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An Inquiry into the Eapenses and Profits of the Tenant.
BEFORE we proceed to inquire into the particulars of the expenses and profits of the tenant, it is necessary to distinguish accurately between that propor‘tion of the price of produce out of which they are to arise, and the portion reserved for the payment of rent. The comparative amount of each of these is materially different, in the different conditions of society. We have seen in the last chapter that land is originally brought under cultivation, at least after the earliest stages of the agricultural state of society are passed, under the expectation of procuring in the shape of rent, a profitable return for the capital expended. This truth is not affected by the circumstance, that the land is occupied by the proprietor himself who originally reclaimed it, or by his descendant; for they are equally entitled to expect a fair return for the capital originally laid out, whether or not they may choose to add thereto the profits arising from the immediate application of their own skill and labour, and of a further capital in the actual cultivation of the soil. When land, however, has been once reclaimed and brought under cultivation, much of it will probably continue in that state, even although the price of its produce should be just sufficient to replace the cost of cultivation only, with a profit upon the tenant's capital equal to the average rate of profit in other departments of in
dustry; and this although the landlord's capital should be altogether annihilated. The landlord would, in fact, then become the occupier, and be degraded from his former rank in society to that of a farmer. This effect, if general throughout the independent proprietory even of the inferior lands only, would be attended with consequences sufficiently lamentable to the general interests of the community, by a diminution of demand from the great conSumers of all the products of industry, and by interposing a positive bar to all further improvement. It would not be altogether and immediately fatal to the existing agriculture; but would only constitute the lowest point at which it could at all continue to proceed even for a limited period. It may be useful then to inquire, what portion of the price of raw produce is made up of the actual expenses and profits of the cultivator, by deducting therefrom that which is superadded upon account of rent? Now we have seen that the portion, which constitutes rent, undergoes a comparative diminution, with respect to the mere expense of cultivation, in proportion to the progress of society, and to the necessity of having recourse to inferior lands for cultivation, or to an increased outlay of capital in the management of lands already reclaimed. For as the immediate cultivator must be remunerated, in the first instance, for his capital, it is evident that in proportion as he is obliged to increase that capital, in order to raise an equal quantity of produce, he must deduct the interest and profit upon it from what he would otherwise be able to pay in the shape of rent; unless they are compensated by improvements in the modes of agriculture, by which the produce raised by the labour previously employed can be increased in an equal degree. This however is seldom found to be the case, especially on inferior soils: we may therefore estimate the portion of the price of produce from these soils resolvable into rent as very small. If we consider the burthen of taxes generally imposed in such an advanced stage of society as leads to the cultivation of inferior soils, and add it to the other agricultural expenses, we may perhaps estimate the portion resolvable into rent, even where a brisk demand exists for the produce, at not more than one-fifth of the whole price in the market, leaving four-fifths for the ordinary expenses of production, and for the farmer's profit on his capital. We have abundant evidence that upon the poorer soils of England not more than a fifth of the gross produce is paid to the landlord in the shape of rent, and that this proportion gradually increases to a fourth as the staple of the soil improves in quality. Supposing therefore that so wild an idea should enter into the head of a statesman as to annihilate all rent from inferior lands, and proportionally to reduce it on those of a superior staple, in order to afford raw produce at a cheap rate to the general consumer, we perceive that his utmost efforts could do no more than reduce the price one-fifth without throwing land out of cultivation, and thereby ultimately raising the price of its produce much higher than his notable expedient would immediately have depressed it. Suppose the growing price, including rent, to be 80s. for a quarter of wheat, the total annihilation of the rent would reduce it to 64s. which would constitute the mere current expenses of cultivation, and the questions for the public to consider, are, 1st, whether this difference of price would compensate the state for the ruin of its most efficient class of domestic consumers;–and 2dly, whether in a course of years agriculture could be carried on without the assistance of capital for the various offices of renewal and improvement, which always fall upon the landlord, or, in other words, upon the rent, and are not included in what is called the growing price of corn, or capable of being defrayed from the profits of the tenant. Now whatever may be thought of the first of these questions, it seems morally certain that unless that portion of the rent, which a prudent landlord accumulates to meet the necessary wear and tear, and the occasional deterioration going on upon his estate, be added to the growing price of raw produce in the market, over and above the remuneration for the labour and ordinary profits of the occupier, cultivation must very soon decline, and that in no slow degree; especially on lands of inferior staple. For it is only by dint of a liberal application of capital that they can at all be brought to a productive state. An application of capital equally liberal, in what is called high farming, is also necessary to keep them in a productive state; and a very trifling diminution of such capital will give rise to a process of deterioration, which will proceed in a rapidly descending ratio: for such lands, when once neglected and exhausted, are with great difficulty restored. It is not, however, easy to conceive that, even were the price of produce reduced by foreign competition so low as only to remunerate the grower for his current expenses, the payment of all rent would be immediately and ipso facto annihilated.
There would for some time be a constant struggle between distresses of the landlord and those of his tenant. The former would naturally press for his accustomed rent to defray his current expenses; and the latter who had expended some of his former profits on the land, in expectation of an increased return in the course of his lease, would, for a period, advance a portion at least of his rent from former savings rather than forego all chance of remuneration from the return of better times. He would, in plain terms, do what a great proportion of the British farmers have been lately constrained to submit to, viz. he would pay his rent for a time out of his capital. The end of this process would however be the absolute impoverishment of both, and the consequent inability of either to make the smallest effort for the necessary renewal of those improvements, by which the land first became capable of affording a surplus produce for the market. This argument applies also, though in a somewhat less degree, to lands of a superior staple. So that I do not hesitate partially to agree in the truth of Mr. Malthus's position” that “if under. the impression that the high price of raw produce, which occasions rent, is as injurious to the consumer as it is advantageous to the landlord, a rich and improved nation were determined by law to lower the price of produce” (to the bare expenses of cultivation, or) “till no surplus in the shape of rent any where remained; it would inevitably throw not only all the poor land, but all except the very best land, out of cultivation, and probably reduce its produce and population to
* See Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent, p. 35.