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English rents are higher, and not as they were supposed to be upon the theory, lower. Repeal has raised rents. The cost of the American loaf is higher than the English loaf, but not from inferiority of fertility, but from expense of carriage. On the other hand, the English landowner has to deal with a population wielding a broader and more profitable trade; and he gathers up increased rent by supplying many wants, such as milk, butter, meal, and other articles, which a larger and richer population demands and can afford to pay for.
Much has been made in treatises of political economy of the successive applications of capital to the same land, the diminished return for the outlays, and the consequent effect of this law upon rent. The principle is true, and the law is certain; but I cannot hold them to have any serious importance in the present state of the world. If the supply of food for the population of England were restricted to the fields of this island, it is beyond doubt that this law would instantly acquire tremendous significance. It would be hard to predict what height agricultural rents would reach under such circumstances. But thanks to steam and free trade, the fields of all the world are the fields of England; and many centuries will pass away before the diminished returns to successive doses of capital can have any practical importance.
The doctrine of the diminishing returns, obtained by successive applications of capital to land, entered for much into Mr Mill's view of the rise of rent; and it is open, generally, to the remarks just made on Ricardo's principles of relative fertility. Rents rose in England upon the repeal of the Corn Laws, though the grain on which the country feeds is grown on lands on whose cultivation but little capital is bestowed. Mill committed a kindred error with Ricardo. He thought only of the expense of tillage, as Ricardo thought of the quality of the land; they both forgot that the determining force here was cost of carriage.
I cannot conclude these remarks without saying a few words on the term "monopoly," which has been so freely and, I may add, so passionately applied by some political economists to the possession of land. I must protest against the use of so invidious an epithet in respect of property in land. The word "monopoly" suggests a wrongful and odious usurpation. It is associated with feelings of injustice and dislike. It carries with it the idea that a wrong is enacted at the expense of the community, a wrong deserving reprobation and to be abated. The associations connected with the epithet have a well-known and legitimate brigin. A monopoly is a restriction created by the law on the carrying on of a particular trade in favour of individual citizens to the exclusion of the rest of the community. Such a preference is by its very nature unjust, and it works immense mischief by the inferiority of the goods thus produced and their dearness. Monopolies existed in past times, and we all know how the spirited resistance of the House of Commons against the great Queen extinguished them in England. The memory of them has remained hateful in this country; but I hold it to be most unfair to insinuate by the use of the word monopoly, that the possession of land has any affinity whatever with those artificial and justly-condemned preferences and restrictions.
Mr Mill qualifies the expression by adding to it the word natural; but the sting which is inseparable from the word monopoly remains all the same. The arbitrariness with which it is applied in the case of land will be seen, if we think of how many natural advantages there are of the same general character with that belonging to land, to which no one ever thinks of attaching the word monopoly. The skill and eloquence of a great barrister, the art of an eminent brewer, the talent of a distinguished writer, and endless other personal gifts, are natural monopolies in precisely the same sense as land; but who ever thinks of fixing such an invidious name upon them? Yet, they resemble the possession of land in the distinctive quality that they enable their possessors to raise considerable sums of money out of the community. Oh! but they are subject to competition; anyone may rival or surpass them, if he pleases. I should rather say, if he can; and he cannot, because we are supposing these monopolists, to apply Mr Mill's words, to possess the highest existing advantages.
But equally subject to competition are the owners of rent. The repeal of the corn laws might have reduced their incomes; and if ever Australia and America contrive to send cheaper meat that will be accounted the equal of English meat, assuredly the effect on rents will be real. And further, let it be well observed, the possession of agricultural land is distinctly free from the vices of a genuine monopoly; it neither raises price, nor deteriorates the goods produced. If private property in land were abolished, the price of the loaf would not be a fraction lower, nor would the wheat grown and the cattle reared be better or cheaper than those we now obtain. The only difference would be one of ownership; the State, and not private persons, would own and receive the rents.
It is perfectly open to Mr Mill and those who share his feelings, to propose that the present landowners should be paid off, and that the State should be the one sole landowner in the nation. Whether that would be a wise or mischievous policy is fairly open to argument. So is communism. Communists may rationally discuss whether it would not be expedient that Mr Mill should devote his great talents to the service of the commonwealth, and accept equal remuneration with the citizen who carries bricks for building. But in neither discussion could the idea of monopoly enter. It may be determined that the nation would reap large benefit from great abilities being allowed to exert themselves for the benefit of their possessors, and that private property in land would be more advantageous than public. If such be the decision, the private owner, who, either through his predecessor or through his own efforts, has developed the wealth-producing powers of the machine paid for or inherited, is no more to be branded with monopoly than the great author who has so cultivated the gifts with which nature endowed his mind as to realise large pecuniary results from the sale of his writings.
MONEY is a matter which deeply affects the welfare of mankind. It is an instrument which has been found indispensable by every nation which has passed beyond the savage state. It is a tool of man's own invention, devised to accomplish very important public purposes. Unsound money, ill-constructed for performing its work, may, and does at this hour, inflict enormous losses on great countries, often with severe injury to every one of their inhabitants. It seriously concerns therefore all men to understand correctly the nature of this tool, the ends which it is required to serve, and the principles on which it must be made. Yet, in spite of the immense interests involved in the employment of good money, it is a machine on which the most deplorable confusion of ideas prevails. It may almost be said that every man contradicts every other man about money, about what money is and what it is not, what it can and what it cannot do. In no other subject which occupies the thoughts of men does anything approaching the same disorder exist.
The cause of this wonderful phenomenon is the fatal facility with which men think themselves authorised to pronounce about money, without any feeling of responsibility for previously discovering by examination and analysis what are its nature and functions.