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productive portion of capital is rendered so by being employed on the worst soil, or by being expended in extorting more produce from land which alreadyyielded as much as it could be made to part with on easier terms.
It is not pretended that the facts of any concrete case conform with absolute precision to this or any other scientific principle. We must never forget that the truths of political economy are truths only in the rough. They have the certainty, but not the precision of exact science. It is not for example, strictly true that a farmer will cultivate no land, and apply no capital, which returns less than the ordinary profit. He will expect the ordinary profit on the bulk of his capital. But when he has cast in his lot with his farm, and bartered his skill and exertions, once for all, against what the farm will yield to him, he will probably be willing to expend capital on it (for an immediate return) in any man ner which will afford him a surplus profit, however small, beyond the value of the risk, and the interest which he must pay for the capital if borrowed, or can get for it elsewhere if it is his own. But a new farmer, entering on the land, would make his calculations differently, and would not commence unless he could expect the full rate of ordinary profit on all the capital which he intended embarking in the enterprise. Again, prices may range higher or lower during the currency of a lease, than was expected when the contract was made, and the land, therefore, may be over or under-rented: and even wher. the lease expires, the landlord may be unwilling to grant a necessary diminution of rent, and the farmer, rather than relinquish his occupation, or seek a farm elsewhere when all are occupied, may consent to go on paying too high a rent. Irregularities like these we must always expect; it is impossible in political economy to obtain general theorems embracing the complications of circumstances which may affect the result in an individual case. "When, too, the farmer class, having but little capital, cultivate for subsistence rather than for profit, and do not
think of quitting their farm while they are able to live by it, their rents approximate to the character of cottier rents, and may be forced up by competition (if the number of competitors exceeds the number of farms) beyond the amount which will leave to the farmer the ordinary rate of profit. The laws which we are enabled to lay down respecting rents, profits, wages, prices, are only true in so far as the persons concerned are free from the influence of any other motives than those arising from the general circumstances of the case, and are guided, as to those, by the ordinary mercantile estimate of profit and loss. Applying this twofold supposition to the case of farmers and landlords, it will be true that the farmer requires the ordinary rate of profit on the whole of his capital; that whatever it returns to him beyond this he is obliged to pay to the landlord, but will not consent to pay more; that there is a portion of capital applied to agriculture in such circumstances of productiveness as to yield only the ordinary profits; and that the difference between the produce of this, and of any other capital of similar amount, is the measure of the tribute which that other capital can and will pay, under the name of rent, to the landlord. This constitutes a law of rent, as near the truth as such a law can possibly be: though of course modified or disturbed in individual cases, by pending contracts, individual miscalculations, the influence of habit, and even the particular feelings and dispositions of the persons concerned.
§ 5. A remark is often made, which must not here be omitted, though, I think, more importance has been attached to it than it merits. Under the name of rent, many payments are com' monly included, which are not a remuneration for the original powers of the land itself, but for capital expended on it. The additional rent which land yields in consequence of this outlay of capital, should, in the opinion of some writers, be regarded as profit, not rent. But before this can be admitted, a distinction must be made. The annua] payment by a tenant almost always includes a consideration for the use of the buildings on the farm; not only barns, stables, and other outhouses, but a house to live in, not to speak of fences and the like. The landlord will ask, and the tenant give, for these, whatever is considered sufficient to yield the ordinary profit, or rather (risk and trouble being here out of the question) the ordinary interest, on the value of the buildings; that is, not on what it has cost to erect them, but on what it would now cost to erect others a8 good: the tenant being bound, in addition, to leave them in as good repair as he found them, for otherwise a much larger payment than simple interest would of course be required from him. These buildings are as distinct a thing from the farm, as the stock or the timber on it; and what is paid for them can no more be called rent of land, than a payment for cattle would be, if it were the custom that the landlord should stock the farm for the tenant. The buildings, like the cattle, are not land, but capital, regularly consumed and reproduced; and all payments made in consideration for them are properly interest.
But with regard to capital actually sunk in improvements, and not requiring periodical renewal, but spent once for all in giving the land a permanent increase of productiveness, it appears to me that the return made to such capital loses altogether the character of profits, and is governed by the principles of rent. It is true that a landlord will not expend capital in improving his estate, unless he expects from the improvement an increase of income, surpassing the interest of his outlay. Prospectively, this increase of income may be regarded as profit; but when the expense has been incurred, and the improvement made, the rent of the improved land is governed by the same rules as that of the unimproved. Equally fertile land commands an equal rent, whether its fertility is natural or acquired; and I cannot think that the incomes of those who own the Bedford Level or the Lincolnshire wolds, ought to be called profit and not rent, because
those lands would have been worth next to nothing unless capital had been expended on them. The owners are not capitalists, but landlords; they have parted with their capital; it is consumed, destroyed ; and neither is, nor is to be, returned to them, like the capital of a farmer or manufacturer, from what it produces. In lieu of it they now have land, of a certain richness, which yields the same rent, and by the operation of the same causes, as if it had possessed from the beginning the degree of fertility which has been artificially given to it.
Some writers, in particular Mr. H. C. Carey, take away, still more completely than I have attempted to do, the distinction between these two sources of rent, by rejecting one of them altogether, and considering all rent as the effect of capital expended. In proof of this, Mr. Carey contends that the whole pecuniary value of all the land in any country, in England for instance, or in the United States, does not amount to anything approaching to the sum which has been laid out, or which it would even now be necessary to lay out, in order to bring the country to its present condition from a state of primaeval forest. This startling statement has been seized on by M. Bastiat and others, as a means of making out a stronger case than could otherwise be made in defence of property in land. Mr. Carey's proposition, in its most obvious meaning, is equivalent to saying, that if there were suddenly added to the lands of England an unreclaimed territory of equal natural fertility, it would not be worth the while of the inhabitants of England to reclaim it: because the profits of the operation would not be equal to the ordinary interest on the capital expended. To which assertion if any answer could be supposed to be required, it would suffice to remark, that land not of equal but of greatly inferior quality to that previously cultivated, is continually reclaimed in England, at an expense which the subsequently accruing rent is sufficient to replace completely in a small number of years. The doctrine, moreover, is totally opposed to Mr. Carey's own economical opinions. No one maintains more strenuously than Mr. Carey the undoubted truth, that as society advances in population, wealth, and combination of labour, land constantly rises in value and price. This, however, could not possibly be true if the present value of land were less than the expense of clearing it and making it fit for cultivation; for it must have been worth this immediately after it was cleared, and according to Mr. Carey it has been rising in value ever since. When, however, Mr. Carey asserts that the whole land of any country is not now worth the capital which has been expended on it, he does not mean that each particular estate is worth less than what has been laid out in improving it, and that, to the proprietors, the improvement of the land has been, on the final result, a miscalculation. He means, not that the land of Great Britain would not now sell for what has been laid out upon it, but that it would not sell for that amount, plus the expense of making all the roads, canals, and railways. This is probably true, but is no more to the purpose, and no more important in political economy, than if the statement had been that it would not sell for the sums laid out upon it plus the national debt, or plus the cost of the French Revolutionary war, or any other expense incurred for a real or imaginary public advantage. The roads, railways, and canals, were not constructed to gi ve value to land: on the contrary, their natural effect was to lower its value, by rendering other and rival lands accessible: and the landholders of the southern counties actually petitioned Parliament against the turnpike roads on this very account. The tendency of improved communications is to lower existing rents, by trenching on the monopoly of the land nearest to the places where large numbers of consumers are assembled. Boada and canals are not intended to raise the value of the land which already supplies the markets, but (among other purposes) to cheapen the supply, by letting in the produce of
other and more distant lands: and the more effectually this purpose is attained, the lower rent will be. If we could imagine that the railways and canals of the United States, instead of only cheapening communication, did their business so effectually as to annihilate cost of carriage altogether, and enable the produce of Michigan to reach the market of New York as quickly and as cheaply as the produce of Long Island—the whole value of all the land of the United States (except such as lies convenient for building) would be annihilated; or rather, the best would only sell for iha expense of clearing, and the government tax of a dollar and a quarter per acre; since land in Michigan, equal to the best in the United States, may be had in unlimited abundance by that amount of outlay. But it is strange that Mr. Carey should think this fact inconsistent with the Ricardo theory of rent. Admitting all that he asserts, it is still true that as long as there is land which yields no rent, the land which does yield rent, does so in consequence of some advantage which it enjoys, in fertility or vicinity to markets, over the other; and the measure of its advantage is also the measure of its rent. And the cause of its yielding rent, is that it possesses a natural monopoly; the quantity of land, as favourably circumstanced as itself, not being sufficient to supply the market. These propositions constitute the theory of rent, laid down by Ricardo; and if they are true, I cannot see that it signifies much whether the rent which the land yields at the present time, is greater or less than the interest of the capital which has been laid out to raise its value, together with the interest of the capital which has been laid out to lower its value.
Mr. Carey's objection, however, has somewhat more of ingenuity than the arguments commonly met with against the theory of rent: a theorem which may be called the pons asinorum of political economy, for there are, I am inclined to think, few persons who have refused their assent to it except from not having thoroughly understood it. The loose and inaccurate way in which it is often apprehended by those who affect to refute it, is very remarkable. Many, for instance, have imputed absurdity to Mr. Kicardo's theory, because it is absurd to say that the cultivation of inferior land is the cause of rent on the superior. Mr. BJcardo does not say that it is the cultivation of inferior land, but the necessity of cultivating it, from the insufficiency of the superior land to feed a growing population: between which and the proposition imputed to him there is no less a difference than that between demand and supply. Others again allege as an objection against Ricardo, that if all land were of equal fertility, it might still yield a rent. But Ricardo says precisely the same. He says that if all lands were equally fertile, those which are nearer to their market than others, and are therefore less burthened with cost of carriage, would yield a rent equivalent to the advantage; and that the land yielding no rent would then be, not the least fertile, but the least advantageously situated, which the wants of the community required to be brought into cultivation. It is also distinctly a portion of Ricardo's doctrine, that even apart from differences of situation, the land of a country supposed to be of uniform fertility would, all of it, on a certain supposition, pay rent: namely, if the demand of the community required that it should all be cultivated, and cultivated beyond the point at which a further application of capital begins to be attended with a smaller proportional return. It would be impossible to show that, except by forcible exaction, the whole land of a country can yield a rent on any other supposition.
§ 6. After this view of the nature and causes of rent, let us turn back to the subject of profits, and bring up for reconsideration one of the propositions laid down in the last chapter. We there stated, that the advances of the capitalist, or in other words, the expenses of production, consist solely in
wages of labour; that whatever portion of the outlay is not wages, is previous profit, and whatever is not previous profit, is wages. Rent, however, being an element which it is impossible to resolve into either profit or wages, we were obliged, for the moment, to assume that the capitalist is not required to pay rent—to give an equivalent for the use of an appropriated natural agent: and I undertook to show in the proper place, that this is an allowable supposition, and that rent does not really form any part of the expenses of production, or of the advances of the capitalist. The grounds on which this assertion was made are now apparent. It is true that all tenant farmers, and many other classes of producers, pay rent. But we have now seen, that whoever cultivates land, paying a rent for it, gets in return for his rent an instrument of superior power to other instruments of th6 same kind for which no rent is paid. The superiority of the instrument is in exact proportion to the rent paid for it. If a few persons had steamengines of superior power to all others in existence, but limited by physical laws to a number short of the demand, the rent which a manufacturer would be willing to pay for one of these steam-engines could not be looked upon as an addition to his outlay, because by the use of it he would save in his other expenses the equivalent of what it cost him: without it he could not do the same quantity of work, unless at an additional expense equal to the rent. The same thing is true of land. The real expenses of production are those incurred on the worst land, or by the capital employed in the least favourable circumstances. This land or capital pays, as we have seen, no rent: but the expenses to which it is subject, cause all other land or agricultural capital to be subjected to an equivalent expense in the form of rent. Whoever does pay rent, gets back its full value in extra advantages, and the rent which he pays does not place him in a worse position than, but only in the same position as, his fellow-producer who pays no rent, .but whose instrument is one of inferior efficiency.
We have now completed the exposition of the laws which regulate the distribution of the produce of land, labour, and capital, as far as it is possible to discuss those laws independently of the instrumentality by which in a civilized society the distribution is effected; the machinery of Exchange i
and Price. The more complete elucidation and final confirmation of the laws which we have laid down, and the deduction of their most important consequences, must be preceded by an explanation of the nature and working of that machinery—a subject so extensive and complicated as to require a sepa rate Book.