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Turgot’s letter to the King, when taking possession of the position of general controller

5 December 2006, by CeD

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This admirable letter addressed by Turgot to the young King of France Louis XVI, where the seeds of many principles of modern public finance are to be found, seems to be unavailable so far on the Web (except in facsimile). So, I fill this intolerable gap. I apologize for not having translated it myself into English: herafter is an automatic and partial translation by Google. I will welcome any effort to have it translated entirely into an English language as elegant as the original French version.

oeuvres_turgot1844 EnteteNo bankrupt­cy;

No in­crease of tax­a­tion;

No loans;

No bankrupt­cy, nei­ther avowed, nor masked by forced re­duc­tions.

No in­crease of tax­a­tion: the rea­son is in the si­t­u­a­tion of your peo­ple, and even more in Your Majesty’s heart.

No loans, be­cause any loan al­ways de­creas­es the free in­come; it re­quires at the end of some time ei­ther the bankrupt­cy, or the in­crease of tax­a­tion. In peace time, one should bor­row on­ly to liq­ui­date old debts, or to re­fund other loans made at a more ex­pen­sive rate.

To fill out the­se three points, there is on­ly one way. It is to re­duce the ex­pen­di­ture be­low the rev­enue, and be­low enough to save each year a score of mil­lions, in order to re­fund old debts. Without that, the first blow of gun would force the State to the bankrupt­cy.

It is asked what to cut off, and each Director, in his part, will sup­port that all any par­tic­u­lar ex­pen­di­ture is essen­tial. They can say very good rea­sons; but as there is no rea­son to make what is im­pos­si­ble, it is nec­es­sary that all the­se rea­sons yield to the peremp­to­ry ne­ces­si­ty of econ­o­my.

It is thus of peremp­to­ry ne­ces­si­ty that Your Majesty re­quires all the Directors of all the parts to act in con­cert with the Minister of Finance. It is essen­tial that he can dis­cuss with them in the pres­ence of Your Majesty the de­gree of need of the ex­pen­di­ture sug­gest­ed. It is espe­cial­ly nec­es­sary that when you have, Sire, fixed the level of funds of each de­part­ment, you for­bid the one who is in charge to order any new ex­pen­di­ture with­out hav­ing con­cert­ed be­fore with Finance the means of pro­vid­ing for it. Without that, each de­part­ment would un­der­take debts which would be al­ways debts of Your Majesty, and the Director of Finance could not be an­swer­able for the bal­ance be­tween the ex­pen­di­ture and the rev­enue.

Your Majesty knows that one of the largest ob­sta­cles to the econ­o­my is the mul­ti­ple re­quests He is con­tin­u­ous­ly as­sailed with, un­for­tu­nate­ly au­tho­rized thanks to the too great fa­cil­i­ty of his pre­de­ces­sors to wel­come them.

It is nec­es­sary, Sire, to arm your­self again­st your kind­ness with your kind­ness it­self; to con­sid­er those from whom this money comes you can dis­tribute to your courtiers, and com­pare the mis­ery of those from whom it is some­times re­quired to tear off it by the most rig­or­ous ex­e­cu­tions, with the si­t­u­a­tion of those who have more ti­tles to ob­tain your lib­er­al­i­ties…

I an­tic­i­pat­ed that I will be alone to fight again­st the abus­es of any kind, again­st the ef­forts of those who gain with the­se abus­es, again­st the crowd of the prej­u­dices which are op­posed to any re­form, and which are a so pow­er­ful means in the hands of peo­ple in­ter­est­ed in per­pet­u­at­ing the dis­or­der. I will have to fight even again­st the nat­u­ral kind­ness, the gen­eros­i­ty of Your Majesty and of those who are most dear to Him. I will be even dread­ed, hat­ed, by most of the Court, by all those who re­quest graces. I will be charged of all re­fusals; I will be paint­ed as a hard man be­cause I will have upheld to Your Majesty that He should not en­rich even those that He dears at the ex­pense of the sub­sis­tence of his People. This peo­ple to which I will have sac­ri­ficed my­self is so easy to mis­lead, that per­haps I in­curred its ha­tred by same mea­sure­ments as I will take to de­fend it again­st vex­a­tion. I will be ca­lum­ni­at­ed, per­haps with enough plau­si­bil­i­ty to lose Your Majesty’s con­fi­dence.

I will not re­gret a po­si­tion I had not ex­pect­ed. I am ready to sur­ren­der it to Your Majesty as soon as I can­not hope any more to be use­ful to Him; but his re­gard, the rep­u­ta­tion of in­tegri­ty, the pub­lic benev­o­lence which de­ter­mined his choice in my favour, are dear­er to me than the life, and I take the risk of los­ing them, even not de­serv­ing in my eyes any re­proach.

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot

Compiègne, August 24, 1774

P.S.

A pe­ti­tion to pre­serve the pub­lic na­ture of Turgot’s grave: http://laen­nec.blogs.com (in French)

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