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given to manufactures, and not to agriculture; and the deficiency of food thus created, (if it can be called a deficiency,) will afford no reason for impeaching the bounty of Providence, and no cause for fear lest the increase of the population should outstrip the increase of the supply of food.
We say, then, that this theory of rent, being inapplicable and unsound in the case of America, is consequently untrue in its application to Europe generally, and even to England. An increase of the English population does create a larger demand for food. But this demand does not oblige the people to have recourse to the poorer soils in order to enlarge the crops, nor even to apply more capital with less profit to the soil already under tillage; it simply obliges them to import more food from America and the countries on the Baltic and the Black Sea. And the supply which these countries may afford is indefinite; the only reason why they do not now send more corn to England, is that England needs no more. There is every reason to believe, that if Great Britain should altogether cease to be a grain-producing country, if it should devote all its fields to pasturage, these other countries would still keep the English market bountifully stocked with grain, and with no material enhancement of its price. The possible supply of wheat and maize from the back country of the United States defies all calculation; it is kept dammed up there now, because the producers know, if it were thrown upon the market at once, that it would sink the price below the cost of production. But because it exists in excess, if the capacity of the market were increased, the supply might be indefinitely enlarged without any material or even perceptible enhancement of price. There is no more risk that our back country will be drained of wheat, than that the great Mississippi will drain it of water. Lower the bar at its mouth, or sink the level of the broad ocean itself, and the rivers will yet continue to run, for their springs are perennial. The bounty of God feeds them. Instead of saying, then, that population presses on the means of subsistence, the true proposition would be, that the supply of food presses hard upon the increase of population. The force of the pressure being thus turned the other way, the supply of food might be indefinitely increased, without any enhancement of price from the enlarged demand.
Thus much for the contradiction of the theory by the facts in the case. The refutation of it in principle, or by abstract reasoning, is equally easy. And first, it is to be observed, that the natural fertility, or what Ricardo calls the original and inherent powers of the soil, as an element of rent, are wholly insignificant in comparison with nearness to market. The most barren soils in the world, even hard rock, pure sand, or stagnant marsh, should a populous and wealthy city spring up in the neighborhood, will yield rent, often a large rent, because they afford a field which human industry and skill can convert into a productive garden. On the other hand, soil of the greatest natural fertility, if it be far distant from any market for agricultural produce, will command no price and yield no rent. For instances of the former class, take the larger portion of the soil of Belgium and Holland, much of which has been literally reclaimed from the sea, against which it is now protected by stupendous dikes, and a still larger part was originally barren sand, on which it was first necessary to plant coarse grass, the roots of which might protect it from being perpetually shifted by the winds. Yet these broad districts of sea and sand are now the gardens of Europe, shaming even the wonders of English farming by the fulness of their crops. Two and a half acres of them yield food enough for a family of five persons. The acclivities of the Alps in Switzerland, dug out into terraces, and blooming with the olive and the vine, — and many an acre of former marsh in Cambridge and Lincoln counties, England, now forming rich corn-fields, — are other instances of land made productive and yielding rent by vicinity to a market, in spite of the greatest natural disadvantages.
For examples to corroborate the other branch of the statement, we have only to look at the remote West of our own fair land. Thousands of square miles of the most productive land in the world, in Kari%as and Minnesota, are even now lying tenantless, because they will not command the government price of only $1.25 an acre. And even in the more thickly settled States of the great Mississippi Valley, many a broad region yet remains waste in the ownership of the government, far superior in natural advantages to the soil of Belgium in its original condition, and for which, notwithstanding, no one will give this almost nominal price. The reason is, that there is not market enough in the neighborhood to take off the surplus agricultural produce. If the population should increase in numbers, so as to require a larger amount of food, though at the same price at which it is now held, this waste land would soon be purchased and reduced to tillage.
This point being established, then, that the original fertility of the soil is an element of little or no importance in the theory of rent, we have only to consider that portion of Kieardo's doctrine which relates to comparative distance from the market. He maintains, that land bears rent in proportion to its nearness to the place where agricultural produce is needed and consumed; and that the increase of population, consequently, is an evil, because the community are obliged to send farther and farther off for their supplies. Here is the great and obvious fallacy, of supposing that the population, as it increases, remains stationary, or on the same spot, so that the grain must be brought to it at a price enhanced by the cost of. transportation. We answer, that, instead of the food coming' from a distance to the population, the population go to the food. The nation expands over more space as it increases in numbers. The tide of emigration sets towards the waste lands in a current, the velocity and depth of which are proportioned to the increase in the volume of the waters. The new-comers, the addition to the nation, instead of raising the price of food for themselves and their predecessors, actually cheapen it. As they spread themselves over the waste lands, and reduce them to cultivation, they not only raise food enough for themselves, but they increase the surplus which is sent to market, to be there exchanged for manufactures and the produce of foreign climes.
This is exemplified in the history of our own New England. The average rate of increase of the population here, during the last thirty years, has been about 17 per cent for every ten years, while for the whole United States it has been about 34 per cent, or twice as large. Why is this, since the excess of births over deaths is probably as great in New England as in any other portion of the country? The answer is obvious. One half of those who are born here, and survive to the age of maturity, (one half of the surplus, I mean, over those who are needed to compensate for the deaths, and thus to keep up the population to its original number,) emigrate to the West, and there take their part in the great work of settling the wild lands, and reducing them to tillage. And so successful have their labors been, that the price of grain and other agricultural produce has not risen in proportion to the increase of our numbers, as it ought to have done, if Ricardo's theory were true; the average price of food, all over the country, has fallen since 1800, though since that time our population has been quadrupled, and though our exports of provisions also have increased to an immense extent.
We come, then, to a theory of rent which differs very widely from that of Ricardo's. Rent depends, not on the increase, but on the distribution, of the population. It arises from the excess of the local demand over the local supply, and is therefore ultimately regulated by the expense and inconvenience of bringing the food from a distance, or by the discomforts and privations which attend the removal of a portion of the people to a new home. The migration is not necessarily directed to another country; the more remote and less populous counties or states may receive the surplus population of the metropolitan region and the manufacturing districts, and an additional supply of food will then be obtained from the agricultural labor of those who have thus found a new home. An increase in the numbers of the people may thus be followed by more than a proportional increase of the means of subsistence. The price of food, then, will not vary in proportion to the rent; on the contrary, the rent may increase indefinitely, while the price of food is diminishing. A livelihood may be more easily and cheaply obtained by commercial or manufacturing industry in a great city or a populous region, notwithstanding the considerable outlay required for rent, than by tilling the ground in a district where land may be hired for a trifling sum, or even purchased, at a nominal price; and still the extension of agriculture may be so great, as the forest is cleared up and the prairie planted, that corn and flour may be bought by the inhabitants of cities more cheaply than ever. This is not mere theory, but fact; it is but a recital of the mingled experience of the manufacturing districts of New England and the border districts of cultivation in the Western States.
Not only in America, but in Great Britain and Ireland, and indeed throughout the civilized world, it is notorious that rent is produced and increased, or, in other words, that value is given to the land, by creating a market for agricultural produce in the neighborhood of the land whence that produce is obtained; that is, by collecting a town or civic population, engaged in manufactures and commerce, who have the means to buy the wheat. By collecting such a population, I say; not by creating one, or by making the total number of the whole people larger, as Ricardo's theory requires. It is not the want of a larger supply of food, but the altered locality of the demand, and the altered habits and occupations of the people, which swell the value of the land and enhance the rent.
And, conversely, the population might be considerably enlarged, and more food consequently be required, at the very time when rents were falling throughout the country, if the process of dispersion should be going on at the same period, the people leaving the manufacturing towns and the centres of commerce, and spreading themselves over the face of the country, so that each family would come nearer the particular spot of land that feeds it. This is the evil often experienced here in America, where many towns and smaller cities upon the Atlantic coast, which were prosperous and wealthy in the latter part of the last century, and up to the close of the war in 1815, have since ceased to advance, and even retrograded, in riches and population, many of the citizens joining the great tide of migration to the Western States, because the policy of the national government was no longer favorable to manufactures, the fisheries, and commerce. Very recently, the establishment of railroads, and other local causes, have somewhat checked this tendency to dispersion; but the account here given is still applicable, in a greater or less degree, to such seaports in New England as Portsmouth, Newburyport, Salem, Nantucket, Newport, and New London, and to some formerly nourishing towns on Chesapeake Bay and the Southern Atlantic coast. Of course, as these towns dwindled, the value and the rent of farms in their immediate vicinity were also depressed, and agriculture, instead of advancing, visibly retrograded, the prices of all kinds of rural produce being kept down by the abundant supplies which began to arrive from the newly cleared regions at the West. Yet all this while the total pop