreement about all this. They
have attacked the proportional tax, not only in its principle,
but in its application; they have pointed out its anomalies,
almost all of which arise from the fact that the relation of
capital to income, or of cultivated surface to rent, is never

Given a levy of one-tenth on the income from lands, and lands of
different qualities producing, the first eight francs' worth of
grain, the second six francs' worth, the third five francs'
worth, the tax will call for one-eighth of the income from the
most fertile land, one-sixth from that a little less fertile,
and, finally, one-fifth from that less fertile still.[24] Will
not the tax thus established be just the reverse of what it
should be? Instead of land, we may suppose other instruments of
production, and compare capitals of the same value, or amounts of
labor of the same order, applied to branches of industry
differing in productivity: the conclusion will be the same.
There is injustice in requiring the same poll-tax of ten francs
from the laborer who earns one thousand francs and from the
artist or physician who has an income of sixty thousand.--J.
Garnier: Principles of Political Economy.

[24] This sentence, as it stands, is unintelligible, and probably
is not correctly quoted by Proudhon. At any rate, one of
Garnier's works contains a similar passage, which begins thus:
"Given a levy of one on the area of the land, and lands of
different qualities producing, the first eight, the second six,
the third five, the tax will call for one- eighth," etc. This is
perfectly clear, and the circumstances supposed are aptly
illustrative of Proudhon's point. I should unhesitatingly
pronounce it the correct version, except for the fact that
Proudhon, in the succeeding paragraph, interprets Garnier as
supposing income to be assessed instead of capital.--Translator.

These reflections are very sound, although they apply only to
collection or assessment, and do not touch the principle of the
tax itself. For, in supposing the assessment to be made upon
income instead of upon capital, the fact always remains that the
tax, which should be proportional to fortunes, is borne by the

The economists have taken a resolve; they have squarely
recognized the iniquity of the proportional tax.

"The tax," says Say, "can never be levied upon the necessary."
This author, it is true, does not tell us what we are to
understand by the necessary, but we can supply the omission. The
necessary is what each individual gets out of the total product
of the country, after deducting what must be taken for taxes.
Thus, making the estimate in round numbers, the production of
France being eight thousand millions and the tax one thousand
millions, the necessary in the case of each individual amounts to
fifty-six and a half centimes a day. Whatever is in excess of
this income is alone susceptible of being taxed, according to J.
B. Say; whatever falls short of it must be regarded by the
treasury as inviolable.

The same author expresses this idea in other words when he says:
"The proportional tax is not equitable." Adam Smith had already
said before him: "It is not unreasonable that the rich man
should contribute to the public expenses, not only in proportion
to his income, but something more." "I will go further," adds
Say; "I will not fear to say that the progressive tax is the only
equitable tax." And M. J. Garnier, the latest abridger of the
economists, says: "Reforms should tend to establish a
progressional equality, if I may use the phrase, much more just,
much more equitable, than the pretended equality of taxation,
which is only a monstrous inequality."

So, according to general opinion and the testimony of the
economists, two things are acknowledged: one, that in its
principle the tax is a reaction against monopoly and directed
against the rich; the other, that in practice this same tax is
false to its object; that, in striking the poor by preference, it
commits an injustice; and that the constant effort of the
legislator must be to distribute its burden in a more equitable

I needed to establish this double fact solidly before passing to
other considerations: now commences my criticism.

The economists, with that simplicity of honest folk which they
have inherited from their elders and which even today is all that
stands to their credit, have taken no pains to see that the
progressional theory of the tax, which they point out to
governments as the ne plus ultra of a wise and liberal
administration, was contradictory in its terms and pregnant with
a legion of impossibilities. They have attributed the oppression
of the treasury by turns to the barbarism of the time, the
ignorance of princes, the prejudices of caste, the avarice of
collectors, everything, in short, which, in their opinion,
preventing the progression of the tax, stood in the way of the
sincere practice of equality in the distribution of public
burdens; they have not for a moment suspected that what they
asked under the name of progressive taxation was the overturn of
all economic ideas.

Thus they have not seen, for instance, that the tax was
progressive from the very fact that it was proportional, the only
difference being that the progression was in the wrong direction,
the percentage being, as we have said, not directly, but
inversely proportional to fortunes. If the economists had had a
clear idea of this overturn, invariable in all countries where
taxation exists, so singular a phenomenon would not have failed
to draw their attention; they would have sought its causes, and
would have ended by discovering that what they took for an
accident of civilization, an effect of the inextricable
difficulties of human government, was the product of the
contradiction inherent in all political economy.

The progressive tax, whether applied to capital or to income, is
the very negation of monopoly, of that monopoly which is met
everywhere, according to M. Rossi, across the path of social
economy; which is the true stimulant of industry, the hope of
economy, the preserver and parent of all wealth; of which we have
been able to say, in short, that society cannot exist without it,
but that, except for it, there would be no society. Let the tax
become suddenly what it unquestionably must sometime be,--namely,
the proportional (or progressional, which is the same thing)
contribution of each producer to the public expenses, and
straightway rent and profit are confiscated everywhere for the
benefit of the State; labor is stripped of the fruits of its
toil; each individual being reduced to the proper allowance of
fifty-six and a half centimes, poverty becomes general; the
compact formed between labor and capital is dissolved, and
society, deprived of its rudder, drifts back to its original

It will be said, perhaps, that it is easy to prevent the absolute
annihilation of the profits of capital by stopping the
progression at any moment.

Eclecticism, the golden mean, compromise with heaven or with
morality: is it always to be the same philosophy, then? True
science is repugnant to such arrangements. All invested capital
must return to the producer in the form of interest; all labor
must leave a surplus, all wages be equal to product. Under the
protection of these laws society continually realizes, by the
greatest variety of production, the highest possible degree of
welfare. These laws are absolute; to violate them is to wound,
to mutilate society. Capital, accordingly, which, after all, is
nothing but accumulated labor, is inviolable. But, on the other
hand, the tendency to equality is no less imperative; it is
manifested at each economic phase with increasing energy and an
invincible authority. Therefore you must satisfy labor and
justice at once; you must give to the former guarantees more
and more real, and secure the latter without concession or

Instead of that, you know nothing but the continual substitution
of the good pleasure of the prince for your theories, the arrest
of the course of economic law by arbitrary power, and, under the
pretext of equity, the deception of the wage worker and the
monopolist alike! Your liberty is but a half-liberty, your
justice but a half-justice, and all your wisdom consists in those
middle terms whose iniquity is always twofold, since they justify
the pretensions of neither one party nor the other! No, such
cannot be the science which you have promised us, and which, by
unveiling for us the secrets of the production and consumption of
wealth, must unequivocally solve the social antinomies. Your
semi- liberal doctrine is the code of despotism, and shows that
you are powerless to advance as well as ashamed to retreat.

If society, pledged by its economic antecedents, can never
retrace its steps; if, until the arrival of the universal
equation, monopoly must be maintained in its possession,--no
change is possible in the laying of taxes: only there is a
contradiction here, which, like every other, must be pushed till
exhausted. Have, then, the courage of your opinions,-- respect
for wealth, and no pity for the poor, whom the God of monopoly
has condemned. The less the hireling has wherewith to live, the
more he must pay: qui minus habet, etiam quod habet auferetur ab
eo. This is necessary, this is inevitable; in it lies the safety
of society.

Let us try, nevertheless, to reverse the progression of the tax,
and so arrange it that the capitalist, instead of the laborer,
will pay the larger share.

I observe, in the first place, that with the usual method of
collection, such a reversal is impracticable.

In fact, if the tax falls on exploitable capital, this tax, in
its entirety, is included among the costs of production, and then
of two things one: either the product, in spite of the increase
in its selling value, will be bought by the consumer, and
consequently the producer will be relieved of the tax; or else
this same product will be thought too dear, and in that case the
tax, as J. B. Say has very well said, acts like a tithe levied on
seed,--it prevents production. Thus it is that too high a tax on
the transfer of titles arrests the circulation of real property,
and renders estates less productive by keeping them from changing

If, on the contrary, the tax falls on product, it is nothing but
a tax of quotite, which each pays in the ratio of his
consumption, while the capitalist, whom it is purposed to strike,

Moreover, the supposition of a progressive tax based either on
product or on capital is perfectly absurd. How can we imagine
the same product paying a duty of ten per cent. at the store of
one dealer and a duty of but five at another's? How are estates
already encumbered with mortgages and which change owners every
day, how is a capital formed by joint investment or by the
fortune of a single individual, to be distinguished upon the
official register, and taxed, not in the ratio of their value or
rent, but in the ratio of the fortune or presumed profits of the

There remains, then, a last resource,--to tax the net income of
each tax-payer, whatever his method of getting it. For instance,
an income of one thousand francs would pay ten per cent.; an
income of two thousand francs, twenty per cent.; an income of


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