Reflections on the Formation
and Distribution of Wealth

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot

[London: Printed by E. Spragg, For J. Good, Bookseller, No. 159, New Bond Street; John Anderson, No. 62, Holborn Hill; and W. Richardson, Royal Exchange. 1793 / Part 1 of 5]

"This Essay May be Considered as the Germ of the Treatise on "The Wealth of Nations, Written by the Celebrated Smith." (Condorcet's Life of Turgot)

  1. 1. The impossibility of the existence of Commerce upon the supposition of an equal division of lands, where every man should possess only what is necessary for his own support.

    If the land was divided among all the inhabitants of a country, so that each of them possessed precisely the quantity necessary for his support, and nothing more; it is evident that all of them being equal, no one would work for another. Neither would any of them possess wherewith to pay another for his labour, for each person having only such a quantity of land as was necessary to produce a subsistence, would consume all he should gather, and would not have any thing to give in exchange for the labour of others.

  2. The above hypothesis neither has existed nor could continue. The diversity of soils and multiplicity of wants, compel an exchange of the productions of the earth, against other productions.

    This hypothesis never can have existed, because the earth has been cultivated before it has been divided; the cultivation itself having been the only motive for a division, and for that law which secures to every one his property. For the first persons who have employed themselves in cultivation, have probably worked as much land as their strength would permit, and, consequently, more than was necessary for their own nourishment.

    If this state could have existed, it could not possibly be durable; each one gathering from his field only a subsistence, and not having wherewith to pay others for their labour, would not be enabled to supply his other wants of lodging, clothing, &c. &c., except by the labour of his hands, which would be nearly impossible, as every soil does not produce every material.

    The man whose land was only fit to produce grain, and would neither bring forth cotton or flax, would want linen to cloth him. Another would have ground proper for cotton, which would not yield grain. One would want wood for his fire, and another be destitute of corn to support him. Experience would soon teach every one what species of productions his land was best adapted to, and he would confine himself to the cultivation of it; in order to procure himself those things he stood in need of, by an exchange with his neighbours, who, having on their part acquired the same experience, would have cultivated those productions which were best suited to their fields, and would have abandoned the cultivation of any other.

  3. The productions of the earth require long and difficult preparations, before they are rendered fit to supply the wants of men.

    The productions which the earth supplies to satisfy the different wants of man, will not, for the most part, administer to those wants, in the state nature affords them; it is necessary they should undergo different operations, and be prepared by art. Wheat must be converted into flour, then into bread; hides must be dressed or tanned; wool and cotton must be spun; silk must be taken from the cod; hemp and flax must be soaked, peeled, spun, and wove into different textures; then cut and sewed together again to make garments, &c. If the same man who cultivates on his own land these different articles, and who raises them to supply his wants, was obliged to perform all the intermediate operations himself, it is certain he would succeed very badly. The greater part of these preparations require care, attention, and a long experience; all which are only to be acquired by progressive labour, and that on a great quantity of materials. Let us refer, for example, to the preparation of hides: what labourer can pursue all the particular things necessary to those operations, which continue several months, sometimes several years? If he is able to do it, can he do it with a single hide? What a loss of time, of room, and of materials, which might be employed, either at the same time or successively, to tan a large quantity of skins! But should he even succeed in manning a single skin, and wants one pair of shoes, what will he do with the remainder? Will he kill an ox to make this pair of shoes? Will he cut down a tree to make a pair of wooden shoes? We may say the same thing of every other want of every other man, who, if he was reduced to his field, and the labour of his own hands, would waste much time, take much trouble, be very badly equipped in every respect, and would also cultivate his lands very ill.

  4. The necessity of these preparations, bring on the exchange of productions for labour.

    The same motive which has established the exchange of commodity for commodity, between the cultivators of lands of different natures, has also necessarily brought on the exchange of commodities for labour, between the cultivators and another portion of society, who shall have preferred the occupation of preparing and completing the productions of the earth, to the cultivation of it. Every one profits by this arrangement, for every one attaching himself to a peculiar species of labour, succeeds much better therein. The husbandman draws from his field the greatest quantity it is able to produce, and procures to himself, with greater facility, all the other objects of his wants, by an exchange of his superflux, than he could have done by his own labour. The shoemaker, by making shoes for the husbandman, secures to himself a portion of the harvest of the latter. Every workman labours for the wants of the workmen of every other trade, who, on their side, toil also for him.

  5. Pre-eminence of the husbandman who produces, over the artificer who prepares. The husbandman is the first mover in the circulation of labour: it is he who causes the earth to produce the wages of every artificer.

    It must, however, be observed that the husbandman, finishing every one with the most important and the most considerable objects of their consumption (I mean their food, and the materials of almost all manufactures) has the advantage of a greater degree of independence. His labour, among the different species of labour, appropriated to the different members of society, supports the same pre-eminence and priority, as the procuring of food did among the different works he was obliged, in his solitary state, to employ himself in, in order to minister to his wants of every kind. This is not a pre-eminence of honour or of dignity, but of physical necessity. The husbandman can, generally speaking, subsist without the labour of other workmen; but no other workmen can labour, if the husbandman does not provide him wherewith to exist. It is this circulation, which, by a reciprocal exchange of wants, renders mankind necessary to each other, and which forms the bond of society: it is therefore the labour of the husbandman which gives the first movement. What his industry causes the earth to produce beyond his personal wants, is the only fund for the wages, which all the other members of society receive in recompence for their toil. The latter, by availing themselves of the produce of this exchange, to purchase in their turn the commodities of the husbandman, only return to him precisely what they have received. There is here a very essential difference between these two species of labour, on which it is necessary to reflect, and to be well assured of the ground on which they stand, before we trust to the innumerable consequences which flow from them.

  6. The wages of the workman is limited by the competition among those who work for a subsistence. He only gains a livelihood.

    The mere workman, who depends only on his Lands and his industry, has nothing but such part of his labour as he is able to dispose of to others. He sells it at a cheaper or a dearer price; but this high or low price does not depend on himself alone; it results from the agreement he has made with the person who employs him. The latter pays him as little as he can help, and as he has the choice from among a great number of workmen, he prefers the person who works cheapest. The workmen are therefore obliged to lower their price in opposition to each other. In every species of labour it must, and, in effect, it does happen, that the wages of the workman is confined merely to what is necessary to procure him a subsistence.

  7. The husbandman is the only one whose industry produces more than the wages of his labour. He, therefore, is the only source of all Wealth.

    The situation of the husbandman is materially different. The soil, independent of any other man, or of any agreement, pays him immediately the price of his toil. Nature does not bargain with him, or compel him to content himself with what is absolutely necessary. What she grants is neither limited to his wants, nor to a conditional valuation of the price of his day's work. It is a physical consequence of the fertility of the soil, and of justice, rather than of the difficulty of the means, which he has employed to render the soil fruitful. As soon as the labour of the husbandman produces more than sufficient for his necessities, he can, with the excess which nature affords him of pure freewill beyond the wages of his toil, purchase the labour of other members of society, The latter, in selling to him, only procures a livelihood; but the husbandman, besides his subsistence, collects an independent wealth at his disposal, which he has not purchased, but which he can sell. He is, therefore, the only source of all those riches which, by their circulation, animates the labours of society: because he is the only one whose labour produces more than the wages of his toil.

  8. First division of society into two classes, the one productive, or the cultivators, the other stipendiary, or the artificers.

    Here then is the whole society divided, by a necessity founded on the nature of things, into two classes, both industrious, one of which, by its labour, produces, or father draws from the earth, riches continually renewing, which supply the whole society with subsistence, and with materials for all its wants; while the other is employed in giving to the said materials such preparations and forms as render them proper for the use of man, sells his labour to the first, and receives in return a subsistence. The first may be called the productive, the latter the stipendiary class.

  9. In the first ages of society, the proprietors could not be distinguished from the cultivators.

    Hitherto we have not distinguished the husbandman from the proprietor of the land; and in the first origin they were not in fact so distinguished. It is by the labour of those who have first cultivated the fields, and who have inclosed them to secure their harvest, that all land has ceased to be common, and that a property in the soil has been established. Until societies have been formed, and until the pubic strength, or the laws, becoming superior to the force of individuals, have been able to guarantee to every one the tranquil possession of his property, against all invasion from without; the property in a field could only be secured as it had been acquired, by continuing to cultivate it; the proprietor could not be assured of having his field cultivated by the help of another; and that person taking all the trouble, could not easily have comprehended that the whole harvest did not belong to him. On the other hand, in this early age, when every industrious man would find as much land as he wanted, he would not be tempted to labour for another. It necessarily follows, that every proprietor must cultivate his own field or abandon it entirely.

  10. Progress of society; all lands have an owner.

    But the land begins to people, and to be cleared more and more. The best lands are in process of time fully occupied. There remains only for those who come last, nothing but barren land, rejected by the first occupants. But at last, every spot has found a master, and those who cannot gain a property therein, have no other resource but to exchange the labour of their hands in some of the employments of the stipendiary clasS, for the excess of commodities possessed by the cultivating proprietor.

  11. The proprietors begin to be able to ease themselves of the labour of cultivation, by the help of hired cultivators.

    Mean time, since the earth produces to the proprietor who cultivates it, not a subsistence only, not only wherewith to procure himself by way of exchange, what he otherwise wants, but also a considerable superfluity; he is enabled with this superfluity, to pay other men to cultivate his land. For among those who live by wages, as many are content to labour in this employment as in any other. The proprietor, therefore, might then be eased of the labour of culture, and he soon was so.

  12. Inequality in the division of property: causes which render that inevitable.

    The original proprietors would (as I have already mentioned) occupy as much land as their strength would permit them with their families to cultivate. A man of greater strength, more laborious, more attentive about the future, would occupy more than a man of a contrary character. He, whose family is the most numerous having greater wants and more hands, extends his possessions further; this is a first cause of inequality.

    -- Every piece of ground is not equally fertile; two men with the same extent of land, may reap a very different harvest; this is a second source of inequality. Property in descending from fathers to their children, divides into greater or less portions, according as the descendants are more or less numerous, and as one generation succeeds another, sometimes the inheritances again subdivide, and sometimes re-unite again by the extinction of some of the branches; this is a third source of inequality. The difference of knowledge, of activity, and, above all, the economy of some, contrasted with the indolence, inaction, and dissipation of others, is a fourth principle of inequality, and the most powerful of all: the negligent and inattentive proprietor, who cultivates badly, who in a fruitful year consumes in frivolous things the whole of his superfluity, finds himself reduced on the least accident to request assistance from his more provident neighbour, and to live by borrowing. If by any new accident, or by a continuation of his negligence, he finds himself not in a condition to repay, he is obliged to have recourse to new loans, and at last has no other resource but to abandon a part, or even the whole of his property to his creditor, who receives it as an equivalent; or to assign it to another, in exchange for other valuables with which he discharges his obligation to his creditor.

  13. Consequences of this inequality: The cultivator distinguished from the proprietor.

    Thus is the property in the soil made subject to purchase and sale. The portion of the dissipating or unfortunate, increases the share of the more happy or industrious proprietor; and in this infinite variety of possessions, it is not possible but a great number of proprietors must possess more than they can cultivate. Besides, it is very natural for a rich man to wish for a tranquil enjoyment of his property, and instead of employing his whole time in toilsome labour, he rather prefers giving a part of his superfluity to people to work for him.

  14. Division of the produce between the cultivator and the proprietor. Net Produce, or revenue.

    By this new arrangement, the produce of the land divides into two parts. The one comprehends the subsistence and the profits of the husbandman, which are the rewards for his labour, and the conditions on which he agrees to cultivate the field of the proprietor; the other which remains, is that independent and disposable part, which the earth produces as a free gift to the proprietor over and above what he has disbursed; and it is out of this share of the proprietor's, or what is called the revenue, that he is enabled to live without labour, and which he can carry wherever he will.

  15. A new division of society into three classes. Cultivators, Artificers, and Proprietors, or the productive, stipendiary, and disposible classes.

    We now behold society divided into three branches; the class of husbandmen, whom we may denominate cultivators; the class of artificers and others, who work for hire upon the productions of the earth; and the class of proprietors, the only one which, not being confined by a want of support to a particular species of labour, may be employed in the general service of society, as for war, and the administration of justice, either by a personal service, or by the payment of a part of their revenue, with which the state may hire others to fill these employments. The appellation which suits the best with this division, for this reason, is that of the disposable class.

  16. Resemblance between the two laborious classes.

    The two classes of cultivators and artificers, resemble each other in many respects, and particularly that those who compose them do not possess any revenue, and both equally subsist on the wages which are paid them out of the productions of the earth. Both have also this circumstance in common, that they only gain the price of their labour and their disbursements, and that this price is nearly the same in the two classes. The proprietor agreeing with those who cultivate his ground to pay them as small a part as possible of its produce, in the same manner as he bargains with the shoemaker to buy his shoes as cheap as he can. In a word, neither the cultivator, nor the artificer receives more than a bare recompense for his labour.

  17. Essential difference between the two laborious classes.

    But there is this difference between the two species of labour; that the work of the cultivator produces not only his own wages, but also that revenue which serves to pay all the different classes of artificers, and other stipendiaries their salaries: whereas the artificers receive simply their salary, that is to say, their part of the productions of the earth, in exchange for their labour, and which does not produce any increase. The proprietor enjoys nothing but by the labour of the cultivator. He receives from him his subsistence, and wherewith to pay for the labour of the other stipendiaries. He has need of the cultivator by the necessity arising from the physical order of things, by which necessity the earth is not fruitful without labour; but the cultivator has no need of the proprietor but by virtue of human conventions, and of those civil laws which have guaranteed to the first cultivators and their heirs, the property in the lands they had occupied, even after they ceased to cultivate them. But these laws can only secure to the idle man, that part of the production of his land which it produces beyond the retribution due to the cultivators. The cultivator, confined as he is to a stipend for his labour, still preserves that natural and physical priority which renders him the first mover of the whole machine of society, and which causes both the subsistence and wealth of the proprietor, and the salaries paid for every other species of labour, to depend on his industry. The artificer, on the contrary, receives his wages either of the proprietor or of the cultivator, and only gives them in exchange for his stipend, an equivalent in labour, and nothing more.

    Thus, although neither the cultivator and artificer gain more than a recompence for their toil; yet the labour of the cultivator produces besides that recompense, a revenue to the proprietor, while the artificer does not produce any revenue either for himself or others.

  18. This difference authorises another distinction into the productive and barren classes.

    We may then distinguish the two classes not disposable into the productive class, which is that of the cultivators, or the barren class, which comprehends all the other stipendiary members of society.

  19. How the proprietors may draw a revenue from their lands.

    The proprietors who do not cultivate their lands themselves, may adopt different methods of cultivating them, or make different agreements with those who cultivate them.

  20. First method, or cultivation by labourers on wages.

    They may, in the first place, pay men by the day or the year, to work their fields, and reserve to themselves the whole of the produce; this includes a supposition that the proprietor pays all advances, both for seed, and the wages of the labourers, until after the harvest. But this method requires great labour and assiduity on the part of the proprietor, who alone can direct his men in their labour, see that they employ their time well, and watch over their fidelity, that they shall not carry away any part of the produce. It is true that he may pay a man of more knowledge, and whose fidelity he knows, who, in quality of manager and conductor, may direct the workmen, and keep an account of the produce; but he will be always subject to fraud. Besides, this method is extremely expensive, unless a large population, or want of employ in other species of labour, forces the workmen to content themselves with very low salaries.