Effort Result

We have seen that between our wants and their gratification many

obstacles are interposed. We conquer or weaken these by the employment

of our faculties. It may be said, in general terms, that industry is an

effort followed by a result.

But by what do we measure our well-being? By the result of our effort,

or by the effort itself? There exists always a proportion between the

effort employed and the result
obtained. Does progress consist in the

relative increase of the second or of the first term of this proportion?

Both propositions have been sustained, and in political economy opinions

are divided between them.

According to the first system, riches are the result of labor. They

increase in the same ratio as the result does to the effort. Absolute

perfection, of which God is the type, consists in the infinite

distance between these two terms in this relation, viz., effort none,

result infinite.

The second system maintains that it is the effort itself which forms the

measure of, and constitutes, our riches. Progression is the increase of

the proportion of the effort to the result. Its ideal extreme may be

represented by the eternal and fruitless efforts of Sisyphus.[7]

[Footnote 7: We will therefore beg the reader to allow us in future, for

the sake of conciseness, to designate this system under the term of


The first system tends naturally to the encouragement of every thing

which diminishes difficulties, and augments production,--as powerful

machinery, which adds to the strength of man; the exchange of produce,

which allows us to profit by the various natural agents distributed in

different degrees over the surface of our globe; the intellect which

discovers, experience which proves, and emulation which excites.

The second as logically inclines to every thing which can augment the

difficulty and diminish the product; as privileges, monopolies,

restrictions, prohibitions, suppression of machinery, sterility, etc.

It is well to remark here that the universal practice of men is always

guided by the principle of the first system. Every workman, whether

agriculturist, manufacturer, merchant, soldier, writer or philosopher,

devotes the strength of his intellect to do better, to do more quickly,

more economically,--in a word, to do more with less.

The opposite doctrine is in use with legislators, editors, statesmen,

men whose business is to make experiments upon society. And even of

these we may observe, that in what personally concerns themselves,

they act, like every body else, upon the principle of obtaining from

their labor the greatest possible quantity of useful results.

It may be supposed that I exaggerate, and that there are no true


I grant that in practice the principle is not pushed to its extremest

consequences. And this must always be the case when one starts upon a

wrong principle, because the absurd and injurious results to which it

leads, cannot but check it in its progress. For this reason, practical

industry never can admit of Sisyphism. The error is too quickly

followed by its punishment to remain concealed. But in the speculative

industry of theorists and statesmen, a false principle may be for a long

time followed up, before the complication of its consequences, only half

understood, can prove its falsity; and even when all is revealed, the

opposite principle is acted upon, self is contradicted, and

justification sought, in the incomparably absurd modern axiom, that in

political economy there is no principle universally true.

Let us see then, if the two opposite principles I have laid down do not

predominate, each in its turn;--the one in practical industry, the other

in industrial legislation.

I have already quoted some words of Mr. Bugeaud; but we must look on Mr.

Bugeaud in two separate characters, the agriculturist and the


As agriculturist, Mr. Bugeaud makes every effort to attain the double

object of sparing labor, and obtaining bread cheap. When he prefers a

good plough to a bad one, when he improves the quality of his manures;

when, to loosen his soil, he substitutes as much as possible the action

of the atmosphere for that of the hoe or the harrow; when he calls to

his aid every improvement that science and experience have revealed, he

has, and can have, but one object, viz., to diminish the proportion of

the effort to the result. We have indeed no other means of judging of

the success of an agriculturist, or of the merits of his system, but by

observing how far he has succeeded in lessening the one, while he

increases the other; and as all the farmers in the world act upon this

principle, we may say that all mankind are seeking, no doubt for their

own advantage, to obtain at the lowest price, bread, or whatever other

article of produce they may need, always diminishing the effort

necessary for obtaining any given quantity thereof.

This incontestable tendency of human nature, once proved, would, one

might suppose, be sufficient to point out the true principle to the

legislator, and to show him how he ought to assist industry (if indeed

it is any part of his business to assist it at all), for it would be

absurd to say that the laws of men should operate in an inverse ratio

from those of Providence.

Yet we have heard Mr. Bugeaud in his character of legislator, exclaim,

I do not understand this theory of cheapness; I would rather see bread

dear, and work more abundant. And consequently the deputy from Dordogne

votes in favor of legislative measures whose effect is to shackle and

impede commerce, precisely because by so doing we are prevented from

procuring by exchange, and at low price, what direct production can only

furnish more expensively.

Now it is very evident that the system of Mr. Bugeaud the deputy, is

directly opposed to that of Mr. Bugeaud the agriculturist. Were he

consistent with himself, he would as legislator vote against all

restriction; or else as farmer, he would practice in his fields the same

principle which he proclaims in the public councils. We should then see

him sowing his grain in his most sterile fields, because he would thus

succeed in laboring much, to obtain little. We should see him

forbidding the use of the plough, because he could, by scratching up the

soil with his nails, fully gratify his double wish of dear bread and

abundant labor.

Restriction has for its avowed object, and acknowledged effect, the

augmentation of labor. And again, equally avowed and acknowledged, its

object and effect are, the increase of prices;--a synonymous term for

scarcity of produce. Pushed then to its greatest extreme, it is pure

Sisyphism as we have defined it: labor infinite; result nothing.

Baron Charles Dupin, who is looked upon as the oracle of the peerage in

the science of political economy, accuses railroads of injuring

shipping, and it is certainly true that the most perfect means of

attaining an object must always limit the use of a less perfect means.

But railways can only injure shipping by drawing from it articles of

transportation; this they can only do by transporting more cheaply; and

they can only transport more cheaply, by diminishing the proportion of

the effort employed to the result obtained; for it is in this that

cheapness consists. When, therefore, Baron Dupin laments the suppression

of labor in attaining a given result, he maintains the doctrine of

Sisyphism. Logically, if he prefers the vessel to the railway, he

should also prefer the wagon to the vessel, the pack-saddle to the

wagon, and the wallet to the pack-saddle; for this is, of all known

means of transportation, the one which requires the greatest amount of

labor, in proportion to the result obtained.

Labor constitutes the riches of the people, said Mr. de Saint Cricq, a

minister who has laid not a few shackles upon our commerce. This was no

elliptical expression, meaning that the results of labor constitute the

riches of the people. No,--this statesman intended to say, that it is

the intensity of labor, which measures riches; and the proof of this

is, that from step to step, from restriction to restriction, he forced

on France (and in so doing believed that he was doing well) to give to

the procuring, of, for instance, a certain quantity of iron, double the

necessary labor. In England, iron was then at eight francs; in France it

cost sixteen. Supposing the day's work to be worth one franc, it is

evident that France could, by barter, procure a quintal of iron by eight

days' labor taken from the labor of the nation. Thanks to the

restrictive measures of Mr. de Saint Cricq, sixteen days' work were

necessary to procure it, by direct production. Here then we have double

labor for an identical result; therefore double riches; and riches,

measured not by the result, but by the intensity of labor. Is not this

pure and unadulterated Sisyphism?

That there may be nothing equivocal, the minister carries his idea still

farther, and on the same principle that we have heard him call the

intensity of labor riches, we will find him calling the abundant

results of labor, and the plenty of every thing proper to the satisfying

of our wants, poverty. Every where, he remarks, machinery has

pushed aside manual labor; every where production is superabundant;

every where the equilibrium is destroyed between the power of production

and that of consumption. Here then we see that, according to Mr. de

Saint Cricq, if France was in a critical situation, it was because her

productions were too abundant; there was too much intelligence, too

much efficiency in her national labor. We were too well fed, too well

clothed, too well supplied with every thing; the rapid production was

more than sufficient for our wants. It was necessary to put an end to

this calamity, and therefore it became needful to force us, by

restrictions, to work more, in order to produce less.

I also touched upon an opinion expressed by another minister of

commerce, Mr. d'Argout, which is worthy of being a little more closely

looked into. Wishing to give a death blow to the beet, he said: The

culture of the beet is undoubtedly useful, but this usefulness is

limited. It is not capable of the prodigious developments which have

been predicted of it. To be convinced of this it is enough to remark

that the cultivation of it must necessarily be confined within the

limits of consumption. Double, treble if you will, the present

consumption of France, and you will still find that a very small

portion of her soil will suffice for this consumption. (Truly a most

singular cause of complaint!) Do you wish the proof of this? How many

hectares were planted in beets in the year 1828? 3,130, which is

1-10540th of our cultivable soil. How many are there at this time, when

our domestic sugar supplies one-third of the consumption of the country?

16,700 hectares, or 1-1978th of the cultivable soil, or 45 centiares for

each commune. Suppose that our domestic sugar should monopolize the

supply of the whole consumption, we still would have but 48,000 hectares

or 1-689th of our cultivable soil in beets.[8]

[Footnote 8: In justice to Mr. d'Argout we should say that this singular

language is given by him as the argument of the enemies of the beet. But

he made it his own, and sanctioned it by the law in justification of

which he adduced it.]

There are two things to consider in this quotation. The facts and the

doctrine. The facts go to prove that very little soil, capital, and

labor would be necessary for the production of a large quantity of

sugar; and that each commune of France would be abundantly provided with

it by giving up one hectare to its cultivation. The peculiarity of the

doctrine consists in the looking upon this facility of production as an

unfortunate circumstance, and the regarding the very fruitfulness of

this new branch of industry as a limitation to its usefulness.

It is not my purpose here to constitute myself the defender of the beet,

or the judge of the singular facts stated by Mr. d'Argout, but it is

worth the trouble of examining into the doctrines of a statesman, to

whose judgment France, for a long time, confided the fate of her

agriculture and her commerce.

I began by saying that a variable proportion exists in all industrial

pursuits, between the effort and the result. Absolute imperfection

consists in an infinite effort, without any result; absolute perfection

in an unlimited result, without any effort; and perfectibility, in the

progressive diminution of the effort, compared with the result.

But Mr. d'Argout tells us, that where we looked for life, we shall find

only death. The importance of any object of industry is, according to

him, in direct proportion to its feebleness. What, for instance, can we

expect from the beet? Do you not see that 48,000 hectares of land, with

capital and labor in proportion, will suffice to furnish sugar to all

France? It is then an object of limited usefulness; limited, be it

understood, in the work which it calls for; and this is the sole

measure, according to our minister, of the usefulness of any pursuit.

This usefulness would be much more limited still, if, thanks to the

fertility of the soil, or the richness of the beet, 24,000 hectares

would serve instead of 48,000. If there were only needed twenty times, a

hundred times more soil, more capital, more labor, to attain the same

result--Oh! then some hopes might be founded upon this article of

industry; it would be worthy of the protection of the state, for it

would open a vast field to national labor. But to produce much with

little is a bad example, and the laws ought to set things to rights.

What is true with regard to sugar, cannot be false with regard to bread.

If therefore the usefulness of an object of industry is to be

calculated, not by the comforts which it can furnish with a certain

quantum of labor, but, on the contrary, by the increase of labor which

it requires in order to furnish a certain quantity of comforts, it is

evident that we ought to desire, that each acre of land should produce

little corn, and that each grain of corn should furnish little

nutriment; in other words, that our territory should be sterile enough

to require a considerably larger proportion of soil, capital, and labor

to nourish its population. The demand for human labor could not fail to

be in direct proportion to this sterility, and then truly would the

wishes of Messrs. Bugeaud, Saint Cricq, Dupin, and d'Argout be

satisfied; bread would be dear, work abundant, and France would be

rich--rich according to the understanding of these gentlemen.

All that we could have further to hope for, would be, that human

intellect might sink and become extinct; for, while intellect exists, it

can but seek continually to increase the proportion of the end to the

means; of the product to the labor. Indeed it is in this continuous

effort, and in this alone, that intellect consists.

Sisyphism has then been the doctrine of all those who have been

intrusted with the regulation of the industry of our country. It would

not be just to reproach them with this; for this principle becomes that

of our ministry, only because it prevails in the chambers; it prevails

in the chambers, only because it is sent there by the electoral body;

and the electoral body is imbued with it, only because public opinion

is filled with it to repletion.

Let me repeat here, that I do not accuse such men as Messrs. Bugeaud,

Dupin, Saint Cricq, and d'Argout, of being absolutely and always

Sisyphists. Very certainly they are not such in their personal

transactions; very certainly each one of them will procure for himself

by barter, what by direct production would be attainable only at a

higher price. But I maintain that they are Sisyphists when they

prevent the country from acting upon the same principle.