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What the causes are which make the return to capital greater in one country than in another, and which, in certain circumstances, make it impossible for any additional capital to find investment unless at diminished returns, will # ar clearly hereafter. In China, if that country has really attained, as it is supposed to have done, the stationary state, accumulation has stopped when the returns to capital are o as high as is indicated by a rate of interest legally twelve per cent, and practically varying (it is said) between eighteen and thirty-six. It is to be presumed therefore that no greater amount of capital than the country already possesses, can find employment at this high rate of profit, and that any lower rate does not hold out to a Chinese sufficient temptation to induce him to abstain from present enjoyment. What a contrast with Holland, where, during the most flourishing period of its history, the government was able habitually to borrow at two per cent, and private individuals, on good security, at three. Since China is not a country like Burmah, or the native states of India, where an enormous interest is but an indispensable compensation for the risk incurred from the bad faith or poverty of the state, and of almost all private borrowers; the fact, if fact it be, that the increase of capital has come to a stand while the returns to it are still so large, denotes a much less degree of the effective desire of accumulation, in other words a much lower estimate of the future relatively to the present, than that of most European nations.
§ 4. We have hitherto spoken of countries in which the average strength of the desire to accumulate is short of that which, in circumstances of any tolerable security, reason and sober calculation would approve. We have now to speak of others in which it decidedly surpasses that standard. In the more prosperous countries of Europe, there are to be found abundance of prodigals; in some of them (and in none more than England) the ordinary degree of economy and providence
among those who live by manual labour cannot be considered high; still, in a very numerous portion of the community, the professional, manufacturing, and trading classes, being those who, generally speaking, unite more of the means with more of the motives for saving than any other class, the spirit of accumulation is so strong, that the signs of rapidly increasing wealth meet every eye; and the great amount of capital seeking investment excites astonishment, whenever peculiar circumstances turning much of it into some one channel, such as railway construction or foreign speculative adventure, bring the largeness of the total amount into evidence. There are many circumstances, which, in England, give a peculiar force to the accumulating propensity. The long exemption of the country from the ravages of war, and the far earlier period than elsewhere at which property was secure from military violence or arbitrary spoliation, have produced a long-standing and hereditary confidence in the safety of funds when trusted out of the owner's hands, which in most other countries is of much more recent origin, and less firmly established. The geographical causes which have made industry rather than war the natural source of power and importance to Great Britain, have turned an unusual proportion of the most enterprising and energetic characters into the direction of manufactures and commerce; into supplying their wants and gratifying their ambition by producing and saving, rather than by appropriating what has been produced and saved. Much also depended on the better political institutions of this country, which by the scope they have allowed to individual freedom of action, have encouraged personal activity and self-reliance, while by the liberty they confer of association and combination, they facilitate industrial enterprise on a large scale. The same institutions in another of their aspects, give a most direct and potent stimulus to the desire of acquiring wealth. The earlier, decline of feudalism having removed much weakened invidious distinct
between the originally trading classes and those who had been accustomed to despise them; and a polity having grown up which made wealth the real source of political influence; its acquisition was invested with a factitious value, independent of its intrinsic utility. It became synonymous with power; and since power with the common herd of mankind gives power, wealth became the chief source of personal consideration, and the measure and stamp of success in life. To get out of one rank in society into the next above it, is the great aim of English middle-class life, and the acquisition of wealth the means. And inasmuch as to be rich without industry, has always hitherto constituted a step in the social scale above those who are rich by means of industry, it becomes the object of ambition to save not merely as much as will afford a large income while in business, but enough to retire from business and live in affluence on realized gains. These causes have in England been greatly aided by that extreme incapacity of the people for personal enjoy: ment, which is a characteristic of countries over which puritanism has
assed. But if accumulation is, on one
and, rendered easier by the absence of a taste for pleasure, it is, on the other, made more difficult by the presence of a very real taste for expense. So strong is the association between personal consequence and the signs of wealth, that the silly desire for the appearance of a large expenditure has the force of a passion, among large classes of a nation which derives less pleasure than perhaps any other in the world from what it spends. Owing to this circumstance, the effective desire of ac
cumulation has never reached so high a pitch in England as it did in Holland, where, there being no rich idle class to set the example of a reckless expenditure, and the mercantile classes, who o the substantial power on which social influence always waits, being left to establish their own scale of living, and standard of propriety their habits remained frugal and unos tentatious. In England and Holland, then, for a long time past, and now in most other countries in Europe (which are rapidly following England in the same race), the desire of accumulation does not require, to make it effective, the copious returns which it requires in Asia, but is sufficiently called into action by a rate of profit so low, that instead of slackening, accumulation seems now to proceed more rapidly than ever; and the second requisite of increased production, increase of capital, shows no tendency to become deficient. So far as that element is concerned, production is susceptible of an increase without any assignable bounds. The progress of accumulation would no doubt be considerably checked, if the returns to capital were to be reduced still lower than at present. But why should any possible increase of capital have that effect? This question carries the mind forward to the remaining one of the three requisites of production. The limitation to production, not consisting in any necessary limit to the increase of the other two elements, labour and capital, must turn ". the properties of the only element which is inherently, and in itself, limited in quantity. It must depend on the properties of land.
OF THE LAW OF THE INCREASE OF PRODUCTION FROM LAND.
§ 1. LAND differs from the other elements of production, labour and
definite increase. Its extent is limited, and the extent of the more productive
apital, un not being susceptible of in- || kinds of it more limited still. It is
also evident that the quantity of produce capable of being raised on any given piece of land is not indefinite. This limited quantity of land, and limited productiveness of it, are the real limits to the increase of production. That they are the ultimate limits, must always have been clearly seen. But since the final barrier has never in any instance been reached; since there is no country in which all the land, capable of yielding food, is so highly cultivated that a larger produce could not (even without supposing any fresh advance in agricultural knowledge) be obtained from it, and since a large portion of the earth's surface still remains entirely uncultivated; it is commonly thought, and is very natural at first to suppose, that for the present all limitation of production or population from this source is at an indefinite distance, and that ages must elapse before any practical necessity arises for taking the limiting principle into serious consideration. I apprehend this to be not only an error, but the most serious one, to be found in the whole field of political economy. The question is more important and fundamental than any other; it involves the whole subject of the causes of poverty, in a rich and industrious community; and unless this one matter be thoroughly understood, it is to no purpose proceeding any further in our inquiry.
§ 2. The limitation to production from the properties of the soil, is not like the obstacle opposed by a wall, which stands immovable in one particular spot, and offers no hindrance to motion short of stopping it entirely. We may rather compare it to a highly elastic and extensible band, §§ ls hardly ever so violently stretched that it could not possibly be stretched an more, yet the pressure of which is felt long before the final limit is reached, and felt more severely the nearer that limit is approached.
After a certain, and not very advanced, stage in the progress of agriculture, it is the law of production from the land, that in any given state
of agricultural skill and knowledge, by increasing the labour, the produce is not increased in an equal degree, doubling the labour does not double the produce ; or, to express the same thing in other words, every increase of produce is obtained by a more than proportional increase in the application of labour to the land. This general law of agricultural industry is the most important proposition in political economy. Were the law different, nearly all the phenomena of the production and distribution of wealth would be other than they are. The most fundamental errors which still prevail on our subject, result from not perceiving this law at work underneath the more superficial agencies on which attention fixes itself; but mistaking those agencies for the ultimate, causes of effects of which they may influence the form and mode, but of which it alone determines the eSSén Ce. When, for the purpose of raising an increase of produce, recourse is had to inferior land, it is evident that, so far, the produce does not increase in the same proportion with the labour. The very meaning of inferior land, is land which with equal labour returns a smaller amount of produce. Land may be inferior either in fertility or in situation. The one requires a greater roportional amount of labour for growing the produce, the other for carrying it to market. If the land A yields a thousand quarters of wheat, to a given outlay in wages, manure, &c., and in order to raise another thousand recourse must be had to the land B, which is either less fertile or more distant from the market, the two thousand quarters will cost more than twice as much labour as the original thousand, and the produce of agriculture will be increased in a less ratio than the labour employed in procuring it. Instead of cultivating the land B, it would be possible, by higher cultivation, to make the land A produce more. It might be ploughed or ha rowed twice instead of once, or thr times instead of twice; it might
dug instead of being ploughed; after loughing, it might be gone over with a É. instead of a harrow, and the soil more completely pulverized; it might be oftener or more thoroughly weeded; the implements used might be of higher finish, or more elaborate construction; a greater quantity or more expensive kinds of manure might be applied, or when applied, they might be more carefully mixed and incorporated with the soil. These are some of the modes by which the same land may be made to yield a greater produce; and when a greater produce must be had, some of these are among the means usually employed for obtaining it. But, that it is obtained at a more than proportional increase of expense, is evident from the fact that inferior lands are cultivated. Inferior lands, or lands at a greater distance from the market, of course yield an inferior return, and an increasing demand cannot be supplied from them unless at an augmentation of cost, and therefore of price. If the additional demand * continue to be supplied from the superior lands, by applying additional labour and capital, at no greater proportional cost than that at which they yield the quantity first demanded of them, the owners or farmers of those lands could undersell all others, and engross the whole market. Lands of a lower degree of fertility or in a more remote situation, might indeed be cultivated by their proprietors, for the sake of subsistence or independence; but it never could be the interest of any one to farm them for profit. That, a profit can be made from them, sufficient to attract capital to such an investment, is a proof that cultivation on the more eligible lands has reached a point, beyond which an greater application of labour and capital would yield, at the best, no greater return than can be obtained at the same expense from less fertile or less favourably situated lands. The careful cultivation of a wellfarmed district of England or Scotland is a symptom and an effect of the more unfavourable terms which the land has begun to exact for any increase of its
fruits. Such elaborate cultivation costs much more in proportion, and requires a higher price to render it profitable, than farming on a more superficial system; and would not be adopted if access could be had to land of equal fertility, previously unoccupied. Where there is the choice of raising the increasing supply which society requires, from fresh }. of as good quality as that already cultivated, no attempt is made to extract from land anything approaching to what it will yield on what are esteemed the best European modes of cultivating. The land is tasked up to the point at which the greatest return is obtained in proportion to the labour employed, but no further: any additional labour is carried elsewhere. “It is long,” says an intelligent traveller in the United States,” “before an English eye becomes reconciled to the lightness of the crops and the careless farming (as we should callit) which is apparent. One forgets that where land is so plentiful and labour so dear as it is here, a totally different principle must be pursued to that which prevails in populous countries, and that the consequence will of course be a want of tidiness, as it were, and finish, about everything which requires labour.” Of the two causes mentioned, the plentifulness of land seems to me the true explanation, rather than the dearness of labour; for, however dear labour may be, when food is wanted, i... .Y always be applied to producing it in preference to anything else. But this labour is more effective for its end by being applied to fresh soil, than if it were i. in bringing the soil already occupied into higher cultivation. Only when no soils remain to be broken up but such as either from distance or inferior quality require a considerable rise of price to render their cultivation profitable, can it become advantageous to apply the high farming of Europe to any American lands; except, perhaps, in the immediate vicinity of towns, where saving in cost of carriage may compensate for
* Letters from America, by John Robert
Godley, vol. i. p. 42. See also Lyell's Travels in America, vol. ii. p. 83.
great inferiority in the return from the soil itself. As American farming is to English, so is the ordinary English to that of Flanders, Tuscany, or the Terra di Lavoro; where by the application of a far greater quantity of labour there is obtained a considerably larger gross produce, but on such terms as would never be advantageous to a mere speculator for profit, unless made so by much higher prices of agricultural produce. The principle which has now been stated must be received, no doubt, with certain explanations and limitations. Even after the land is so highly cultivated that the mere application of additional labour, or of an additional amount of ordinary dressing, would yield no return proportioned to the expense, it may still happen that the application of a much greater additional labour and capital to improving the soil itself, by draining or permanent manures, would be as liberally remunerated by the produce, as any portion of the labour and capital already employed. It would sometimes be much more amply remunerated. This could not be, if capital always sought and found the most advantageous employment; but if the most advantageous employment has to wait longest for its remuneration, it is only in a rather advanced stage of industrial development that the preference will be given to it; and even in that advanced stage, the laws or usages connected with property in land and the tenure of farms, are often such as to prevent the disposable capital of the country from flowing freely into the channel of agricultural improvement: and hence the increased supply, required by increasing population, is sometimes raised at an augmenting cost by higher cultivation, when the means of producing it without increase of cost are known and acces
expense; the result would be such (especially if we include Ireland in the supposition) that inferior land would not for a long time require to be brought under tillage: probably a considerable part of the less productive lands now cultivated, which are not particularly favoured by situation, o go out of culture; or (as the improvements in question are not so much applicable to good land, but operate io by converting bad land into good) the contraction of cultivation might principally take place by a less high dressing and less elaborate tilling of land generally; a falling back to something nearer the character of American farming; such only of the poor lands being altogether abandoned as were not found susceptible of improvement. And thus the aggregate produce of the whole cultiwated land would bear a larger proportion than before to the labour expended on it; and the general law of diminishing return from land would have undergone, to that extent, a temporary supersession. No one, however, can suppose that even in these circumstances, the whole produce required for the country could be raised exclusively from the best lands, together with those possessing advantages of situation to place them on a par with the best. Much would undoubtedly continue to be produced under less advantageous conditions, and with a smaller proportional return, than that obtained from the best soils and situations. And in proportion as the further increase of o required a still greater adition to the supply, the general law would resume its course, and the further augmentation would be obtained at a more than proportionate expense of labour and capital.
§ 3. That the produce of land increases, catteris paribus, in a diminishing ratio to the increase in the labour employed, is a truth more often ignored or disregarded than actually denied. It has, however, met with a direct impugner in the well-known American political economist, Mr. H. C. Carey, who maintains, that the real law of agricultural industry is the very reverse;