Chap. 1d: General Public Works

PART 3: The Expence of public Works and Institutions

69 The sovereign’s third and last duty is building and maintaining advantageous public works and institutions for society.

  • The profit from these works and institutions could never repay the expence to any few individuals.
    • Individuals cannot be expected to build or maintain them.
  • This duty costs very differently in the different periods of society.


70 The public institutions and public works necessary for society are those:

  • for defence
  • for administering justice
  • for facilitating commerce
  • for promoting public education
    • for the youth
    • for people of all ages

This chapter will be divided into three articles examining how their costs may be most properly defrayed.


ARTICLE 1: Public Works and Institutions Necessary for Facilitating General Commerce

71 Examples of the public works which facilitate any country’s commerce are:

  • Good roads
  • Bridges
  • Navigable canals
  • Harbours, etc

Their construction and maintenance costs very differently in the different periods of society.

  • The cost of making and maintaining the public roads must increase with:
    • the national annual produce, and
    • the quantity and weight of the goods transported on those roads.
  • A bridge’s strength must be suited to the number and weight of the carriages likely to pass over it.
  • A navigable canal’s depth and supply of water must be proportional to the number and tonnage of the barges likely to carry goods on it.
  • The harbour’s extent must be proportional to the number of ships likely to shelter in it.


72 The executive power does not have to pay for the cost of those public works from the public revenue.

  • Most of such public works can be easily managed to afford a revenue to defray their own cost, without bringing any burden on the society’s general revenue.


73 In most cases, a highway, bridge, or navigable canal may be made and maintained by a small toll.

  • A harbour can be made and maintained by a moderate port-duty on the tonnage of the shipping loaded or unloaded in it.
  • The coinage is another institution for facilitating commerce.
    • In many countries, it:
      • defrays its own expence and
      • affords a small revenue or seignorage to the sovereign.
  • The post-office is another institution for facilitating commerce.
    • In almost all countries, it brings a very big revenue to the sovereign.


74 Carriages passing over a highway, or barges sailing through a canal pay a toll proportional to their weight.

  • In this case, they pay for the maintenance of those public works exactly in proportion to the wear and tear they cause.
  • It seems impossible to invent a more equitable way of maintaining such works.
  • This tax or toll is advanced by the carrier but finally paid by the consumer.
    • The consumer must always be charged in the price of the goods.
  • Transportation costs are very much reduced by such public works.
    • This makes goods come cheaper to the consumer despite the toll.
  • The price of those goods are not so much raised by the toll as it is lowered by the cheapness of the transportation.
    • The person who finally pays this toll gains more from the public works than he loses by paying it.
    • “His payment is exactly in proportion to his gain.”
  • In reality, he is obliged to give up that small gain to get the rest of the gain.
    • “It seems impossible to imagine a more equitable method of raising a tax.”


75 Examples of luxury carriages are:

  • coaches
  • post-chaise (personal transportation)

Examples of necessary carriages are:

  • carts
  • wagons

When the toll on luxury carriages is raised in proportion to their weight relative to necessary carriages, the rich’s indolence and vanity is made to contribute to the poor’s relief.

  • It renders the transportation of heavy goods cheaper.


76 When high roads, bridges, canals, etc. are made and supported by the commerce which supports them:

  • those public works can only be made where they are needed by commerce
  • those works will be built in the proper areas.

The grandeur and magnificence of those works must be suited to what that commerce can afford to pay.

  • Those works will be built in the proper way.
  • A magnificent high road cannot be made through a desert country where there is no commerce.
    • It cannot be built merely because it leads to a great lord’s country villa.
  • A great bridge cannot be built over a river where nobody passes.
    • It cannot be built merely to embellish the view from the windows of a neighbouring palace.
  • These sometimes happen in countries where public works are funded by other sources of revenue.


77 In several parts of Europe, the ton or lock-duty on a canal is private property.

  • Their private interest obliges them to keep up the canal.
  • If it is not maintained, the navigation ceases.
    • The profits from the tolls also ceases.
  • If those tolls were managed by commissioners who had no interest in those works, they might be less attentive to their maintenance.
    • The canal of Languedoc cost the King of France and its province more than 13 million livres.
      • It is equal to more than £900,000 at 28 livres the mark of silver, the value of French money in the end of the 17th century.
    • When that great work was finished, the best way found to keep it repaired was to offer the tolls as a gift to Riquet, the engineer who planned the work.
      • Presently, those tolls make up a very large estate to his family.
      • They have a great interest to keep that work repaired.
    • If those tolls were managed by commissioners who had no such interest, they might have dissipated the tolls in ornamental and unnecessary expences.
      • The most essential parts of the work might have gone to ruin.


78 The tolls for maintaining a high road cannot, with any safety, be made the property of private persons.

  • A neglected high road does not become impassable.
  • A neglected canal becomes impassable.
  • Therefore, the proprietors of the tolls for a high road might neglect road repairs yet continue to levy the same tolls.
  • The tolls for the maintenance of high roads should be managed by commissioners or trustees.


79 In Great Britain, the abuses of the trustees in managing those tolls were very justly complained of in many cases.

  • At many turnpikes, the money levied is more than double of what is needed to build them.
    • The work is often executed very slovenly and sometimes not executed at all.
  • The system of repairing the high roads by tolls of this kind is quite new.
    • It has not yet been perfected.
  • The recentness of the institution accounts and apologizes for the following defects:
    • mean and improper persons are frequently appointed as trustees,
    • proper courts of inspection have not yet been established for:
      • controlling the trustees’ conduct,
      • reducing the tolls to what is barely sufficient for the work required.
  • In due time, most of the defects may be remedied by the parliament’s wisdom.


80 The money levied at turnpikes in Great Britain so much exceeds what is needed to repair the roads.

  • Some ministers considered the savings from it as a very great resource.
    • This resource might be used for state exigencies.
  • If government managed the turnpikes by employing soldiers, it could keep the roads in good order cheaper than by trustees.
    • The soldiers would work for a very small addition to their pay.
    • The trustees can only employ workmen who would derive their subsistence from their wages.
    • A great revenue of perhaps 500,000 was pretended to be gained without laying any new burden on the people.
    • The turnpike roads might contribute to state’s general revenue in the same way the post-office does presently.


81 A big revenue might be gained but probably not near as the projectors of this plan have supposed.

  • The plan itself is liable to very important objections:
  1. 82 If the turnpike tolls should be a resource for supplying state exigencies, the tolls would be increased as those exigencies required.
  • According to British policy, they would probably be increased very fast.
    • This great revenue would probably encourage the government to very frequently recur to this resource.
  • It is doubtful whether £500,000 could be saved out of the present tolls.
    • £1 million might be saved if the turnpike tolls were doubled.
    • £2 million would be saved if they were tripled.
    • This great revenue might be levied without the appointment of a single new officer to collect and receive it.
    • The turnpike tolls would be continually increased this way.
    • They would soon become a very great encumbrance on the country’s inland commerce.
    • The domestic transportation costs of all heavy goods would soon increase so much.
      • The market for all such goods would be soon narrowed so much.
        • Their production would be discouraged.
      • The most important branches of the domestic industry would be annihilated.


  1. 83 A tax on carriages according to weight is a very equal tax for road repairs.
  • But it is a very unequal one for any other purpose, such as for supplying state exigencies.
  • A tax for road repair requires each carriage to pay exactly for the wear and tear that carriage brings to the roads.
    • A tax for the state exigencies requires each carriage to pay for the state exigency on top of that wear and tear.
  • The turnpike toll raises the price of goods according to their weight and not their value.
    • It is chiefly paid by the consumers of coarse and bulky goods and not by those of precious and light commodities.
  • Therefore, a tax for state exigencies would be chiefly supplied by the poor, not the rich.
    • It would be at the expence of those who are least able to supply it, not of those who are most able.


  1. 84 If government neglected the repair of the high roads, it would be more difficult to compel the proper application of any part of the turnpike tolls.
  • A large revenue might thus be levied on the people without it being used for road repair.
  • The meanness and poverty of the trustees of turnpike roads make it sometimes difficult to oblige them to repair their wrong.
    • Their wealth and greatness would render it ten times more so in this case.


85 In France, the funds for repairing high roads are under the executive power.

  • Those funds consist in:
    • a certain number of days labour which most countryside people in Europe are obliged to give for highway repair
    • a part of the state’s general revenue which the king allocates for road repairs.


86 By the ancient law of France and other parts of Europe, the labour of the people of the countryside was under a local or provincial magistrate.

  • It was not immediately dependent on the king’s council.
  • But by the present practice, the following are entirely under an intendant’s management:
    • the people’s labour and
    • whatever other fund the king assigns to repair the high roads in any province.
  • The intendant is an officer appointed by the king’s council.
    • He receives orders from it and is in constant correspondence with it.
  • In the progress of despotism, the executive power gradually absorbs every other power in the state.
    • It assumes to itself the management of every branch of public revenue.
  • Post-roads are roads used for the communication between the principal towns.
    • In France, the great post-roads are generally kept in good order.
    • In some provinces, they are even much superior to most English turnpike roads.
  • Cross-roads are the most common roads in the countryside.
    • They are entirely neglected.
    • In many places, they are absolutely impassable by heavy carriage.
    • In some places, it is even dangerous to travel on them on horseback.
      • Mules are the only safe transportation.
  • The proud minister of an ostentatious court may frequently take pleasure in executing a splendid and magnificent work, such as a great highway.
    • It is frequently seen by the principal nobility.
      • Their applauses flatter the minister’s vanity and even support his interest at court.
  • But a great magistrate is not interested in building many little works which:
    • have no great appearance or
    • cannot excite any traveler’s admiration even if they are extremely useful.
  • Under such an administration, such small works are almost always neglected.


87 In China and other Asian governments, the executive power manages the repair of high roads and the maintenance of navigable canals.

  • Those repairs and maintenance are constantly recommended in the instructions given to each provincial governor.
    • His attention to these instructions regulates the court’s judgement on his conduct.
  • Those public works are very much attended to in those countries, particularly in China.
    • It was pretended that the high roads and most especially the navigable canals very much exceed those in Europe.
    • The accounts of those works transmitted to Europe were generally drawn up by weak and wondering travelers, frequently by stupid and lying missionaries.
    • They would perhaps not appear to be so wonderful if:
      • they were examined by more intelligent eyes, and
      • their accounts were reported by more faithful witnesses.
  • Bernier’s account of similar works in India falls very much short of what was reported by other travelers.
    • They were more disposed to the marvelous than he was.
  • Like in France, those countries might attend to the great roads while neglect all the rest.
    • The great roads are likely to be the subjects of conversation at the court and in the capital.
  • In China, India, and other Asian governments, the sovereign’s revenue arises from a land-tax or land-rent.
    • It rises or falls with the rise and fall of the produce of the land.
  • The sovereign’s great interest is his revenue.
    • In such countries, it is necessarily and immediately connected with:
      • the cultivation of the land, and
      • the greatness and value of its produce
  • To render that produce as great and valuable as possible, it is necessary to:
    • provide it with an extensive a market as possible, and
    • establish the freest, easiest, and least expensive communication within the country.
      • It can be only done by the best roads and navigable canals.
  • In Europe, the sovereign’s revenue does not arise chiefly from a land-tax or land-rent.
    • In all the great European kingdoms, most of it may ultimately depend on the produce of the land.
    • But that dependency is not so immediate nor so evident.
  • In Europe, the sovereign does not feel so directly called on to:
    • increase the amount and value of the produce of the land,
    • maintain good roads and canals to provide the most extensive market for that produce.
  • It might be true that in some parts of Asia, this public police is very properly managed by the executive power.
    • Presently, it is improbable that it could be managed tolerably by the executive power in any part of Europe.


88 A local or provincial revenue is managed by a local or provincial administration.

  • A state revenue must be managed by the executive power.
  • The following public works are always better maintained by a local or public revenue:
    • Those which cannot maintain themselves, and
    • Those which benefits are confined to a district.
  • Were the streets of London to be lit and paved at the national expence, could they would be so well lit and paved as at present, at so small an expence?
    • Currently, the expence is raised by a local tax on the people of each London street, parish, or district.
    • If they were paid from the national revenue, it would be raised by a tax on all citizens.
      • Most of them would derive no benefit from the lighting and paving of those streets.


89 The abuses of the local and provincial administration on a local and provincial revenue may appear enormous.

  • In reality, they are almost always very trifling compared to the abuses of the national revenue of a great empire.
  • Local and provincial abuses are much more easily corrected.
  • Under the local or provincial justices of the peace in Great Britain, people in the countryside are obliged to give six days labour for highway repairs.
    • It is not always very judiciously applied.
    • But it is rarely exacted with any cruelty or oppression.
  • In France under the intendants, the application is not always more judicious.
    • The exaction is frequently the most cruel and oppressive.
    • Such Corvées are one of the principal instruments of tyranny of those officers.

Words: 2,672

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