« PreviousContinue »
A Treatise on the Administration of the Finances of France. By Mr. Necker. Tranflated from the genuine French Edition, 1784, by Thomas Mortimer, Efq. Three Volumes. 8vo. 11. 1. in Boards. Johnson.
IT T was a fubject of admiration in Europe, to fee an obfcure man, without pretenfions, titles, or connection, at the head of the administration of the finances, in a kingdom whose nobles are eager for employment in the fervice of the fovereign. Yet monf. Necker maintained his ftation, if not with dignity, at leaft with the credit of profound attention, and inflexible integrity; and France owes to thefe qualities, and to the humane attentions of madame Necker, fome very falutary regulations. If we look more nearly into the fubject, we fufpect it will appear, that our author was more diftinguishable as a financier than a statesman; he was an exact accountant rather than a great minifter, as he has been oftentatiously called. While confined to his office, he excited no jealousy; when be aimed at a feat in the council of ftate, he foon fell. His fall, however, feems to be marked with none of the characteristics of a great mind. In his introduction, he complains of it, and complains with a feminine weakness: his tears are faid to have been drawn for the lofs which the ftate has fuftained; but the mind which feels its own dignity will permit no confideration to detract from it. He may regret his fall, and the misfortunes of his country; but he will be still himfelf, unruffled and unmoved.
As a financier, monf. Necker acquired much credit. He provided refources for the first years of an expenfive war, without additional taxes, and left more ample fupplies in the trea fury than he found in it. It has been indeed fuggefted, that, by these exertions, the strength of the ftate was fo much weakened as to require fupplies more than equivalent in the fubfequent period; but there is much reason to think, that these fuggeftions are rather the fhafts of calumny, aimed at the only part where a wound could, without danger of detection, be inflicted. We know the wonderful effects of order and regularity in every department of this kind; and we fee nothing in his actions which may not be accounted for by thefe, joined with the details which we meet with in the volumes before us. They are indeed rich in the treafures of political arithmetic : the facts are valuable, because they are probably very near the truth; but it is for facts only that we esteem them. The re flections are often trifling and jejune; fometimes erroneous. We have many works on political arithmetic in our own lan VeL. LXI. Feb. 1786. I guage,
guage, of a much higher value with respect to their reafoning.
In the introduction, filled with much egotifm, and fome very trifling fubjects, our author difplays what a minister of finance ought to be; and what he was. A man of real dignity does not speak of himself; but we shall not dwell on it; for we own that it has diminished our respect for monf. Necker, He then proceeds to an account of all the taxes in France. The particulars are not eafily understood by an English reader; fo that we may obferve that they exceed five hundred and eighty-five millions of livres *. Thefe are followed by general reflections on the extent of the taxes; and this chapter is diftinguished by candour and humanity. Our author does not feem to be well informed on the fubject of the British taxes, their comparative burthen on the poor, or the quantity of circulating fpecie. We think that he is mistaken on all thefe fubjects; but they are of little confequence to his general argument. The expences in collecting the taxes is then examined, and found to be about 10 per cent: we fufpect that, confidering every circumftance, England is not fo cheaply ferved. The two next chapters are on the favings which might be still made in the collection; but thefe regulations are local, and would not be easily understood: our author's plans, perhaps by the fuperior weight of influence, were only partially tried, and, after trial, were rejected. The two following chapters are on the convertion of all the taxes into a land or a poll-tax. The former of thefe contains fome very judicious reflections; but we have feen them already in various fhapes: the next chapter is on the number of revenue officers. Monf. Necker then proceeds to the population of the kingdom, which he thinks amounts to twenty-five, or nearly twenty-fix millions of inhabitants. But we much fufpect his data; for the ftrange disproportion of births in the years 1773 and 1774, which, in the latter year exceeded the former by 39,170, an excess not progreffional, or in any way accounted for, leads us to doubt greatly of the accuracy with which the lifts are kept. In the year 1777, the births exceed thofe of the preceding and fucceeding years, by above fifty thoufand. The caufes of the variation of population, which monf. Necker mentions, will
* Instead of actually reducing the feveral fums, we fhall add an eafy rule for this purpose. Strike off from the number of livres the two figures on the right hand, multiply the reft by 4, increase the product by one-tenth of itfelf, and the fum is the answer required. Thus 100,000 livres is equal to
£. 4400; for 100,olos × 4 = 4000, and 4000 +
or 4000 + 400 =
not account for thefe great difproportions, nor these fudden changes. We shall extract the following chapter entire, as it recapitulates the whole.
The whole extent of the kingdom, exclufive of Corfica, confifts of twenty-fix thousand nine hundred and fifty-one square leagues, twenty-five to a degree; confequently, of two thoufand two hundred and eighty-two, two-fifths toifes, (French fathoms) per league.
Its population confifts of twenty-four millions fix hundred feventy-fix thousand inhabitants *.
This allows nine hundred and fixteen individuals, for every fquare league.
Its taxes amount to five hundred and eighty-four millions, four hundred thousand livres †, which is twenty-one thoufand fix hundred and eighty four livres per fquare league.
And twenty-three livres, thirteen fous, eight deniers per head, for perfons of all ages, and of both fexes.'
Monf. Necker then enumerates the taxes, immunities, population, extent, and principal refources of each generality, into which the kingdom is divided. The facts in this chapter are numerous and valuable; and the exactness of the returns in general cannot be fufpected. But there is much reafon to think that the population is exaggerated; that of the city of Paris, in particular, eftimated at about fix hundred and fifty thoufand, fhould certainly be much reduced, if we would come near the truth. Next follows an account of the extent, taxes, and population of Corfica, and the colonies. Corfica, we find, does not produce a fufficient income to defray the expences of its civil establishment. The first volume concludes with general obfervations on the reform of the taxes, which we cannot abridge: indeed they are chiefly local, and not diftinguished by their depth; nor are they of that general comprehenfive nature, as to be easily applied to other countries.
In the fecond volume, the firft object is a propofal to equalize the taxes on falt. This fubftance forms a very confiderable fource of the French revenue; though, as ufual, when taxes are carried fo high, the means of raising a supply is often deftru&tive to it. The contraband trade in falt exceeds the greatest expectations; and the brigades, to prevent this trade in general, we find amount to twenty-three thousand men. The whole of the fubject is well and clearly explained. The tobacco tax is next explained, which, like all the other French
Twenty-four millions eight hundred thousand inhabitants, including Corfica, whofe population confists of one hundred and twenty-four thousand ' fouls.'
Five hundred and eighty-five millions, including the taxes paid by Corfica, which amount to fix hundred thousand livres.'
taxes, by various immunities, is partial, oppreffive, and with difficulty examined. The third chapter is more general, and contains Obfervations on the Duties on Importation and Exportation; with Reflections and Researches on the Ballance of the Commerce of France.' In confidering this subject our author, in fome inftancès, makes the proper allowances; but in others he is deficient. The following obfervations deserve attention.
I will fuppofe that, either from fixed ideas, or from conjectures, a general statement is made of the importations and exportations of a kingdom; a valuation in money must neceffarily be made of each part of this double commerce, if we with to know the amount of the balance of the commercial. exchanges; now this yaluation, as it is ufually made, is extremely imperfe&t.
Let us apply this propofition in the first place, to merchan. dife imported, and let us take France for an example, that we may avoid the confufion that would arife from the generical words of country, or kingdom.
"Let a valuation then be made in France, of the merchandife of foreign countries, according to the current price of thofe commodities in the centre of the kingdom, or in one of its principal commercial towns; the debt contracted by the state will, by this method, be greatly exaggerated; for the current price of foreign commodities in France, is compofed not only of the fum paid for them to the nation who has fold them, but likewife of the duties of entry exacted at the different customhoufes; and lastly, of the profit or intereft on the advances. made by the French merchants, who have imported them as objects of trade: yet, of thefe three articles juft recapitulated, only the fum paid to the foreign feller is a debt of the king
The expences of carriage, or of freight, are likewife com. prised in the current value of foreign merchandife; now if this freight has been gained by the national shipping, a ftill greater deception will happen in the statement of the balance of commerce, if the merchandize imported is valued according to the current price in the kingdom."
The facts on which his eftimates are founded, are not very particularly and accurately ftated; but he estimates the balance in favour of the kingdom at feventy millions of livres. This balance chiefly arifes from the products of their West India iflands, and the foreign fale of their manufactures. This is infift ed on with fome force; but it must be very evident, without any particular affiftance from the cuftom-house books. We allow France to be an ingenious and flourishing nation; but, if the fubject were examined with a critical eye, we fufpect that the balance would be fomewhat leffened. Many deductions occur
to us, which the author has not made. We ought to add that, in monf. Necker's opinion, the ftate of exchange is but a fuperficial and erroneous method of judging of the favourable balance in the commerce of a nation.
The fourth chapter contains general ideas on the reform of the customs; and the four following ones relate to the conftitution of, and the arrangements in, the provincial affemblies. The obfervations on thefe fubjects are chiefly local.
The next object of attention is the clergy. They are exempt from most of the taxes, and their fubfidies are in general free gifts; but they tax themfelves for this purpofe, and they raife above ten millions of livres annually. About two hundred and fifty thousand of thefe are appropriated to the Royal Hofpital of Invalids. The king adds two millions five hundred thoufand livres to the refidue; and the whole is applied to the general debt, occafioned by the free gifts, and to other public works. The whole income of the clergy is estimated at one hundred and ten millions of livres. Some very juft and humane reflections, on the difpofal of benefices,' conclude this fubject.
"The eleventh chapter contains Researches and Reflections on the national Debt of France, and the Means of paying it.' Schemes of this kind are so often vifionary, and, from various caufes, fo feldom practicable, that we fhall only obferve, that monf. Necker propofes to convert the funds into life-annuities. The ftate of the public expences in France, is still lefs an object of our attention; but the facts are the more curious, fince they have not been before published; and they will afford fome valuable information refpecting the state of the kingdom, and a comparison of the French and English finances. The volume concludes with a fupplement, relating to fome little differences between our author's account, and that in the French edict, in 1784.
The first part of the third volume relates to the weight of money, and circumftances relative to the coinage. The fubject is complicated, and too long for our investigation at prefent that part of it which relates to the profit of the fovereign on coinage, is in a great measure new, and, with a few restrictions, we believe very correct. The quantity of fpecie
in France is faid to amount to two thousand two hundred millions of livres. The increafe of fpecie during the laft peace, was confiderable, and it is calculated by our author with fome accuracy: the increafe in other nations is examined and calculated; but with fo few foundations in fact, that we fhall not follow the detail. The advantages and inconveniencies, arifing from an increafe of the fpecie, and the progress of luxury, are connected with the former fubject, and examined, at fome length, with great propriety.