Reflections on the Formation
and Distribution of Wealth

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot

[1776 / Part 2 of 5]

  • 21. Second method, cultivation by slaves

    In times not very distant from the origin of society, it was almost impossible to find men willing to work on the lands of another, because all the land not being as yet occupied, those who were willing to labour, preferred the clearing of new lands, and the cultivating them on their own account; this is pretty much the case in all new colonies.

    In this situation violent men then conceived the expedient of obliging other men by force to labour for them. They employed slaves. These latter have had no justice to look for, from the hands of people, who have not been able to reduce them to slavery without violating all the laws of humanity. Meantime, the physical law of nature secures to them their part of the productions which they have raised; for the master must necessity nourish them, in order to profit by their labour. But this species of recompence is confined to mere necessaries for their subsistence.

    This abominable custom of slavery has formerly been universal, and has spread over the greatest part of the globe. The principal object of the wars carried on by the ancients was, to carry off slaves, whom the conquerors either compelled to work for them, or sold to others. This species of thieving, and this trade, still continues, attended with all its cruel circumstances, on the coast of Guinea, where the Europeans encourage it by going thither to purchase negroes for the cultivation of their American colonies.

    The excessive labour to which avaricious masters force their slaves, causes many of them to perish; and it becomes necessary, to keep up the number requisite for cultivation, that this trade should supply annually a very large number. And as war is the principal source which supplies this commerce, it is evident that it can subsist no longer than the people continue divided into very small nations, who are incessantly plundering each other, and every district is at continued war with its neighbours. Let England, France, and Spain carry on the most cruel hostilities, the frontiers alone of each state will be the only parts invaded, and that in a few places only. All the rest of the country will be quiet, an d the small number of prisoners they could make on either side, would be but a weak resource for the cultivation of each of the three nations.

  • 22. Cultivation by slaves cannot exist in great societies.

    Thus when men are formed into great societies, the recruits of slaves are not sufficiently numerous to support the consumption which the cultivation requires. And although they supply the labour of men by that of beasts, a time will come, when the lands can no longer be worked by slaves. The practice is then continued only for the interior work of the house, and in the end it is totally abolished; because in proportion as nations become polished, they form conventions for the exchange of prisoners of war. These conventions are the more readily made, as every individual is very much interested to be free from the danger of falling into a state of slavery.

  • 23. Slavery annexed to the land, succeeds to slavery properly so called.

    The descendants of the first slaves, attached at first to the cultivation of the ground, change their condition. The interior peace among nations, not leaving wherewithal to supply the consumption of slaves, the masters are obliged to take greater care of them. Those who were born in the house, accustomed from their infancy to their situation, revolt the less at it, and their masters have less need to employ rigour to restrain them. By degrees the land they cultivate becomes their country, they become a part of the nation, and in the end, they experience confidence and humanity on the part of their masters.

  • 24. Vassalage succeeds to slavery, annexed to the land, and the slave becomes a proprietor. Third method; alienation of the land for a certain service.

    The administration of an estate, cultivated by slaves, requires a careful attention, and an irksome residence. The master secures to himself a more free, more easy, and more secure enjoyment of his property, by interesting his slaves in the cultivation of it, and by abandoning to each of them a certain portion of land, on condition of their paying him a portion of the produce. Some have made this agreement for a time, and have only left their serfs, or slaves, a precious and revocable possession. Others have assigned them lands in perpetuity, refining an annual rent payable either in provisions or in money, and requiring from the possessors certain services. Those who received these lands, under the condition prescribed, became proprietors and free, under the name of tenant, or vassal; and the ancient proprietors, under the title of lords, reserved only the right of exacting payment of the rent, and other stipulated duties. Thus it has happened in the greater part of Europe.

  • 25. Fourth Method. Partial colonization

    These lands, rendered free at the expence of rent, may yet change masters, may divide or reunite by means of succession and sale; and such a vassal may in his turn have more than he can cultivate himself. In general the rent to which those lands are subject, is not so large, but that, by cultivating them well, the cultivator is enabled to pay all advances, and expences, procure himself a subsistence, and besides, an excess of productions which form a revenue. Henceforth the proprietary vassal becomes desirous of enjoying this revenue without labour, and of having his lands also cultivated by others. On the other hand, the greater part of the lords grant out those parts of their possessions only, which are the least within their reach, and retain those they can cultivate with the least expence. The cultivation by slaves not being practicable, the first method that offers, and the most simple to engage free men to cultivate lands which do not belong to them, was to resign to them such a portion of the produce, as would engage them to cultivate better than those husbandmen who are employed at a fixed salary. The most common method has been to divide it into equal parts, one of which belonged to the cultivator and the other to the proprietor. This has given place to the name (in France) of metayer (medietarius) or cultivator for half produce. In arrangements of this kind, which take place throughout the greatest part of France, the proprietor pays all contingencies; that is to say, he provides at his expence, the cattle for labour, ploughs, and other utensils of husbandry, seed, and the support of the cultivator and his family, from the time the latter enters into the metairie until the first harvest.

  • 26. Fifth method. Renting, or letting out the land

    Rich and intelligent cultivators, who saw to what perfection an active and well directed cultivation, for which neither labour nor expence was spared, would raise the fruitfulness of land, judged with reason that they would gain more, if the proprietors should consent to abandon, for a certain number of years, the whole of the harvest, on condition of receiving annually a certain revenue, and to be free of all expences of cultivation. By that they would be assured that the increase of productions, which their disbursements and their labour procured, would belong entirely to themselves. The proprietor, on his side, would gain thereby, 1st, a more tranquil enjoyment of his revenue, being freed from the care of advances, and of keeping an account of the produce; 2nd, a more equal enjoyment, since he would receive every year the same and a more certain price for his farm: because he would run no risk of losing his advances; and the cattle and other effects with which the farmers had stocked it, would become a security for his payment. On the other hand, the lease being only for a small number of years, if his tenant paid him too little, he could augment it at the expiration thereof.

  • 27. The last method is the most advantageous, but it supposes the country already rich.

    This method of securing lands is the most advantageous both to proprietors and cultivators. It is universally established where there are any rich cultivators, in a condition to make the advances necessity for the cultivation. And as the rich cultivators are in a situation to bestow more labour and manure upon the ground, there results from thence a prodigious augmentation in the productions, and in the revenue of the land.

    In Picardy, Normandy, the environs of Paris, and in most of the provinces in the north of France, the lands are cultivated by farmers; in those of the south, by the metayers. Thus the northern are incomparably richer and better cultivated than the southern provinces.

  • 28. Recapitulation of the several methods of making lands productive.

    I have just mentioned five different methods by which proprietors are enabled to ease themselves of the labour of the cultivation, and to make their land productive, by the hands of others.

    1. By workmen paid at a fixed salary.

    2. By slaves.

    3. By ceding their lands for rent.

    4. By granting to the cultivator a determined portion, which is commonly half the produce, the proprietor paying the advances necessary for the cultivation.

    5. By letting their land to farmers, who undertake to make all the necessary advances, and who engage to pay to the proprietors, during the number of years agreed on, a revenue equal to its value.

    Of these five methods, the first is too expensive, and very seldom practised; the second is only used in countries as yet ignorant and barbarous; the third is rather a means of procuring a value for, than abandoning of the property for money, so that the ancient proprietor is no longer any thing more than a mere creditor.

    The two last methods of cultivation are the most common, that is, the cultivation by metayers in the poor, and by farmers in the richer countries.

  • 29. Of capitals in general, and of the revenue of money.

    There is another way of being rich, without labour, and without possessing lands, of which I have not yet spoken, and of which it is necessary to explain the origin and connection, with other parts of the system of the distribution of riches in society, of which I have just drawn the outlines. This consists in living by what is called the revenue of money, or of the interest which is paid for the loan thereof.

  • 30. Of the use of gold and silver in commerce.

    Gold and silver are two species of merchandize, like others, and less valuable than many of them, because they are of no use for the real wants of life. To explain how these two metals are become the representative pledges of every species of riches; how they influence the commercial markets, and how they enter into the composition of fortunes, it is necessary to go back again and return to our first principles.

  • 31. Rise of Commerce. Principle of the valuation of commercial things.

    Reciprocal wants first introduced exchanges of what we possessed, for what we stood in need of one species of provision was bartered for another, or for, labour. In exchanging, it is necessary that each party is convinced of the quality and quantity of every thing exchanged. In this agreement it is natural that every one should desire to receive as much as he can, and to give as little; and both being equally masters of what they have to barter, it is in a man's own breast to balance the attachment he has to the thing he gives, with the desire he feels to possess that which he is willing to receive, and consequently to fix the quantity of each of the exchanged things. If the two persons do not agree, they must relax a little on one side or the other, either by offering more or being content with less. I will suppose that one is want of corn and the other of wine; and that they agree to exchange a bushel of corn for six pints of wine. It is evident that by both of them, one bushel of corn and six pints of wine are looked upon as exactly equivalent, and that in this particular exchange, the price of a bushel of corn is six pints of wine, and the price of six pints of wine is one bushel of corn. But in another exchange between other men, this price will be different, accordingly as one or the other of them shall have a more or less pressing want of one commodity or the other; and a bushel of corn may be exchanged against eight pints of wine, while another bushel shall be bartered for four pints only.) Now it is evident, that not one of these three prices can be looked on as the true price of a bushel of corn, rather than the others; to each of the dealers, the wine he has received was equivalent to the corn he had given. In a word, so long as we consider each exchange independent of any other, the value of each thing exchanged has no other measure than the wants or desires of one party weighed with those of the other, and is fixed only by their agreement.

  • 32. How the current value of the exchange of merchandize is established.

    Meantime it happens that many individuals have wine to dispose of to those who possess corn. If one is not willing to give more than four pints for a bushel, the proprietor of the corn will not exchange with him, when he shall know that another will give six or eight pints for the same bushel. If the former is determined to have the corn, he will be obliged to raise his price equal to what is offered by others. The sellers of wine profit on their side by the competition among the sellers of corn. No one resolves part with his property, before he has compared the different offers which are made to him, of the commodity he stands in need of, and then he accepts of the best offer. The value of the wine and corn is not fixed by the two proprietors with respect to their own wants and reciprocal abilities, but by a general balance of the wants of all the sellers of corn, with those of all the sellers of wine. For those who will willingly give eight pints of wine for a bushel of corn, will give but four when they shall know that a proprietor of corn is willing to give two bushels for eight pints. The medium price between the different offers and the different demands, will become the current price to which all the buyers and sellers will conform in their exchanges; and it will be true if we say, that six pints of wine will be to every one the equivalent for a bushel of corn, that is, the medium price, until a diminution of supply on one side, or of demand on the other, causes a variation.

  • 33. Commerce gives in all merchandize a current value with respect to any other merchanize; from whence it follows that all merchandize is the equivalent for a certain quantity of any other merchandize, and may be looked on as a pledge to represent it.

    Corn is not only exchanged for wine, but also for any object which the proprietors of the corn may stand in need of as wood, leather, woollen, cotton, &c. it is the same with wine and every other particular species. If a bushel of corn is equivalent to six pints of wine, and a sheep is equivalent to three bushels of corn, the same sheep will be equivalent to eighteen pints of wine. He who having the corn, wants the wine, may, without inconvenience, exchange his corn for a sheep, in order afterwards to exchange the sheep for the wine he stands in need of.

  • 34. Every merchandize may serve as a scale or common measure, by which to compare the value of any other.

    It follows from hence, that in a country where the commerce is very brisk, where there are many productions and much consumption, where there are great supplies and a great demand for all sorts of commodities, every sort will have a current price, having relation to every other species; that is to say, that a certain quantity of one will be of equal value to a certain quantity of any others. Thus the same quantity of corn which is worth eighteen pints of wine, is also the value of a sheep, a piece of leather, or a certain quantity of iron; and all these things have, in the transactions of trade an equal value. To express or make known the value of any particular thing, it is evident, that it is sufficient to announce the quantity of any other known production, which will be looked on as an equivalent for it. Thus, to make known what a piece of leather of a certain size is worth, we may say indifferently, that it is worth three bushels of corn, or eighteen pints of wine. We may by the same method express the value of a certain quantity of wine, by the number of sheep, or bushels of corn it will bring in trade.

    We see by this, that every species of commodity that can be an object of commerce, may be measured, as I may say, by each other, that every one may serve as a common measure, or scale of comparison to describe the value of every other species, and in like manner every merchandize becomes in the hands of him who possesses it, a means to procure all others -- a sort of universal pledge.

  • 35. Every species of merchandize does not present a scale equally commodious. It is proper to prefer the use of such as are not susceptible of any great alteration in quality, and have a value principally relative to the number and quantity.

    But although all merchandize has essentially this property of representing any other, is able to serve as a common measure, to express its value, and to become a universal pledge to procure any of them by way of exchange, yet all cannot be employed with the same degree of facility for these two uses. The more susceptible any merchandize is to change its value by an alteration in its quality, the more difficult it is to make it a scale of reference for the value of others. For example, if eighteen pints of wine of Anjou are equivalent in value to a sheep, eighteen pints of Cape wine may be equivalent to eighteen sheep. Thus he who to express the value of a sheep, would say it is worth eighteen pints of wine, would employ an equivocal language, and would not communicate any precise idea, at least until he added some explanation, which would be very inconvenient. We are, therefore, obliged to choose for a scale of comparison, such commodities as being more commonly in use, and consequently of a value more generally known, are more like each other, and of which consequently the value has more relation to the quantity than the quality.

  • 36. For want of an exact correspondence between the value and the number or quantity, it is supplied by a mean valuation, which becomes a species of real money.

    In a country where there are only one race of sheep, we may easily take the value of a fleece or of a sheep by the common method of valuation, and we may say that a barrel of wine, or a piece of stuff, is worth a certain number of fleeces or of sheep. There is in reality some inequality in sheep, but when we want to sell them, we take care to estimate that inequality, and to reckon (for example) two lambs for one sheep. When it is necessary to treat of the relative value of other merchandize, we fix the common value of a sheep of middling age and quality, as the symbol of unity. In this view the enunciation of the value of sheep, becomes an agreed language, and this word one sheep, in the language of commerce, signifies only a certain value, which, in the mind of him who understands it, carries the idea not only of a sheep, but as a certain quantity of every other commodity, which is esteemed equivalent thereto, and this expression is more applicable to a fictitious and abstract value, than to the value of a real sheep; that if by chance a mortality happens among the sheep, and that to purchase one of them, you must give double the quantity of corn or wine that was formerly given, we shall rather say, that one sheep is worth two sheep, than change the expression we have been accustomed to for all other valuations.

  • 37. Example of those mean valuations which become an ideal expression for value.

    There exists, in the commerce of every nation, many examples of fictitious valuations of merchandize, which are, as we may say, only a conventional language to express their value. Thus the cooks of Paris, and the fishmongers who furnish great houses, generally sell by the piece. A fat pullet is esteemed one piece, a chicken half a piece, more or less, according to the season: and so of the rest. In the negro trade in the American colonies, they sell a cargo of negroes at the rate of so much per negro, an Indian piece. The women and children are valued, so that, for example, three children, or one woman and two children are reckoned as one head of negro. They increase or diminish the value on account of the strength or other quality of the slaves, so that certain slaves are reckoned as two heads of negroes.

  • 38. All merchandize is a representative pledge of every object of commerce, but more or less commodities for use, as it possesses a greater or less facility to be transported, and to be preserved without alteration.

    The variation in the quality of merchandize, and in the different prices in proportion to that quality, which renders them more or less proper than others to serve as a common measure, is also more or less an impediment to their being a representative pledge of every other merchandize of equal value. Nevertheless there is also, as to this last property, a very essential difference between the different species of merchandize. It is (for example) evident, that a man who possesses a piece of linen, is more certain of procuring for it, when he pleases, a certain quantity of corn, than if he had a barrel of wine of equal value: the wine being subject to a variety of accidents, which may in a moment deprive him of the whole property.

  • 39. All merchandize has the two essential properties of money, to measure and to represent all value: and in this sense all merchandize is money.

    These two properties of serving as a common measure of all value, and of being a representative pledge of all other commodities of equal value, comprehend all that constitute the essence and use of what is called money; and it follows from the details which I have just now given, that all merchandize is, in some respect, money; and participates more or less, according to its particular nature, of these two essential properties. All is more or less proper to serve as a common measure, in proportion as it is more or less in general use, of a more similar quality, and more easy to be divided into aliquot parts. All is more or less applicable for the purpose of a general pledge of exchange, in proportion as it is less susceptible of decay or alteration in quantity or quality.

  • 40. Reciprocally all money is essentially merchandize.

    We can take only that which has a value for a common measure of value, that which is received in commerce in exchange for other properties; and there is no universal representative pledge of value, but something of equal value. A money of convention is therefore a thing impossible.