Зображення сторінки

of the industrial arts to a high degree an incentive to exertion: what is fatal

of advancement, carried on distant and dangerous voyages of exploration and commerce with extraordinary success, became an overmatch in power for the greatest feudal lords, and could defend themselves even against the sovereigns of Europe: because in the midst of turmoil and violence, the citizens of those towns enjoyed a certain rude freedom, under conditions of union and co-operation, which, taken together, ‘. them a brave, energetic, and high-spirited people, and fostered a great amount of public spirit and patriotism. The prosperity of these and other free states in a lawless age, shows that a certain degree of insecurity, in some combinations of circumstances, has good as well as bad effects, by making energy and practical ability the conditions of safety. Insecurity paralyzes, only when it is such in nature and in degree, that no energy, of which mankind in general are capable, affords any tolerable means of self-protection. And this is a main reason why oppression by the government, whose power is generally irresistible by any efforts that can be made by individuals, has so much more baneful an effect on the springs of national prosperity, than, almost any degree of lawlessness and turbulence under free institutions. Nations have acquired some wealth, and made some progress in improvement, in states of social union so imperfect as to border on anarchy: but no countries in which the people were exposed without limit to arbitrary exactions from the officers of government, ever yet continued to have industry or wealth. A few generations of such a overnment never fail to extinguish É. Some of the fairest, and once the most prosperous, regions of the carth, have, under the Roman and afterwards under the Turkish dominion, been moduced to a desert, solely by that cause. I say solely, because they would have recovercd with the utmost rapidity, as countries always do, from the devastations of war, or any other temporary calamities. Dif. floultivo and hardships are often but

to it, is the belief that it will not be suffered to produce its fruits.

§ 2. Simple over-taxation, by go. vernment, though a great evil, is not comparable in the economical part of its mischiefs to exactions much more moderate in amount, which either subject the contributor to the arbitrary mandate of government officers, or are so laid on as to place skill, industry, and frugality at a disadvantage. The burthen of taxation in our own country is very great, yet as every one knows its limit, and is seldom made to pay more than he expects and calculates on, and as the modes of taxation are not of such a kind as much to impair the motives to industry and economy, the sources of prosperity are little diminished by the pressure of taxation; they may even, as some think, be increased, by the extra exer. tions made to compensate for the pressure of the taxes. But in the barbarous despotisms of many countries of the East, where taxation consists in fastening upon those who have succeeded in acquiring something, in order to confiscate it, unless the possessor buys its release by submitting to give some large sum as a compromise, we cannot expect to find voluntary industry, or wealth derived from any source but plunder. And even in comparatively civilized countries, bad modes of raising a revenue have had effects similar in kind, though in an inferior degree. French writers before the Revolution represented the taille as a main cause of the backward state of agriculture, and of the wretched condition of the rural population; not from its amount, but |. cause, being proportioned to the visible capital of the cultivator, it gave him a motive for appearing poor, which suf. ficed to turn the scale in favour of indolence. The arbitrary powers also of fiscal officers, of intendants and subdélégués, were more destructive of prosperity than a far larger amount of exactions, because they destroyed security: there was a marked superiority

in the condition of the districts pos.

sessing Provincial States, which were exempt from this scourge. The universal venality ascribed to Russian functionaries, must be an immense drag on the capabilities of economical improvement possessed so abundantly by the Russian empire; since the emoluments of public officers must depend on the success with which they can multiply vexations, for the purpose of being bought off by bribes. Yet mere excess of taxation, even when not aggravated by uncertainty, is, , independently of its injustice, a serious economical evil. It may be carried so far as to discourage industry by insufficiency of reward. Very long before it reaches this point, it prevents or greatly checks accumulation, or causes the capital accumulated to be sent for investment to foreign countries. Taxes which fall on profits, even though that kind of income may not pay more than its just share, necessarily diminish the motive to any saving, except for investment in foreign countries where profits are higher. Holland, for example, seems to have long ago reached the practical minimum of profits: already in the last century her wealthy capitalists had a great part of their fortunes invested in the loans and jointstock speeulations of other countries: and this low rate of profit is ascribed to the heavy taxa. tion, which had been in some measure forced on her by the circumstances of her position and history. The taxes indeed, besides their great amount, were many of them on necessaries, a kind of tax peculiarly injurious to industry and accumulation. But when the aggregate amount of taxation is very great, it is inevitable that recourse must be had for part of it to taxes of an objectionable character. And any taxes on consumption, when heavy, even if not operating on profits, have something of the same effect, by driving persons of moderate means to live abroad, often taking their capital with them. Although I by no means join with those political economists who think no state of national existence desirable in which there is not a rapid increase of wealth, I cannot overlook

the many disadvantages to an independent nation from being brought prematurely to a stationary state, while the neighbouring countries continue advancing.

§ 3. The subject of protection to person and property, considered as af. forded by government, ramifies widely, into a number of indirect channels. It embraces, for example, the whole subject of the perfection or inefficiency of the means provided for the ascertainment of rights and the redress of injuries. Person and property cannot be considered secure where the administration of justice is imperfect, either from defect of integrity or capacity in the tribunals, or because the delay, vexation, and expense accompanying their operation impose a heavy tax on those who appeal to them, and make it preferable to submit to any endurable amount of the evils which they are designed to remedy. In England there is no fault to be found with the administration of justice, in point of pecuniary integrity; a result which the progress of social improvement may also be or. to have brought about in several other nations of Europe. But legal and judicial imperfections of other kinds are abundant; and, in England especially, are a large abatement from the value of the services which the government renders back to the people in return for our enormous taxation. ... In the first place, the incognoscibility (as Bentham termed it) of the law, and its extreme uncer. tainty, even to those who best know it, render a resort to the tribunals often necessary for obtaining justice, when, there being no dispute as to facts, no litigation ought to be required. In the next place, the procedure of the tribunals is so replete with delay, vexation, and expense, that the price at which justice is at last obtained is an evil outweighing a very considerable amount of injustice; and the wrong side, even that which the law considers such, has many chances of gaining its oint, through the abandonment of itigation by the other party for want of funds, or through a compromise in

which a sacrifice is made of just rights to terminate the suit, or through some technical quirk, whereby a decision is obtained on some other ground than the merits. This last detestable inct dent often happens without blame to the judge, under a system of law, of which a great part rests on no rational principles adapted to the present state of society, but was originally founded partly on a kind of whims and conceits, and partly on the principles and incidents of feudal tenure, (which now survive only as legal fictions;) and has only been very imperfectly adapted, as cases arose, to the changes which had taken place in society. Of all parts of the English legal system, the Court of Chancery, which has the best substantive law, has been incomparably the worst as to delay, vexation, and expense; and this is the only tribunal for most of the classes of cases which are in their nature the most complicated, such as cases of partnership, and the great range of variety of cases which come under the denomination of trust. The recent reforms in this Court have abated the mischief, but are still far from having removed it. Fortunately for the prosperity of England, the greater part of the mercantile law is comparatively modern, and was made by . tribunals, by the simple process of recognising and giving force of law to the usages which, from motives of convenience, had grown up among merchants themselves: so that this part of the law, at least, was substantially made by those who were most interested in its goodmess: while the defects of the tribu. mals have been the less practically pernicious in reference to commer. cial transactions, because the importance of credit, which depends on character, renders the restraints of opinion (though, as daily experience proves, an insufficient) yet a very powerful, protection against those forms of mercantile dishonesty which are generally recognised as such. . The imperfections of the law, both in its substance and in its procédure, tall heaviest upon the interests con:

nected with what is technically called real property; in the general language of European jurisprudence, immoveable property. . With respect to all this portion of the wealth of the community, the law fails egregiously in the protection which it undertakes to provide. It fails, first, by the uncertainty, and the maze of technicalities, which make it impossible for any one, at however great an expense, to possess a title to land which he can positively

know to be unassailable. It fails, secondly, in omitting to provide due evidence of transactions, by a proper

registration of legal documents. It fails, thirdly, by creating a necessity for operose and expensive instruments and formalities (independently of fiscal burthens) on occasion of the purchase and sale, or even the lease or mortgage, of immoveable property. And, fourthly, it fails by the intolerable expense and delay of i. proceedings, in almost all cases in which real property is concerned. There is no doubt that the greatest sufferers by the defects of the higher courts of civil law are the landowners. Legal expenses, either those of actual litigation, or of the preparation of legal instruments, form, I apprehend, no inconsiderable item in the annual expenditure of most persons of large landed property; and the saleable value of their land is greatly impaired, by the difficulty of giving to the buyer complete confidence in the title; independently of the legal ex

enses which accompany the transfer. W. the landowners, though they have been masters of the legislation of England, to say the least, since 1688, have never made a single move in the direction of law reform, and have been strenuous opponents of some of the improvements of which they would more particularly reap the benefit; especially that great one of a registration of contracts affecting land, which when proposed by a Commission of eminent real property lawyers, and introduced into the House of Commons by Lord Campbell, was so offensive to the general body of landlords, and was rejected by so large a majority, as to have long discouraged

any repetition of the attempt.* This irrational hostility to improvement, in a case in which their own interest would be the most benefited by it, must be ascribed to an intense timidity on the subject of their titles, generated by the defects of the very law which they refuse to alter; and to a conscious ignorance, and incapacity of judgment, on all legal subjects, which makes them helplessly defer to the opinion of their professional advisers, heedless of the fact that every imperfection of the law, in proportion as it is burthensome to them, brings gain to the lawyer. In so far as the defects of legal arrangements are a mere burthen on the landowner, they do not much affect the sources of production; but the uncertainty of the title under which land is held, must often act as a great discouragement to the expenditure of capital in its improvement; and the expense of making transfers, operates to prevent land from coming into the hands of those who would use it to most advantage; often amounting, in the case of small purchases, to more than the price of the land, and tantamount, therefore, to a prohibition of the purchase and sale of land in small portions, unless in exceptional circumstances. Such purchases, however, are almost everywhere extremely desirable, there being hardly any country in which landed property is not either too much or too little subdivided, requiring either that great estates should be broken down, or that small ones should be bought up and consolidated. To make land as easily transferable as stock, would be one of the greatest economical improvements which could be bestowed on a country; and has been shown, again and again, to have no insuperable difficulty attending it. Desides the excellences or defects that belong to the law and judicature of a country as a system of arrangements for attaining direct practical

* Lord Westbury’s recent Act is a material mitigation of this grievous defect in English law, and will probably lead to further improvements,

ends, much also depends, even in an economical point of view, upon the moral influences of the law. Enough has been said in a former place,t on the degree in which both the industrial and all other combined operations of mankind depend for efficiency on their being able to rely on one another for probity and fidelity to engagements; from which we see how greatly even the economical prosperity of a country is liable to be affected, b anything in its institutions by § either integrity and trustworthiness, or the contrary qualities, are encouraged. The law everywhere ostensibly favours at least pecuniary honesty and the faith of contracts; but if it affords facilities for evading those obligations, by trick and chicanery, or by the unscrupulous use of riches in instituting unjust or resisting just litigation; if there are ways and means by which persons may attain the ends of roguery, under the apparent sanction of the law; to that extent the law is demoralizing, even in regard to pecuniary integrity. And such cases are, unfortunately, frequent under the English system. If, again, the law, by a misplaced indulgence, protects idleness or prodigality against their natural consequences, or dismisses crime with inadequate penalties, the effect, both on the prudential and on the social virtues, is unfavourable. When the law, by its own dispensations and injunctions, establishes injustice between individual and individual; as all laws do which recognise any form of slavery; as the laws of all countries do, though not all in the same degree, in respect to the family relations; and as the laws of many countries do, though in still more unequal degrees, as between rich and poor; the effect on the moral sentiments of the people is still more disastrous. But these subjects introduce considerations so much larger and deeper than those of political economy, that I only advert to them in order not to pass wholly unnoticed things superior in importance to those of which I treat.

[ocr errors]



§ 1. HAving spoken thus far of the effects produced by the excellences or defects of the general system of the law, I shall now touch upon those resulting from the special character of particular parts of it. As a selection must be made, I shall confine myself to a few leading topics. The portions of the civil law of a country which are of most importance economically (next to those ". determine the status of the labourer, as slave, serf, or free), are those relating to the two subjects of Inheritance and Contract. Of the laws relating to contract, none are more important economically than the laws of partnership, and those of insolvency. It happens that on all these three points, . is just ground for condemning some of the provisions of the English law. With o to Inheritance, I have, in an early chapter, considered the general principles of the subject, and suggested what appear to me to be, putting all prejudices apart, the best dispositions which the law could adopt. Freedom of bequest as the general rule, but limited by two things: first, that if there are descendants, who, being unable to provide for themselves, would become burthensome to the state, the equivalent of whatever the state would accord to them should be reserved from the property for their benefit: , and secondly, that no one erson should be permitted to acquire y inheritance, more than the amount of a moderate independence. In case of intestacy, the whole property to escheat to the state: which should be bound to make a just and reasonable provision for descendants, that is, such a provision as the parent or ancestor ought to have made, their circumstances, capacities, and mode of bringing up being considered. The laws of inheritance, however, have probably several phases of im:

provement to go through, before ideas so far removed from present modes of thinking will be taken into serious consideration: and as, among the recognised modes of determining the succession to property, some must be better and others worse, it is necessary to consider which of them deserves the preference. As an intermediate course, therefore, I would recommend the extension to all property, of the present English law of inheritance affecting personal property (freedom of bequest, and, in case of intestacy, equal division): except that no rights should be acknowledged in collaterals, and that the property of those who have neither descendants nor ascendants, and make no will, should escheat to the state. The laws of existing nations deviate from these maxims in two opposite ways. In England, and in most of the countries where the influence of feudality is still felt in the laws, one of the objects aimed at in respect to land and other immoveable property, is to keep it together in large masses: accordingly, in cases of intestacy, it asses, generally o: (for the ocal custom of a few places is dif. ferent), exclusively to the eldest son. And though the rule of primogeniture is not binding on testators, who in England have nominally the power of bequeathing their property as they please, any proprietor may so exercise this power as to deprive his successors of it, by entailing the property on one particular line of his descendants: which, besides preventing it from passing by inheritance in any other than the prescribed manner, is attended with the incidental consequence of precluding it from being sold; since each successive possessor, having only a life interest in the property, cannot alienate it for a longer period than his own life. In some

« НазадПродовжити »