Farmers' Rents. Introduction.
The rents we are about to examine, offer at first sight, it must be confessed, a less attractive field of investigation than those which we have left. We have no longer to consider rents as mainly determining by their forms and their results the destinies of nations. Those now before us can only exist when the most important relations of the different classes of society have ceased to originate in the ownership and occupation of the soil. When a race of capitalists have made their appearance, to take charge of the varied industry of a population, and advance from their own funds the wages of its labor, property in land, and the forms of tenancy it may give birth to, no longer influence in the first degree, either the springs of government, or the constituent elements of society. The composition of the community becomes more complicated, other interests and other sources of power mingle their forces to determine the character and condition of a people, and affect the detail of all their multiplied connexions. Even in this state of things, however, that cannot be other than an important attempt, which seeks to discover the manner in which the revenues of the landed class swell and enlarge themselves with the progress of the community, so as to preserve some proportion with the growing wealth of the body of the people.
But the examination of the various causes which affect the progress of rents at this more advanced period of a people's existence, is not merely interesting in itself. In the present peculiar state of public opinion on these subjects, such an examination can hardly fail to throw a useful light on other divisions of the subject of the "distribution of the national wealth." It will disencumber, for instance, of many false facts and erroneous opinions, our future examination of the course of profits and wages in the more advanced stages of society. It will tend to remove a common, though strange and painful belief, as to some necessary connexion between the progress of the mass of rents and a gradual decrease in the national power of providing food for increasing numbers. It will (incidentally) help to explain the mutations which take place in the relative numbers and influence of the agricultural and non-agricultural classes. These, and similar results, which will present themselves in the course of the enquiry on which we are about to enter, will, in a degree compensate, it must be hoped, for the rather dry and abstract nature of some of the calculations and reasonings which must be employed.
Origin of Farmers' Rents.
That system of cultivation by peasants, which we have been examining, and the various relations between the landlords and the husbandmen to which it gives birth, have been succeeded on particular spots of the globe, slowly and partially, by a different mode of managing agriculture, and the effect of this change on rents we have now to trace.
After a certain progress in civilization and wealth, the wages of the laboring class consist no longer of a revenue which they themselves extract from the earth; food accumulates in the hands of capitalists (or persons using their accumulated stock to make a profit from it) in sufficient quantities to enable them to advance the laborer his maintenance during the progress of his various tasks; they receive the produce of those tasks when completed, and the great essential step has then been taken, which confers on a class of men distinct from both landlords and laborers, the management of the national industry.
This change usually begins with the non-agricultural classes; it is the artizans and the handicraftsmen who first range themselves under the management of capitalists; and to this point most nations, which have any. pretensions to civilization, have advanced. The case is different with the cultivators. Among some of the most polished people of the globe, and over the greater part of its surface, the agricultural laborers are themselves the managers of agriculture: their wages, as we have seen, never subsist in any other character than that of a revenue of their own, and they exert and direct their labor at their own discretion.
There are, however, districts of very small comparative extent, in which both the agricultural and other laborers are fed and employed by capitalists. These capitalists receive of course the produce of the labor they maintain, and are responsible to the owner of the soil for its stipulated rent.
One of the immediate consequences of this change is the power of moving at pleasure the labor and capital employed in agriculture, to other occupations. While the tenant was himself a laboring peasant, forced, in the absence of other funds for his maintenance, to extract it himself from the soil, he was chained to that soil by necessity; and the little stock he might possess, since it was not sufficient to procure him a maintenance unless used for the single purposes of cultivation, was virtually chained to the soil with its master. But when the employers of the laborers hold in their hands an accumulated fund equal to their support, this dependance on the soil is broken: and unless as much can be gained by employing the working class on the land, as from their exertions in various other employments, which in such a state of society abound, the business of cultivation will be abandoned.
Rent, in such a case, necessarily consists merely of surplus profits; that is, of all that can be gained by employing a certain quantity of capital and labor upon the land, more could be gained by it in any other occupation.
Severance of the Connection between Rent and Wages
Rents thus constituted, cease at once to decide the amount of wages. While obliged to extract his own food from the earth, the quantity of produce which the laborer retained, the amount, that is, of his real wages, depended, we have seen, mainly on the contract made with the proprietor.
When the engagement of the laborer is with a capitalist, this dependance on the landlord is dissolved, and the amount of his wages is determined by other causes. These we shall hereafter trace; but the termination of the influence of rents on wages, is an era in the progress of both, too marked to be passed in silence. It is this circumstance which mainly distinguishes the agricultural laborers of England from those of the rest of the world. For if we except Holland and the Netherlands, England is the only country in which the system of rents we are about to examine, prevails exclusively, or even principally.
Different Modes in which Farmers' Rents may increase.
When rents consist of surplus profits, there are three causes from which the rent of a particular spot of ground may increase, First, an increase of the produce from the accumulation of larger quantities of capital in its cultivation; Secondly, the more efficient application of capital already employed; Thirdly, (the capital and produce remaining the same) the diminution of the share of the producing classes in that produce, and a corresponding increase of the share of the landlord. These causes may combine in different proportions in the aug mentation of the rents of a country cultivated by capitalists, but when the distinct power and mode of operation of each are once understood, their joint action will be easily calculated.
On the Progress and Effects of a Rise of Rents from an Increase of Produce, caused by the Use of more Capital in Cultivation.
In thinly peopled and rude countries, the quantity of labor and capital employed in the cultivation of the soil, is usually small when compared with the extent of ground occupied. Wide natural pastures on which a few cattle pick up a precarious living, ploughed lands worked to exhaustion, and then carelessly rested, rude implements, scanty buildings, deficient fencing and draining, these circumstances all mark the agriculture of Poland or Hungary, and very many other countries, now, as they did that of England in other days. As the numbers and skill of the people increase, the modes of cultivation and the face of the country change: the districts devoted to forests or rough pasturage shrink, the ground is either converted into rich meadows, or ploughed up, and made, by a judicious rotation of crops, to combine with and strengthen the general system of the farmer. The portion of the old cultivated lands once devoted to leys and fallows is carefully attended to, becomes less in extent, and has its productiveness increased by being made to bear green crops while resting from corn. While this change is in progress, the cattle maintained for draft or slaughter multiply rapidly: better and more numerous implements, drains, fences an buildings make their appearance: all, and perhaps more than all, the labor and capital which once loosely occupied 500 acres, are now concentrated for the more complete tillage of 100.
We have to examine what must be the effects of this progressive increase of capital on the surplus profits or rents realized on each portion of the soil.
Corn may be selling either at a monopoly price, that is, at a price which more than pays the costs and profits of those who grow it under the least favourable circumstances; or at such a price as will only repay their common profits. Let us first consider it, as selling at a monopoly price. `Then, abstracting from all difference of fertility in the soils cultivated, the rent will consist of that portion of the price of the produce, which exceeds the cost of production, and the ordinary rate of profit on that cost. Let 10 per cent. be the ordinary rate of profit. If the corn produced on any spot of land by £100. sold for £115., the rent would be £5. If in the progress of improvement the capital employed on the same land were doubled, and the produce doubled, then £200. would yield £230., and £220. being capital and profits, the surplus, or £10., would be rent, and the rent will be doubled. If corn, then, is at a monopoly price, increased produce obtained by increased capital (prices remaining the same) may increase the rents, in proportion to the increased capital laid out.
Such a case as this, though very unusual, may occur: and therefore must not be omitted. In small communities corn may be constantly at a monopoly price. It is so probably in the Isle of Jersey, where there is always a pressing demand for raw produce, which in war kept up rents to £14. per English acre, and in peace to £6. or £7. In larger countries too, though possessing much uncultivated soil, corn may, for a long period of time, be at a monopoly price, pro.. vided the increase of population keeps steadily ahead of the increase of tillage.
It must be confessed, however, that a continuous monopoly price of corn is a circumstance which, though not impossible, is very unusual in countries of considerable extent and great variety of soil. In such countries, if the produce of the soils in cultivation sells for more than will realize the usual rate of profit on the capital employed, other lands are cultivated; or more capital laid out on the old lands, till the cultivator finds he can barely get the ordinary profit on his outlay. Then, of course, tillage will stop, and in such countries, therefore, corn is usually sold at a price, not more than sufficient to replace the capital employed under the least favorable circumstances, and the ordinary rate of profit on it: and the rent paid on the better soils is then measured by the excess of their produce over that of the poorest soil cultivated by similar capitals. If A be a soil which produces to a quantity of capital (n) 10 quarters, and pays the ordinary profits on stock; then B, if to the same capital (a) it yields 12 quarters, will have the price of two quarters as surplus profits, and will pay it as rent. Let us suppose a country then, possessing gradations of toil, increasing in fertility from A to Z, of which A returns to £100. £110., and the others progressively to Z, more than £110. This will represent the real position of the soils cultivated in such extensive countries. In the progress if numbers, of wealth and knowledge, let us suppose a rude and unskilful mode of cultivation gradually giving place to a better; and additional capital and labor accumulating for the more complete culture of every class of soil: and then let us observe what would be the necessary effects upon rents (or surplus profits) of this general accumulation of capital, in the cultivation of soils of unequal goodness.
Let A have been formerly cultivated with £100. yielding annually £110., £10. being the ordinary profits on stock: and B with £100. yielding £115.: and C with £100. yielding £120.: and so on to Z. As all above £110. on each would be surplus profits. or rent, the rent of B would be £5., and that of C £10., &c. &c. In some indefinite time let each of these qualities of soil be cultivated with a capital of £200., and their relative fertility remaining as before, let their produce be proportionably increased, A will produce £220., B £230., C £240. All above £220. on each will now be surplus profits, or rent. The rent of B, therefore, will have become £10., that of C £20. That is, the rent of each will have doubled. It is in this manner that the increasing amount of capital employed on the land of an improving country necessarily elevates rents (or the surplus profits) on all the better soils; and this quite independently of alterations, either in the relative fertility of the soils cultivated, or in the amount of produce obtained by the application of given quantities of capital to the inferior soils.
It may be suggested, perhaps, that though we admit the additional capital employed on the worst soil, to yield the same profit as that with which it was originally cultivated, (a circumstance of which we shall presently examine the probability), still it is not probable that the better lands will yield a larger produce to the additional capital used, exactly proportioned to the superiority of their original fertility. This may be so, and a rise of rents will still take place, but it will be different in amount.
They yielded to the first £100. laid out as capital, A £110., B £115., C £120. Let them yield to the second, A £110., B £113., C £118. All above £110. of the additional produce will be rent, B will then pay £3. additional rent, C £8. The relative fertility of the different soils will be changed. The superiority of the better soils will have become less, if considered relatively to the whole mass of capital now employed on each; but still rents will rise generally: not so much, however, it will be observed, as if the relative fertility of the various soils, after the additional outlay on all, remained precisely the same. It is probable, that in most instances the actual rise will accord with the first calculation; and that the several additions will be proportioned to the original goodness of the soils. If B and C had a certain superiority over A, when cultivated in rough pastures, corn crops, and fallows, then when the pasture and fallows of each have, by the application of more labor and capital, been covered with pulse, roots, or artificial grasses, it is probable that the superior productiveness of each will continue to be in about the same proportion. All, however, that is necessary to effect a rise of rents over the surface of a country possessing soils of unequal goodness, is this: that the better soils should yield to the additional capital employed upon them in the progress of cultivation, something more than the soils confessedly inferior to them; for then while means can be found of employing fresh capital on any soil between the extremes A and Z, at the ordinary rate of profit, rents will rise on all the. soils superior to that particular soil.
Once more, then, the general accumulation of the capital employed in cultivation, while it augments the produce of all gradations of soils, somewhat in proportion to their original goodness, must of itself raise rents; without reference to any progressive diminution in the return to the labor and capital employed, and, indeed, quite independently of any other cause whatever. We know that a great increase in the amount of capital employed in agriculture, is observable in the progress of all improving countries, as it has taken place in our own. This cause, therefore, must necessarily have a very considerable share in producing the rise of rents, which ordinarily takes place in all countries increasing in riches and population.
This might reasonably be expected: a general increase of the produce of the land, following the application of additional capital and labor to its more perfect cultivation, seems a very natural and obvious cause of a rise of rents.
It has, however, been very positively denied, that rents can ever be thus increased; even in the strongest case we have put, that of an undiminished return to additional capital, and an unaltered proportion in the produce of the different soils.
It has been stated, indeed, that such an undiminished return to the additional capital bestowed upon the old land is impossible from the laws of nature; and that if possible, it would effectually keep down rents: that all improvements in agriculture must check their progress, and so be prejudicial to the interests of the landlords: and that nothing can raise rents but some cause which shall alter the relative fertility of the lands in cultivation. These are the well known opinions of Mr. Ricardo. That gentleman having adopted as the basis of a very complicated and ingenious system of the distribution of wealth, the single fact of a progressive and invariable diminution to the returns of agricultural labor, decided that this was the cause, and the sole cause, of every general rise of rents which could take place in the progress of nations. It became necessary, then, for him to shew that every other supposed source of increasing rents was imaginary, and among them the one we have been stating, namely, a generally increased produce, from the employment of greater quantities of capital in cultivation. Mr. Ricardo accordingly first declares: "That with every increased portion of capital employed upon the land, there must be a diminished rate of production."(1)
This proved, it would of course be impossible that the produce should increase, as we have supposed it to increase, in the same proportion as the capital laid out. But he further declares, that if it could so increase, no rise of rents would follow: he says: "If capital could be indefinitely employed upon the old land without a diminished return, there could be no rise of rent."(2) "Improvements in agriculture, which are common to all lands, and do not much disturb the relative proportions which before existed between them, cannot raise rent, because nothing can raise rent but a demand for new land of an inferior quality, or some cause that shall occasion an alteration in the relative fertility of the land already under cultivation." "Rent invariably proceeds from the employment of an additional quantity of labor, with a proportionally less return."(3)
The opinion that the powers of agricultural capital necessarily decrease, as the quantity employed increases, is the one of which, perhaps, it is the most important to see the unsoundness: if no additional produce could ever be obtained from the soil, without a diminished return to the capital and labor employed, such a law of production would materially influence, no doubt, though in different directions, the fortunes of all classes of society. And if there be no such law, those who have set out with assuming its existence and unceasing action and influence, must necessarily have been led into very serious mistakes as to the real causes of that gradual increase of the revenues of the landed proprietors which is usually seen to keep pace with the progress of the art of cultivation.
Mr. Ricardo's views of the necessary decrease in the return to every successive portion of the capital and labor bestowed on the same land, are put very distinctly and forcibly by Mr. Mill, whose work, in many of its parts, is a condensed exposition of Mr. Ricardo's opinions.
"A piece of land," Mr. Mill says, in the commencement of his Section on rent,(4) "may be capable of yielding annually 10 quarters of corn, or twice 10, or 3 times 10. It yields, however, the first 10, with a certain quantity of labor, the second 10 not without a greater, the third 10 with a greater still, and so on; every additional 10 requiring to its production a greater cost than the 10 which preceded it. This is well known to be the law, according to which, by a greater expenditure of capital, a greater produce is obtained, from the same portion of land."
The law thus unhesitatingly described by Mr. Mill, and as unhesitatingly reasoned upon by Mr. Ricardo and all his followers, as the sole basis of their theory of rent, is one, the existence of which it requires, at least, strong facts to prove. If every successive addition to the produce of the soil requires additional cost to obtain it, then improved cultivation and increased crops are, really, only steps in the declension of the powers of agriculture.
The average corn produce of England at one time did not exceed 12 bushels per acre; it is now about double. Arc we to believe that there is a law of nature, which makes it inevitable that the cost of getting 24 bushels from one acre is really more than the cost of getting the same quantity from two?
Very obvious considerations point, surely, to an opposite conclusion. The more contracted space in which the operations of the husbandry, which produces the 24 bushels, are now carried on, must give some advantages, and save some expense; the fencing, draining, seed, harvest work, and even tillage to some extent, must surely be less when confined to an acre, than when spread over two. The ancient agriculturists were certainly of this opinion, as I believe the moderns are. "Nec dubium," says Columella, "quin minus reddat laxus ager non recte cultus quam augustus eximie."(5)
That there is a certain point, beyond which human labor cannot be employed upon a limited spot of ground, without a diminished return to its exertions, must be admitted at once. lint in the progress of those improvements in the art of cultivation, by which its most profitable amount of produce is approached, it may be very possible, that every successive portion of the capital and labor concentrated on the land, may be more economically and efficiently applied than the last.
Such a law would be at least as probable a priori as that which supposes that heavier crops, and less productive cultivation, are inseparable.
If indeed we were to confine our views to some very minute spot of ground, to a square yard, for instance, we might for an instant be misled into acquiescing in the plausibility, at least, of this unpleasant version of the laws of nature. When such a spot had been weeded, and dug, and drained, and manured, as well as our present knowledge made possible, it might seem that more labour bestowed upon it must be more feebly rewarded.
Even as to such a limited spot we might possibly be mistaken: but when we include in our view larger districts, such as are usually cultivated under the direction of one person, the case becomes altogether different; because we must then take into calculation the increased power gained by increased skill in the combination and succession of different crops, and in the modes of consuming them, and making them react on the fertility of the farms.
It has already been stated, that in the course which agriculture has ordinarily followed, from rudeness towards perfection, men have began by devoting a considerable portion of the ground to pasture, while another has been kept ploughed for grain crops, and rested by occasional fallows, or leys, as the exhausted fields were once called in England, when abandoned to their natural produce for a time, though destined to be ploughed up again.
Let us suppose 1000 acres to have been thus treated; that the demand for human food increases, and that it becomes necessary by more laborious cultivation, to force the powers of the soil.
The measures this has ordinarily led to, have been the breaking up the whole, or a portion of the pasture land, covering the fallows and leys with roots, artificial grasses, and various green crops; feeding an increased number of cattle, with the produce of ploughed ground, producing thus more animal manure, keeping the powers of the earth in more constant and vigorous action, and obtaining thus from every part of the farm a more abundant produce.
While these changes are in progress, much more capital and labor must be bestowed upon the cultivation of 1000 acres. Now how does the fundamental proposition in the theory of rent, promulgated by Messrs. Ricardo, Mill and Macculloch, apply to the state of things here described?
As the national agriculture thus becomes in the progress of ages more complete and scientific, may not the increased labor and capital used be requited at least as amply as the smaller quantity before employed. under a more ignorant or indolent system. Must every additional 10 bushels of corn necessarily, be obtained by a larger comparative outlay? Is there -really a law of nature which makes this result inevitable? Surely it is neither impossible nor improbable, that the earth, under an improving system of husbandry, may disclose powers of rewarding as bountifully the skilful and efficient industry bestowed upon her, as she did the languid and ignorant ope rations of a less laborious cultivation. There is an indefinite point, no doubt, beyond which agricultural production cannot be forced without a loss; but we must not, therefore, conclude, that man with increasing knowledge and means, cannot advance from his rudest essays towards this indefinite point, without sustaining at each step a loss of productive power, and that he who extracts 40 bushels of wheat from an acre of ground, is necessarily worse paid than he who extracts 30; and he who extracts 30, worse than he who extracts 10. The stature of man is limited: there is a point beyond which we know that it would be idle to expect that a human being should increase in height, without decreasing in strength and energy. If we were to argue, thence, that every inch added to a young person's stature in his progress to maturity must be followed by increasing debility, we should argue very ill: but not worse surely than those, `who having observed that in the culture of the earth there is a point beyond which fresh labor bestowed must produce feebler results; lay it down as a law `of nature, that no additional labor can at any time be bestowed upon the earth, without a return, less in proportions than that yielded to the labor before applied.
We may reject, therefore, as fanciful, the doctrine of Mr. Ricardo and his school, when they would teach us, that "with every increased portion of capital employed upon the land there will be a decreased rate of production." And we may proceed to consider those positions in which they maintain, that even supposing them wrong in this, and admitting that capital may continue to accumulate with undiminished power on the lands cultivated, still no augmentation of rents could possibly proceed from such a cause.
These opinions are embodied in the following passages:" If capital could be indefinitely employed without a diminished return on the old land, there could be no rise of rent, for rent invariably proceeds from the employment of an additional quantity of labor, with a proportionally less return."(6)
The truth of the last of these two propositions depends evidently upon that of the first, of which we shall presently see the value. Mr. Ricardo afterwards states that "Improvements in agriculture, and in the division of labor are common to all land, they increase the absolute quantity of raw produce obtained from each, but do not much disturb the relative proportions which before existed between them." And thence he argues that such improvements will not raise rents, because "Nothing can raise rent, but a demand for new land of an inferior quality, or some cause which shall occasion an alteration in the relative fertility of the land already under cultivation."(7) To try the soundness of these positions, let us take a case where all the circumstances of which they affect to state the effects concur, that is,Where more capital is employed upon the land without a diminished return, and where this additional capital, increasing the absolute quantity of raw produce obtained from each gradation of soil, does not disturb the proportions which before existed between their produce. Let A represent a. class of land which returns only the ordinary profits of stock at 10 per cent. and pays no rent; Let B, C and D represent other portions of better land, also cultivated with a capital of £100., and let their produce be as follows:
A B C D
£110. £115. £120. £130.
All above £110 in each, will be surplus profits, or rent, of which rent B will pay £5., C £10., and D £20. Next let the capital employed on each be doubled, without a diminished return, and without disturbing the proportion between the produce of each, or altering their relative fertility, their produce will be as follows:
A B C D
£220. £ 230. £240. £260.
All above £220. in each will be surplus profit, or rent, of which B will pay £10., C £20., and D £40.
That is, the rent of each will be doubled.
And it is clear, that with every additional portion of capital, laid out with similar effect, rents will increase proportionably, that is, will double, when capital is doubled, treble, when it is trebled, quadruple, when it is quadrupled, and so on indefinitely, as long as capital can be employed upon the old land without a diminished return, and without altering the relative fertility of the soils cultivated.
It is sufficiently evident, that abstracting from all other causes of increase, rents do, and must rise in this manner, in all improving countries, as more and more capital is invested in agriculture. We have seen, however, that it is not essential to the rise that the proportion between the fertility ol the soils should be exactly stationary.(8)
From his general train of reasoning, one would be tempted to believe, that Mr. Ricardo, in deny- ing that the accumulation of capital could ever raise rents, without some decrease in its productive powers, had wholly overlooked the necessarily unequal effects of additional capital on soils of unequal fertility: and had assumed in his own mind, that the effect produced on the worst soils by all the additional capital employed on agriculture, would equal the effect it produced on the best. On the present occasion, however, he committed no such oversight, he himself has added the supposition, that their produce should be proportionally increased, and his denial of the necessary effects of this unequal increase on rents is therefore the more unaccountable. Another assertion we may observe is, that nothing can raise rents but a demand for new land of an inferior quality, or some cause which shall occasion an alteration in the relative fertility of the land already cultivated. This opinion is certainly not less erroneous, than that which decides on the entire inefficiency of an indefinite accumulation of capital, in raising rents, but it is more easily accounted for. Mr. Ricardo, overlooking altogether the peasant tenantry, which occupy ninety-nine hundredths of the globe, had persuaded himself that the existence of a gradation of soils of different fertility was the only cause, why rents ever existed at all. It was not unnatural, therefore, that he should conclude, that an alteration in their relative fertility was the sole cause of every variation of rents: but even admitting for a moment the correctness of these premises, this conclusion would be fallacious. If we suppose the existence of a gradation of soils to be (what it most certainly is not) the sole cause of the payment of rents, it would still be untrue, that "nothing can raise rents but some cause which shall occasion an alteration in the relative fertility of the. lands cultivated." If we take it for granted with Mr. Ricardo, that a difference in the natural fertility of soils is the sole origin of rent; still it is the absolute difference of their products which must always determine the amount of the rents paid at any given time, and this difference, and consequently the amount of rents may be increased indefinitely, while the proportion between the several products of all the soils cultivated to equal quantities of capital, that is, while their relative fertility, remains unaltered.
If abstract numbers, bearing a certain proportion to each other, are multiplied by the same number, we know that though the proportion borne by the products to each other, will be the same as those of the original numbers; yet the difference between the amounts of the several products, will increase at each step of the process. If 10, 15, 20, be multiplied by 2 or 4, and become 20, 30, 40, or 40, 60, 80, their relative proportions will not be disturbed 80 and 60 bear the same proportion to 40, as 20 and 15 do to 10: but the differences between the amount of their products will have increased at each operation, and from being 5 and 10, become 10 and 20, and then 20 and 40.
So if soils have a relative fertility, which is indicated by their producing to a capital of £100, respectively £110., £115. and £130., and then the capital employed be doubled, and the produce doubled, their produce will become £220., £230. and £260.; and the difference between the amount of their products, or their rents would be doubled, though their relative fertility remained precisely what it was. Al though, therefore, the difference between the relative fertility of soils were the sole cause of rents, it would not follow, that nothing could raise rents but some cause which altered the relative fertility of the lands cultivated, since any cause would raise rents, which increased the amount of produce of all, while it left their relative fertility untouched; and just such a cause would be that indefinite increase of capital on the old soils, without a diminished return, which Mr. Ricardo so stoutly declares, would make it impossible, that the revenue of the landed proprietors could ever increase at all.(9)
Upon pushing this very simple arithmetical calculation a little farther, it will be seen yet more clearly, that Mr. Ricardo was utterly mistaken in supposing, even on his own shewing, that an increased difference in the relative fertility of soils was essential to a rise of rents, since rents may clearly rise, even while the difference between the relative fertility of the soils is diminishing; provided the absolute quantity of produce in each class is increasing. If £100. be employed on classes A, B and C, with a produce of £110., £115. and £120., and subsequently £200., with returns of £200., £228. and £235., the relative differences of the products will have diminished, and the soils will have approximated in fertility; still the difference of the amounts of their products will be increased from £5. and £10. to £8. and £15., and rents will have risen accordingly. Improvements, therefore, which tend to approximate the degrees of fertility of the cultivated soils, may very well raise rents, and that without the co-operation of any other cause.
This process goes on often in practice. The turnip and sheep husbandry, and the fresh capital employed to carry it on, produced a greater alteration in the fertility of the poor soils, than in that of the better; still it increased the absolute produce of each, and, therefore it raised rents, while it diminished the differences in the fertility of the soils cultivated.
We have attempted to shew, that increasing produce from all the qualities of soil in a country, produced by the application of more capital and labor, will necessarily raise rents in an extensive country farmed by capitalists, from the unequal returns to that capital and labor on lands of unequal goodness :that rents will thus be raised without its being necessary to suppose any alteration in the relative fertility of the soils cultivated, any resort to inferior soils, or any diminution in the produce obtained by agricultural labor on the old soils: and that there is no foundation whatever for the opinion, that in every stage of such a process, every portion of additional produce successively got from the same lands, must necessarily be obtained by a less advantageous expenditure of labor and capital.
Mr. Ricardo, however, is not only of opinion, as we have seen, that increased produce so obtained could never raise rents, but he asserts that it would actually lower them, at least for a time; that is, till the only cause which he contends can ever possibly raise rents, comes into play, and additional capital is laid out with a diminished return, either upon fresh lands, or upon some portion of the old land. The way in which he defends this rather startling opinion, that increasing crops will be the cause of decreasing rents, is this: he assumes, that if the produce of the land be increased while the population is standing still, and the demand is stationary, some of the land will be thrown out of employment; and the difference between the fertility of the lands actually cultivated, will be diminished; a circumstance which in Mr. Ricardo's system is invariably stated, as we have seen, to lead to a decrease of rents.(10) "If" he says, "a million of quarters of corn, be necessary for the support of a given population, and it be raised on land of the qualities of 1, 2, 3, and if an improvement be afterwards discovered, by which it can be raised on No. 1 and 2, without employing No. 3, it is evident that the immediate effect must be a fall of rent: for No. 2, instead of No. 3, will then be cultivated without paying any rent: and the rent of No. 1, instead of being the difference between the produce of No. 3 and No. 1, will be the difference only between No. 2 and No. 1. With the same population and no more there can be no demand for any additional quantity of corn; the capital and labor employed on No. 3 will be devoted to the production of other commodities desirable to the community, and can have no effect in raising rent, unless the raw material from which they are made cannot be obtained without employing capital less advantageously on the land, in which case No. 3 must again be cultivated." This passage contains the substance of the reasoning on which Mr. Ricardo founds his frequently repeated assertion, that agricultural improvements are always detrimental to the landlords.
Now what would happen while produce was for some time slowly and steadily increasing, while population and demand continued the same, and no more, we need not trouble ourselves to enquire. It is a case, which it will be admitted on all hands is never likely to occur. Neither is this the case put by Mr. Ricardo; he supposes a sudden spread of improvement, by which, as by the stroke of a magic wand, two-thirds of the land of a country are made to produce as much as the whole did immediately before, while the population continues the same, and no more, in which case he supposes the cultivation of one-third of the land would be unnecessary, and cease, and that rents would fall over the whole country.
It is only necessary to remember the slowly progressive manner in which agricultural improvements are practically discovered, completed, and spread, to perceive how very visionary this supposition of Mr. Ricardo's really is. If two-thirds of the lands of England should ever produce as much as the whole does now, (an event extremely probable) we may be quite sure that it will be by no sudden and magical stride that the improvement will establish itself: that the means of effecting it will be discovered in small portions at a time, perhaps at considerable intervals, and will be adopted into general practice tardily, and we may almost predict, reluctantly and suspiciously.(11) In the mean time, population and the demand for raw produce will not have been standing still. In thc process by which increased supplies of food are produced for an increasing population, we observe no such wide dislocations between the supply and demand, no such sudden starts and jerks as Mr. Ricardo is driven to suppose, in order to prove that all improvements in agriculture are unfavorable to the interests of the landlords. As the mass of the people slowly increase, we see the gradual pressure of demand stimulating the agriculturists to improvements, which by an imperceptible progression of the supply, keep the people fed. While these processes are going on, every increase of produce, occasioned by the general application, to the old soils, of more capital, acting upon them with unequal effect, according to the differences of their original fertility, raises rents; and the interests of the landlords are at no moment opposed to improvements, which while they increase tile mass of raw produce, are as favorable to the augmentation of the revenues of the owners of the soil, as they are essential to the well being of the people.
It may seem hardly necessary to state, that increased rents, brought about in the manner we have now been describing, constitute a portion of fresh wealth created by the industry of the country, and are an unquestionable and satisfactory evidence of the general increase of its resources. It so happens, however, that the same train of reasoning which has led Mr. Ricardo and his school to deny that rents can ever rise except from one cause (namely, the laying out capital upon some portion of land with a less return, and the consequent diminution of the share of the productive classes in all the rest,) has led them to maintain, as one of the consequences of this doctrine, that a rise of rent is in all cases a mere transfer of wealth already existing, never a creation of it; that it adds nothing to the resources of a country; that it does not enable it to maintain fleets and armies; that it is a mere transfer of value advantageous only to the landlord, and proportionably injurious to the consumer. Supposing Mr. Ricardo's opinion, as to the one exclusive cause of every increase of rents, to be correct, then this doctrine must also be correct.(12) If the soils A, B, C and D, produce, A £110., B £115., C £120, D £180.; then the share of the producing classes in each, being £110, A will pay no rent; and the rents of B, C and D will be £5., £10., and £20. respectively. If only one mode of raising the amount of rents paid by these soils existed, namely, the reduction of the share of the producing classes from £ 110. to some other sum, say £ 108., and the transfer of the difference to the landlords; then the produce being still forA £110., B £115., C £120., D £ 180., but the share of the producing classes being reduced to £ 108. in each; rents would rise to the extent of £ 8. on the whole. A, which before paid no rent, would pay £2., B £7., C £12., D £22. But though rents had risen, the resources of the country would remain precisely what they were. There would have been a partial transfer of wealth, and no alteration in its amount; that transfer would have been advantageous certainly to the land. lords, and proportionably injurious to the producing classes; and from the rise in the relative value of raw produce, which, for reasons we need not state now, would accompany the change, the transfer would, to some extent, be injurious to consumers of every class. In this case, we have supposed the produce in consonance with Mr. Ricardo's views, to be stationary;(13) this is one mode unquestionably in which rents may rise to an unlimited extent; but it is only one, certainly the least common, and by much the least efficient cause of the increase of farmers' rents: and in laying down general principles on the subject of rent, we can hardly avoid being involved in error by confining ourselves to such an imperfect view of the various sources of its increase, and arguing on an assumption so contrary to obvious facts and every day experience as this, that while rents are rising, the amount of the national produce is always stationary.
The effects on national wealth of a rise of rents from increased production, obtained by the employment of additional capital, are of a widely different complexion from those exclusively contemplated by Mr. Ricardo. Let us again suppose A, B, C, D, to produce respectively £110., £115., £120., and £180., in a country in whieh the art of agriculture is backward and imperfect. As skill and wealth increase, let its cultivation become more and more complete, and the capital employed on these soils be doubled; and let them yield (prices remaining the same), A £220., B £230., C £ 240., D £260. A will still pay no rent, but there will have been a rise of rents on the other soils, amounting in the whole to £35., B will pay £10., C £ 20., D £40., and these new rents will be a clear addition to the national resources, founded on the creation of fresh wealth: no class will be the poorer, nothing will have happened which is injurious to any one; there will have been no transfer of wealth; the relative value of raw produce will (for any thing involved in this change) have remained perfectly stationary: and in proportion to this addition to its former resources, will the country abound more in the "necessaries, conveniences, and enjoyments of society," and be better able "to maintain, fleets and armies," or make any other financial effort, than it was. The increased rent, however, will form but a part, and not the most important part, of the augmented wealth and additional resources, which the same multiplication of capital that created the rent, will produce and place in other hands than those of the landlords. In the case we have put, it will be observed, that while rents have doubled, agricultural capital, wages and profits, have doubled too. The land of the community produces twice what it did, and its territorial resources have doubled, although its frontier has not been extended; and while this process is continued and repeated, which in the progress of a skilful and wealthy people, it may be more than once, such a people will continue to multiply in numbers, in riches, and in political strength, compared with neighbouring nations, among whom a ruder and more inefficient mode of culture may continue to prevail. Increased rents, `therefore, originating in the accumulation of capital on the land, and in increased production, are not only themselves a clear addition to the resources of a country, but necessarily indicate a yet greater addition in the hands of the producing classes ;an addition which is substantially equivalent to the progressive enlargement of the territory itself.
There is one sense in which the proposition, that rent is no addition to the wealth and resources of a country, is a truth, though a very insignificant truth: when it is merely meant, that the produce of the land and labor of a country being determined, the appropriation of a part of it as rent, makes the nation, collectively, no richer than it was before; this certainly is a truth, or rather a puerile truism. The produce of the land and labor of a country being once determined, the amount of its collective wealth cannot of course be affected by the subsequent appropriation of it; whether it be devoted wholly to wages, to profits, or even taxes, the nation collectively is as rich and no richer than it was. But when it is asserted, as Mr. Ricardo obviously means to assert, that in the progress of society, increasing rents merely indicate a transfer of a part of the wealth already existing, and never form any real addition to the resources of a nation, the proposition is an obvious fallacy, founded on his own peculiarly imperfect view of the sources in which successive additions to the rents of a country originate.
Different Effects of Capitol employed in different Shapes.
So far we have traced the effects on rents of the accumulation of capital generally: that is, without distinguishing between the effects of the different shapes in which it may be applied to the land during the progress of its increase: and so far as the necessary effect of such an accumulation on rents was alone in question, this general view was sufficient.
But to observe more distinctly the probable progress of the increase of capital employed in agriculture, and the ultimate limit to it; and to trace its effects on the interests of the community, on the relative numbers and weight of the classes which compose it; and on the nature and direction of their industry, we must carefully distinguish between the effects of increasing capital when it is applied to the support of additional labor, and when it is applied as auxiliary to the industry of the laborers already employed, without any increase in their number.
I am aware that if we follow Mr. Ricardo, and some later writers, the distinction here made is fanciful. According to them, this auxiliary capital is the result of labor, and, tracing it sufficiently far back, of labor alone. Its employment, therefore, may be considered as the employment of the labor which was used to produce it: and whether a man works for ten days in producing a plough to be employed upon the soil, or works ten days upon the soil itself, he does virtually the same thing; in either case ten days labor has been employed in cultivation. There are some points of view, perhaps, in which this forced identification of the results of labor, with labor itself, may not be inadmissible, and may even be found convenient for the purposes of calculation. Mr. Ricardo, and the writers who have followed him, universally speak of the labor which a commodity has cost, as the sole foundation and measure of its value relatively to all other commodities. A quantity of corn produced by a month's labor of one man, and a plough produced by a month's labor of another man, would, according to them, be of precisely the same value. Hence all commodities must be estimated as so much accumulated labor. "Capital, or what is the same thing, labor," is an expression of Mr. Ricardo's which flows naturally enough from their theory of the origin and measure of value. This theory it is not necessary for our present purpose to examine. I beg, however, in passing, to be numbered among those who believe it defective, and who think that in comparing the exchangeable value of different commodities, other circumstances must be taken into consideration, besides the quantity of labor bestowed directly or indirectly upon each. But whether such a theory of value be sound or unsound, for the purposes of our present investigation, it will be necessary to think and speak of labor, and of the results of labor as two different things. It will hardly be denied, that the using an implement or manure to produce an effect in agriculture, or using directly on the land the labor which the implement or manure may have cost, are substantially distinct and different operations; that they may lead to different results, and each be practicable or profitable only under different circumstances. Now it is some of the effects of such differences that I am about to point out, because I think the knowledge of them will lay open important views of the present condition and possible progress of nations, and of the causes of those changes which take place gradually in the relative numbers and influence of the different bodies of men of which they are composed.
The first difference which we will remark, between the application of capital to agriculture in the support of additional laborers, and in the shape of implements, manures, drains, or any thing which is the result of past labor as auxiliary to the efforts of the laborers actually employed, is this, that in the first case, the quantity of human power, compared with the capital employed, remains unaltered;that in the second case, it is invariably increased. If a capital is used in employing three men on the soil, and then that capital is doubled, and six arc employed, the power employed in cultivation is doubled, but it is not more than doubled; we have no reason for assuming that the labor of the three men last employed, will be more efficient than that of the three men first employed. But if instead of employing the second capital in employing three fresh laborers, means are found of applying it in some of the shapes of auxiliary capital to increase the power of the three laborers already employed, we may then safely take it for granted that the efficiency of the human labor employed directly and indirectly in agriculture has been increased, and that the three men assisted by this auxiliary capital, will have powers which six men employing all their power directly to the soil, would not possess. To perceive this distinctly, it seems to be only necessary to call to mind what must be the constant motive to employ human labor in framing machinery or implements, or in obtaining auxiliary capital of any kind, in preference to employing that labor directly to obtain the end for which the auxiliary capital is to be used; and what are the usual steps by which the agricultural and manufacturing efforts of civilized nations gain efficiency, or travel from the rudeness and feebleness of the industrious efforts of the savage, to the power and comparative perfection of the arts of civilized man.
Man, in his attempts to obtain or fashion to his wants, the material objects of his desires, differs from the lower animals principally in this, that his intellect enables him to contrive the means of using the results of his past labor to push the efficiency of his actual exertions beyond the limits of his mere animal powers. While living on the game of the forest, the hunter devotes a portion of his time to forming his bow and arrows. If the weapons, when made, enabled him to secure no more game than he could have acquired by his unassisted exertions in the time spent in making them, we may be sure the acquisition of them would not continne to tempt him. The husbandman after scratching the ground for a time with the crooked branch of a tree, devised at last an artificially constructed iron plough: but if the effects on the soil of this plough when used, were no greater than those which the labor would have produced, which was spent in constructing the plough, had that labor been applied directly to the land, then we may be sure that the plough would not have been made. It is so with all the helps contrived by man to assist his labor from the feeblest and simplest to the most complicated and powerful. If the labor employed in constructing a steam engine could be applied with the same effect as the engine itself in the various arts and callings of life, we may be sure that steam engines would never have become common. Whenever, therefore, we see a nation's stock of wealth accumulating in the shape of auxiliary capital: when, instead of using their capital to support fresh laborers in any art, they prefer expending an equal amount of capital in some shape in which it is assistant to the labor already employed in that art, then we may conclude with perfect certainty, that the efficiency of human industry has increased relatively to the amount of capital employed.
In agriculture, the effects of auxiliary capital In strengthening human power, are less obvious. perhaps, than in manufactures; but certainly not less important. If we observe the quantity of implements, of live and dead stock, of fences, drains and buildings to be found on. the surface of 1000 acres of land in a highly cultivated country, and compare them with the wild and ill-occupied districts of rude nations, we shall see that even in agriculture, the efforts made by human intellect, to use the results of past labor in strengthening the actual power of the husbaudman to develope the resources of the earth, have been very considerable. The different extent to which different nations have achieved this, forms one of the most important distinctions between them. As man, in his rudest state, and when chiefly employed in satisfying his bare physical wants, is distinguished from the brute creation by his capacity to use the hoarded results of his past exertions to augment his command over the material world; so when we view him in a more advanced state, and attempt to weigh and estimate the causes of the very distinct productive powers of different communities, perhaps equally enlightened, we shall find the different degrees of such power attained by each to be determined, and almost measured, by the different extent to which they have carried this original prerogative of the human race. The necessaries and luxuries of life are supplied, in all countries remarkable for their civilization, by the assistance of a certain quantity of auxiliary capital. But in the amount of that capital possessed and used by each, there is a wide difference. In this respect, England stands far ahead of the whole civilized world, and not less remarkably in her agriculture than in other departments of her industry. It appears from various returns made at different times to the Board of Agriculture, that the whole capital agriculturally employed in England, is to that applied to the support of laborers, as 5 to 1; that is, there are four times as much auxiliary capital used, as there is of capital applied to the maintenance of the labor used directly in tillage. In France, the auxiliary capital used does not amount (as appears from Count Chaptal's book,) to more than twice that applied to maintain rustic labor. In other European countries, the quantity is, I suspect, very much less.
Bearing in mind then, that at every step in the accumulation of auxiliary capital in cultivation, a difference is created in the power of human labor, which does not occur when capital increases only in the shape of additional maintenance for fresh workmen on the soil itself; we may proceed to the second difference between the effects of the employment of auxiliary capital, and of capital applied directly to the support of additional labor, which is this: that when a given quantity of additional capital is applied in the shape of the results of past labor, to assist the laborers actually employed, a less annual return will suffice to make the employment of such capital profitable, and, therefore, permanently practicable, than if the same quantity of fresh capital were expended in the support of additional laborers.
Let us suppose £100. employed upon the soil in the maintenance of three men, producing their own wages, and 10 per cent. profit on them, or £110. Let the capital employed upon this soil be doubled. And first let the fresh capital support three additional laborers. In that case, the increased produce must consist of the full amount of their wages, and of the ordinary rate of profit on them. It must consist, therefore, of the whole £100., and the profit on it; or of £110. Next let the same additional capital of £100. be applied in the shape of implements, manures, or any results cf past labor, while the number of actual laborers remains the same. And let this auxiliary capital last on the average five years: the annual return to repay the capitalist must now consist of £10. his profit, and of £20. the annual wear and tear of his capital: or £30. will be the annual return, necessary to make the continuous employment of the second £100. profitable, instead of £110., the amount necessary when direct labor was employed by it.
It will be obvious, therefore, that the accumulation of auxiliary capital in cultivation, will be practicable when the employment of the same amount of capital in the support of additional labor has ceased to be so: and that the accumulation of such capital in cultivation may go on for an indefinite period: that is, it may go on as long as human contrivance can use it to urge on the progress of human power in adding to the fertility of the soil, or what is the same thing, to the efficiency of the laborers employed upon it:provided only that the additional produce obtained at each step of the process is sufficient to pay the ordinary rate of profit on the fresh auxiliary capital so employed, together with the wear and tear of that capital.
Step by step, however, as the mass of such capital increases, the ingenuity of man must be at work to devise fresh modes of using it. To employ additional labor to increase the produce of the land, all that is necessary is to have the means of maintaining it. To employ more of the results of past labor in assisting the actual tillers of the earth requires constant contrivance and increasing skill.
`With the increase of the mass of auxiliary capital employed in agriculture rents will rise, from the unequal effects of that capital on soils of unequal goodness. But the rise of rents from the employment of any given quantity of auxiliary capital, will be less than that which would take place from the employment of an equal amount of capital in the maintenance of additional labor. The additional annual produce, we have seen, will be less, and the difference between the amount of the produce of equal capitals on soils of different gradations of fertility (on which difference rents depend) will be of course large, when the produce is large, and less, when it is smaller. For instance, let A, B, C and D produce as follows:
A B C D
£110. £115. £120. £130.
The differences, surplus profits, or rents on B, C and D, will be 5 + 10 + 20, or together £35. Let an additional £100. employed in the maintenance of additional labor, raise their produce to
A B C D
£220. £230. £240. £260.
Rents will be doubled. The addition to them will amount to another £35. But let the additional capital of £100. be applied in the results of past labor, auxiliary to the labor already employed; and let £30. be sufficient to pay the profits of that capital, and replace its annual wear and tear on A. If B, C and D yield a produce to the new capital fully proportioned to their original superiority over A, still their produce will not exceed (suppose,) A 140, B (115 +32) =147, C(120+34)154, D (130 + 36)= 166. The joint rents of the three will now be £47. instead of £35.: but instead of rents being doubled, and, as in the last instance, the addition amounting to £35., it will amount only to £12.; although, in the mean time, the amount of profits realized by the farmers will have doubled, as in the former case. The pro. gress of rents, therefore, though steady and constant, will be more slow, and bear a less proportion to the increased capital employed, and the advance of the incomes of the capitalists, when the additions to the agricultural capital of the country are made in the shape of auxiliary capital, than when those additions are made in the shape of capital employed in the support of additional labor:an apparent disadvantage to the landlords, which is amply compensated to them by the possibility of employing progressively increasing masses of such auxiliary capital to obtain fresh produce, when the maintaining additional labor on the soil for that purpose would be unprofitable and impracticable. We are to bear in mind, then, that the progress of auxiliary capital both increases the command of man over the powers of the soil, relatively to the amount of labor directly or indirectly employed upon it; and diminishes the annual return necessary to make the progressive employment of given quantities of fresh capital profitable that it presents in its accumulation a source of addition to the mass of rents, less copious, but more durable, and longer in arriving at its ultimate limits, than that derived from the direct employment of more labor.
Ejects of the Accumulation of auxiciliary Capital in Agriculture on the relative Numbers and Influence of the different Classes of the Community.
The accumulation in larger and larger masses of the results of past labor, not to maintain the laboring part of the actual population, but to augment the efficiency of their industry, is a process which exercises a decisive influence, not only on the comparative productive power of different nations, but on the various elements of their social and political composition. And in this point of view there are two prominent effects of this mode of increasing the efficiency of the cultivation which must be noticed: First, the great increase of the relative numbers of the non-agricultural classes: Secondly, the great increase of the revenues and influence (and ordinarily of the numbers) of the intermediate classes, or the classes existing between the proprietors and laborers. These changes in the relative numbers of the different parts of the community, exercise a considerable influence in moulding the fortune and character of nations. The effects of such changes we shall have to trace in another part of our work; it is our object now to shew the manner in which the changes themselves are produced.
The Employment of auxiliary Capital augments the relative
Numbers of the non-agricultural Classes.
When additional produce is obtained by the use of a proportional quantity of additional labor alone, the. relative numbers of the agricultural and non-agricultural classes remain unaltered. Let us suppose a capital of one million of money maintaining one million of agricultural laborers: the profits on the million, at 10 per cent. will be £100,000., and we may assume the rents paid to be as much more. The numbers of the non-agricultural population will depend on the quantity of raw produce which the laborers, from their revenue of one million, the capitalists and landlords from their revenues of £100,000 each, can spare to exchange for manufactured articles and non-productive labor.(14) Let that number be 250,000 souls, or one-fourth of the agriculturists. Let us suppose the agricultural capital employed in such a country doubled, and the agricultural labor doubled; that instead of one minion of laborers, two millions are employed, and that the produce, profits and rents are all doubled too. The habits of the people remaining the same, the quantity of raw produce applied to the maintenance of non-agricultural labor, will be doubled also; the non-agriculturists will become 500,000, and their relative number compared with the increased number of non-agriculturists will be precisely what it was. Their influence, and that of the produce of their industry on the habits of the mass of the people,the relative weight of their employers in the community,will also be precisely what it was, and no more: though the population of the country will have doubled, or nearly doubled.
Let us next suppose the agricultural capital in such a country to be doubled, but the additions to be used not as food to maintain more laborers on the soil, but in some shape auxiliary to the laborers already employed. And let us take the average duration of such auxiliary capital at five years. Then profits win have increased from 100,000 to 200,000. The increase of rents may be taken at 50,000, and the sum necessary to replace the annual wear and tear of a capital of one million lasting five years will be £200,000. Here will be a gross additional sum of £350,000. produced originally in the shape of agricultural produce and wholly applicable to the maintenance of non-agricultural labor; the numbers of the non-agricultural laborers will increase, while those of the agriculturists remain stationary, and this increase may go on swelling and repeating itself, till the non-agriculturists equal or exceed the agriculturists.
This has taken place in England, where the auxiliary capital employed in cultivation is greater than in any other part of the world, and where the non-agricultural population is actually to the agricultural as 2 to 1. In all other extensive countries, the agriculturists form the majority. In France they comprise two-thirds of the population: in most other countries much more.
The increase of auxiliary capital is certainly not the only circumstance which affects the proportionate numbers of the two great classes of cultivators and non-cultivators. Any cause which increases the efficiency of the actual cultivators may do so, but the increase of auxiliary capital is the only cause which, in the ordinary progress of civilized nations, we are sure must exercise a progressive influence in this respect.
The Increase of auxiliary Capital increases
the Revenue of the intermediate Classes.
The next point in which the effects of the employment of auxiliary capital, and of capital consumed in the direct maintenance of labor. differ, is this, that with the relative increase of auxiliary capital, a great increase ordinarily takes place in the relative revenues of the middling, or, to use a more comprehensive phrase, of the intermediate classes. This effect is not peculiar to the increase of auxiliary capital in cultivation, but follows its accumulation in all the branches of human industry. We must enlarge on this elsewhere: but our view of the effects which may be expected to accompany a rise of rents caused by the general accumulation of capital on the land, would be incomplete without adverting to it. If we suppose any capital (£100. for instance) employed upon the soil. wholly in paying the wages of labor, and yielding 10 per cent. profit, the revenue of the farmer will evidently be one-tenth that of the laborers. If the capital be doubled, or quadrupled, and the number of laborers be doubled or quadrupled too, then the revenue of the farmers will continue to bear the same proportion to that of the laborers. But if the number of laborers remaining the same, the amount of capital is doubled, profits at the same rate become £20., or one-fifth the revenue of the laborers. If the capital be quadrupled, profits become £40., or two-fifths of the revenue of the laborers: if capital be increased to £500., profits would become £50., or half the revenue of the laborers. And the wealth, the influence, and probably to some extent the numbers of the capitalists in the community, would be proportionably increased.
This point, at least, the accumulation of auxiliary capital in cultivation has reached in England. The whole capital employed, is to that advanced in wages at least as 5 : 1. The auxiliary capital, therefore, is equal to at least four times the capital used in the maintenance of labor, and the income of the capitalists employed in agriculture equal to at least half the wages paid to agricultural laborers.
I have supposed in the calculations hitherto made, that the amount of labor employed in cultivation has been stationary, while the amount of auxiliary capital has been accumulating. This is little likely ever to be true in practice. A great increase of capital, of whatever description, used in any art, usually makes the employment of some additional direct labor necessary. This circumstance, however, will not prevent the steady progress of the relative increase of the auxiliary capital.
The two last noticed results of the increase of auxiliary capital employed in agriculture, namely, the relative increase of the numbers of the non-agricultural classes, and the relative increase of the revenues and numbers of the intermediate classes, are both changes of considerable importance in the progress of society. Supposing two nations to have made in other respects nearly an equal progress in arts and manufactures; the abundance or scantiness with which each will be supplied with the decencies and artificial comforts of life, will depend entirely on the comparative size of that portion of each community, of which the industry is directed to occupations distinct from agriculture: and in every nation too, the amount of the fund which forms the revenue of the intermediate classes, or of the classes which in various gradations separate the higher from the lower orders, is a circumstance of great moment to the political and social character of the people.
While the revenue of the capitalists equals only one-tenth that of the laborers, they form no prominent portion of the community, and indeed must usually be laborers or peasants themselves. But a mass of profits equal to, or exceeding one-half the wages of labor (which mass exists in England) naturally converts the class receiving it into a numerous and varied body. Their influence in a community in which they are the direct employers of almost all the laborers, becomes very considerable: and what is in some respects of more importance, such a rich and numerous body of capitalists,as, descending from the higher ranks, they approach the body of the laborers by various gradations till they almost mingle with themform a species of moral conductors, by which the habits and feelings of the upper and middling classes are communicated downwards, and act more or less powerfully upon those of the very lowest ranks of the community.
The relative prevalence of artificial comforts, consequent on the existence of a large industrious non-agricultural population; ranks of society approaching and blending in successive orders, so that the higher are linked with the lower, and a channel of communication formed through which their moral influence may, to a certain extent, constantly pass to their inferiors; these arc circumstances, the practical effects of which we shall have to trace in another portion of our work, when we are examining the ordinary progress of the numbers of nations. They will be found to have an important bearing on our subject, while we remark various circumstances successively unfolding themselves in the progress of civilization, which tend to moderate the disposition of a people, to exert their full physical powers of increasing their aggregate numbers, and help to subject the animal passions of man to the partial control of motives, aims and habits peculiar to him as a rational being.
We will conclude here our examination of the first source enumerated of a rise of farmers' rents, namely, the progressive accumulation and unequal effects of capital on all gradations of soils.
We have found, that such an accumulation ordinarily takes place in the progress of population and wealth:
That the rise of rents, which proceeds from this cause, is wholly independent of the cultivation of inferior soils, and of the expenditure of capital on the old soils with a diminished return; and that it might go on indefinitely, though neither of these circumstances ever occurred:
That the additional capital may be employed in maintaining additional agricultural laborers; or in various shapes in which it is only auxiliary to the laborers already employed:
That when fresh capital is used in agriculture in the latter shape, the power of the human labor applied directly or indirectly to the soil, may be assumed to be increasing; while the quantity of additional produce necessary to make the employment of a given quantity of capital profitable, is decreasing:
That hence the accumulation of auxiliary capital with increasing effect on the land may go on, for an indefinite period, after the employment of additional capital, without a diminished return in maintaining more agricultural labor, has become impossible:
That with the employment of greater masses of auxiliarly capital, the relative numbers of the nonagricultural classes will increase; and also the revenue, the influence, and ordinarily the number and variety, of the intermediate classes, which connect the higher with the lower.
We have seen, that the general increase of production which follows such an accumulation of capital on the old soil, is a most important and beneficial addition to the territorial resources of the people among whom it takes place :and that there is practically no period of such an increase, at which the interests of the landed proprietors are not in strict unison with those of the population.
On the second Source of the Increase of Farmers' Rents, or on the increasing Efficiency of the Capital employed.
In the progress of agriculture, and after the establishment of farmers' rents, some improvements may be expected to take place in the efficiency of the capital employed in cultivation. Both the skill and power of the cultivating class increase. Their skill, because much thought is sedulously applied to the subject by men freed from the toilsome and absorbing occupations of the mere laborer, and not distracted like the landlords by loftier pursuits and more enticing occupations. With the increase of skill, the mere manual exertions of the laborer and the most ordinary and rudest implements and means become more efficient, because better directed and combined. But as the agriculturists increase in skill, they usually increase also in the power which they can apply to effect their purposes. The increase of auxiliary capital in all its shapes (one invariable effect of advancing wealth and knowledge) has a constant tendency, as we have seen, to put such increased power into their hands.
Of increased skill and increased power, an increase in the efficiency of the capital employed in cultivation is a necessary consequence, and may shew itself by two effects.
1st. Less capital may be necessary to produce a given quantity of produce from a spot of ground.
2nd. The same capital may produce from the same spot of ground a larger produce than it before yielded. The last of these improvements ordinarily includes the first. When, on any spot of ground £100. can be so employed, as to produce a larger return than the same amount of capital did before, then some smaller quantity of capital will usually obtain the same produce which £100. once did. But the first improvement mentioned, does not always include the last; for means are sometimes discovered of getting the same amount of produce cheaper, when no means have been hit on of increasing it. In whichever result, however, the increasing efficiency of the capital employed shews itself, rents will rise, and unless the progress of improvement outstrips the progress of population, and the growth of produce exceeds the growth of demand, (an event rarely to be expected,) this rise of rents, from the increased efficiency of the capital employed, will be permanent; and it will ordinarily coincide, as we shall presently see, with an extension of the agricultural wealth, the population, strength, and resources of the country. If £90. can be made to produce what £100. formerly produced from the same spot of ground, say £110., the profits realized will have risen from 10 per cent. to somewhat more than 20. Of these profits, somewhat more than £10. will be surplus profits or rents. Again, if £100. formerly produced a certain quantity of corn which sold for £110., and can now be so employed, as from the same spot to produce corn which at the same prices would sell for £120; additional surplus profits will be made on that land, and additional rent be paid for it:provided that the whole improvement is not discovered, completed, and generally adopted, so rapidly, as to make the now increasing quantity of corn outstrip the progress of population and demand. For in that case, prices might fall, and rents remain stationary or recede. It is not necessary again to discuss the probability of this dislocation between the demand and supply. The rise of rents which would follow such an increased efficiency as we have been assuming, of the capital employed in agriculture, would clearly be quite independent of any spread of tillage to inferior soils. Such a rise of rents might take place, and go on increasing with the increase of population indefinitely, though no inferior gradations of soil were in existence.
There is a clear addition to the national resources when rents rise from the increased efficiency of agricultural capital. But this addition, (unlike that which accompanies a rise of rents from the greater accumulation of capital on the soil,) is usually confined to, or measured by, the increased rents themselves. When £100. produces (prices being the same) corn worth £120., instead of corn worth £110., the wealth of the nation is increased by ten pounds worth of corn, and no more. When £90. will produce the same quantity of corn which £100. did produce, the nation is enriched to the same amount in another shape; for £10. may be withdrawn from agriculture without its produce being diminished, and the nation will be enriched by being put in possession of any other commodities which the capital of £10. may be employed to produce. The increase of national wealth will, in either case, be confined to the amount of £10., the same sum by which rents rise. Increased rents, therefore, from the increased efficiency of capital, though an addition to the national wealth and resources, do not indicate so large an addition to those resources, as increased rents proceeding from the accumulation of capital in cultivation; for an increase from this last source is accompanied, as we have seen, by a great addition to the means of the producing classes, which must be added to the new rents before we can estimate the whole addition to the nation's resources, which such a rise of rents indicates.
So far increased rents from a better use of the capital employed in agriculture, may seem to come accompanied by less extensive additions to the national resources, than increased rents proceeding from the gradual increase in the amount of the capital employed in cultivation. But there are some results of the increasing efficiency of agricultural capital that remain to be noticed, which very much augment the effects on public prosperity of a progressive rise of rents from this source.
It has already been shewn, that a spread of tillage to inferior soils does not necessarily accompany, or follow, a rise of rents, when the efficiency of the cultivator's capital increases; that such an extension is in no sense either the cause of such a rise or essential to it. But still, in fact, the same increased productiveness of agricultural capital, which occasions a rise of rents on the old lands, usually makes it possible to extend tillage to lands of inferior natural fertility, with as ample a return as that obtained from the old soils before the improvement took place. When the turnip husbandry was first adopted by the Norfolk farmers, it was found to increase the fertility of their lands so much, that farms, which before yielded a very small rent, now yielded one considerably larger. But another, and in a national point of view, a much more important result followed. There existed in England large tracts of light sandy soil, supposed to be wholly sterile, on which this new mode of husbandry was practicable, and when the produce of kindred soils, of somewhat better staple, yielded much more than the ordinary profits of stock, and paid considerable rents, it became possible to cultivate some of the more barren tracts without a loss. They were rapidly reclaimed from the waste, and the agriculture of England has since been gradually spreading itself over large districts of this description, which before yielded little or no human food, and contributed nothing to increase that mass of wages, profits, and rents, which compose jointly the resources of the country.
Nor is this the only, though it is the most obvious manner, in which an increased efficiency of agricultural capital widens the agricultural resources of nations, at the same time that it is elevating rents. Such an improvement usually leads to the employment of a greater quantity of capital over the whole cultivated surface of the country.
If the capital, which before yielded the ordinary rate of profit, say 10 per cent., now yields £120., and pays a rent of £10., the farmer will often find that he can employ another portion of capital, say £100., which though it may not pay so much as his old capital now does, will still pay on some soils barely perhaps £110., the ordinary profits of stock; on others, perhaps, £111., £112., and £118., that is, something more on each than the usual rate of profit, though not so much as the old capital has been made to yield by the improved efficiency of its application. On these last soils, rents will then be rising from two causes; from the increased efficiency of the old capital, and from the unequal effects on soils of different degrees of fertility, of the new capital, which begins to accumulate on them. When an opportunity offers of thus gradually augmenting the capital which they can profitably employ on the old lands; the farmers of a prosperous country will slowly take advantage of it.
For reasons hereafter to be explained, in countries where capital abounds, the owners of it are always impelled by self-interest to use the various additions which they employ, as much as possible, in the shape of auxiliary capital, and as little as they can help in the shape of wages of labor. The gradual increase of the relative quantity of auxiliary capital is, therefore, the ordinary effect of the progressive increase of the whole mass of capital employed in agriculture. This is naturally followed, for the reasons we have stated, by a progressive increase of the efficiency of human industry; and in this manner, the means are gradually developed, of contending successfully with soils of a low degree of native fertility, and of obtaining, without a diminution of agricultural power, the supplies for an increasing population. As the cultivated territory thus widens, large quantities of capital accumulate both upon the old soils and upon the successive additions to the tined ground, and the resources of a nation to maintain a numerous population are at once multiplied and extended.
Although then the immediate addition to the national wealth, which is indicated by a rise of rents from the increased efficiency of the capital employed, is limited to the amount of the increased rent itself: yet the spread of tillage to inferior soils, and the increase of capital on the old soils, which usually follow such a rise, produce an additional extension of the resources of a people, which is of very great importance to the welfare and strength of every increasing community.
We have seen, that a spread of tillage to inferior soils is by no means essential to the rise of rents, which takes place when agricultural capital becomes more efficient. But the establishment of this fact, does not disclose all the errors of those who have thought and taught that "Rent depends exclusively on the extension of tillage: that it is high where tillage is widely extended over inferior lands, and low where it is confined to the superior descriptions only."(15) Whenever a rise of rents takes place from the increased demand for agricultural produce, the spread of tillage to inferior soils presents the practical limit to that rise. It is clear, that if, as population increased, all fresh supplies were necessarily extracted from the old soils alone, there would be no assignable limit to the increase of the relative value of raw produce, of the surplus profits made on the land, or of rents. But while additional quantities of produce can be obtained from inferior gradations of soils, the price of raw produce will never exceed the cost of procuring it from the lowest gradation which it is found expedient to cultivate: and if from the increasing efficiency of agricultural capital, the cost of getting produce from that gradation is not greater than it was on the old soils before the improvement, the price of raw produce will not rise at all. The inferior soils, therefore, though their culture is not essential to a rise of rents, present always a boundary to that rise. Their existence is a protection to the interests of the consumers without interfering with those of the landed proprietors. They prevent corn being sold at a monopoly price, and cut off the increased rents which such a price creates; without interfering with the beneficial increase of the revenues of the landed proprietors, which flows either from the source we are examining, the better application of capital, or from that we have before examined, the increased quantity of capital employed in the national agriculture.
Improvements, therefore, in the efficiency of the capital employed in cultivation, raise rents, by increasing the surplus profits realized on particular spots of land.
They invariably produce this increase of surplus profits, unless they augment the mass of raw produce so rapidly as to outstrip the progress of demand; an event of rare occurrence.
Such improvements in the efficiency of the capital employed, do usually occur in the progress of agricultural skin, and of the accumulation of greater masses of auxiliary capital.
A rise of rents from this cause, is generally followed by the spread of tillage to inferior soils, without any diminution in the returns to agricultural capital on the worst spots reclaimed.
This spread of tillage must not, however, be confounded with the causes of the rise of rents on the old soils, with the origin of which rise it is wholly unconnected, while it serves in its consequences to moderate and limit those augmented rents.
On the third Source of the Increase of Farmers' Rents, namely, a Decrease in the Share of the producing Classes, the Produce remaining the same.
A rise in the relative value of raw produce, (the cost of producing other commodities remaining stationary) from whatever cause the use proceeds, win always be followed by a decrease of the share of the producing classes in the products of the soil, relatively to the labor and capital they employ; and by a corresponding rise in the produce rents of the landlords.
Let £100. be laid out on A, a soil paying no rent, and yielding only the ordinary profits of stock; and let the produce be 50 quarters of corn selling at £2. 4.. per quarter, or £110. If the relative value of corn rises, and the price is raised 2s. a quarter, the £100. laid out on A will produce £ 115., of which £5. will be surplus profits. The farmers' profits, at his next contract with his landlord, will be reduced to the level of those of his neighbours. This can only be done by his retaining so much only of the produce of his land, as at the advanced prices will pay him £110.; the landlord will take the remainder, or the price of the remainder, and it will become rent. A, which before paid no rent, will now pay a rent of £5., and in like manner, upon all the superior soils which before paid rent, there will be a rise, from the decrease of the share of the producing classes in their produce, the produce itself remaining stationary.
So far, the decrease of the share of the producing classes, and the corresponding rise of rents, have been wholly unconnected with the cultivation, or even the existence, of inferior soils. The rise of raw produce, proceeds always, in the first instance, from an increasing demand without a corresponding increase of the supply. If a country had no soil to resort to besides those already cultivated, the demand might keep constantly ahead of the slowly increasing supply, and the possible increase in the relative value of raw produce, and the consequent rise of rents, would be indefinite.
But when inferior gradations of soil exist, and can be resorted to, the rise in the exchangeable value of raw produce is limited. It will atop when the price of corn is sufficient to replace, with the ordinary rate of profit, the expence of cultivating as much of those inferior soils as will yield the produce necessary to restore the balance between the demand and supply. This state of things is what usually exists in extensive countries possessing soils of various degrees of goodness, and it is that which we shall more particularly examine while tracing the effects of a rise of rents from a decrease of the share of the producing classes in the products of the soil. But we must not, therefore, lose sight of the fact, that the rise of rents which takes place from the cause we are now tracing, is antecedent to, and independent of, the spread of tillage to inferior soils, and must take place to a much greater extent than we ever now see it, were there no inferior soils in existence.
The Increase of produce Rents is measured by the
decreasing Fertility of Soils.
Where, in consequence of an increasing demand for raw produce, cultivation is spreading to inferior soils, if the return from those soils, in spite of the increasing skill and augmented power of the agriculturists, be still less than the return from the old soils before was, the permanent rise of produce rents from this cause will be measured by the difference between the return to a certain quantity of capital and labor from the new soils, and the return to the same quantity of capital and labor from the worst of the old soils.
If on A, a quality of soil, paying no rent, a certain quantity of labor and capital produces 55 quarters of corn, and on B a soil worse than A, the same quantity of labor and capital can produce only 53 quarters, then when the demand for corn, and the use in its relative value becomes such that B can be cultivated, and pay the ordinary profits of stock, A will pay a rent of two quarters of corn: for B, which produces 53 quarters, returning the ordinary profits of stock, A, which produces 55 quarters, must return the ordinary profits of stock, and also two quarters of corn; which two quarters, or the price of them, will become surplus profits or rent.
It will be obvious that the rise of rents in this case, forms no addition to the resources of a country. The increased rents of the old soils are a mere transfer of a portion of the wealth already existing from the producing classes to the landlords: the nation, collectively, is neither richer nor poorer than it was; there has only been a change, and by no means a desirable change, in the distribution of wealth which it already possessed. In this respect, as in many others, a rise of rents from this cause contrasts, much to its disadvantage, with a rise from the two causes of which we first analyzed the operation.
But the apprehensions which have been entertained, as to a necessary falling off in the returns to capital and labor generally, which it has been supposed must always follow a diminution in the returns to agricultural industry on the worst soils cultivated, are happily extravagant and groundless. Such a diminution in the power of agricultural industry, though a possible event, takes place in the progress of a wealthy people very rarely. I doubt if it ever takes place at all; and when it does takes place, we must not hastily conclude that because the quantity of corn remaining in the hands of the producing agricultural classes is diminished, there must therefore be a fall either in profits or wages, or that such producing classes would have the means of consuming either less corn, or less of any other commodity, than they did before the reduction of their share in the produce of the soil. For these conclusions, which look at first very like truths, are in fact fallacious, as a short examination will shew us.
The decreasing Fertility of Soils may be balanced by the increased
Efficiency of manufacturing Labor.
Human industry is not wholly employed in producing raw produce: and its increasing efficiency in other departments may balance, and more than balance, the decreasing powers of agriculture: may enable the society to spare the additional proportion of men and capital required to produce an undiminished quantity of food for increasing numbers, and that without lessening the mass of wealth enjoyed by any class of men. This will appear more clearly from an example or two to which I solicit the reader's attention, as containing the proof of a fact very important to be understood, in examining the possible progress of human society, after population has become dense, and capital and the arts have made great progress. Let us first take the simplest case which involves the principle we wish to explain, and let us suppose ten shipwrecked mariners cast on some uninhabited shore, and dividing between them the task of providing their common food, clothing, and shelter. During the first year, let the exertions of five men be sufficient to supply their table, and the exertions of the other five their food, raiment, &c. In the next year, food may have become more scarce, and the time of eight of the men may be occupied in procuring it. But in the mean time, the skill of the artisan division may have so improved, that two men may be able to secure to the whole party the same quantity of clothing, shelter, &c. that before engrossed the industry of five. In this case, four-fifths of the laboring hands will be occupied in procuring food, instead of one-half as before. Still the consumption of articles of every description will remain the same throughout the little community. We may put the case yet stronger. If one man became able to supply the clothing, &c. they might spare nine to go in quest of food, and might actually consume more food, and as much of every thing else, as they did while food was more easily procured.
Let us next observe, what effects would be produced by a similar change in the productive powers of different classes of the community, if such change occurred among a people whose social relations were less simple than those of the knot of men we have been figuring to ourselves, and let us suppose a community consisting of 24 men, employed, one-half in producing corn, and one-half in producing cloth. Let corn, for our present purpose, represent all the varieties of raw produce, and cloth all commodities produced by the national industry which are distinct from raw produce.
Let the corn-growers produce 14 quarters of corn, and the cloth-makers 14 pieces of cloth, of each of which let 12 go to wages and 2 to profits. Then, if each party exchange half their produce with the other division, every laborer in each will have half a quarter of corn, and half a piece of cloth; and their two employers will have a piece of cloth and a quarter of corn each.
Next, let us suppose this laboring population doubled: that there are 48 laborers instead of 24, and that to produce double the quantity of corn, it has become necessary, from the decreasing fertility of the fresh soils resorted to, to employ in agriculture, not double the number of men formerly employed, but more than double; say three times the number, or 36 men. Then, by the supposition, 36 men produce double the quantity of corn before produced, or 28 quarters. In the mean while, let: the productive powers of the cloth-workers have so increased, that to produce double the former quan-: tity of cloth, the labor of double the number of men is not necessary, but of a less number, say of 12: then by the supposition, 12 men will produce double the former quantity of cloth, or 28 pieces. But as 36 men produce 28 quarters of corn, while 12 men produce 28 pieces of cloth, each quarter of corn will exchange for three pieces of cloth.(16) Between the 48 men, there will be to be divided 28 quarters of corn, and 28 pieces of cloth, which will give them their old wages of half a quarter of corn, and half a piece of cloth each, and will also leave four quarters of corn and four pieces of cloth as profits. But the capitalist cloth-worker, employing only one-fourth of the men, will take only one-fourth of the profit, or one piece of cloth and one quarter of corn. The corn-grower, employing three-fourths of the men, will take three-fourths of the profit, or three quarters of corn and three pieces of cloth. As the rate of wages remains precisely what it was, so will the rate of profits: for each employer of 12 men, at the old wages, will still get one piece of cloth and one quarter of corn as the profit on his advances.
If the power of the manufacturer of cloth, instead of doubling, had more than doubled during this process, then it is evident that the producing classes generally might consume not merely as much corn, but more than as much corn as they did before recourse was had to soils of a less fertility; for, instead of employing 36 men, they might have employed a greater number in cultivation, have produced and consumed more corn, yet get the same quantity of cloth which they did before. The agriculturists will receive, in the first instance, from the soil, less corn, in proportion to their numbers, than they did before the increase of population and the spread of tillage; but as by the sacrifice of a smaller portion of that corn, they can obtain the same amount of other necessaries which they may need, they will retain as much or more corn for their own consumption, as they did when they drew larger returns from the ground. Each manufacturer or mechanic will give in exchange for the corn which he consumes, a larger quantity of his own produce than he did before the spread of tillage; but as he produces more than he did, he will be able to purchase the same amount of corn without consuming less of other necessaries. The effects of the failure in productive power of one branch of the population, will be balanced, perhaps more than balanced, by the increased productive power of another branch. Those who produce less, will find their commodities rising in exchangeable value; those who produce more will find them falling. These variations in relative value, will distribute equally all the advantages and disadvantages of the variations which take place in the productive power of different branches of industry. A falling off in any one branch, may still leave the nation collectively, and each particular class of it, as well supplied even with that species of produce as before the decrease, and the only effect of a decrease in one quarter, and increase in another, will be a difference in the proportionate number of laborers and quantity of capital employed in different occupations.
We have seen, that as the process we have been describing became complete, and corn rose in exchangeable value, a rent would be generated which did not exist before. This increased rent, however, unlike those which we have before been considering, will be obviously no addition to the resources of the country. It will be a mere transfer of wealth already existing, from the producing classes to the landlords. The nation, it is true, will be richer relatively to its numbers than it was before the spread of tillage: for the producing classes, we have seen, will have the same quantity of raw produce and other necessaries which they had; and there will be further in the hands of the landlords a certain portion of the produce of the old lands as rent. But this additional wealth will have proceeded, not certainly from the decreasing powers of agriculture, but from the increased efficiency of manufacturing industry, which has enabled the nation to spare without a loss, the hands necessary to cultivate soils of diminished fertility, and rather more than balanced the effects of the decreased powers of agricultural industry. The nation, collectively, would no doubt have been richer had no rent been generated, if the land last employed in tillage had yielded returns equal to those of the lands before cultivated, and if the advantages of increased manufacturing power had been gained without any diminution in the returns to agricultural industry. When rents are increasing from the two sources, of which we before examined the operation, namely, the accumulation of additional capital in agriculture, and the increased efficiency of capital already employed, then the result is an unmixed advantage. Agriculture is itself adding largely to the resources of the country, and the increasing wealth which flows from the augmented powers of manufacturing industry is balanced by no drawback. It must be distinctly admitted on the other hand, that a rise of rents from the particular cause we are now examining, is no real addition to the resources of a nation. The decreasing efficiency of agricultural capital must always be a disadvantage, but it is consolatory to reflect, that such a decrease, while it checks the possible advance of a nation in wealth, is not necessarily followed by any actual impoverishment: that neither the rate of wages, or rate of profits, are determined solely by the returns to the capital employed upon the soil, and that they may remain undiminished, and may even steadily increase while the fertility of the soil is as steadily diminishing. The career of the human race would indeed have been melancholy, had the laws of nature been such, that as the numbers of nations increased, additional food must necessarily have been procured by the sacrifice of additional labor; a sacrifice involving in its consequences a fall in the rate of wages or profits, which no increase of intelligence, skill, and power, in the other branches of human industry could make amends for. But the supposed necessity of the sacrifice of additional labor to procure greater supplies, and the supposed effects of that sacrifice should it take effect, are each of them unfounded suppositions. The facts, happily, are all imaginary, on which the assumption rests, of an iron necessity dogging thus the progress of mankind, and depriving them ever of some portion of necessaries and comforts as their numbers expand. Should the produce of agriculture begin to lessen, the increased means and skill of civilized communities, we have seen, may enable them to spare the additional hands necessary to force the flagging powers of the earth, without leaving any class of the community worse supplied with wealth in any of its shapes.
On the Fallaciousness of some supposed Indications of the decreasing Efficiency of agricultural Labor.
We hope to have shewn satisfactorily, first, that there is no ground for supposing that additional supplies of food for an increasing population, must necessarily be got at the expence of more labor. And, secondly, should they be got at the expence of more labor, that it by no means follows that the producing classes must necessarily submit to consume less either of food, or of any thing else. Still it has been admitted, that at some period in the existence of nations, there may be a rise of rents caused by a decrease in the returns to agricultural capital, and the opinions which have lately been prevalent, make it important to destroy every temptation to ascribe hastily to this unpopular cause, those successive additions to the revenues of the landed body, which other causes almost necessarily occasion during the prosperous career of nations: causes, the continual action of which, we have already observed to be in perfect harmony, and indeed closely connected with the progress of a people in wealth, and resources, and agricultural power, and skill. We must entreat then the further patience of the reader, while we shew that some indications which have been supposed to prove in the most unquestionable manner some actual decrease in the powers of agriculture, will turn out, on examination, to afford no such proof at all.
The circumstances usually referred to, with the most confidence, as indicating a decrease in the productive powers of agriculture, are first, a fall in the rate of profits; secondly, a rise in the relative value of raw produce, compared with other domestic commodities; thirdly, a rise in the prices of raw produce, compared with the actual prices in neighbouring countries of similar soil and climate, or compared with former prices at home, provided, in the last case, the rise be greater than can be accounted for by any fall which may have taken place in the value of the precious metals.
A fall of Profits is no Proof of the decreasing
Efficiency of agricultural Industry.
A decrease in the share of one of the producing classes, that is, a fall in the rate either of wages or of profits, is never necessarily the result of the diminished productive power of human industry in any of its branches.
If, when profits fall from 12 to 10 per cent. wages experience a corresponding rise, there can have been no decrease of productive power. As wages always engross the largest part of the pro duce, a moderate and almost insensible change in wages will bring about marked and considerable variations in the rate of profits quite independently of any alterations in the efficiency of agricultural or other industry. Let us suppose £100. to be employed in paying wages, returning £112., or a profit of 12 per cent. If wages rise from £100. to £102., that is, 2 per cent. only, then (the productive power of labor being stationary,) profits must fall from £12. on £100. advanced, to £10. on £102. advanced: or from 12 per cent. to something under 10 per cent.: there will have been a rise of one-fiftieth in wages, and a resulting fall of one-sixth in profits. And on the supposition here made, that all the advances of the capitalist are in the shape of wages, it is clear that a rise of 12 per cent. in wages would not merely diminish the profits of the capitalist, but absorb them entirely.
In practice, however, a moderate rise of wages will not affect profits so seriously as in the instance here assumed, because all capital is not employed in paying wages, and the effects of fluctuations in the rate of wages are not confined to the profits en the wages themselves, but are spread over a larger body of profits, and are thus attenuated. If we suppose £500. to be employed in production, and of that sum only £100. to be advanced as the wages of labor; the profits of £ 500. at 12 per cent. will be £60. If the rate of profits in this case is to be reduced by a rise of wages to 10 per cent., that is, to a sum of £50., the rise of wages must be more considerable than in the instance before assumed. The sum advanced by the capitalist is £500.: the whole produce is £560. Let wages rise 10 per cent. and become £110.; the advance of the capitalist will then be £510., and, prices being stationary, his profit £50., which will be 10 per cent. within a small fraction. Supposing, therefore, the whole capital employed to be equal to five times the sum paid in wages (which is perhaps nearly the true proportion in England,) a rise of 10 per cent. in wages, that is, an addition of only 1s. to every 10s. before advanced to the laborer, will lower profits from 12 per cent. to 10 per cent., and such a moderate rise of wages might produce, in fact, nearly all the difference observable in the rates of profit current in the different states of Europe.(17)
In these calculations, we have supposed the productive power of the national industry stationary. Were it ever really so, the influence on the rate of profit of fluctuations in the amount of wages, would strike all practical observers more forcibly than it now does; but in truth, the productive power of the national industry is rarely, or perhaps never, stationary; and while that power is varying, the results of its changes must often balance to a certain extent, and therefore disguise, the influence of alterations in the rate of wages on profits. Thus, if we suppose, as before, £100. expended wholly in wages, and paying 12 per cent. profit, the produce will be £112. But if the productive power of industry be so increased that, prices remaining the same, the return becomes £134. 8s., then wages may rise to £120., and profits will not vary at all; they will still be 12 per cent.; while wages have increased one-fifth, and the only change will be an addition to the mass of capital devoted to the advance of wages. While the productive powers of labor are varying, therefore, we may expect that the influence of fluctuations in the amount of wages on the rate of profits may often escape notice. It appears, however, that marked and considerable variations in the rate of profits may be results of changes in the rate of wages alone. It follows, that a fall of profits is no sure indication of diminished productive power in any branch of human industry, and consequently can never be accepted as a proof of the decreasing efficiency of agriculture especially.
These propositions, with respect to the influence of variations in real wages on the rate of profits, appear to me, I confess, almost too obvious to be formally stated, had they not been formally denied, and very extensive consequences founded on the denial. Mr. Ricardo, and others who have followed in his track, have believed that they could trace every possible variation in the rate of profits, to a decrease in the productive power of agriculture alone. To establish the truth of this opinion, they were bound to shew, that no other cause could affect the rate of profits, and of course that variations in the rate of wages could not. Their mode of doing this was sufficiently simple. It consisted in denying (while treating on profits,) that any such thing as a permanent change in the rate of real wages could ever take place.
It would at first sight appear, that profits depend partly on the amount of the produce of labor, partly on the division of that produce between the laborers and capitalists; and that their amount, therefore, might vary from a change in either of these particulars. If certain laborers, whose wages amount to £100., or 100 quarters of corn, produce £112., or 112 quarters of corn, profits would be 12 per cent.; but they would sink to 10, if wages rose to £102. or quarters, just as certainly as they would if the productive power of the laborers diminished, and, wages remaining stationary, they only produced £110. or quarters.
But if it could be proved that the laborers share was, in truth, invariable, that with the exception of short intervals of time, they must continue to receive £100. or quarters, and neither more nor less, it would follow, of course, that all permanent variations in the rate of profits must proceed from changes in the productive power of industry alone. We have already remarked, that a diminution of profits rarely proceeds from a diminution in the productiveness of non-agricultural industry, which may raise the rate of profits, or sustain them when they are falling from other causes, but can seldom occasion their retrogression. Were it once admitted then, that profits never fall from variations in wages, it would follow that they must usually fall from a decrease of the productiveness of agricultural industry. The theory of the permanent immutability of real wages, or of the constant sameness of the quantity of necessaries consumed by the laborers on which rests this belief of the exclusive agency of the decreasing powers of agricultural labor in diminishing profits,(18) hardly requires a set discussion to refute it. It is never adhered to by Mr. Ricardo himself, except when treating the particular subject of variations in the rate of profit. At other times he speaks, without hesitation, of permanent alterations in the condition and habits of the laborer, of variations in the rate of natural and real wages. But when attempting to simplify his analysis of the circumstances which influence the rate of profits, and to reject the agency of all but his favorite cause, namely, the return to the capital last employed upon the soil, he goes back to this position, equally inconsistent with facts and with his own arguments and admissions; and asserts, again and again, that permanent changes in the rate of real wages never take place, and need never, therefore, be taken into account in estimating the causes of the rate of profits.
His defence of this assertion, when it is attempted to be defended, rests on an exaggeration of some facts connected with the subject of population.
Fluctuations in the rate of real wages, do, under certain circumstances, and to a certain extent, impel or retard the increase of the numbers of the laboring population, and by altering their relation to the funds from which they are supported, react on the rate of wages. From this undoubted fact, many have been misled, partly by haste, and partly by over-strained ingenuity, to draw the wide and very fallacious inference, that every increase or decrease in real wages will produce an expansion or shrinking of the population precisely sufficient to restore, after a time, the relation which existed (before the alteration of wages) between the numbers of laborers, and the funds for their support, and thus bring back wages to their former amount.
This opinion of the effects of alterations in wages, on the numbers of the population, will meet us again in a part of a subject when it will be more our business to examine it. At present, without a more extensive discussion of it, we may appeal to obvious facts and every day experience. We see very different rates of real wages prevailing in countries with similar climates and soils, and sometimes, as in the case of England and Ireland, under the same government. We observe in the same countries, alterations taking place from century to century, and from generation to generation, in the food, clothing, lodging, habits, and general mode of maintenance of the people. We have already seen too, that a very moderate change in the rate of wages is sufficient, while the productive power of industry remains the same, to produce a very considerable change in the rate of profits: and we will venture, therefore, at present to assume, without further argument, that such a permanent rise in the rate of real wages is neither impossible nor improbable, as is quite sufficient to produce alterations in the rate of profits, equal to the differences of that rate in any of the countries of Europe. This will be enough to support the position we are maintaining, that a fall of profits is never an unequivocal proof of a diminution in the efficiency of agriculture, because it may proceed from a different division, between the laborers and their employers, of the produce of the national industry, while the amount of that produce remains unaltered, or is increasing in all its branches.
An increasing relative Value of raw Produce is no
Proof of the decreasing Efficiency of agricultural Industry.
Among the proofs of a decreasing efficiency in agricultural industry, the increasing relative value of raw produce is usually treated as one of the most decisive. And this, no doubt, would be a conclusive proof, could we suppose the productive power of manufacturing industry (meaning all industry other than agricultural,) to be stationary, while raw produce was thus rising in relative value. if 12 quarters of corn are observed to exchange for 12 pieces of cloth during one century, and in the next, 12 quarters of corn exchange for 24 pieces of cloth; then, if we were sure that no change had taken place in the expence of manufacturing cloth, we might very rationally conclude, that the cost of producing corn had doubled. But when we take into account the very great increase which, from time to time, really takes place in the efficiency of manufacturing industry, the case is altered; and we see, that an increase in the relative value of raw produce is what must be expected, although the productive power of agriculture were stationary, or even to a certain extent increasing. For instance, let two men produce two quarters of corn, and two men two pieces of cloth and a quarter of corn; and a piece of cloth will exchange for each other. Next, the efficiency of agricultural industry increasing, let two men produce three quarters of corn, and the efficiency of manufacturing industry increasing yet more, let two men produce six pieces of cloth: corn will have risen in relative value; a quarter of corn, instead of exchanging for one piece of cloth, will exchange for two. In this case, clearly, we should be mistaken if we assumed the fact of a decrease in the efficiency of industry, from that of the rise of the relative value of raw produce.
In the progress of nations, an increase of manufacturing power and skill usually occurs, greater than that which can be expected in the agriculture of an increasing people. This is an unquestionable and familiar truth. A rise in the relative value of raw produce may, therefore, be expected in the advance of nations, and this from a cause quite distinct from any positive decrease in the efficiency of agriculture.
An increasing Money Value of raw Produce, compared with the Prices of other Countries, is no Proof of the decreasing Efficiency of agricultural Industry.
There are various causes which may elevate the money value of raw produce; one is undoubtedly the decreasing fertility of the soil which governs prices. If, in two neighbouring countries paying equal wages, the land is such that it requires three men in the worse to produce the effect which two men will produce in the more fertile of the two; the poorer country will not be able to sell its produce as cheaply as the richer. Still different prices are no certain indication of a difference in fertility. They may proceed from at least three other and distinct causes. First, from a higher rate of wages; secondly, from a higher rate of taxation; thirdly, from a different value of the precious metals.
Whatever effect on prices may be produced by the necessity of employing more men in agriculture, will be produced by the necessity of paying higher wages to the men actually employed, or of paying higher taxes. When the corn-grower, getting the same quantity of produce, is obliged to pay away an additional quantity; whether the fresh expence is incurred in the shape of wages to additional laborers, or of greater wages to those before employed, or of heavier taxes, must be indifferent to him; and as far as the cost of cultivation is concerned, it amounts to the same thing. And supposing two countries to grow corn at precisely the same expence of labor and capital, an alteration in the rate of wages, or the amount of taxation, may raise the cost of cultivation in the one beyond that in the other, though the dearer country be stationary, or even (to a limited extent,) improving in the efficiency of its agricultural industry.
There is a third cause also, quite distinct from the decreasing fertility of the soil, which may increase the prices of raw produce in one country, while prices in other nations are stationary, and that is a decreasing value of the precious metals peculiar to the dearer country. That this is a cause which has some effect upon the prices of the different countries of the world, there can be little doubt. I wish, however, to be distinctly understood, as giving no opinion on the possible extent or the limits of that effect. The eminent writer I am about to quote first on the point, thinks it will appear "that far the greater part of the high price of corn in this country, compared with most of the states in Europe," is occasioned in this way. "The causes," Mr. Malthus says,(19) "which affect the price of corn, and occasion the difference in this price so observable in different countries, seem to be two. First, a difference in the value of the precious metals in different countries under different circumstances; secondly, a difference in the quantity of labor and capital necessary to produce corn. The first cause undoubtedly occasions the greatest portion of that inequality in the price of corn, which is the most striking and prominent, particularly in countries at a considerable distance from each other. More than three-fourths of the prodigious difference between the price of corn in Bengal and England, is probably occasioned by the difference in the value of money in the two countries, and far the greater part of the high price of corn in this country, compared with most of the states in Europe is occasioned in the same way." In a note to some further observations on the same subject, Mr. Malthus afterwards says,(20) "This conclusion may appear to contradict the doctrine of the level of the precious metals. And so it does if by level be meant level of value estimated in the usual way. I consider that doctrine, indeed, as quite unsupported by facts. The precious metals are always tending to a state of rest, or such a state of things as to make their movement unnecessary. But when this state of rest has been nearly attained, and the exchanges of all countries are nearly at par, the value of the precious metals in different countries, estimated in corn and labor, or the mass of commodities, is very far indeed from being the same." Mr. Ricardo has stated similar opinions. "When any particular country excels in manufactures, so as to occasion an influx of money towards it, the value of money will be lower, and the prices of corn and labor will be relatively higher in that country than in any other. This higher value of money will not be indicated by the exchange. Bills may continue to be negotiated at par, although the prices of corn and labor should be 10, 20, or 30 per cent. higher in one country than another. Under the circumstances supposed, such a difference of prices is the natural order of things, and the exchange can only be at par when a sufficient quantity of money is introduced into the country excelling in manufactures, so as to raise the price of its corn and labor."(21) "In the early states of society, when manufactures have made little progress, and the produce of all countries is nearly similar, consisting of the bulky and most useful commodities, the value of money in different countries will be chiefly regulated by their distance from the mines which supply the precious metals; but as the arts and improvements of society advance, and different nations excel in particular manufactures, although distance will still enter into the calculation, the value of the precious metals will be chiefly regulated by the superiority of those manufactures."(22) "Of two countries having precisely the same population, and the same quantity of land of equal fertility in cultivation, with the same knowledge too of agriculture, the prices of raw produce will be highest in that where the greater skill and the better machinery is used in the manufacture of exportable commodities."(23)
The admission of the influence of this cause on the price of commodities in different countries is an unlucky, hut unavoidable bar, it must be confessed, to any thing like accuracy in an analysis of the proportions of the different elements of price in different nations. There are no very obvious means of determining to what extent money prices may be affected by that different level of the precious metals, the existence of which is here laid down by the joint authority of Messrs. Malthus and Ricardo. And the attempt to solve the question, can only be successful, I think, when founded on an industrious and difficult comparison of all possible elements of price, distinct from the local value of the precious metals. But if ceasing to treat this as a general question, we narrow our view to the causes which affect the peculiar value of the precious metals in Great Britain alone, we may conclude with tolerable certainty, that the low value of those metals must affect prices here more powerfully than in any other European country. In the first place, England is pre-eminent in the art and means of manufacturing those exportable commodities which, according to Mr. Ricardo, tend to saturate her with gold and silver; and this is not the only peculiarity which tends to lower the value of those metals in England. The perfection of the art of substituting for those metals, and the rapidity of her circulation, serve to magnify the effects of the influx produced by her export trade. Let us suppose England and France to require each 100,000,000 for circulation, and each to possess that sum. If the English found means to substitute; paper for 50 of the 100,000,000, then 50,000,000 of bullion would be set free, and would have the same effect in lowering the value of the mass as 50,000,000 of newly imported metal. If by increasing the rapidity of circulation, 50,000,000 could be made to perform functions which before required 100,000,000, a similar result would follow, and the value of the mass be similarly affected. Now in England, the art of substituting for coin is carried to an extent unknown elsewhere. Independently of the notes of the Bank of England, and of country bankers, private bills to the amount of 100,000,000(24) are calculated to be constantly circulating as cash. The operations of the London clearing-house are familiar to the public, and are alone sufficient to diminish, to a very considerable extent, the quantity of cash required to carry on the money transactions of the empire. The rapidity, too, of the English circulation, we know to be unrivalled.
Adding then the effects, of her greater progress in the art of substituting credit and paper for coin, and of the greater rapidity of her circulation, to the results of the superiority of England in the manufacture of commodities for foreign sale, it will appear that all the causes connected with the value of the precious metals which tend to produce a high money value of commodities, are in more powerful action here than in any other European country, and that whatever may be the possible ejects of those causes in lowering the value of the precious metals, and on money prices, those effects are likely to be felt more extensively and powerfully in our own country than in any other.
Leaving the individual case of England, however, we return to the general proposition, that abstracting altogether from any difference in the productive powers of agriculture, the money prices of raw produce in different countries may vary from a different value of the precious metals alone.
It has been shewn then, that prices of raw produce, high when compared with those of neighboring countries of similar soil and climate, may proceed from three causes acting separately or jointly, and all of them quite distinct from the decreasing fertility of the soil, namely, from higher wages, higher taxes, or a low relative value of bullion; the last of which alone a writer of great eminence has declared to be so influential, that it occasions "far the greater part of the high price of corn in "this country compared with most of the states in Europe."(25) High money prices, therefore, compared with those of the neighboring countries, of similar soil and climate, cannot be received as any indication of a decreasing power in the agriculture of the dearer country.
We have already seen that neither a low rate of profits, nor a high value of raw produce, compared with other commodities fabricated at home, are certain indications of the decreasing productive power of agriculture. There is a circumstance which at first sight appears a more sure indication of such a decrease than any of those we have yet examined; an appearance however still fallacious.
When, abstracting from the effects of taxation, an apparent diminution takes place in the revenues of the producing classes considered jointly, when there is a fall in the rate of profits, not compensated by a rise of wages, or a fall of wages not compensated by a rise in the rate of profits, there has been, it may be argued, some decrease in the productive power of labor and capital, and for the moment we will suppose this argument sound. When such decrease occurs, it has lately been assumed as certain, that the failure must have been in agriculture, and not in manufactures, because the efficiency of mechanical and manufacturing labor usually increases instead of decreasing in the progress of nations. But this last position is far from being universally true. The majority of the nations of the globe are perhaps, at this moment, improving in manufacturing power, and there is no physical reason why they should not continue to improve. But when we take political and moral causes into our view, the history of the world forbids us to conclude that the progress of mankind in the mechanical and manufacturing arts, is always necessarily in advance. Egypt, the African shore of the Mediterranean, Asia Minor, and the Morea, can aid mechanical industry with but a feeble `part of the ingenuity or power, which both their story and their monuments attest that they once possessed. Capital and science are, in our days, indispensable assistants to the artisan, and the decay of the domestic arts, and the failing efficiency of the industry connected with them, must, therefore, be expected to come in the train of the evils which assail the decrepitude of nations, and gradually impair their resources. England is at this moment the principal theatre of all that power and skill can effect, in the various departments of human industry which are distinct from agriculture; and yet, if days are to come when her freedom, and wealth, and the many elements of her actual power forsake her, it is in these departments of industry that the progress of decay may be expected to exhibit itself the most strikingly. The power of her artizans, and the wonders of her manufactures, will assuredly disappear with the capital and science which now support them. In a nation so circumstanced, the means of the population may become less, and the annual consumption of all classes shrink, though the efficiency of agriculture should remain stationary.
We have been arguing on the admission, that a decrease in the rate either of wages or profits, the other of the two remaining stationary, is a proof of a diminished produce and lessened productive power in some of the departments of national industry; and have merely attempted to shew, that even with such an admission, an assumption that the decrease necessarily originates in agriculture, is inadmissible. Hereafter, we shall have occasion to prove, that the admission itself is too large; that a decrease in the rate of profit with stationary wages, does not of itself indicate any diminution of the productive power in the population; that it is even quite consistent with advancing efficiency in the national industry, and may be accompanied by a steady increase of the power of accumulating fresh capital; but the developement of this proposition belongs to another part of our subject.
We have attempted then, as we proposed, to establish, First, that there is no necessary decrease in the returns to agricultural labor and capital, as cultivation spreads to soils of inferior quality, or extracts a greater produce from the soils already cultivated; and secondly, that several circumstances usually supposed to indicate the existence of such a decrease of agricultural power, namely, a fall of profits, a high relative value of raw produce compared with other commodities, or a high price of raw produce at home, compared with that grown in countries of similar soil and climate, may one and all originate in distinct and different causes. There remains, it appears to me, no method of ascertaining the fertility of the soils, governing prices, which are actually cultivated in any country, relatively to the fertility of those cultivated in the same country at earlier periods, or in other countries at the same period, but actual comparison. One branch of such an enquiry might be difficult: it may not be easy to compare the costs of production in one century with those of another century, in the same country. It is easier to compare, at the same period, the cost of producing corn in a dear country, with the cost of producing it in neighbouring countries, in which it bears a lower price, and has a lower relative value. It would not be impracticable, for instance, to take England, and Poland or Germany, and to make them the subjects of such a comparison, selecting from the poorest soils equal districts of considerable size in each; (for all observations on small plots of ground are, for many reasons, fallacious;) it would be necessary to ascertain (abstracting from money prices) the quantity of labor and the quantity of auxiliary capital employed in each country; and their respective produce. The result would shew with sufficient accuracy the productive power of agricultural labor and capital in each country. If it should appear, that in the country where money prices and rents are the highest, the labor and capital employed in agriculture really yield more produce than similar quantities employed in countries where the money prices of raw produce are comparatively low, then we must ascribe the high prices of the dearer country either to heavier taxation, to higher rate of wages, or to a lower value of the precious metals, or to the joint influence of all these causes; not to the poverty of the soils brought into cultivation, or to the poor returns to the doses of capital gradually applied to the old soils. And any increase of the revenues of the landed proprietors, which may have taken place, must (abstracting from changes in the value of money) be traced, not certainly to a decrease which has not occurred in the returns to agricultural industry on the soils governing prices; but to a gradual increase of produce, common to all soils, but greatest in amount on the best; and to successive improvements in the efficiency of agricultural capital.
On some Indications of the real Sources of increasing Rents, which are to be obtained in particular Instances, by observing, First, the Variations which take place in the comparative Numbers of the agricultural and non-agricultural Classes; and, Secondly, the Alteration. which skew themselves in the Landlord's proportion of the Produce.
It has been stated, that nothing short of a precise enumeration of the wages and capital expended in obtaining similar quantities of produce, will enable us to decide, with perfect certainty, upon the comparative(26) actual fertility of the soils which govern prices, either in different countries at the same time, or in the same country at different times. Such a comparison may be often impossible. Yet in observing the growth of the territorial revenues of a country, we shall naturally be desirous to know, in every instance, whether that growth has proceeded "from the employment of an additional quantity of labor with a proportionally less return," (Mr. Ricardo's sole cause of rents,(27)) or from the more genial sources, of increased produce obtained by increased . capital, and improvements in the efficiency of the capital previously employed.
There are two circumstances which may guide us in our enquiries on this point, if not to perfect and conclusive certainty, yet to a high and satisfactory degree of probability: and these are, First, the variations which take place in the relative numbers of the agricultural and non-agricultural classes. Secondly, the alterations which may be traced in the proportion of the produce taken by the landlords. Indeed, the evidence furnished by these circumstances ought to be accepted, as we shall see, by the school of Mr. Ricardo, as perfect and demonstrative, although their writings forbid us to suppose that this ever occurred to them.
When, during the spread of tillage, "an additional quantity of labor is employed with a proportionally less return," the numbers of the agriculturists must be on the increase, compared with those of the non-agriculturists. A simple calculation will shew this. Let 2,000,000 of cultivators produce 4,000,000 of quarters of corn, sufficient to maintain 4,000,000 of people: the number" of agriculturists and non-agriculturists in such a community (abstracting from foreign trade in corn,) will be just equal. Let the population increase to 8,000,000: if the fertility of the fresh soils now cultivated equal the fertility of the old soils, then 4,000,000 of cultivators will be able to produce food for the 8,000,000 of people, and the relative numbers of agriculturists and non-agriculturists will remain as they were. But if to yield the food of the additional 4,000,000 of people the fresh ground cultivated requires "an additional quantity of labor with a proportionally less return," then a larger number than 2,000,000 of the increased population must be employed in producing food for themselves and the other 2,000,000. Let that larger number be 3,000,000, and then 5,000,000 of agriculturists will be employed in producing the food of 8,000,000 of people. The agriculturists constituted one-half of the population before its increase, they will now constitute five-eighths of it. And if the numbers of the community continue to increase, and the ground from which their additional supplies of food are raised, continues to absorb "an additional quantity of labor with a proportionally less return," then the numbers of the cultivators must also continue to increase relatively to the numbers of the non-cultivators.
In the next place, if rents in a country occupied by farmers, should ever rise from that cause alone, which has been so confidently stated by Mr. Ricardo, to be the sole possible cause of a rise of rents, namely, "the employment of an additional quantity of labor with a proportionally less return," and a consequent transfer to the landlords of a part of the produce before obtained on the better soils; then the average proportion of the gross produce taken by the landlords as rent, will necessarily increase. This is almost self-evident, but it may be as well perhaps to give a short calculation. Let B, C and D, then, be soils cultivated with equal capitals, &c.; let B produce 12 quarters of corn, C 14, and D 16; then, B yielding the ordinary profits of stock, C will have 2, and D 4 quarters of corn as surplus profits or rent. The landlord's proportion of the produce of C and D taken together, will be 6 quarters out of 30, or one-fifth. During the progress of population, let it be necessary to cultivate another soil A, yielding to the same quantity of capital which is employed on B, C and D, only 8 quarters of corn. Then as 8 quarters must now yield the ordinary profits of stock on the capital employed, B, which before paid no rent, will have 4 quarters as surplus profits or rent, C 6, and D 8 quarters: and the landlord will take from the soils paying rents, 18 quarters out of 42, or a fraction more than two-fifths of their gross produce, instead of one-fifth, his former proportion. And so progressively, as additional labor and capital are employed in tillage, with a proportionally less return, additional portions of the produce of the old soils will continue to be transferred to the landlords as surplus profits, in order to equalize the profits made by all the cultivators; and a larger proportion of the whole produce will thus, step by step, assume the shape of rent.(28) In any country, therefore, in which there has been a general rise of rents, proceeding "from the employment of an additional quantity of labor with a proportionally less return," and the consequent transmutation of a part of the produce of the old soils into rent, these two results must be observable: First, the industry of a larger proportion of the population must be devoted to agriculture; Secondly, the proportion of the gross produce paid to the landlords, as rent, must have increased. If these two results are not observable, these rents must have increased from some other cause or causes, and not from "the employment of additional labor in agriculture with a proportionally less return;" and in that case, Mr. Ricardo and his school must have been wrong, when they supposed this last to be the only possible cause of increasing rents.
This reasoning is so obvious, that when brought into contact with circumstances as they exist around us, the result must have served to rouse more wary reasoners into an immediate suspicion, or rather conviction, of the unsoundness of their system. The instance of our own country, viewed with the assistance of these principles, is conclusive as to the fact, that the cause erroneously assumed by Mr. Ricardo to be the sole source of every rise of rents, cannot possibly have been in action during the great elevation of rents which has actually taken place here. On this point, the example of England is the more important, because it is there alone we can observe on a scale large enough to be satisfactory, the progress of farmers' rents, and the connexion of that progress with the fortunes of the other classes of society.
The Increase of Rents in England has proceeded from the
Increase of Agricultural Produce.
The statistical history of England presents to us, prominently, three facts; First, there has been a spread of tillage accompanied by a rise in the general rental of the country; Secondly, there has been a diminution of the proportion of the people employed in agriculture; Thirdly, there has been a decrease in the landlord's proportion of the produce. No one of these circumstances requires surely any formal proof. That there has been a great spread of tillage we know. That there has been a considerable increase in the general rental of the country, is a fact admitted by persons who hold the most opposite opinions as to the real causes of that increase. That there has been a great augmentation of the relative numbers of the non-agricultural classes, is a fact almost equally notorious.: The returns to the two last population acts, prove that this process is still going on. The non-agriculturists in England, amount at present to double the agriculturists, a proportion so widely different from that which prevails in other parts of the world, as to constitute perhaps the most striking among many peculiarities in the economical position of the English population. In France, before the Revolution, the cultivators were as 4 to 1, when compared with the rest of the people. The progress of the other classes has, since the Revolution, been extremely rapid; instead of one-fifth, they now constitute one-third of the whole population. France has, with the exception of England, the largest non-agricultural population of any considerable nation on the face of the globe. There is no reason whatever to suppose, that the cultivators of England 300 years ago, were less numerous, when compared with the rest of the English population, than those of France are now, compared with the rest of the French people. The change which has so completely reversed their relative numbers, and given so great a superiority to the other classes, has probably been long in progress, and although we know it lately to have proceeded with considerable rapidity, those movements of the different branches of the population, by which it has been effected, were probably, at the commencement, slow; but nothing very exact can be ascertained on this point, which is not at all essential to our present purpose.
The gradual diminution of the landlord's proportion of the produce has long been notorious. The following statement is from Adam Smith. After asserting, that in more ancient times, nearly the whole of the produce belonged to the landlord, he goes on to say, "In the present state of Europe, the share of the landlord seldom exceeds a third, sometimes not a fourth part of the whole produce of the land. The rent of land, however, in all the improved parts of the country, has been tripled and quadrupled since those ancient times; and this third or fourth part of the annual produce is, it seems, three or four times greater than the whole had been before. In the progress of improvement, rent, though it increases in proportion to the extent, diminishes in proportion to the produce of the land." Various returns made to the Board of Agriculture shew, that the third or fourth part mentioned by Adam Smith, as having become in his time the ordinary share of the landlords in the produce, is a larger proportion than they now obtain,(29) a fact to be expected, if his doctrine, contained in the sentence just printed in Italics, be correct.
In England then, rents have risen, the proportion of hands employed in cultivation has become much less than formerly, and the proportion of the gross produce, taken by the landlord as rent, has diminished. It follows from the preceding principles and calculations, that the general rise of rents which has taken place, has not "proceeded from the employment of an additional quantity of labor with a proportionally less return," but from some cause or causes essentially distinct from that, and attended by opposite results.
It appears then, as the last result of our analysis, that the increased rents of this country have proceeded from better fanning and greater produce.(30)
There are persons, no doubt, and more perhaps among the ranks of the political economists of the present day than elsewhere, who will disdain conclusions so like those of the uninitiated. Those who have been trained in better schools of reasoning, must smile at such a feeling. The enquirer into the secrets of nature expects with reason that the progress of his labors will lead to the continual revelation of fresh wonders but in ethical and political investigations, our general views must, for the most part, be founded on facts and feelings common to the human race, and forcing themselves into very general observation. On these subjects, therefore, without shewing any quarter to stubborn prejudice or brute ignorance, we may still very safely conclude that there are no symptoms of a false and diseased spirit of philosophizing so certain, as a feverish thirst for the stimulus of startling novelty; a contempt for obvious truths merely because they are already familiar; and a disposition to thrust aside, unregarded and unnoticed, any conclusions which resemble those to which every day experience and prompt spontaneous judgements have conducted the bulk of mankind.
The Interests of the Landlord are not in Opposition to those of the other Classes.
There is great reason to believe, that cases very rarely occur, in which the rentals of districts cultivated by farmers, increase, not because more produce has been obtained from the earth, but because the share of the producing classes has diminished with the increasing difficulties of production. We have just seen, that in England, the only considerable country in which farmers' rents are extensively prevalent, there is strong evidence to shew that this circumstance has not, in any degree, influenced the progress of rents. Still it has been admitted, that in an extreme case, this would be a possible cause of increased rents; and the belief now widely spread, that it is not only a possible but an actually operating cause, makes it of some importance to correct an erroneous impression, founded on that belief, that the interests of the different classes of society may be in permanent opposition to each other. Mr. Ricardo, who could perceive no cause from which an increase of the revenues of the landed proprietors could possibly proceed, except "the employment of additional labor without a proportional return," was led by the unlucky narrowness of his system on this point, to denounce the interests of the landlords, as always opposed to those of every other class of the community.(31) While we have been taking a more comprehensive view of the sources of the increase of rents, and have been shewing the manner in which that increase necessarily follows the concentration and improvement of cultivation, we have gathered ma. terials which enable us to demonstrate the unsound. ness of this repulsive doctrine. It is true that there are cases in which the landlords may derive a limited advantage from circumstances which are diminishing the means of the body of the people; but their permanent prosperity, and that gradual elevation of their revenue which sustains them in their relative position in the community, must emanate from more wholesome and more abundant sources.
If indeed the being in a position to derive occasional gain from the losses of others, were sufficient to characterize any class of society as having interests in permanent hostility with those of their countrymen, Mr. Ricardo, to be consistent and just, should have made his denunciation more general, and included in it both the capitalists and the laborers; for it is not disputed that they too have, each of them, occasionally, interests which are adverse to those of the rest of the community; and that wages may be increased by a decrease of profits, and profits swelled by the decrease of wages, as certainly as rents may be elevated by encroachments on the revenues of the producing classes. But if we were seriously to argue thence, that the interests of all the different classes of the community are in constant and perpetual opposition to each other, the conclusion would arouse the suspicion of the most unwary enquirer. The fact is, that the prosperity which each class can grasp by the depression of others, is, by the laws of nature, limited and insecure. The advantages which each may draw from sources of increasing wealth, common to al1, or at least injurious to none, are safe, and capable of being pushed to an extent of which the limits lie beyond our experience, or means of calculation. And in this respect, there is no difference in the social position of the landlords, and that of the other classes which compose the state.
When the revenues of any one class increase, that increase may in every case proceed from two causes; first, from an invasion of the revenues of some other class, the aggregate revenue of the state remaining what it was: or secondly, from increased production, leaving the revenues of all the other classes untouched, and presenting a clear addition to the aggregate revenue of the nation.
A little consideration will shew us, that it is only in the last, that is, the most advantageous manner, that the revenue of any class can increase progressively and securely in the progress of nations. We will trace this truth, first, in the case of the laborers and capitalists, and then in that of the landlords.
The productive power of a people being stationary, wages may increase, we know, at the expence of profits; or on the other hand, with the advance of the productive powers of the population, wages may increase while profits are undiminished. The power of production being stationary, we have already had occasion to shew how small an increase in the rate of wages will produce a considerable depression of profits: and we have seen, that supposing the capital employed to amount to five times the wages paid, an addition of one single shilling to every 10s. paid as wages, would lower profits from 12 to 10 per cent. In the ordinary state of the world, the further progress of a rise of wages, attended by such an effect, would soon cease to be possible. Long before, in any one nation, the rate of profits had, in the course of such a process, been reduced to one-half their actual amount, capital would flow abroad, employment become more scarce, and the rise of wages be stayed. But if the increase of the rate of wages be accompanied by a corresponding or a greater increase of productive power, it may go on indefinitely without any deterioration, possibly with an increase, of the rate of profits, and of the revenues of the capitalists; and need only cease when the productive powers of mankind have reached their ultimate limit. It is then, unquestionably, a momentary advantage to the laborer, that his wages should increase at the expence of the profits of the capitalist. But his interests, and those of the capitalists, are not, therefore, in perpetual opposition; because his prosperity, if it is to be permanent and progressive, can only exist under circumstances in which it is perfectly compatible with the undiminished means and revenues of his employers.
In like manner, the productive power of labor being stationary, the rate of profits may rise from a diminution of wages; and the capitalists have, therefore, a momentary advantage in the depression of the laboring classes. But the arrangements of Providence are such, that their great and permanent interests can safely rest on no such gloomy foundation. As the poverty and degradation of the population proceeds, the productive powers of the laboring classes, and after a certain point, the security of property, diminish. We have an example of the first of these effects in the serfs of Eastern Europe, and of the last in Ireland. The serf does but one-third of the labor of the well paid freeman; and the Irish peasant, on his low wages, works little better, if compared either with the English peasant or with himself when less depressed. But a difference of two-thirds in productive power, will alone more than balance any difference in the respective rates of wages, of the best, and of the worst paid workmen in Europe. The English capitalists then would lose by the establishment of a German or Irish rate of wages, if their workmen were to be replaced by a race as listless and inefficient as German boors or as Irish cottiers in their actual state of degradation. The inefficiency of the exertions of the laboring classes is not, however, the only circumstance which makes a low and decreasing rate of wages unfavorable to the permanent prosperity of the capitalists. The accumulation of large masses of auxiliary capital cannot go on undisturbed in the midst of a degraded and turbulent population; and it is on the great accumulation of such capital, relatively to the numbers of the population, that the comparative revenues of the capitalists themselves, and their station and influence on the community, depend. In England, profits are low and wages are high, but in no part of the world do the capitalists form so prosperous and important a body. Their revenue exceeds that of the proprietors of the soil, and equals at least half the wages of labor. If English wages were run down, till the state of the laborers approached that of the Irish, their discontent and turbulence, added to habits of reluctant and inefficient labor, would make it neither profitable or safe to employ here the mass of capital at present used in production; and then, in spite of a rise in the rate of profits, the man of profits realized, and the revenues, influence, and comparative importance of the owners of capital, must shrink to dimensions more nearly resembling those of other countries. Although the capitalists, therefore, may reap a momentary advantage from the depression of the laborers, yet their permanent prosperity cannot rest on such a basis. To proceed securely in a career of increasing wealth, they must be surrounded by workmen whom penury and degradation have not made either useless instruments of production, or dangerous neighbours. The interests of the capitalists and the laborers, although they may be occasionally in apparent opposition, are substantially and permanently in perfect harmony. It is the interest of each class that the other should thrive; and that additions to its own revenue should be derived solely from an increase in the productive powers of the industry of the country.
The position of the landlords, in this respect, is similar to that of the laborers and capitalists. There is a momentary gain, which they may snatch from the depression of the rest of the community; but they are not excluded from the operation of that just and benevolent law of Providence, which knits together the interests of society by making fleeting and limited all advances in the revenues of any class, which rest on the deprivation of others; and which permits a career of stable and indefinite increase, only when the prosperity attained by one part goes hand in hand with that of all parts of the nation. An advance of rents, founded solely on a transfer to the landlords of a portion of the produce before enjoyed by the productive classes, must diminish, what without such a transfer would have been, the joint amount of wages and profits. Mr. Ricardo and his school contend that in such a case, the revenue of the productive classes would become positively less than it was before; that the decrease in the amount of raw produce returned to given quantities of capital and labor, could be balanced by no increase in the effects of non-agricultural industry; and they contend further, that this decrease must fall exclusively on the employers of labor, and diminish the rate of profit, which according to them, must vary with each change in the returns to the capital last employed upon the land; on which returns they state the rate of profits to be exclusively dependant.(32) Were we to concede the soundness of this view of the case, it would at once become evident, how very limited the advantages must be which the landlords could derive from such a cause. When, in different countries, which have an easy intercourse with each other, an ordinary rate of profit has been established, any peculiar cause which diminishes that rate in any one country, has a tendency to drive capital to others. The rate of profit in England rests at a point somewhat below that of neighbouring countries, but if the rate be depressed below this inferior point, we know from experience that capital begins to escape very rapidly. A very short period, therefore, during which only very limited effects could be produced, must put an entire stop to a rise of rents founded only on a continuous all of profits. And the landlords of an increasing country would soon be reduced insignificance, were this the only source on which they could rely for the advance of their incomes, as the numbers and wealth of all the other classes were swelling round them.
To see, however, more distinctly, that the actual sources of the increase of the revenue of the landlords are perfectly compatible with the prosperity and undiminished wealth of the people, we must not confine ourselves to so imperfect a view of the causes of the increase of rents. A diminution in the share of producing classes in the produce is, as we must again repeat, certainly a possible, but as certainly only a limited and very rare source of an advance of the revenues of the landlords; that gradual increase of their means, which keeps pace with the riches of other branches of the comm unity, flows from healthier and more copious fountains.
We have seen that the accumulation and concentration of capital, and its gradually increasing efficiency as the power and skill of man advance, are causes of increase in the mass of rents of which the constant operation is established by the same laws which regulate the productive powers of the earth, and the progress of civilized nations in the art of cultivating it. But neither the increase of capital, nor the increase of agricultural science and power, can be rationally expected among a people, the augmentation of whose numbers is attended at every step by an invasion, on the part of the landlords, of the interests of the cultivating classes. A rise of rents founded on such an invasion, if it is injurious to the people, is not less unfavorable to the progress of the revenue of the owners of the soil: it presents them with a momentary and limited profit, while it destroys the hopes of large and enduring improvement. We saw, when examining the different classes of peasant rents, that while they last, the depression of the cultivators stops the progress of those changes in the forms of tenure which the ease and interests of the landlords demand should be completed as fast as society is fit for them; and when the capitalist enters on the scene as a distinct character, it is obviously the interest of the proprietors that every spot of ground should receive the benefit of all the auxiliary capital which the wealth of the country can supply, made more and more efficient by all the skill and power which intellect, and knowledge, and experience can create. These are sources of increased rents which contain within themselves no causes of stagnation and decay, and which for an indefinite period may continue to buoy up the revenues and influence of the landed body, though the numbers and wealth of the other classes are multiplying rapidly around them. While these wholesome causes of increasing rents arc in operation, the power and wealth of the country, we have seen, must be advancing, the territory must become capable of supporting a larger population, and the capital and revenue of that larger population must receive considerable accessions. The circumstances, therefore, which are the most essential to the continuous prosperity of the landlords, are also most conducive to the increasing wealth and strength of the nation. The miserable gains which it is possible for them to wring from the necessities of an impoverished people, are not less destructive to their own prospects of maintaining a permanent and progressive advance of income, than the same gains are injurious to the producing classes. Like the other classes of the community then, they have an interest in diminishing the revenues of those who share with them the produce of the soil. As in the case of all the other classes too, their gains from such a diminution are limited, scanty, and temporary; while the permanence and full developement of their prosperity can only be secure when it goes hand in hand with the progress of the people in wealth, and power, and skill.
It was an error, therefore, to suppose, that there is any thing peculiar to the landlords in the fact, that they have occasionally a limited interest opposed to that of the other bodies which, compose the state. It was a much graver error which led men to teach, that their case forms an exception to that general rule of Providence; which makes sterile and evanescent all advantages which any one class of the community can gain at the expence of the others: that they alone have no source of prosperity common to them with the whole population, and constitute a class marked by the miserable singularity of having no interests, during the progres-. sive advance of national industry and wealth, but such as are hostile to those of all the rest of mankind.
We have seen then, that rents may rise from a diminution in the return to the producing classes of the capital last employed upon the soil, followed by a transfer to the landlords of a portion of the produce of the old soils, sufficient to equalize the share of the producing classes on all the soils cultivated:that the rent thus generated forms no addition to the aggregate national revenue:that it makes the joint amount of wages and profits comparatively less, that is less than it would have been had no diminution in the return to agricultural capital taken place:that no positive decrease of the joint amount of wages and profits necessarily follows, because the increasing productive power of the non-agricultural portion of the community may balance, or more than balance the decreasing power of agricultural industry: that this cause of the rise of rents is not like the two causes first examined, constantly in action as nations increase in wealth and numbers:that its presence and influence in the elevation of rents are not proved by the circumstances usually quoted, as the most certain indications of its operation :that where the relative numbers of the non-agricultural classes have been increasing, or where the proportion of the pro duce taken by the landlords has not increased, there is a strong and decisive reason to believe, that this cause has contributed nothing to any increase which thas taken place in the rental of a country: finally, that although the generation of rents from this particular source is prejudicial to the nation, the general interests of the landlords are not on this account hostile to the progress of the industry and wealth of the people, since their continuous prosperity rests always on other foundations.
We adduced facts and reasons to shew, that "the employment of additional labor without a proportional return," has in truth had no share in elevating the rental of our own country; and have pointed out that although it is, strictly speaking, a possible source of increased revenue of the landed proprietors, yet it is not, as the establishment of more efficient and complete cultivation is, a constant and necessary source of such an increase, wherever the wealth, and skill, and industry of a body of farmers are progressive.
We are conscious that this peculiar source of a possible rise of rents has been dwelt on at somewhat greater length than its relative importance may seem to warrant. The reasons for this have been already intimated. The influence of a decreasing fertility of the soils last cultivated on the progress of rents, and the manner in which the interests of the whole population are affected by the process, have lately attracted much peculiar and anxious attention, and become the basis of much fallacious reasoning and wild speculation. Sir Edward West and Mr. Malthus had pointed out, that the soils actually cultivated in agricultural countries, were of very unequal quality, and that the actual prices of raw produce were barely, sufficient, on some lands, to repay the expences of cultivation with the ordinary rate of profit; while on others, the same prices did this, and left besides a surplus for rent. This fact once seen, it became evident that the relative value of raw produce depended not on the avenge cost of its production, but on the cost of producing a particular portion of it: that to secure the actual supply, the actual prices must be maintained, and could not be lessened, even though the rent paid for the better soils were abandoned to the tenants, or ceased to exist. It became evident too, that any circumstances which made more expensive the cultivation of the inferior soils used, would not diminish rents, but would raise prices, since the cultivator of the land which produced no rent must get his expences and profit, or the supply would fail and prices rise from that cause. The developement of these facts threw considerable light on the circumstances which determine the exchangeable value of raw produce, and on the effects and incidence of taxation; and opened besides many new views of those subjects. It is not perhaps surprising, that the two writers last named, should, in the first ardor of discovery, have been tempted to push the consequences of the facts to which they were drawing the attention of the public, somewhat farther than subsequent and more comprehensive enquiries would warrant. And, accordingly, both Sir Edward and Mr. Malthus, after pointing out, that as cultivation extends itself, the capital employed upon soils of different qualities produces very unequal returns, shew an occasional disposition to take it for granted, that in the progress of agriculture, every additional portion of capital applied to the soils must produce a less return than that which preceded it:a distinct and very different proposition; entirely without foundation, when viewed relatively to capital employed in developing the powers of the old soils; and which, when confined to the case of capital laid out upon new and inferior soils, allows nothing for the progress of human power. The unsoundness of this assumption has already been pointed out. In the treatises of Sir Edward West and Mr. Malthus, however, these opinions were merely exaggerations of the consequences of an important truth, presented to the world without being sufficiently sifted. When adopted by Mr. Ricardo, they became unluckily the sole foundation of an extensive system of political philosophy, embracing the whole subject of rents, wages, profits and taxes; and attempting to explain, in a series of logical deductions, drawn from this narrow foundation, all the causes which in progress of nations regulate the revenues of the different classes of society.(33) It was of course essential to the establishment of this system, that every other apparent cause of increasing rents should be proved illusory. Hence the attempts made to deny that the general increase of the produce of the soil, which follows the accumulation of capital upon it, can possibly raise rents, or be beneficial to the landlords, unless some of that capital be laid out without a diminished return, and the share of the producing classes be reduced. Hence, too, similar attempts to prove that agricultural improvements of every description, even those by which the expence of obtaining produce are made less, are, for a time, absolutely prejudicial to the interests of the proprietors, and only begin to be useful to them when the cost of getting produce on the soils governing price has been increased.(34) From a system which saw no possible mode of increasing the revenues of the landlords which was not founded on a corresponding decrease of those of the producing classes, it followed necessarily that the interests of the landlords, and those of the other classes of society were in a state of perpetual hostility. And this gloomy conclusion assumed a yet darker complexion when blended with some other errors of the same school. As all compensation from the increasing power of non-agricultural industry was overlooked, the reduction in the returns to agricultural labor and capital, which according to them follows a people in every attempt to increase the quantity of raw produce obtained from its territory, occasions a positive decrease in the revenues of the producing classes. The share of the laborers, they believed to be, except of short intervals of time, invariable: the decrease of the revenues of the producing classes must affect, therefore, exclusively the rate of profits. But as they assumed the people to be fed in all cases from accumulated capital alone, and capital to be accumulated from profits exclusively, and the power of the owners of profits to accumulate, to be dependant on the rate of profit, it followed that at every fall in the rate of profit, the national power of accumulation was diminished, and a disastrous check given to the sole means of providing for an increasing population. There is no one of these various positions which is not partially or altogether false; but to persons possessed with an opinion of their truth, the great original error of supposing every increase of rent to indicate a corresponding diminution in the returns yielded by agriculture to the producing classes, seemed to lead at once to the conclusion, that at every step in the elevation of rents, the elements of national prosperity were weakened, and the other classes of the community exposed to corresponding privations. These views are embodied in many striking passages of Mr. Ricardo's writings, which form the framework of a system erected by him and finished by others who have adopted his views. Those who will take the trouble of turning to his publications, will find him declaring in different passages, some of which have been already quoted, that the increasing rents proceed always, not from additional wealth created on the soil, but from a transfer of wealth which before existed into the hands of the landlords: that rent invariably proceeds from the application of additional capital to agriculture with a diminished return: that nothing which does not alter the relative fertility of the lands cultivated can increase rents: that improvements in agriculture do not increase rents:(35) that such improvements lower rents at least for a time, and lessen the means of the landlords, their ability to pay taxes, &c.: that increasing rents no addition to the resources of a country: that every rise in rents is a mere transfer of value, advantageous only to the landlords, and proportionably injurious to the consumers: and, finally, that the interests of the landlords are always opposed to those of every other class in the community.(36) The erroneous views in which these positions originated, proceeded no doubt from imperfect observation and hasty reasoning; there is no reason whatever to believe, that they were prompted by malignity, or put in circulation to create mischief. But, however calm and free from thought of evil may be the philosophy from which false political theories are engendered, they are no sooner afloat and current in the world, than they necessarily come into contact with prejudices and passions which convert them into sources of very serious delusions. Mistaken views and excited feelings as to the sources of the prosperity of the landed proprietors, like those which have lately prevailed in England, have a double bad effect. They lead the people to look with jaundiced and angry eyes upon augmentations in the revenue of the proprietors, which are in truth only so many indications and effects of a great and most desirable increase in the resources of the country. And when discussions have arisen as to practical measures, the same mistaken views and feelings have evidently served, first to make one party querulous and angry, and then the other, as if in self-defence, suspicious and reluctant.
SECTION VIII. Summary of Farmer's Rents
The fact that these rents prevail almost exclusively in England, is sufficient to fix upon them earnest attention. They deserve it on another account. There are indications, faint in some quarters, stronger in others, but discernible in many, that the European nations will all, sooner or later, approach partially, at least, to a similar system. We have shewn reasons for believing, that their progress towards it will on the whole be very slow; but still it is not the less true that the composition and capabilities of countries in which farmer's rents prevail, must be distinctly understood, if we would thoroughly comprehend either the peculiar economical condition of our own country, or the probable direction and character of the future career of our neighbors. It certainly will be wise, while devoting ourselves to this task, not to repeat an error which has blinded many late writers to truths of a yet more general application: which has led them, while speculating on circumstances peculiar to themselves, sometimes wholly to neglect those ruder and more prevalent systems, the results of which decide the fortunes and condition of the largest portion of the human race: at other times, to confound and confuse things and circumstances essentially different, under the cover of imperfect analogies, made more illusory by the careless use of general terms, and idle attempts to reason deductively from them.
We are all, as Englishmen, occasionally more liable than could be wished, to some of these mistakes; we are much too prone to consider the state of society in which we exist as a type of all others, and this narrow and mistaken assumption is necessarily the parent of much ignorance and many errors. England is, in fact, at the extreme end and verge of the economical career of nations, as far as that career is yet known; at a point not yet reached by any other considerable community; and one which has placed her in a position, if not more desirable, yet very different from theirs(37) We see men here, in agriculture as well as in all the other branches of human industry, aiding their native powers of production hy the use of an unusually large mass of accumulated stock, which the skill and invention of successive generations has been tasked so o apply, as to add gradually but constantly to the productive powers of the existing race. This capital, and the power it has created, in their separate application to the art of agriculture, enable the soil to support a population, of which the whole amount is triple that of the cultivators. The owners of an imposing mass of accumulated force, themselves maintain and employ the whole of the industrious population.(38) The proprietors of the soil are no longer exclusively either rulers in peace, or leaders in war, and are not the direct sources of subsistence to any part of the population. The nation is influenced by revenues, as it is governed by institutions, in estimating which, the landowners appear only as a part. The national territory, and the estates of the proprietors of land, preserve of course precisely the same extent, while the wealth and numbers of classes wholly independent of the soil, are swelling and multiplying almost indefinitely. Are the fortunes of the landowners in the mean while stationary? Do they sink gradually into insignificance? Do they cease to occupy a useful and prominent station in the community? None of these things happen. By the consequences of a part of the physical constitution of the earth, from the effects of which communities of men could not escape, were they perverse enough to wish it, the landed body preserves a wholesome and modified, though no more an exclusive influence; and its members remain important elements of a society, in which they are no longer dominant. As the knowledge and skill of the cultivators discover the means of applying a fair portion of the increasing capital of the community to the important purpose of bringing into play the latent powers of the soil, and of enlarging the means of supporting a growing nation, a new species of rent exclusively prevails: the fresh power thus applied, forcing greater results from the better soils, produces a fund which forms no part of the ordinary remuneration, either of the laborers who till the lands, or of the capitalists who maintain, direct and assist them, and when once identified with this fund, of which we have seen that the progress and amount are quite indefinite, the incomes of the landlords continue progressive with the advancing resources of the country. It is thus that that inequality in the productive powers of different portions of the earth's surface, which at the commencement of the agricultural labors of mankind, exercises no perceptible influence on the origin or on the forms of rent, and but little on its variations, shews at last its peculiar importance; and during the matured and improved advance of nations, is sufficient of itself to secure for the landed body, a steady and necessary, though a limited and innoxious advance of their incomes.
We have already seen the utter fallacy of the notion, that this progress must be attended at every step with a decrease in the productiveness of the soils which govern prices, or with a consequent pressure on the means of any class of society.
Observations on some circumstances in the actual position of England.
In surveying this subject of farmers rents, it is not easy, perhaps it is not desirable, to avoid quitting the contemplation of them in a general and abstract point of view, for the purpose of applying the principles which arise out of that survey to the case of England, and to the peculiarities of its actual condition: and meaning to steer as clear as possible of every thing commonly called politics, there are a few observations of this description which I cannot turn aside from making.
It is, we have seen, on the increasing wealth and progressive skill of the agricultural capitalist, the farmer, that the steady progress of the landed body is independent. Not a step can be made in agriculture, not one improvement, not a single portion of new power introduced into the art of cultivation, which does not, if generally adopted, by its unequal effects over the surface of the country, raise the mass of rents. The property and the energy and mental activity of the farmers, are thus the mainstay, the sole permanent reliance of the landlords. Every circumstance which diminishes the means, the security, or the hopefulness and energy of these agents of cultivation, must be proportionably detrimental to the best interests of the proprietors. I think there is little doubt, that if the changes and fluctuations which have occurred since the peace, had not crippled the means and damped the enterprise of the farmers, they would, by spreading improved modes of cultivation to large districts, as yet impervious to them, and by a continuous progress of power and skill, have produced a considerable mass of produce rents which do not now exist. `The non-existence of these is unquestionably a serious and gratuitous misfortune to the proprietors: perhaps the greatest they have experienced; for had it not occurred, their incomes, in spite of the altered circumstances of the country, might have been buoyed up to something like their former level.
But proprietors do not suffer alone, when the national progress in developing the powers of its soil is stayed and thwarted by the farmers being impoverished and disheartened. The non-agricultural classes suffer in their turn, and that in a manner, and to an extent, which is not the less formidable, because it is not easy accurately to track the loss in its progress and diffusion, or to measure its precise amount. It is probable, that after allowing for their own consumption, the value of the produce bartered by the agriculturists with the non-agriculturists is not less than 100 millions. This fact is well adapted to shew the mutual dependence of the two great classes of the state. Let us suppose, that scared by losses and apprehensions, the farmers withdraw one fourth of their annual expenditure from the task of cultivation. This is a process, which every one acquainted with country business will know might be quietly, and almost imperceptibly effected, by using less labor, or by farming less highly in a variety of ways. If a proportionate diminution in production were to follow, and consequent on that, a similar diminution in the home traffick between the agriculturists and the non-agriculturists, the decrease in the demand for the produce of the industry of these last would be considerably more than equivalent to the decrease of demand, which would follow the destruction of one half the whole foreign trade of the country. I do not say that such a case either has occurred, or is likely to occur, although I have beard some strong opinions on that subject from persons well entitled to be listened to with attention; but an effect much less than this, would unquestionably be more than equal to the sudden and complete stoppage of the most important branch of our export trade; and an effect even greater than this, would certainly follow any sudden and violent attack upon the means of the farmers. The results of any decrease in the domestic demand would be spread over a larger surface; and would therefore be less intensely felt on any one point, and create less concentrated clamor; than the results of a decrease to a similar extent, when felt in the export market alone; but it would be an obvious delusion to suppose, that the resources and prosperity of the whole body of non-agriculturists. would not be affected to precisely the same extent in the one case as in the other.
It is difficult not to believe that part of the distress which seems to have lighted from some mysterious cause on many classes of the community, is to be traced to the imperceptible contraction of this part of the home demand. There are persons doubtless who think, that any possible reduction of home, may be compensated by the extension of foreign, demand. This, in practice, is only true to a certain extent; but this question would provoke discussion, and we will suppose it true to any extent. Still it is clear that foreign demand is not likely to be suddenly created, to counteract the effects of sudden contractions of the domestic traffic; and that therefore a period of considerable distress and languor, perhaps ruin and calamity, must follow all such contractions.
It is the evident interest of the non-agriculturists then, that whatever changes take place in foreign demand, the home market should be prosperous, because it is their largest market; and that it should not vary, because such variations must affect their own prosperity. If the unchecked career of the farmers is essentially connected with the prosperous fortunes both of the landed proprietors, and of the non-agricultural classes, it must obviously be closely connected with the prosperous fortune of the nation; and no plan of legislation can be sound and wise, which does not cautiously avoid any measures likely to destroy either the means or the spirit of the agricultural capitalists. Now considering how many interests are bound up in the results of wise and cautious legislation, whenever the interests of the agricultural capitalists are concerned, it is singularly unlucky that such a question as that of the "Corn Laws" should exist, which seems fated never to be approached without provoking an angry and headlong spirit in one great division of the nation, Bo and a most mischievous temper of fear and depression in the other division. Yet it is admitted, that in the present financial situation of the country, corn laws of some description must exist. Nor is there in truth any great dispute about the main principle: the establishment of a "Protection from peculiar burthens" is what all profess to be content with.
But here the real difficulty of the question begins; what are the peculiar burthens sustained by the agriculturists? and it is because I can point out two important measures, the effecting which would go far to remove the difficulty of deciding this questions or at any rate would make that difficulty less decisive and important that I have ventured into this digression.
There are two payments made by the farmer, which while they remain in their present state, will continue to confuse the subject so much, that neither party to the discussion is likely to be satisfied; and these are Tithes and Poor Rates. The real incidence and the effects of both of these, we shall explain more at large when speaking of taxation. The incidence of tithes is certainly in every particular instance a question which involves some statistical difficulties, not because the principles which enable us to determine the question are abstruse or obscure, but because that incidence is different, in countries differently circumstanced as to the actual position and state of their agricultural population. In the particular case of England, however,in the first place it can be made abundantly clear, that tithes, when first created, must have been in the then circumstances of the English population, meant to act as a rent charge; and in the second place it seems agreed on all hands, not only that tithes should be put upon such a footing as to be no real burthen on agriculture; to cause no addition to the growing price of produce; but further, that they should be placed upon such a footing, that it may be palpable and clear to all branches and classes of the population on and off the land, that they are not such a burthen, and do not cause such an addition. Now this can only be effected by a general commutation. What has passed in Parliament may be taken as a proof, that the leaders of the Church are perfectly willing to co-operate in the adoption of any rational plan of this kind: should the legislature set about the task, with a serious conviction of its usefulness and importance, and intrust the execution of it to the hands of persons acting on sound views, and in a frank and honest spirit of conciliation, its very few difficulties would quickly disappear. On the immense importance of such a change in a political and religious, as well as in an economical point of view, it cannot be necessary to enlarge.
The poor laws present a much more pressing and alarming mass of evil, as they do also much more serious difficulties. In the first place, the effects of the poor laws as a mere economical evil, as affecting the interests and calculations of the farmer, and the growing prices of corn, are considerably underrated. These laws are first, a burthen the direct and indirect pressure of which, it is difficult for the farmer himself to calculate; and which it is probable therefore, that in all cases he exaggerates; and in the next place they form a much more, a very much more, serious addition to the necessary price of agricultural produce in England, than a mere arithmetical calculation would lead us to conclude they did: and they do this, because their pressure is unequally distributed, and falls by far the most heavily on those poorer soils, the expence of cultivating which must in the long run, (abstracting from the effects of foreign importation) determine the average prices of raw produce. This circumstance alone forms a sufficiently urgent reason for attempting such alterations as might get rid of this unnatural, and certainly not desirable, interference with the level of English prices.
But all merely economical considerations really sink into utter insignificances when we turn to the fearful mass of moral and political mischief which they have brought into action.(39) It is not too much to say, that they have thoroughly destroyed the happiness of the agricultural peasantry, and corrupted their habits as laborers and as men. These effects have shewn themselves but too distinctly. The late disturbances among that peasantry only sheer ignorance could attribute to any peculiar actual pressure. The temper, and feelings, and delusions in which they originated, have been forming for some time. The outbreak might have been foreseen by all (and it was foreseen by some) familiar with the practical working and results of the system: and unless that system be annihilated, or at least essentially and fundamentally altered, those disturbances will, it may confidently be expected from the nature of the case, have been neither the last, nor the most dangerous. And still, evil and dangerous as they have been, they were only one effect and indication of the miserably distorted and irritated feelings of which they were the result. The legislation of the country on this subject has been bad, and deserves unquestionably much of the blame which has been shifted to the shoulders of those who have administered its regulations. But neither, certainly, has their administration been blameless, Bad laws have laid the foundation; and then, sometimes by bad management with very good intentions, and sometimes by bad management with very questionable intentions, the poor have gradually been brought into a condition in which they are led to attribute unhesitatingly every privation and every disappointment to those neighbors, under whose control they find themselves, and who are to them the visible source of all the good and evil of their lot. When men are in this position, the consequences arc most fatal, though most natural. Can we wonder that their tempers had become soured, and their views of what is reasonable and unreasonable, of what is right and wrong, perverted? The fact is, that there had been for some time spreading through this class of our population an angry spirit of dislike to their immediate superiors, the most dangerous germ of political disorder; and in the mean time their own principles and habits have assumed a character, over which it is impossible not to mourn; which far-seeing persons may easily trace back to causes over which the poor themselves had no control; but which is extremely ill calculated to conciliate the confidence, or the good will, or forbearance, of those who have to deal with it; and tends therefore by its consequences to perpetuate and increasc distrust and ill will between the laborers, and those who have the management of them and of their fortunes.
We have had from these causes a painful instance of the connexion of economical and moral evil. The moral havoc has indeed been complete. The honesty of the laborers, their self respect, their value for their character as workmen, all hope of bettering their condition in life by good conduct, industry, and prudence; their sense of their mutual duties and claims as parents and children, all feelings and habits in short, that contribute to make men good citizens, and good men, have been undermined and impaired, or utterly destroyed.
No remedy for these evils in the condition of the poor deserves the name of a wise and statesmanlike measure, which is not of a nature sufficiently comprehensive, to offer some promise of bringing healing and health to all these diseased points. I do not know that such a remedy need be despaired of: the plan of using allotments of land for such a purpose, has been sufficiently discussed and tried, to enable us to judge of its capabilities. If the country was enabled, by the necessary modifications of the existing laws, and by some new ones, to adopt that plan efficiently into general practice, it might enable the agricultural districts, not merely to palliate the actual pressure, the threatening danger, from the poor laws; but to do what must be effectually done, if the moral mischief is to be eradicated; and that is, to annihilate the connexion between the able bodied laborers and those laws, altogether, and for ever.(40) In the mean time, it would be a dangerous experiment for the governors of a state so situated, to fold their hands and wait for what is to happen next. The slow, and too often perplexed and thwarted progress of individual efforts, can lead to no general results of sufficient power to arrest in time the progress of the moral pestilence which has long been pursuing our footsteps, and is already breathing on our necks. Legislation must be resorted to, and that, comprehensive and decisive, as the occasion demands; but carried on (it need hardly be said) in a spirit as calm and benevolent as it is firm and decided: and guided ever, it may be hoped, by the great aim, of promoting the comforts and happiness of the laboring class, as the best and surest foundation of the prosperity and peace of the nation at large.
I must add, while on this subject, that no plan for extinguishing the claims of able bodied laborers on their parishes, will appear to me either just or expedient, which is not calculated to place them not only ultimately, but at every step of the change, in a position, not merely as good as that in which they are now, but better. Without forgetting or palliating their actual faults, still we should remember, that the miserable system by which their better principles, and in some measure their freedom of body and mind, have been bartered as it were piece-meal for doles from the poors'-rate, was neither devised nor desired by them: and it will be in vain and unjust to call upon them to make efforts to disentangle themselves from its effects, except they can distinctly see that it is not risk or loss or suffering, but gain and reward, which are proffered to them.
It will be recollected, that the tithe and poor-laws have only been considered here as bearing on the general question of the corn-laws and through that question, on the harmony of the agricultural and non-agricultural classes, and on the uninterrupted perception by both of them, of their common and inseparable interests. To return then more distinctly and exclusively to this point of view. If we suppose the tithes commuted, and the poor-rates done away with, or reduced to a very small sum, then the farmer, in estimating his peculiar burthens, would be relieved from a feeling of indefinite pressure, and from many vague fears of risk and loss, which are kept alive and irritated by the existence of those payments in their present state. This effected, a scale of duties might probably be devised, which should be both fixed and moderate. Till this is done, it is very much to be feared that no corn-laws, which are really equitable, will ever appear to the farmer to give him sufficient protection while the non-agricultural classes will be but too easily persuaded, that they add exorbitantly and unjustly to the price of provisions. The ceaseless collision of such opinions will necessarily keep on foot hostile and angry feelings, and be destructive of that confidence and frank co-operation between the different orders and classes of the community, without which, in times of peril, and even in times of peace, a state is shorn of more than half its strength.
But a fixed and moderate duty permanently esablished,(41) and angry feelings on the one side, and exaggerated fears of change on tile other, finally quelled, the farmer might once more begin gradually to accumulate, and gradually to find new modes of employing fresh quantities of capital. The consequences of a diffused and skilful employment of such fresh farming capital, have already been pointed out. England offers still a large field for agricultural enterprize and improvements. The best methods of cultivation already known, extend to no great proportion. of her surface; and when these have been generally diffused, the career of the cultivators may still be for ages progressive. Superior as the English agriculture is, there are many indications that it is still only approaching, that it is far from having reached, the term of its power. The introduction of mechanical or chemical forces which will displace much of the animal power now used; the discovery of fresh and more prolific grasses and vegetables to be cultivated by the plough or spade; the gradual breaking up of much of the ground over which cattle now roam; the raising a greater proportion of the more valuable crops, which contribute directly or indirectly to human subsistence; and a general advance in the efficiency of the many aids to human labor used by the husbandman ; these are all improvements, the gradual establishment of which it is so far from extravagant to expect, that it is perhaps more like extravagance to doubt that many of them are close at hand. One effect of such new power gained by agriculture, will unquestionably be the reclaiming and gradually fertilizing a considerable portion of the large part of the soil of the country which is now unproductive: and while the grappling with the wild land, and the multiplication of means and power on the old, are going on, we may, judging of the future from the past, rationally hope that the power of agriculture will be increasing, and that the population of the country will be maintained by the exertions of a diminished proportion of its laborious hands. It has been already pointed out, it is hoped with sufficient clearness, that during such a progress, the mass of rents must be constantly increasing. In a country cultivated by farmers, with every forward movement of the people in numbers, wealth, knowledge and skill, the landed body, borne up by the swelling wave, will be lifted to a station in which their means and influence will be adapted to the fresh position of the population. The causes of this advancement are deeply seated in the physical constitution of the earth. The funds which support it are injurious to no class: they cannot be destroyed or lessened: their existence and increase are secured by the same unfailing laws which regulate those unequal returns, which the varied surface of the earth must ever make to the labors bestowed upon it. The enduring interests of the landed proprietors are thus indissolubly bound up and connected with the means, the enterprize, and the success of the agricultural capitalists. Temporary: advantages in their bargains with their tenantry, or in their arrangements with the state, are to them objects necessarily of inferior, sometimes of only illusory benefit. The fortunes, the station, the comparative influence and means of their order, are always therefore best guarded and preserved by them, when, keeping aloof from all that may embroil or hinder the general progress of the nation in wealth and skill, they use their individual influence, and their political functions, to promote such systems only of national policy and finance as are just and moderate; likely, therefore, to be steady and durable, and to leave a free course to those wholesome causes which promote their own peculiar interests, only as identified with those of the nation.
The task of observing the revenues annually derived from the soil by its owners, is finished.
We have marked the laws which determine the amount of rents under all their many forms and characters. We have traced them to their origin, in the early appropriation of the soil; in its power to yield more to the rudest efforts of man than the bare sustenance of its cultivators; and in the necessity which, in the infancy of agricultural communities, binds the peasant to the task of tilling the earth, because it is thus only that he can earn the food on which he is to exist. We have followed them afterwards to those more limited spots, in which an advance in the state of society, and the introduction of a body of agricultural capitalists, (not necessarily dependent on the soil for subsistence,) have limited rents to those surplus profits, which can be realized on particular spots of ground. Perhaps this is the place to notice an attempt, which it has been suggested to me may still be made, to reduce all rents to rents of this last description. Those, it has been said, who maintain that rents always consist in unequal returns to equal portions of capital, and in such unequal returns alone, may still refuse to admit, that the history which has been given of the nature and origin of peasants' rents, is any refutation of their narrow system. I should not have anticipated such an attempt: but I can conceive it possible.
There often exists unquestionably among the labor or produce rents paid by every class of peasant tenantry, a portion of the payment, which may be traced to the superior quality of some parts of the soil. The landlord of a serf peasantry gets more labor from the same space when the land is good, than he does when it is bad. The landlord of ryots, metayers, or cottiers, finds his produce or money rents greater on the good soils, than on the inferior. We have already seen, however, that such a difference has nothing to do with the origin, or with the form of such rents, and exists as a quantity unknown or unobserved by those who pay, or those who receive them, amidst the action of the causes which have been pointed out as practically determining their variations. There is one very limited and peculiar form of society, in which this difference does afford a correct measure of the rents paid by the agricultural capitalists, who constitute the body of the tenantry. But, out of the peculiar rents paid in these limited districts, first to form a narrow definition of the word rent, and then to attempt forcibly to include under this word, the payments made by the tillers of the earth over the whole of its surface, is to attempt to make the realities of things bend and circumscribe themselves within the more manageable but arbitrary compass to which we may wish to confine our reasonings: it is to abandon the task of observation by which our knowledge should be earnt, that we may create an unreal foundation for systems, which, as far as they profess to be general, must necessarily be visionary and false; which can be serviceable only in the work of amusing ourselves and deluding others; and must end in leaving us ignorant of the origin, progress, and effects, of the relations between landlord and tenant, over ninety-nine parts in a hundred of the cultivated globe. I need not, I hope, press this point farther. The whole of these pages present the proper answer to such an attempt. They have effected little, if they have not shewn, that it is by no such puerile efforts to make reasoning supply the place of knowledge, that we can gather practical wisdom from enquiries into the economical condition of the great family of mankind.
The existence of the revenue which is derived from lands forms, in the very dawn of civiliza- tion, the most important element of its progress. It is the fund from which communities derive their ornaments and their strength. It supplies states with leaders in war, and rulers in peace; gives birth to the useful and the elegant arts; and yields, directly or indirectly, those means and opportunities of leisure, which are the parents of literature, and of all accumulated and transmitted knowledge.
If the existence and general progress of rents is identical with the extent and growth of the sources of civilization, their peculiar forms exercise a no less dominant influence on all the most important distinguishing characteristics of nations, and of classes of nations. Nor is this the case only in the infancy of communities; we have already seen, that with the exception of our country, and of one or two others, all, even the leading people of the earth, are still agricultural; that is, by far the largest portion of their industrious population is employed in agriculture; and we have too, good reason to believe, that their condition in this respect will change slowly, where it changes at all. But among nations so situated, (forming the majority of the inhabitants of the world) so it is, and ever must be, that the productive powers of their population, their joint wealth and strength, the elements of most of their political institutions, and of many of their moral characteristics, can only be understood and weighed, after a thorough investigation into the habits, the ties, the relations, the revenues, to which the occupation of the land they exist on has given birth, and which it continues to maintain. It is from such an investigation alone therefore, that we must acquire the power of estimating the actual condition, or of judging of the future prospects, of the majority of our fellow men.
Of the great leading divisions, which separate the agricultural nations of the earth into distinct masses, I have attempted to draw a distinct outline. There are, however, probably, within the limits of each division, instances of exceptions and modifications, which may have escaped my notice, and which exercise some influence over the circumstances and institutions of individual communities. If I should succeed in directing the attention of others to the points which I have pointed out as important in the tenures and habits of agricultural nations, some account of those modifications will probably be hereafter supplied. In the mean time, as I am conscious that the wide outline I have drawn, and such details as I have introduced, are faithful and impartial, 1 cannot and do not doubt, that the progressive supply of detailed information, will confirm the principles which I have pointed out, while it may probably modify and correct, to some extent, their local application.
The rents paid by the smallest, but to us the most interesting class of tenantry, agricultural capitalists, or farmers, I have treated with Mr. Malthus and others, simply as surplus profits. The view, however, taken here of the different modes by which these surplus profits may increase and accumulate on the soil, is, I believe, new. Certainly it is cheering, and strips away at once all that was harsh and repulsive, in the false aspect lately so laboriously given to the causes and sources of increase in this class of rents.
During the progress of the whole subject, abstracting from all difference in the forms of rents, and in the character and the relations between the cultivators and proprietors, one great truth has been placed, it is hoped, on the secure foundation of a patient and copious induction. I have had pleasure in introducing the evidence of it wherever it has occurred, and I shall conclude with it. In no one position of society, during no one period of the progress of civilization, do the real interest. qf the proprietors of the soil cease to be identical with those of the cultivators, and of the community to which they both belong. But even this truth itself, if the views which I have, with some labor, arrived at, do not deceive me, will, in the future progress of our subject, appear to be included in one yet more cheering, because more comprehensive; namely,that all systems are essentially false and delusive, which suppose that the permanent gain and advantage of any one class of the community, can be founded on the loss of another class: because the same providence which has knit together the affections and sympathies of mankind, by so many common principles of action, and sources of happiness, has, in perfect consistency with its own purposes, so arranged the economical laws which determine the social condition of the various classes of communities of men, as to make the permanent and progressive prosperity of each, essentially dependent on the common advance of all.
Note. It has been suggested to me, that I have hardly dwelt enough on the possibility of confounding the character of the Ryots as tenants, and their claims as hereditary occupiers of the soil. I have added note, VIII. in the Appendix, in which this point is considered, with a particular reference to Col. Tod's late work on Rajast'han.
1. Ricardo, 3rd edit. p. 93.
2. Ibid. 2nd edit. p. 55.
3. Ibid. 2nd edit. pp. 518, 519.
4. Mill's Elements, 3rd edit. p. 29
5. Columella. Lib. I.
6. Ricardo, 2nd edit. p. 55.
7. Ibid. 2nd edit. pp. 518, 519.
8. See p. 194.
9. See p. 203.
10. Passages in note A.
11. The practice of ploughing light lands with two horses and one man, and the alternate and convertible husbandry, the great improvements of modern times, have been fully known for more than half a century. If they spread themselves no faster than they have done yet, another half century will elapse before they are adopted on all the lands fitted for them.
12. Ricardo, 2nd Edit. pp. 499, 500, 501. "One of these errors (he is speaking of some supposed errors of Mr. Malthus,) lies in supposing rent to be a dear gain and a new "creation of riches." "Rent then is a creation of value, but "not a creation of wealth; it adds nothing to the resources of a country: it does not enable it to maintain fleets and armies,' &c. &c. The reader will have observed already, how utterly fallacious and inapplicable these reasoninge and opinions are, if we turn to peasant rents, that is, to the large body of the rents actually paid. I trust they will, in the text, be made to appear equally fallacious, when taken as exclusively applicable to the surplus profits realised on the land, that is, to farmers' rents.
13. Ricardo, 3rd Edit. p. 4.85. We should have, he says, precisely the same quantity, and no more, of commodities, and the same millions of quarters of corn as before (that is, before the rise of rents.)
14. Meaning labor not productive of wealth, as we have defined wealth, that is, material wealth.
15. Macculloch, p. 282.
16. It would complicate the calculation, if we were to take in here any elements of exchangeable value besides the mere labor employed: and to demonstrate the truth we are travelling to, that complicated calculation is not necessary.
17. It will be shewn hereafter, that in a country replete with capital. an England is, it is always highly probable that the rate of wages will be sufficiently ahead of that rate in poorer countries, to produce a slight inferiority in the rate of profits in the richer country; though its productive power be the greatest and in a state of rapid increase.
18. "We have seen, in treating on wages, that they invariably rise with the rise in the price of raw produce. It may be taken for granted, that. under ordinary circumstances, no permanent rise takes place in the price of necessaries without occasioning or having been preceded by a rise in wages. Thus we again arrive at the same conclusion, which we have before attempted to establish, that in all countries and all times, profits depend on the quantity of labor requisite to provide necessaries for the laborers on that land, or with that capital which yields no rent." Ricardo, pp. 118, 128.
19. Principles of Political Economy, p. 193.
20. Page 198.
21. Ricardo, 2nd edit. p. 163.
22. Ibid. p. 159.
23. Ricardo, 2nd edit. p. 157.
24. See article Credit, Supplement to Encyclopedia Britannica.
25. Malthus, Principles of Political Economy, p. 193.
26. The comparative potential fertility of soils, that is, the fertility each would be found to possess after having been for some time cultivated, with the most and best industry, skill, and means, is something very different from their comparative actual fertility; a circumstance which should always be remembered, when the policy of cultivating apparently barren wastes is under consideration.
27. "Rent invariably proceeds from the employment of an additional quantity of labor with a proportionally less return." Ricardo, 1st edit. p. 60.
28. Mr. Ricardo himself was perfectly aware, (indeed he could not be otherwise,) that this was a necessary conclusion from his doctrine as to the one sole cause of augmented rents. "The same cause," he says, "the difficulty of production, raises the exchangeable value of raw produce, and raises also the proportion of raw produce paid to the landlord as rent." Ricardo on Political Economy, 2nd edit. p. 71.
29. Some of these returns may be seen in Mr. Lowe's book, 2nd edit. p. 155. It will be observed, that the expenses only are there compared with the rent; adding profits on the lowest possible scale, it will be seen that the rent must have ordinarily been about one-fifth of the gross produce. Even this exceeds the usual calculations of some experienced land-valuers.
30. To estimate that greater produce fairly, it is always to be recollected, that we must not confine our views to the increased corn produce of small spots, although that is remarkable, but must take in the varied produce of considerable tracts; or at least, of whole farms.
31. Ricardo, Essay on the Influence of a low price, &c. p. 20. "It follows then, that the interest of the landlord is always opposed to the interests of every other class in the community."
32. Ricardo, pp. 118, 128.
33. "In treating on the subject of the profits of capital, it is necessary to consider the principles which regulate the rise and fall of rent; as rent and profits, it will be seen, have a very intimate connection with each other." Ricardo, Essay on the Influence of low Price of Corn on the Profits of Stock, Introduction, p. 1. "The general profits of stock depend wholly on the profits of the last portion of capital employed on the land." Ricardo, Ibid. p. 20. "But I think it may be most satisfactorily proved, that in every society advancing in wealth and population, independently of the elect produced by liberal or scanty wages, general profits must fall unless there be improvements in agriculture, or corn can be imported at a cheaper price. It seems the necessary result of the principles which have been slated to regulate the progress of rent." Ricardo, Ibid. p. 22. But those who are at all acquainted with Mr. Ricardo's writings, will want no extracts to prove to them the manner in which his notions, as to the one peculiar source of rents, served as a basis for all his speculations on the distribution of wealth.
34. "If, by the introduction of the turnip husbandry, or by the use of a more invigorating manure, I can obtain the same produce with less capital, I shall lower rent." Ricardo on Political Economy, 2nd edit. p. 68. The reference to this strange passage was mislaid, or it would have been quoted before. Mr. R. proceeds to argue, that in the case he is supposing, land would be necessarily thrown out of cultivation, "and a different and more productive portion will be that which "will form the standard from which every other will be reckoned." The reader has seen (p. 240.) in what manner the introduction of the turnip husbandry, and its gradual spread, as the numbers of the people were increasing, actually raised the rental of a great part of England, and, pushed tillage to a variety of soils before uncultivated; many of which also paid a rent.
35. See too on this point Macculloch.
36. "It follows, then, that the interest of the landlord is always opposed to the interest of every other class of the community." Ricardo, Essay on the Influence of a low Price of Corn on the Profits of Stock, p. 20
37. I ought, perhaps, to except the Low Countries; but I shall have occasion to shew hereafter, that although farmers rents prevail extensively in those countries, their economical position is still very different from that of England.
38. Exclusive of menial servants, of course.
39. It is from no theoretical views that I speak, but from an intimate and assuredly a most painful experience, when I say this. I ought, however, perhaps to mention, that my personal experience has been confined to the agricultural laborers, and to the counties of Kent and Sussex.
40. Individual impressions upon a subject of such mighty national importance, I am aware do and ought to count for but little; but ss I have been led to the subject, it may not perhaps be presumptuous to state, that my own observations have led to a strong belief, that such a plan might be devised and carried with cheerfulness and popularity into general execution; and this, with very desirable economical, as well as most important moral and political effects. And that, if regulated and executed under the guidance of sound views, and with reasonable precautions, it need not be feared that the many good effects of such a plan would be marred by the results of the principle of population, or be neutralized by any train of accompanying evils.
41. It will again be remembered, that I consider the commutation of tithes, and change of poor-laws, essential preliminaries to this measure. No allowance in the rate of duty for those payments, as they are at present assessed, will, I fear, ever produce any thing but dissatisfaction, in any class.