Public Works and InstitutionsDecember 25, 2020
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, and
- for promoting public education
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,
- Navigable canals, and
- 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 and post-chaise [personal transportation].
Examples of necessary carriages are carts and 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, and
- 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.