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depending upon foreign harvests for her supply of food. Eng-
lish soil has been made to yield 57 to 60 bushels of wheat to the
acre without exhaustion. The average yield is much less than
half so much. It is so, because only the merest fraction of that
soil has been treated as the scientific knowledge of our days
suggests, and because the amount of capital laid out upon the
land under the system of large farms is about half as great as
would be expended by small farmers of thrift and intelligence.

(c) But the fundamental mistake and failure has been in the
treatment of the human material of her agriculture. She has


failed to bring into exercise one of the most powerful and effi-
cient motives to thrift and industry that exists in the human
breast, viz: the attachment of the small holder to the spot of
earth that is his own, his home. That passion for the posses-
sion of land, which is elsewhere a source of public security and
social permanence, she has made a source of public instabilit}'.
By all the tenor of her legislation and the drift of her public
opinion, she has helped in the work of sundering the workman
from the soil, and of either driving him away from it to the city
or retaining him in the pitiable position of a day-laborer at the
lowest rate of wages consistent with bare life and shelter. She
has taken no pains to diffuse the intelligence and scientific
knowledge that would fit the rural classes to till the land as the
needs of the country and the time demand. She has left them
at the mercy of the squires and the farmers, growing every day
more brutal and hopeless. " They are unable," says Canon
Grirdlestoue, " to lay by anything. They are long-lived, but
even in their prime are feeble; and at the age of fifty often crip-
pled with rheumatism, the result of poor living, sour cider, a
damp climate, hard work and anxiety combined. There remains
nothing for them then but the parish-pay and the workhouse."
§ 88. Passing from England to the Continent, we find the
rival nations growing iu the sort of strength that was once but
is no longer the boast of England, the yeomanry. In France
small proprietorship was the rule even before the Revolution.
The old records abound in accounts of their purchases. It was
their wretchedness under the excessive burdens of the Old
Regime, when they paid nearly all the taxes, that led Arthur
Young to prefer large farming; yet he admits that the peasants
of many parts of France were prosperous, iudustrious and thrifty.
They had risen to that state out of the deepest degradation. In
the middle ages they could not stand against the English
yeoman, because they were little better than slaves. The free
play of economic laws steadily bettered their condition, and
vested in them more and more of the soil. The Revolution
abolished all customary tenures, but it threw the royal demesnes


and the estates of the nobility upon the market, and abolished
the right of primogeniture, besides releasing the peasantry from
the burden of excessive taxation. The number of large estates
rapidly declined ■ that of the actual landowners has immensely
increased. The soil of France is now owned by more than four
millions of her people. M. de Lavergne, often quoted by Eng-
lish economists as approving of the English system, says : " All
the world accepts petty proprietorship not only as a necessity,
but as a benefit. It is recognised as favorable to agricultural
productiveness and to public security." To it France owes her
vast wealth and her wonderful financial elasticity, exhibited in
her management of the immense debt incurred by the last war.
In many respects French agriculture has much to learn from
that of England ; but if the history of each for the last two
hundred years be takeu for comparison, the result will be a
judgment greatly in favor of the former.

§ 89. Belgium is the strongest case in favor of small farms
and intensive culture. The farmer in the Flemish provinces
lays out twice as much on an acre as is done in England. Farms
are continually divided, and with every division their yield of pro-
duce has increased. Vast quantities of horned cattle and of
green crops are raised ; wheat, indeed, is imported, but paid for
by exports of meat and vegetables. East Flanders has and feeds
1800 people to every square mile of her barren soil. The small
owner generally saves half his income, and is continually on the
outlook for more land. The farms are mostly between five and
seven acres in extent. Most of the land, indeed, is farmed at
rack-reuts on nine years' leases, with " customary " compensation
for unexhausted improvements ; but a large proportion is stead-
ily passing into the hands of small holders, who, as in France,
outbid all other competitors. So strong is the hunger for laud
that it is bought up with full knowledge that it will not give as
high rate of interest upon capital as is offered by the money-
market. The people are poor through the lack of all large in-
dustries and the market they give for labor and for food, and
the consequent tax of the cost of transportation upon most of


what they need besides food. But their poverty is disappear-
ing; want and destitution are becoming ui >re rare ; agricultural
methods are rapidly improving; the country is tilled like a
garden, yielding several heavy crops every year, and presenting
the most beautiful and civilized appearance of any in the world.
§ 90. In Prussia the mediaeval system held its ground down
to the beginning of the present century. The government
" saw with terror, in 1803, how insecure was a state which had
so great a claim on the bodies, and none at all on the hearts of
its people" (Grustav Freytag). Some opposed change. The
bauer was stupid, lazy and thriftless, it was said ; nothing could
be made of him. A government commission met at 3Iemel in
1807 to draft a land-law that should effect the transition from
the mediaeval to the modern agriculture. They found them-
selves divided into two parties : on the one side the great states-
man Stein, the great historian Niebuhr and his friend Stage-
mann ; on the other a group of now-forgotten doctrinaires, who
bad studied English political economy under Kraus at Koenigs-
berg. The latter wished for a policy that would secure the
maximum of production from the soil, independently of the
welfare of the producers. " They held it indifferent whether the
present feebler proprietors remained or not, if their place was
supplied by wealthier ones, and thus the greatest possible
amount of profit secured." They preferred, indeed, that the
change should take that shape, following the English commer-
cial maxim : " most produce by least labor." " Why," they
asked, " waste the productive force of four proprietors and six-
teen horses to do that which one proprietor and six horses can
do better?" The other party " considered the promotion of the
welfare of the actually-existing occupants of the soil as the true
problem of the statesman;" else they "saw the likelihood of
obtaining a class of proprietors who would have no moral interest
in the welfare of the country, and they felt the importance of
a numerous class of small landholders." Happily their counsels
prevailed; the transition was effected by impartial legislation,
and not on English principles nor hy English methods. The


peasant secured the complete control of his own labor, and rose
from a state of villeinage to the freedom of a landowner; in re-
turn he ceded to his former master a portion of the land he had
held, retaining the rest in fee simple. All restrictions on the
sale of laud were removed, and provision was made for cutting
oif entails. This measure was enlarged and extended to all parts
of the kingdom in 1811. It aimed at the highest end of
national economy, the welfare of the people ; it secured the
lower also — the maximum of production from the soil.

Since its adoption, the yeoman class has grown in numbers,
wealth aud independence. In Westphalia especially, land con-
stantly passes into their hands by purchase. Its price has
risen rapidly; it rose seventy-five per cent, between 1829 and
1843. The bulk of it is now in the hands of the actual tillers
of the soil; the agricultural methods are very greatly improved,
and the hauer is now proverbial for thrift and industry.

§ 91. Switzerland takes rank next to Belgium in the per-
fection of its intensive culture, and the density of its popula-
tion. Every foothold of ground is occupied ; if the clefts of the
rocks contain no soil, it is carried thither.

Norway with its rocky surface, and Denmark with its alterna-
tions of peat and gravel, would be — like Flemish Belgium — in-
accessible to any sort of agriculture that did not bring into play
the entire devotion and earnestness of their people. In both
the greatest difficulties have been overcome and the largest out-
lays of labor rewarded.

Russia, in the emancipation of her serfs (1861), had to solve
the problem that was before Prussia half a ceutury earlier. The
large proprietors and the students of English political and rural
economy wished to see the land vested in the nobility, and the
bulk of the peasantry reduced to the level of day-laborers. But
the aristocratic party had lost its prestige through its failure to
carry the Crimean war to a successful issue. The government
secured to the serfs the right to purchase at a moderate rate
enough arable and pasture land for the needs of each village,
and undertook to collect the payment in small annual instal-


merits and pay it over to the landowners. That the economic
Tesults of the measure are as yet anything but satisfactory must
be admitted. This is due (1) to the virus of slavery still poison-
ing the minds of the people and leading them to regard work as
a curse and a disgrace; (2) to the system of taxation, by which
the public burdens are thrown chiefly upon the peasantry; and
(3) to the fact that the system of communistic land tenure is
still kept up in Russia, and in such a way as to deprive the
peasant of many of the most powerful impulses to industry, im-
provement and thrift.

In Italy, the plains of the north are under petty culture, and
the excellence of the agriculture is proverbial. In Tuscany the
lands are farmed in larger portions on the metayer system, the
landlord and tenant dividing the crop equally. To pass from
Lombardy to Tuscany, is to go from better to worse ; but to cross
the Tiber to what was the Papal States and Naples, is to come
into a country of large farms, in which beggary and bad tillage
deface the earth. The yield is much smaller, and the rural
methods are those of the days of Hildebrand, if not of Cato the

§ 92. Another chief point in the economy of land is to secure
and preserve an equilibrium of the three great elements of the
industrial state — the agricultural, the commercial and the manu-
facturing. To cherish and foster agriculture alone is not to
cherish it at all. The farmer's work, unless misdirected and
wasteful, produces more than furnishes food for himself and
his household. Were it otherwise the whole population would
have to be employed in agriculture, as was the case in the earliest,
period of the art. The existence of such a surplus sets free a
part of the population to engage in work of producing other
things that society counts among the necessities and comforts of
life. When this class, and the number of persons needed for
the exchange of the products of both classes, are large enough
to consume the ordinary surplus product of the farming class,
the three classes stand in equilibrium ; the farmer is assured of
a market for his crop, and of a fair exchange of other objects


of desire for what he can spare. But if these two classes are
not large enough to consume his surplus, the equilibrium does
not exist-, and the farmer must suffer accordingly. His
labor goes for nought; his crop rots in the fields, or if gathered
and taken to market, brings a trifling price because farmers are
underbidding each other for the small sales that are possible.
In our Mississippi valley, for instance, the equilibrium of the
two classes has not yet been attained. " The burning of corn
for fuel in the West, of which we hear dismal stories once in
seven years, is an indication that too many people there are en-
gaged in farming and too few in manufacturing " (The Nation,
New York, 1869).

In the absence of a sufficient home market, the foreign demand
for breadstuffs and other farm produce is the only dependence
of the farmer. For reasons hereafter given, the exchange of
raw produce for manufactured goods between distant points can
never be a remunerative one for the producer of the former.
Were the rural economy of every nation wisely managed, no such
exchange could take place ; save in years of extraordinary scarcity
the transportation of large quantities of breadstuffs and the like
across the seas would not be thought of. The foreign market
can therefore last no longer than the bad management of a few
densely peopled countries lasts ; with every advance in agricul-
tural methods and rural economy it must threaten to disappear.

And even while it lasts it is the most uncertain of all markets.
The farmer who depends on it takes the risk of two harvests in-
stead of one. If the foreign country have a bad harvest, and
so need much grain, while his own country's harvest is not too
good, he may get as fair a profit as the nature of the case per-
mits ) in any other combination of circumstances he will not.
Still more complicated are his chances when other nations nearer
the foreign market are competitors to supply its needs. In
that case his success depends upon their comparative failure also.
Worse still, the price he can get for what he sells at home is
fixed and regulated by that of what he sends abroad ; if a large
surplus, raised for the foreign market, be left on his hands,


prices will rule low in the home market also, because he and his
fellow- farmers will be underselling each other in competing to
supply its demand.

§ 93. The farmer who depends upon a distant market can
never carry on his farming by the best methods. He cannot
raise that variety of crops by which the pressure of tillage upon
tin; resources of the soil is lightened ; for such crops cannot be
transported to a distance. He must grow the great staples that
meet the foreign demand, year after year, to the exhaustion of
the most important elements of his land. He cannot make such
returns to the soil as will keep up its fertility ; the refuse of
the factory and the town are not to be had. The highly nitro-
geuized forms of animal manure he can procure in trifling
quantities only, as his own cattle and those of his brother
farmers are the only beasts of the sort in his neighborhood, and
are far fewer in number thau if he had a town close at hand
making large demands for meat and dairy produce. He can
only farm thriftlessly and wastefully ; in our Eastern sense of
the word his place is not a farm, but a wheat factory or a corn
factory. The farmer who lives near his market is continually
improving an instrument of great power and value; he who
lives at a distance from his market is continually injuring it and
breaking it. The one is adding every year to the wealth of the
soil beneath his feet; the other is exporting that wealth to a
distance, without the opportunity of making any return to the
soil he is robbing of its fertility.

The census of 1870 exhibits the undue preponderance of agriculture in
the states we have referred to. In six Western States fifty-four percent,
of those who report any occupation were engaged in farming, while of
the whole population of the United States so reported only forty-seven
per cent, are farmers. In nine Southern Stat s, from North Carolina to
Texas, the proportion is as high as seventy-five per cent.

The six Western States have nineteen per cent, of the national popu-
lation: but they raise forty per cent, of the whole corn crop, and forty-
two per cent, of the wheat crop, while of all other crops they raise less
than their share. Their industry lacks variety, being chiefly agriculture ;
their agriculture lacks variety, being chiefly the growth of cereals. In
1872, when the English demand for American breadstuff's was much above


the average, Illinois produced enough to feed all her own population, and
to supply the whole English demand, at that rate, for ten years. See a
very able article on " The Farmers' Difficulty," by Edward Stanwood, in
Old and New for September 1872.

§ 94. The theories of the national economy of land which
pass current with the English economists seem to be suggested
by their practice. Like the theory of population discussed in
the last chapter, they seem designed to excuse the anomalies
and miseries of English society, by throwing the blame on the
natural laws which govern and condition the growth of society.

Indeed, the chief of the English theories about land grew
directly out of the Malthusian theory of population. In the
last statement of that theory that Mr. Malthus made (1826) he
concedes to his numerous opponents that so long as good land
was to be had, " the rate at which food could be made to in-
crease would far exceed what was necessary to keep pace with
the most rapid increase of the population " possible. This
shows that the whole question turns upon the relation of man to
the soil.

The " theory of population" is therefore the parent of the
" theory of rent" announced by David Ricardo in 1815, and
designed to explain the way in which the growth of society
makes the few rich aud the many poor, by inuring chiefly to
the benefit of a class of monopolists called landlords. In his
view, rent arises from the insufficiency of good land to supply
the entire people. The first settlers of a country take possession
of the best lands; the second set of cultivators are obliged to
take those that are worse, or pay nearly if not quite the differ-
ence in rent. When the second grade of land has been settled
up, the next set must take up a third grade, or pay nearly if
not quite the difference in yearly value for a share of the first or
second. Thus as the growth of numbers requires the tillage of
an ever larger area of the soil, each higher grade of land pays
an increasing rent. With every advance in population men are
driven to poorer and more wretched soils, and the monopolists
of the higher grade of lands are able to live in idleness aud


plenty upon their continually increasing share of the growths of
the soil. The only limit to the process will be reached when
the only laud that is unoccupied is too poor to repay cultivation.
The rent that can be secured for any given piece of ground will
be nearly if not quite the difference between its annual yield
and that of the poorest lands under cultivation.

§ 95. To show what Mr. Ricardo asserts to be the tendency
at work as a country grows in density of population, let us sup-
pose the case of an island divided into a number of areas equal in
extent but of various degrees of fertility, and each large enough
to employ a hundred laborers. The best land in the series can
produce (let us say) 900 bushels of wheat, giving nine bushels
to each laborer if there be an equal division. The next best
will produce (let us say) one-tenth less or 810 bushels, giving
1710 (or 900 plus 810) bushels to be divided between two
hundred workmen ; and so on. If the population double every
twenty-five years, as Mr. Matthus says it may, the following
table shows what the growth of population and of sustenanee
will be in two centuries : —

Years. Persons. Bushels. Share.

900 9.

1,710 8.151

3,150 7.875

5,670 7.0875

9,990 6.243

17,190 5.37

31,710 4.92

48,990 3.8

72,030 2.8

But on the theory of unequal division propounded by Mr.
Ricardo, the owners of the lauds last occupied would not get
2.8 but only 1.8 bushels each, and the amount which falls to
them is just or almost the share that falls to the tenants of any
of higher grade. The difference between that share and
the actual annual yield is absorbed in rent. If the entire seven
grades of superior land is leased to tenants, its owners absorb
nearly if -not quite 25,950 bushels as their royalty on the use of




















the land, leaving 46,080 bushels to the actual workmen. The
denser the population, therefore, the greater the misery of the
people, and every growth in their numbers increases their own
poverty and adds to the wealth of these monopolists.

§ 96. This doctrine found even more acceptance with the
English school, and elicited far less criticism and opposition,
than that of Mr. Malthus on population. It was a more direct
and explicit apology for the anomalous state of things in Eng-
land; it explained how a nation might grow in wealth while a
very large share of its people sank ever deeper in poverty aud
misery. It was a still more explicit and satisfactory verdict of
" Nobody to blame," — a still clearer excuse for the absence of
effort to amend things. Mr. J. S. Mill goes so far as to pro-
nounce this law of rent and of the increasing sterility of the
land brought under cultivation, to be the very corner-stone of
the science. " After a certain not very advanced stage in the
progress of agriculture ... in any given state of agricultural
skill and knowledge . . . every increase of produce is obtained
by more than a proportional increase in the application of labor
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." An
American writer of the same school says : " It is natural — and
if natural, proper — though we may not see the reason — that
poverty and want, and disease and misery, should be the next-
door neighbors of wealth and unbounded prosperity."

§ 97. On Mr. llicardo's theory that land derives its value
from the natural properties of the soil, and not from the labor
expended on it, and that landlords are a class of monopolists
who have possessed themselves of it, and thus managed to make
the growth of society inure chiefly to their own benefit, the
right of ownership in land is one that rests on no sufficient
foundation, and one that many of the interests of society call
upon the state to set aside and destroy. Mr. Ricardo himself
was no friend of these " monopolists," and his school are as little


so. Especially in late years they have been given to using
phrases that strongly resemble the utterances of those com-
munists, who would have the right to landed property, if not to
all property, repudiated by society. ' They have held up the
land-tenure of their country as the source of nearly all its social
evils ; they have insisted that the nature of landed property is
such that it is both the right and the duty of the state to inter-
fere with it in ways that would be public robbery if applied to
other sorts of property ; they have declared that the ownership
of land — in contrast to the ownership of other things — is a
public trust, a stewardship of which the nation may exact an
account. The offspring of these teachings is the Irish Land
Law of 1870, by which the landowner is forbidden to rent his
land for the price that it will bring in the open market. All
contracts are to be on terms that an Irish judge shall- decide to
be reasonable, and when the lease expires the tenant cannot be
ejected unless paid for his good-will and improvements.

§ 98. Do the facts of history bear out this theory ? If they
do we shall find (1) that in any given area the amount of the
produce of the land obtained iu earlier times is greater in pro-
portion to the number of laborers ; (2) that of two countries,
or two districts in the same country, if other things be equal,
the one that is poorest in people is the one in which the average
degree of personal wealth and comfort is the highest; (3) that

Online LibraryRobert Ellis ThompsonSocial science and national economy → online text (page 8 of 38)