Division of Subject.
The word Wealth presents itself to different minds with such variety of meaning, that it will be best to begin by fixing on some conventional limit to the sense in which the term shall be used. The definition of Mr. Malthus is, of the many which have been proposed, perhaps the least objectionable and the most convenient. Wealth, according to him, consists of those material objects which are necessary, useful, or agreeable to mankind.(1) In this restricted sense the word will be used here. Instances of occasional deviation from it, if any occur, shall be marked. It will be understood, however, that this definition is proposed as useful in limiting our subject, not as furnishing the basis of any conclusions relating to it. If a more comprehensive interpretation of the term Wealth should be preferred, the results of the facts or reasonings we shall have to adduce, will be in no degree affected by the change.
All wealth, whatever be its source, is made available for the purposes of man by human labor: by that even the spontaneous productions of the earth must be gathered and appropriated. Hence the hands from which all wealth is first distributed must be those of the laborer. But the laborer is rarely in a condition to retain the whole produce of his exertions. In whatever state of society he exists, some tie, or some want, makes him to a certain extent dependent upon others. Those who constitute the larger proportion of the laboring class throughout the world find no fund accumulated by others, from which they may draw their daily subsistence: they are obliged therefore to raise it with their own hands from the soil. If that soil belongs to others, this circumstance alone makes the peasants at once tributary to the proprietors, and a portion of the produce is distributed as Rent. If besides the soil other things are needful to facilitate their exertions, to the owner of these things another part of the produce must be resigned, and hence the origin of Profits. The share of the laborer, the reward of mere personal exertion, in whatever shape, or manner, or time, it may be received, constitutes the Wages of labor. Into these three portions, Rent, Profits, and Wages, the annual produce of the land and labor of every country is in the first instance divided: all other revenues are derived from these. The whole subject of the distribution of wealth then naturally separates itself into three divisions, which may conveniently be made the subject of three books, devoted to the examination of those circumstances which in different stages of society determine the amount, first of Rent, then of Wages, thirdly of Profits. In a fourth book, if our plan should be completed, we shall attempt to trace the revenue which the state at successive periods usually derives from each of these.
The present volume will contain the book on Rent.
On the Origin of Rents: on their Division into
Primary and Secondary, or Peasant and Farmer's Rents.
When mankind have become sufficiently numerous to be driven from the pastoral state to agriculture for subsistence, and before sufficient funds have accumulated in the possession of others to supply the body of the people with their daily bread, they must extract it with their own bands from the soil, or they must starve. While thus circumstanced they may, or may not, be themselves the owners of the implements, seed, &c. by the assistance of which their manual labor applied to the soil produces them a continuous maintenance; a stock which if used for any other purpose must soon be exhausted: such a stock, if they possess it, is in their peculiar circum stances entirely deprived of its mobility; it is con vertible to no other purpose, and is confined to the task of assisting cultivation, by the same necessity which compels its owners to extract their food from the earth: and the returns to stock so situated, like the returns to the labors of its owners (or their wages), must be governed by the terms on which land can be obtained. Should the surface of the country which such a people inhabit be appropriated, the only chance which the cultivator has of being allowed to occupy that portion of it, from which he is to draw his subsistence, rests upon his being able to pay some tribute to the owner. The power of the earth to yield, even to the rudest labors of mankind, more than is necessary for the subsistence of the cultivator himself, enables him to pay such a tribute: hence the origin of rent. A very large proportion of the inhabitants of the whole earth are precisely in the circumstances we have been describing; sufficiently numerous to have resorted to agriculture; too rude to possess any accumulated fund in the shape of capital, from which the wages of the laboring cultivators can be advanced. These cultivators in such a state of society comprise always, from causes we shall hereafter arrive in sight of, an overwhelming majority of the nation. As the land is then the direct source of the subsistence of the population, so the nature of the property established in the land, and the forms and terms of tenancy to which that property gives birth, furnish to the people the most influential elements of their national character. We may be prepared therefore to see without surprises the different sys tems of rents which in this state of things have arisen 1. out of the peculiar circumstances of different people, forming the main ties which hold society together, determining the nature of the connection between the governing part of the community and the governed, and stamping on a very large portion of the population of the whole globe their most striking features, social, political, and moral.
If indeed it were true, as some have fancied, that lands were always first appropriated by those who are willing to bestow pains on their cultivation; if in the history of mankind it were an ordinary fact, that the uncultivated lands of a country `were open to the industry or neccssities of all its population; then some time would elapse in the progress of agricultural nations before rents made their appearance at all; and when they did appear, still, while any portion of the country remained unoccupied, the rents paid on the lands already cultivated would only be in exact proportion to their superiority, from position or goodness, over the vacant spots.
Such a state of things might occur; it is an abstract possibility: but the past history and present state of the world yield abundant testimony, that it neither is, nor ever has been, a practical truth, and that the assumption of it as the basis of systems of political philosophy, is a mere fallacy.
When men begin to unite in the form of an agricultural community, the political notion they seem constantly to adopt first, is that of an exclusive right, existing somewhere, to the soil of the country they inhabit. Their circumstances, their prejudices, their ideas of justice or of expediency, lead them, almost universally, to vest that right in their general government, and in persons deriving their rights from it.
The rudest people among whom this can at present be observed are perhaps some of the Islanders of the South Seas. The soil of the Society Islands is very imperfectly occupied; the whole belongs to the sovereign; he portions it among the nobles, and makes and resumes grants at his pleasure. The body of the people, who live on certain edible roots peculiar to the country, which they cultivate with considerable care, receive from the nobles, in their turn, permission to occupy smaller portions. They are thus dependent on the chiefs for the means of existence, and they pay a tribute, a rent, in the shape of labor and services performed on other lands.(2)
On the continent of America, the institutions of those people, who before its discovery had resorted to agriculture for subsistence, indicate also an early and complete appropriation of the soil by the state. In Mexico there were crown lands cultivated by the services of those classes who were too poor to contribute to the revenue of the state in any other manner. There existed too a body of about 3000 nobles possessed of distinct hereditary property in land. "The tenure by which the great body of the people held their property was very different. In every district a certain quantity of land was measured out in proportion to the number of families. This was cultivated by the joint labor of the whole: its produce was deposited in a common storehouse, and divided among them according to their respective exigencies."(3) While in Peru "all the lands capable of cultivation were divided into three shares. One was consecrated to the Sun, and the produce of it was applied to the erection of temples, and furnishing what was requisite towards celebrating the public rites of religion. The second belonged to the Inca, and was set apart as the provision made by the community for the support of government. The third and largest share was reserved for the maintenance of the people among whom it was parcelled out. Neither individuals, however, nor communities had a right of exclusive property in the portion set apart for their use. They possessed it only for a year, at the expiration of which, a new division was made in proportion to the rank, the number, and the exigencies of each family."(4)
Throughout Asia, the sovereigns have ever been in the possession of an exclusive title to the soil of their dominions, and they have preserved that title in a state of singular and inauspicious integrity, undivided, as well as unimpaired. The people are there universally the tenants of the sovereign, who is the sole proprietor; usurpations of his officers alone occasionally break the links of the chain of dependence for a time. It is this universal dependence on the throne for the means of supporting life, which is the real foundation of the unbroken despotism of the Eastern world, as it is of the revenue of the sovereigns, and of the form which society assumes beneath their feet.
In modern Europe the same rights once prevailed, but here they were soon moderated, and finally disappeared. The subordinate chiefs, who followed in crowds the leaders of the barbarian irruptions, were little accustomed to tolerate constant dependence and regular government, and utterly unfit to become its support and agents. Yet even by them, the abstract right of the sovereign to the soil was very generally recognized. Traces of it are still preserved in the language of our laws; the highest title a subject can claim is that of tenant of the fee, and the terms of this tenancy made originally the only difference in the extent of interests in estates.
The steps by which beneficiaries became the real proprietors are familiar to almost all classes of readers; it is enough for our present purpose to see that in Europe, as in Asia and South America, the soil was practically appropriated by the sovereign or a limited number of individuals, at a time when the bulk of the people were wholly dependent on the occupation of portions of it for their subsistence, and when they became therefore, inevitably, tributary to its owners.
The United States of North America, though often referred to in support of different views, afford another remarkable instance of the power vested in the hands of the owners of the soil, when its occupation offers the only means of subsistence to the people. The territories of the Union still unoccupied, from the Canadian border to the shores of the Floridas, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, are admitted, in law and practice, to be the property of the general government. They can be occupied only with its consent, in spots fixed on and allotted by its servants, and on the condition of a previous money payment. That government does not, it is true, convert the successive shoals of fresh applicants into tenants, because its policy rejects such a measure. Its legislators inherited from the other hemisphere at the outset of their career the advantages of an experience accumulated during centuries of progressive civilization: they saw, that the power and resources of their young government were likely to be increased more effectually by the rapid formation of a race of proprietors, than by the creation of a class of state tenantry. It has been suggested, that they may have acted unwisely in overlooking such a mode of creating a permanent public revenue. Had they perversely entertained the will to do so, unquestionably they had the power. Their rapidly increasing numbers could have been sustained only by the spread of cultivation. As fresh settlements became necessary to the maintenance of the people, the government might have made its own terms when granting the space from which alone the population could obtain subsistence; and this without parting with the property of the soil. Had this been done, the career of the nation, essentially different from what it has been, would more closely have resembled that of the people of the old world.
In the English colonies of Australia, an unsettled territory, which will bear comparison with the wastes of North America in extent, is the acknowledged property of the crown. A system of disposing of the public lands has lately been adopted, which is a mean between an absolute sale and the creation of a permanent tenantry.(5) The person receiving a grant is subject to a moderate rent, which he may commute for the payment of a specific.(6)
Throughout central Africa the consent of the king or chief must be obtained, before any spot of ground can be cultivated.(7) We know but little of the subsequent rights of the cultivator or of his connection with the sovereign; but the necessity of applying for permission implies a power to withhold it, or to grant it conditionally.
The past history and present state therefore of the old and new world, yield abundant proof of the visionary nature of those notions as to the origin of rent, which rest upon an assumption, that it is never the immediate result of cultivation; and that while any land remains unoccupied, no rent will be paid for the cultivated part, except such as is warranted by its superiority over that part which is supposed to be always open to the industry of the community.
We come back then to the proposition, that, in the actual progress of human society, rent has usually originated in the appropriation of the soil, at a time when the bulk of the people must cultivate it on such terms as they can obtain, or starve; and when their scanty capital of implements, seed, &c. being utterly insufficient to secure their maintenance in any other occupation than that of agriculture, is chained with themselves to the land by an overpowering necessity. The necessity then, which compels them to pay a rent, it need hardly be observed, is wholly independent of any difference in the quality of the ground they occupy, and would not be removed were the soils all equalized.
The rents thus paid by the laborer, who extracts his own wages from the earth, may be called peasant rents, using the term peasant to indicate an occupier of the ground who depends on his own labor for its cultivation; or they may be called primary rents, because, in the order of their appearance in the progress of nations towards civilization, they invariably precede that other class of rents to which we have now to advert.
On the Origin of Secondary or Farmer's Rents.
Much time seldom elapses, after the formation of an agricultural community, before some imperfect separation takes place between the departments of labor. The body of artizans and mechanics bear at first a very small proportion to the whole numbers of the people: some of these soon become able to store up such a quantity of food, implements, and materials, as enable them to feed and employ others, to take the results of their labour, and to exchange them again for more food, and all that is necessary to continue the process. A class of capitalists is thus formed, distinct from that of laborers and landlords. This class sometimes (but, taking the earth throughout, very rarely) makes its appearance on the land, and takes charge of its cultivation. The agricultural laborer no longer depends for subsistence upon the crops he raises from the soil; and the landlord, instead of receiving his share directly from the hands of the laborer, receives it indirectly through those of the new employer.
Since these rents invariably succeed in the order of civilization the class already pointed out, they may be called secondary rents; or, because the capitalist, who becomes responsible for the rent of land which he cultivates by the labor of others, is usually called a farmer, these rents may conveniently be called farmer's rents, and so distinguished from peasant rents.
There are cases, no doubt, in which it is difficult to determine to which of these two classes, the peasant or farmer's rents, the rents paid by particular individuals belong. But this is a circumstance which need embarrass the enquiries of none but those who delight in surrounding a subject with refinements and difficulties of their own creation. We shall find the two classes over vast regions of the globe distinctly and broadly separated in their form, their effects, and the causes of their variations: and it would be very useless trifling, to linger and puzzle over those very limited spots alone, where they are in a state of mixture and confusion.
The circumstances which determine the amount of peasant rents are much less complex than those which determine the amount of farmer's rents. In the case of these last, the amount of wages is first determined by causes foreign to the contract between the proprietor and the tenant, and then the amount of rent is strictly limited by the amount of the profits on the capital used; which capital, if those profits are not realized, may be withdrawn to another employment. The causes which determine the ordinary rate of those profits are also independent of the contract between the landlord and tenant, and form a distinct subject of enquiry. In the case of the first class, or peasant rents, the amount both of wages and rents is determined solely by the bargain made between the proprietors and a set of laborers, whose necessities chain them to the soil with the small capital they use to aid their labour and procure food; and the causes which govern the terms of that bargain are comparatively simple.
The class of secondary or farmer's rents is that with which we are the most familiar in England, or rather that with which we are alone familiar; and this familiarity has caused peasant rents in their numerous varieties not only to be neglected in our investigations, but, in truth, to be overlooked altogether And yet, as has been before suggested, compared with these, the mass of farmer's rents to be found on the globe is very small. In England and in most parts of the Netherlands secondary rents exclusively prevail. In the Highlands of Scotland, they are only at this moment displacing the last remains of the more primitive form: in France, before the revolution, they were found on about one-seventh part of the land: in the other countries of Europe, they are much more rare, throughout Asia hardly known. We shall be making on the whole an extravagant allowance, if we suppose them to occupy one-hundredth part of the cultivated surface of the habitable globe.
If we consider principally the numbers of the human race whose fate they influence, or the extent of the regions of which the social condition receives its impress from them, then peasant rents under their various forms will be the most interesting and important. If our taste leads us to undertake the discussion of these subjects as a scientific problem, the main interest of which consists in the exercise it affords to the powers of analysis and combination, perhaps the second class (or farmer's rents) may not be undeserving of the exclusive attention it has received.
On Peasant Rents: on their Separation into
Labor, Metayer, Ryot, and Cottier Rents.
While the laborer is confined to the culture of the soil on his own -account, because it is in that manner alone that he can obtain access to the wages on which he is to subsist, the form and amount of the Rents he pays are determined by a direct contract between himself and the proprietor. The provisions of these contracts are influenced sometimes by the laws, and almost always by the long established usages, of the countries in which they are made. The main object in all is, to secure a revenue to the proprietors with the least practicable amount of trouble or risk on their part.
Though governed in common by some important principles, the variety in the minuter details of this class of Rents is of course almost infinite. But men will be driven in similar situations to very similar expedients, and the general mass of peasant rents may be separated into four great divisions, comprising 1st, Labor Rents, 2dly, Metayer Rents, 3dly, Ryot Rents (borrowing the last term from the country in which we are most familiar with them, India).
These three will be found occupying in contiguous masses the breadth of the old world, from the Canary Islands to the shores of China and the Pacific, and deciding, each in its own sphere, not merely the economical relations of the landlords and tenants, but the political and social condition of the mass of the people.
To these must be added a fourth division, that of Cottier Rents, or Rents paid by a laborer extracting his own wages from the land, but paying his rent in money, as in Ireland and part of Scotland. This class is small, but peculiarly interesting to Englishmen, from the fact of its prevalence in the sister island, and from the influence it has exercised, and seems likely for some time yet to exercise, over the progress and circumstances of the Irish people.
1. Prin. of Pol. Econ. p. 28. I think this definition as it stands, is on the whole rather preferable to the slightly altered version of it, which Mr. Malthus has since adopted in his Work on Definitions, p. 234. Neither of them perhaps, are perfectly proof against a pains-taking objector. Either, would very well answer our present purpose, of restricting the subject on which we are about to enter to some definite limits.
3. Robertson's America, Book vii.
5. Emigration Report, p. 397. Appendix II.
6. In proposing present terms to persons inclined to settle at the Swan River, the Colonial Office formally declares an intention of granting lands after 1830, on such conditions only, as may then seem adviseable to Government.
7. Park's Travels in Africa, p. 260