Capital Vol. III Part VI
Transformation of Surplus-Profit into Ground-Rent

Chapter 45. Absolute Ground-Rent


In the analysis of differential rent we proceeded from the assumption that the worst soil does not pay any ground-rent; or, to put it more generally, only such land pays ground-rent whose product has an individual price of production below the price of production regulating the market, so that in this manner a surplus-profit arises which is transformed into rent. It is to be noted, to begin with, that the law of differential rent as such is entirely independent of the correctness or incorrectness of this assumption.

Let us call the general price of production, by which the market is regulated, P. Then, P coincides with the individual price of production of the output of the worst soil A; i.e., its price pays for the constant and variable capital consumed in production plus the average profit ( = profit of enterprise plus interest).

The rent in this case is equal to zero. The individual price of production of the next better soil B is = P´, and P > P´; that is, P pays for more than the actual price of production of the product of soil B. Let us now assume that P - P´ = d; d, the excess of P over P´, is therefore the surplus-profit which the farmer of soil type B realises. This d is transformed into rent, which must be paid to the landlord. Let P´´ be the actual price of production of the third type of soil C, and P - P´´ = 2d; then this 2d is converted into rent; similarly, let P´´´ be the individual price of production of the fourth type of soil D, and P - P´´´ = 3d, which is transformed into ground-rent, etc. Now let us assume the premise for soil A, that rent = 0 and therefore the price of its product = P + 0, is erroneous. Assume rather that it, too, yields rent = r. In that case, two different conclusions follow.

First: The price of the product of soil A would not be regulated by the price of production on the latter, but would include an excess above this price, i.e., would be = P + r. Because assuming the capitalist mode of production to be functioning normally, that is, assuming that the excess r which the farmer pays to the landlord represents neither a deduction from wages nor from the average profit of capital, the farmer can only pay it by selling the product above its price of production, thus, yielding him surplus-profit if he did not have to turn over this excess to the landlord in the form of rent. The regulating market-price of the total output on the market derived from all soils would then not be the price of production which capital generally yields in all spheres of production, i.e., a price equal to costs plus average profit, but rather the price of production plus the rent, P + r, and not P. For the price of the product of soil A represents generally the limit of the regulating general market-price, i.e., the price at which the total product can be supplied, and to that extent it regulates the price of this total product.

But secondly: Although the general price of agricultural products would in this case be significantly modified, the law of differential rent would nevertheless in no way lose its force. For if the price of the product of soil A, and thereby the general market-price = P + r, the price for soils B, C, D, etc., would likewise = P + r. But since P - P´ = d for soil B, then (P + r) - (P´ + r) would likewise = d, and P - P´´ = (P + r) - (P´´ + r) = 2d for soil C; and finally P - P´´´ = (P + r) - (P´´´ + r) = 3d for soil D, etc. Thus the differential rent would be the same as before and would be regulated by the same law, although the rent would include an element independent of this law and would show a general increase together with the price of the agricultural product. It follows, then, that no matter what the case may be as regards the rent of the least fertile soils, the law of differential rent is not only independent of it, but that the only manner of grasping differential rent in keeping with its character is to let the rent on soil A = 0. Whether this actually = 0 or > 0 is immaterial so far as the differential rent is concerned, and, in fact, does not come into consideration.

The law of differential rent, then, is independent of the results of the following study.

If we were now to inquire more deeply into the basis of the assumption that the product of the worst soil A does not yield any rent, the answer would of necessity be as follows: If the market-price of the agricultural product, say grain, attains that level where an additional investment of capital in soil A results in the usual price of production, i.e., the usual average profit on the capital is yielded, then this condition suffices for investing the additional capital in soil A. In other words, this condition is sufficient for the capitalist to invest new capital yielding the usual profit and to employ it in the normal manner.

It should be noted here that in this case, too, the market-price must be higher than the price of production of A. For as soon as the additional supply is created, it is evident that the relation between supply and demand becomes altered. Formerly the supply was insufficient. Now it is sufficient. Hence the price must fall. In order to fall, it must have been higher than the price of production of A. But due to the fact that soil A newly taken under cultivation is less fertile, the price does not fall again as low as when the price of production of soil B regulated the market. The price of production of A constitutes the limit, not for the temporary but for the relatively permanent rise of the market-price. On the other hand, if the new soil taken under cultivation is more fertile than the hitherto regulating soil A, and yet only suffices to meet the increased demand, then the market-price remains unchanged. The investigation of the question whether the poorest type of soil yields rent, however, coincides in this case too with our present inquiry, for here too the assumption that soil A does not yield any rent would be explained by the fact that the market-price is sufficient for the capitalist farmer to exactly cover, with this price, the invested capital plus the average profit; in brief, it would be explained by the fact that the market-price yields him the price of production of his commodities.

At any rate, the capitalist farmer can cultivate soil A under these conditions, inasmuch as he, as capitalist, has such power of decision. The prerequisite for the normal expansion of capital in soil A is now present. But from the premise that the capitalist farmer can now invest capital in soil A under average conditions for the expansion of capital, even if he did not have to pay any rent, it nowise follows that this land, belonging to category A, is now at the disposal of the farmer without further ado. The fact that the tenant farmer could realise the usual profit on his capital did he not have to pay any rent, is by no means a basis for the landlord to lend his land gratis to the farmer and to become so philanthropic as to grant crédit gratuit for the sake of a business friendship. Such an assumption would mean the abstraction of landed property, the elimination of land-ownership, and it is precisely the existence of the latter that constitutes a limitation to the investment of capital and the free expansion of capital in the land. This limitation does not at all disappear before the simple reflection of the farmer that the level of grain prices would enable him to realise the usual profit from the investment of his capital in the exploitation of soil A did he not have to pay any rent; in other words, if he could proceed in effect as though landed property did not exist. But differential rent presupposes the existence of a monopoly in land ownership, landed property as a limitation to capital, for without it surplus-profit would not be transformed into ground-rent nor fall to the share of the landlord instead of the farmer. And landed property as a limitation continues to exist even when rent in the form of differential rent disappears, i.e., on soil A. If we consider the cases in a country with capitalist production, where the investment of capital in the land can take place without payment of rent, we shall find that they are all based on a de facto abolition of landed property, if not also the legal abolition; this, however, can only take place under very specific circumstances which are by their very nature accidental.

First: When the landlord is himself a capitalist, or the capitalist is himself a landlord. In this case he may himself manage his land as soon as market-price has risen sufficiently to enable him to get, from what is now soil A, the price of production, that is, replacement of capital plus average profit. But why? Because for him landed property does not constitute an obstacle to the investment of capital. He can treat his land simply as an element of Nature and therefore be guided solely by considerations of expansion of his capital, by capitalist considerations. Such cases occur in practice, but only as exceptions. Just as capitalist cultivation of the soil presupposes the separation of functioning capital from landed property, so does it as a rule exclude self-management of landed property. It is immediately evident that this case is a purely accidental one. If the increased demand for grain requires the cultivation of a larger area of soil type A than is in the hands of self-managing proprietors, in other words, if a part of it must be rented to be at all cultivated, then this hypothetical lifting of the limitation created by landed property to the investment of capital at once collapses. It is an absurd contradiction to start out with the differentiation under the capitalist mode of production between capital and land, farmers and landlords, and then to turn round and assume that landlords, as a rule, manage their own land wherever and whenever capital would not draw rent from the cultivation of the soil if landed property were not separate and distinct from it. (See the passage by Adam Smith concerning mining rent, quoted below.) This abolition of landed property is fortuitous. It may or may not occur.

Secondly: In the total area of a leasehold there may be certain portions which do not yield any rent at the existing level of market-prices, so that they are in fact loaned gratis; but the landlord does not look upon it in that light, because he sees the total rental of the leased land, not the specific rent of the individual component plots. In this case, as regards the rentless component plots of the leasehold, landed property as a limitation to the investment of capital is eliminated for the capitalist farmer; and this, indeed, by contract with the landlord himself. But he does not pay rent for these plots merely because he pays rent for the land associated with them. A combination is here presupposed whereby poorer soil A does not have to be resorted to as a distinctly new field of production in order to produce the deficit supply, but rather whereby it merely constitutes an inseparable part of the better land. But the case to be investigated is precisely that in which certain pieces of land of soil type A must be independently managed, i.e., for the conditions generally prevailing under the capitalist mode of production, they must be independently leased.

Thirdly: A farmer may invest additional capital in the same leasehold even if the additional product secured in this manner yields him only the price of production at the prevailing market-prices, i.e., provides him with the usual profit but does not enable him to pay any additional rent. He thus pays ground-rent with one portion of the capital invested in the land, but not with the other. How little this assumption helps to solve the problem, however, is seen from the following: If the market-price (and the fertility of the soil) enables him to obtain an additional yield with his additional capital, which, as in the case of the old capital, yields a surplus-profit in addition to the price of production, he is able to pocket this surplus-profit so long as his lease does not expire. But why? Because the limitation placed by landed property on the investment of his capital in land has been eliminated for the duration of the lease. But the simple fact that additional soil of poorer quality must be independently cleared and independently leased in order for him to secure this surplus-profit proves irrefutably that the investment of additional capital in the old soil no longer suffices to produce the required increased supply. One assumption excludes the other. It is true that now one might say: The rent on the worst soil A is itself differential rent — whether the comparison is made with respect to the land cultivated by the owner himself (this occurs, however, as a purely chance exception) or with respect to the additional investment of capital in the old leaseholds which do not yield any rent. However, this would be 1) a differential rent which does not arise from the difference in fertility of the various categories of soil, and which therefore would not presuppose that soil A does not yield any rent and its produce sells at the price of production; and 2) the circumstance whether additional investments of capital in the same leasehold yield rent or not is just as irrelevant to the question as to whether the new soil of class A to be taken under cultivation pays rent or not, as it is irrelevant to, say, the establishment of a new and independent manufacturing business whether another manufacturer in the same line invests a portion of his capital in interest-bearing paper because he cannot use all of it in his business, or whether he makes certain improvements which do not yield him the full profit, but nevertheless do yield more than interest. This is of secondary importance to him. The additional new establishments, on the other hand, must yield the average profit and are organised in the hope of obtaining this average profit. It is true, to be sure, that the additional investments of capital in the old leaseholds and the additional cultivation of new land of soil type A mutually restrict one another. The limit, up to which additional capital may be invested in the same leasehold under less favourable conditions of production, is determined by the competing new investments in soil A; on the other hand, the rent which this category of soil can yield is limited by the competing additional investments of capital in the old leaseholds.

But all this dubious subterfuge does not solve the problem, which, simply stated, is this: Assume the market-price of grain (which in this inquiry stands for products of the soil in general) to be sufficient to permit taking portions of soil A under cultivation and that the capital invested in these new fields could return the price of production, i.e., replace capital plus average profit. Thus assume that conditions exist for the normal expansion of capital on soil A. Is this sufficient? Can this capital then really be invested? Or must the market-price rise to the point where even the worst soil A yields rent? In other words, does the landowner’s monopoly hinder the investment of capital which would not be the case from the purely capitalist standpoint in the absence of this monopoly? It follows from the way in which the question itself is posed that if, e.g., additional capitals are invested in the old leaseholds, yielding the average profit at the given market-price, but no rent, this circumstance in no way answers the question whether capital may now really be invested in soil A, which also yields the average profits but no rent. But this is precisely the question before us. The fact that additional investments of capital not yielding any rent do not satisfy the demand is proved by the necessity of taking new land of soil type A under cultivation. Just two alternatives are possible if the additional cultivation of soil A takes place only in so far as it yields rent, that is, yields more than the price of production. Either the market-price must be such that even the last additional investments of capital in the old leaseholds yield surplus-profit, whether pocketed by the farmer or by the landlord. This rise in price and this surplus-profit from the last additional investments of capital would then result from the fact that soil A cannot be cultivated without yielding rent. For if the price of production were sufficient for cultivation to take place, merely yielding average profit, the price would not have risen so high, and competition from new plots would have been felt as soon as they just yielded this price of production. Competing with the additional investments in old leaseholds not yielding any rent would then be investments in soil A, which likewise do not yield any rent. — Or, the last investments in the old leaseholds do not yield any rent, but nevertheless the market-price has risen sufficiently to make it possible for soil A to be taken under cultivation and to yield rent. In this case, the additional investment of capital not yielding any rent was only possible because soil A cannot be cultivated until the market-price permits it to pay rent. Without this condition, its cultivation would have already begun at a lower price level; and those later investments of capital in the old leaseholds, which require the high market-price in order to yield the usual profit without rent, could not have taken place. At the high market-price, it is true, they yield only the average profit. At a lower market-price, which would have become the regulating price of production from the time soil A came under cultivation, they would thus not have yielded this average profit, i.e., the investments would thus not have taken place at all under such conditions. In this way, the rent from soil A would indeed constitute differential rent compared with the investments in the old leaseholds not yielding any rent. But that such differential rent is formed on the land areas of A is but a consequence of the fact that the latter are not at all available to cultivation, unless they yield rent; i.e., that the necessity for this rent exists, which, in itself, is not determined by any differences in soil types, and which constitutes the barrier to possible investment of additional capitals in the old leaseholds. In either case, the rent from soil A would not be simply a consequence of the rise in grain prices, but, conversely, the fact that the worst soil must yield rent in order to make its cultivation at all possible, would be the cause for the rise in the grain price to the point where this condition may be fulfilled.

Differential rent has the peculiarity that landed property here merely intercepts the surplus-profit which would otherwise flow into the pocket of the farmer, and which the latter may actually pocket under certain circumstances during the period of his lease. Landed property is here merely the cause for transferring a portion of the commodity-price which arises without the property having anything to do with it (indeed, in consequence of the fact that the price of production which regulates the market-price is determined by competition) and which resolves itself into surplus-profit — the cause for transferring this portion of the price from one person to another, from the capitalist to the landlord. But landed property is not the cause which creates this portion of the price, or the rise in price upon which this portion of the price is premised. On the other hand, if the worst soil A cannot be cultivated — although its cultivation would yield the price of production — until it produces something in excess of the price of production, rent, then landed property is the creative cause of this rise in price. Landed property itself has created rent. This fact is not altered, if, as in the second case mentioned, the rent now paid on soil A constitutes differential rent compared with the last additional investment of capital in old leaseholds, which pay only the price of production. For the circumstance that soil A cannot be cultivated until the regulating market-price has risen high enough to permit rent to be yielded from soil A — only this circumstance is the basis here for the fact that the market-price rises to a point which enables the last investments in the old leaseholds to yield, indeed, only their price of production, but a price of production which, at the same time, yields rent on soil A. The fact that the latter has to pay rent at all is, in this case, the cause for the differential rent between soil A and the last investments in the old leaseholds.

When stating, in general, that soil A does not pay any rent — assuming the price of grain is regulated by the price of production — we mean rent in the categorical sense of the word. If the farmer pays "lease money" which constitutes a deduction from the normal wages of his labourers, or from his own normal average profit, he does not pay rent, i.e., an independent component of the price of his commodities distinct from wages and profit. We have already indicated that this continually takes place in practice. In so far as the wages of the agricultural labourers in a given country are, in general, depressed below the normal average level of wages, so that a deduction from wages, a part of the wages, as a general rule enters into rent, this does not constitute an exceptional case for the farmer cultivating the worst soil. In the same price of production which makes cultivation of the worst soil possible these low wages already form a constituent element, and the sale of the product at the price of production does not therefore enable the farmer cultivating this soil to pay any rent. The landlord can also lease his land to some labourer, who may be satisfied to pay to the former in the form of rent, all or the largest part of that which he realises in the selling price over and above the wages. In all these cases, however, no real rent is paid in spite of the fact that lease money is paid. But wherever conditions correspond to those under the capitalist mode of production, rent and lease money must coincide. Yet it is precisely this normal condition which must be analysed here.

Since even the cases considered above — where, under the capitalist mode of production, investments of capital in the land may actually take place without yielding rent — do not contribute to the solution of our problem, so much less does reference to colonial conditions. The criterion establishing a colony as a colony — we are referring here only to true agricultural colonies — is not merely the prevailing vast area of fertile land in a natural state. It is rather the circumstance that this land has not been appropriated, has not been subjected to private ownership. Herein lies the enormous difference, as regards the land, between old countries and colonies: the legal or actual non-existence of landed property, as Wakefield [35] correctly remarks, and as Mirabeau père, the physiocrat, and other elder economists, had discovered long before him. It is quite immaterial here whether the colonists simply appropriate the land, or whether they actually pay to the state, in the form of a nominal land price, a fee for a valid legal title to the land. It is also immaterial that the colonists already settled there may be the legal owners of the land. In fact, landed property constitutes no limitation here to the investment of capital — and also of labour without capital; the appropriation of some of the land by the colonists already established there does not prevent the newcomers from employing their capital or their labour upon new land. Therefore, when it is necessary to investigate the influence of landed property upon the prices of products of the land and upon rent — in those cases where landed property restricts land as an investment sphere of capital — it is highly absurd to speak of free bourgeois colonies where, in agriculture, neither the capitalist mode of production exists, nor the form of landed property corresponding to it — which, in fact, does not exist at all. Ricardo, e.g., does so in his chapter on ground-rent. In the preface he states that he intends to investigate the effect of the appropriation of land upon the value of the products of the soil, and directly thereafter he takes the colonies as an illustration, whereby he assumes that the land exists in a relatively elementary form and that its exploitation is not limited by the monopoly of landed property.

The mere legal ownership of land does not create any ground-rent for the owner. But it does, indeed, give him the power to withdraw his land from exploitation until economic conditions permit him to utilise it in such a manner as to yield him a surplus, be it used for actual agricultural or other production purposes, such as buildings, etc. He cannot increase or decrease the absolute magnitude of this sphere, but he can change the quantity of land placed on the market. Hence, as Fourier already observed, it is a characteristic fact that in all civilised countries a comparatively appreciable portion of land always remains uncultivated.

Thus, assuming the demand requires that new land be taken under cultivation, whose soil, let us say, is less fertile than that hitherto cultivated — will the landlord lease it for nothing, just because the market-price of the product of the land has risen sufficiently to return to the farmer the price of production, and thereby the usual profit, on his investment in this land? By no means. The investment of capital must yield him rent. He does not lease his land until he can be paid lease money for it. Therefore, the market-price must rise to a point above the price of production, i.e., to P + r, so that rent can be paid to the landlord. Since according to our assumption, landed property does not yield anything until it is leased, is economically valueless until then, a small rise in the market-price above the price of production suffices to bring the new land of poorest quality on the market.

The following question now arises: Does it follow from the fact that the worst soil yields ground-rent which cannot be derived from any difference in fertility that the price of the product of the land is necessarily a monopoly price in the usual sense, or a price into which the rent enters like a tax, with the sole distinction that the landlord levies the tax instead of the state? It goes without saying that this tax has its specific economic limits. It is limited by additional investments of capital in the old leaseholds, by competition from products of the land coming from abroad — assuming their import is unrestricted — by competition among the landlords themselves, and finally by the needs of the consumers and their ability to pay. But this is not the question here. The point is whether the rent paid on the worst soil enters into the price of the products of this soil — which price regulates the general market-price according to our assumption — in the same way as a tax placed on a commodity enters into its price, i.e., as an element that is independent of the value of the commodity.

This, by no means, necessarily follows, and the contention that it does has been made only because the distinction between the value of commodities and their price of production has heretofore not been understood. We have seen that the price of production of a commodity is not at all identical with its value, although the prices of production of commodities, considered in their totality, are regulated only by their total value, and although the movement of production prices of various kinds of commodities, all other circumstances being equal, is determined exclusively by the movement of their values. It has been shown that the price of production of a commodity may lie above or below its value, and coincides with its value only by way of exception. Hence, the fact that products of the land are sold above their price of production does not at all prove that they are sold above their value; just as the fact that products of industry, on the average, are sold at their price of production does not prove that they are sold at their value. It is possible for agricultural products to be sold above their price of production and below their value, while, on the other hand, many industrial products yield the price of production only because they are sold above their value.

The relation of the price of production of a commodity to its value is determined solely by the ratio of the variable part of the capital with which the commodity is produced to its constant part, or by the organic composition of the capital producing it. If the composition of the capital in a given sphere of production is lower than that of the average social capital, i.e., if its variable portion, which is used for wages, is larger in its relation to the constant portion, used for the material conditions of labour, than is the case in the average social capital, then the value of its product must lie above the price of production. In other words, because such capital employs more living labour, it produces more surplus-value, and therefore more profit, assuming equal exploitation of labour, than an equally large aliquot portion of the social average capital. The value of its product, therefore, is above the price of production, since this price of production is equal to capital replacement plus average profit, and the average profit is lower than the profit produced in this commodity. The surplus-value produced by the average social capital is less than the surplus-value produced by a capital of this lower composition. The opposite is the case when the capital invested in a certain sphere of production is of a bigger composition than the social average capital. The value of commodities produced by it lies below their price of production, which is generally the case with products of the most developed industries.

If the capital in a certain sphere of production is of a lower composition than the average social capital, then this is, in the first place, merely another way of saying that the productivity of the social labour in this particular sphere of production is below the average; for the level of productivity attained is manifested in the relative preponderance of constant over variable capital, or in the continual decrease — for the given capital — of the portion used for wages. On the other hand, if the capital in a certain sphere of production is of a higher composition, then this reflects a development of productiveness that is above the average.

Leaving aside actual works of art, whose consideration by their very nature is excluded from our discussion, it is self-evident, moreover, that different spheres of production require different proportions of constant and variable capital in accordance with their specific technical features, and that living labour must play a bigger role in some, and smaller in others. For instance, in the extractive industries, which must be clearly distinguished from agriculture, raw material as an element of constant capital is wholly absent, and even auxiliary material rarely plays an important role. In the mining industry, however, the other part of constant capital, i.e., fixed capital, plays an important role. Nevertheless, here too, progress may be measured by the relative increase of constant capital in relation to variable capital.

If the composition of capital in agriculture proper is lower than that of the average social capital, then, prima facie, this expresses the fact that in countries with developed production agriculture has not progressed to the same extent as the processing industries. Such a fact could be explained — aside from all other circumstances, including in part decisive economic ones — by the earlier and more rapid development of the mechanical sciences, and in particular their application compared with the later and in part quite recent development of chemistry, geology and physiology, and again, in particular, their application to agriculture. Incidentally, it is an indubitable and long-known fact [36] that the progress of agriculture itself is constantly expressed by a relative growth of constant capital as compared with variable capital. Whether the composition of agricultural capital is lower than that of the average social capital in a specific country where capitalist production prevails, for instance England, is a question which can only be decided statistically, and for our purposes it is superfluous to go into it in detail. In any case, it is theoretically established that the value of agricultural products can be higher than their price of production only on this assumption. In other words, a capital of a certain size in agriculture produces more surplus-value, or what amounts to the same, sets in motion and commands more surplus-labour (and with it employs more living labour generally) than a capital of the same size of average social composition.

This assumption, then, suffices for that form of rent which we are analysing here, and which can obtain only so long as this assumption holds good. Wherever this assumption no longer holds, the corresponding form of rent likewise no longer holds.

However, the mere existence of an excess in the value of agricultural products over their price of production would not in itself suffice to explain the existence of a ground-rent which is independent of differences in fertility of various soil types and in successive investments of capital on the same land — a rent, in short, which is to be clearly distinguished in concept from differential rent and which we may therefore call absolute rent. Quite a number of manufactured products are characterised by the fact that their value is higher than their price of production, without thereby yielding any excess above the average profit, or a surplus-profit, which could be converted into rent. Conversely, the existence and concept of price of production and general rate of profit, which it implies, rest upon the fact that individual commodities are not sold at their value. Prices of production arise from an equalisation of the values of commodities. After replacing the respective capital-values used up in the various spheres of production, this distributes the entire surplus-value, not in proportion to the amount produced in the individual spheres of production and thus incorporated in their commodities, but in proportion to the magnitude of advanced capitals. Only in this manner do average profit and price of production arise, whose characteristic element the former is. It is the perpetual tendency of capitals to bring about through competition this equalisation in the distribution of surplus-value produced by the total capital, and to overcome all obstacles to this equalisation. Hence it is their tendency to tolerate only such surplus-profits as arise, under all circumstances, not from the difference between the values and prices of production of commodities but rather from the difference between the general price of production governing the market and the individual prices of production differing from it; surplus-profits which obtain within a certain sphere of production, therefore, and not between two different spheres, and thus do not affect the general prices of production of the various spheres, i.e., the general rate of profit, but rather presuppose the transformation of values into prices of production and a general rate of profit. This supposition rests, however, as previously discussed, upon the constantly changing proportional distribution of the total social capital among the various spheres of production, upon the perpetual inflow and outflow of capitals, upon their transferability from one sphere to another, in short, upon their free movement between the various spheres of production, which represent so many available fields of investment for the independent components of the total social capital. The premise in this case is that no barrier, or just an accidental and temporary barrier, interferes with the competition of capitals — for instance, in a sphere of production, in which the commodity-values are higher than the prices of production, or where the surplus-value produced exceeds the average profit — to reduce the value to the price of production and thereby proportionally distribute the excess surplus-value of this sphere of production among all spheres exploited by capital. But if the reverse occurs, if capital meets an alien force which it can but partially, or not at all, overcome, and which limits its investment in certain spheres, admitting it only under conditions which wholly or partly exclude that general equalisation of surplus-value to an average profit, then it is evident that the excess of the value of commodities in such spheres of production over their price of production would give rise to a surplus-profit, which could be converted into rent and such made independent with respect to profit. Such an alien force and barrier are presented by landed property, when confronting capital in its endeavour to invest in land; such a force is the landlord vis-à-vis the capitalist.

Landed property is here the barrier which does not permit any new investment of capital in hitherto uncultivated or unrented land without levying a tax, or in other words, without demanding a rent, although the land to be newly brought under cultivation may belong to a category which does not yield any differential rent and which, were it not for landed property, could have been cultivated even at a small increase in market-price, so that the regulating market-price would have netted to the cultivator of this worst soil solely his price of production. But owing to the barrier raised by landed property, the market-price must rise to a level at which the land can yield a surplus over the price of production, i.e., yield a rent. However, since the value of the commodities produced by agricultural capital is higher than their price of production, according to our assumption, this rent (save for one case which we shall discuss forthwith) forms the excess of value over the price of production, or a part of it. Whether the rent equals the entire difference between the value and price of production, or only a greater or lesser part of it, will depend wholly on the relation between supply and demand and on the area of land newly taken under cultivation. So long as the rent does not equal the excess of the value of agricultural products over their price of production, a portion of this excess will always enter into the general equalisation and proportional distribution of all surplus-value among the various individual capitals. As soon as the rent does equal the excess of the value over the price of production, this entire portion of surplus-value over and above the average profit will be withdrawn from this equalisation. But whether this absolute rent equals the whole excess of value over the price of production, or just a part of it, the agricultural products will always be sold at a monopoly price, not because their price exceeds their value, but because it equals their value, or because their price is lower than their value but higher than their price of production. Their monopoly would consist in the fact that, unlike other products of industry whose value is higher than the general price of production, they are not levelled out to the price of production. Since one portion of the value, as well as of price of production, is an actually given constant, namely the cost-price, representing the capital = k used up in production, their difference consists in the other, the variable portion, the surplus-value, which equals p, the profit, in the price of production, i.e., equals the total surplus-value calculated on the social capital and on every individual capital as an aliquot part of the social capital; but which in the value of commodities equals the actual surplus-value created by this particular capital, and forms an integral part of the commodity-values produced by this capital. If the value of commodities is higher than their price of production, then the price of production = k + p, and the value = k + p + d, so that p + d = the surplus-value contained therein. The difference between the value and the price of production, therefore, = d, the excess of surplus-value created by this capital over the surplus-value allocated to it through the general rate of profit. It follows from this that the price of agricultural products may lie higher than their price of production, without reaching their value. It follows, furthermore, that a permanent increase in the price of agricultural products may take place up to a certain point, before their price reaches their value. It follows likewise that the excess in the value of agricultural products over their price of production can become a determining element of their general market-price solely as a consequence of the monopoly in landed property. It follows, finally, that in this case the increase in the price of the product is not the cause of rent, but rather that rent is the cause of the increase in the price of the product. If the price of the product from a unit area of the worst soil = P + r, then all differential rents will rise by corresponding multiples of r, since the assumption is that P + r becomes the regulating market-price.

If the average composition of the non-agricultural social capital were = 85c + 15v, and the rate of surplus-value = 100%, then the price of production would = 115. If the composition of the agricultural capital were = 75c + 25v and the rate of surplus-value were the same, then the value of the agricultural product and the regulating market-price would = 125. If the agricultural and the non-agricultural product should be equalised to the same average price (we assume for the sake of brevity the total capital in both lines of production to be equal), then the total surplus-value would = 40, or 20%, on the 200 of capital. The product of the one as well as the other would be sold at 120. In an equalisation into prices of production, the average market-prices of the non-agricultural product would thus lie above, and those of the agricultural product below, their value. If the agricultural products were sold at their full value, they would be higher by 5, and the industrial products lower by 5, than they are in the equalisation. If market conditions do not permit the sale of the agricultural products at their full value, to the full surplus above the price of production, then the effect lies between the two extremes; the industrial products are sold somewhat above their value, and the agricultural products somewhat above their price of production.

Although landed property may drive the price of agricultural produce above its price of production, it does not depend on this, but rather on the general state of the market, to what degree market-price exceeds the price of production and approaches the value, and to what extent therefore the surplus-value created in agriculture over and above the given average profit shall either be transformed into rent or enter into the general equalisation of the surplus-value to average profit. At any rate this absolute rent arising out of the excess of value over the price of production is but a portion of the agricultural surplus-value, a conversion of this surplus-value into rent, its being filched by the landlord; just as the differential rent arises out of the conversion of surplus-profit into rent, its being filched by the landlord under a generally regulating price of production. These two forms of rent are the only normal ones. Apart from them the rent can be based only upon an actual monopoly price, which is determined neither by price of production nor by value of commodities, but by the buyers’ needs and ability to pay. Its analysis belongs under the theory of competition, where the actual movement of market-prices is considered.

If all the land suitable for agriculture in a certain country were leased — assuming the capitalist mode of production and normal conditions to be general — there would not be any land not paying rent; but there might be some capitals, certain parts of capitals invested in land, that might not yield any rent. For as soon as the land has been rented, landed property ceases to act as an absolute barrier against the investment of necessary capital. Still, it continues to act as a relative barrier even after that, in so far as the reversion to the landlord of the capital incorporated in the land circumscribes the activity of the tenant within very definite limits. Only in this case all rent would be transformed into differential rent, although this would not be a differential rent determined by any difference in soil fertility, but rather by the difference between the surplus-profits arising from the last investments of capital in a particular soil type and the rent paid for the lease of the worst quality land. Landed property acts as an absolute barrier only to the extent that the landlord exacts a tribute for making land at all accessible to the investment of capital. When such access has been gained, he can no longer set any absolute limits to the size of any investment of capital in a given plot of land. In general, housing construction meets a barrier in the ownership by a third party of the land upon which the houses are to be built. But, once this land has been leased for the purpose of housing construction, it depends upon the tenant whether he will build a large or a small house.

If the average composition of agricultural capital were equal to, or higher than, that of the average social capital, then absolute rent — again in the sense just described — would disappear; i.e., rent which differs equally from differential rent as well as that based upon an actual monopoly price. The value of agricultural produce, then, would not lie above its price of production, and the agricultural capital would not set any more labour in motion, and therefore would also not realise any more surplus-labour than the non-agricultural capital. The same would take place, were the composition of agricultural capital to become equal to that of the average social capital with the progress of civilisation.

It seems to be a contradiction, at first glance, to assume that, on the one hand, the composition of agricultural capital rises, in other words, that its constant component increases with respect to its variable, and, on the other hand, that the price of the agricultural product should rise high enough to permit rent to be yielded by new and worse soil than that previously cultivated, a rent which in this case could originate only from an excess of market-price over the value and price of production, in short, a rent derived solely from a monopoly price of the product.

It is necessary to make a distinction here.

In the first place, it was noted in considering the manner in which rate of profit is formed, that capitals, which have the same composition technologically speaking, i.e., which set equivalent amounts of labour in motion relative to machinery and raw materials, may nonetheless have different compositions owing to different values of the constant portions of these capitals. The raw materials or machinery may be dearer in one case than in another. For the same quantity of labour to be set in motion (and this would be required, according to our assumption, to work up the same mass of raw materials), a larger capital would have to be advanced in the one case than in the other, since the same amount of labour cannot be set in motion with, say, a capital of 100 if the cost of raw material, which must be covered out of the 100, is 40 in one case and 20 in another. But it would become immediately evident that these two capitals are of the same technical composition, as soon as the price of the dearer raw material fell to the level of the cheaper one. The value ratio between constant and variable capital would have become the same in that case, although no change had taken place in the technical proportions between the living labour and the mass and nature of the conditions of labour employed by this capital. On the other band, a capital of lower organic composition could assume the appearance of being in the same class with one of a higher organic composition, merely from a rise in the value of its constant portions, solely from the viewpoint of its value-composition. Suppose one capital = 60c + 40v, because it employs much machinery and raw material compared to living labour-power, and another capital = 40c + 60v, because it employs much living labour (60%), little machinery (e.g., 10%) and compared to labour-power less and cheaper raw material (e.g., 30%). Then a simple rise in the value of raw and auxiliary materials from 30 to 80 could equalise the composition, so that now the second capital would consist of 80 raw material and 60 labour-power for 10 in machines, or 90c + 60v, which, in percentages, would also = 60c + 40v, with no change having taken place in the technical composition. In other words, capitals of equal organic composition may be of different value-composition, and capitals with identical percentages of value-composition may show varying degrees of organic composition and thus express different stages in the development of the social productivity of labour. The mere circumstance, then, that agricultural capital might be on the general level of value-composition, would not prove that the social productivity of labour is equally high-developed in it. It would merely show that its own product, which again forms a part of its conditions of production, is dearer, or that auxiliary materials, such as fertiliser, which used to be close by, must now be brought from afar, etc.

But aside from this, the peculiar nature of agriculture must be taken into account.

Suppose labour-saving machinery, chemical aids, etc., are more extensively used in agriculture, and that therefore constant capital increases technically, not merely in value, but also in mass, as compared with the mass of employed labour-power, then in agriculture (as in mining) it is not only a matter of the social, but also of the natural, productivity of labour which depends on the natural conditions of labour. It is possible for the increase of social productivity in agriculture to barely compensate, or not even compensate, for the decrease in natural power — this compensation will nevertheless be effective only for a short time — so that despite technical development there, no cheapening of the product occurs, but only a still greater increase in price is averted. It is also possible that the absolute mass of products decreases with rising grain prices, while the relative surplus-product increases; namely, in the case of a relative increase in constant capital which consists chiefly of machinery or animals requiring only replacement of wear and tear, and with a corresponding decrease in variable capital which is expended in wages requiring constant replacement in full out of the product.

Moreover, it is also possible that with progress in agriculture only a moderate rise in market-price above the average is necessary, in order to cultivate and draw a rent from poorer soil, which would have required a greater rise in market-price if technical aids were less developed.

The fact that in larger-scale cattle-raising, for example, the mass of employed labour-power is very small compared with constant capital as represented in cattle itself, could be taken to refute the assertion that more labour-power, on a percentage basis, is set in motion by agricultural capital than by the average social capital outside of agriculture. But it should be noted here that we have taken as determining for rent analysis that portion of agricultural capital which produces the principal plant foodstuffs providing the chief means of subsistence among civilised nations. Adam Smith — and this is one of his merits — has already demonstrated that a quite different determination of prices is to be observed in cattle-raising, and, for that matter, generally for capitals invested in land which are not engaged in raising the principal means of subsistence, e.g., grain. Namely in that case the price is determined in such a way that the price of the product of the land — which is used for cattle-raising, say as an artificial pasture, but which could just as easily have been transformed into cornfields of a certain quality — must rise high enough to produce the same rent as on arable land of the same quality. In other words, the rent of cornfields becomes a determining element in the price of cattle, and for this reason Ramsay has justly remarked that the price of cattle is in this manner artificially raised by the rent, by the economic expression of landed property, in short, through landed property. [G. Ramsay, An Essay on the Distribution of Wealth, Edinburgh, 1836, pp. 278-79. — Ed.]

"By the extension of cultivation the unimproved wilds become insufficient to supply the demand for butcher’s meat. A great part of the cultivated lands must be employed in rearing and fattening cattle, of which the price, therefore, must be sufficient to pay, not only the labour necessary for tending them, but the rent which the landlord and the profit which the farmer could have drawn from such land, employed in tillage. The cattle bred upon the most uncultivated moors, when brought to the same market, are, in proportion to their weight or goodness, sold at the same price as those which are reared upon the most improved land. The proprietors of those moors profit by it, and raise the rent of their land in proportion to the price of their cattle." (Adam Smith, Book I, Ch. XI, Part 1.)

In this case, likewise, as distinct from grain-rent, the differential rent is in favour of the worst soil.

Absolute rent explains some phenomena, which, at first sight, seem to make merely a monopoly price responsible for the rent. To go on with Adam Smith’s example, take the owner of some Norwegian forest, for instance, which exists independent of human activity, i.e., it is not a product of silviculture. If the proprietor of this forest receives a rent from a capitalist who has the timber felled, perhaps in consequence of a demand from England, or if this owner has the timber felled himself acting in the capacity of capitalist, then a greater or smaller amount of rent will accrue to him in timber, apart from the profit on invested capital. This appears to be a pure monopoly charge derived from a pure product of Nature. But, as a matter of fact, the capital here consists almost exclusively of a variable component expended in labour, and thus sets more surplus-labour in motion than another capital of the same size. The value of the timber, then, contains a greater surplus of unpaid labour, or of surplus-value, than that of a product of a capital of a higher organic composition. For this reason the average profit can be derived from this timber, and a considerable surplus in the form of rent can fall to the share of the owner of the forest. Conversely, it may be assumed that, owing to the ease with which timber-felling may be extended, in other words, its production rapidly increased, the demand must rise very considerably for the price of timber to equal its value, and thereby for the entire surplus of unpaid labour (over and above that portion which falls to the capitalist as average profit) to accrue to the owner in the form of rent.

We have assumed that the land newly brought under cultivation is of still inferior quality to the worst previously cultivated. If it is better, it yields a differential rent. But here we are analysing precisely the case wherein rent does not appear as a differential rent. There are only two cases possible. The newly cultivated soil is either inferior to, or just as good as the previously cultivated soil. If inferior, then the matter has already been analysed. It remains only to analyse the case in which it is just as good.

As already developed in our analysis of differential rent, the progress of cultivation may just as well bring equally good, or even better soils under the plough as worse soil.

First. Because in differential rent (or any rent in general, since even in the case of non-differential rent the question always arises whether, on the one hand, the soil fertility in general, and, on the other hand, its location, admit of its cultivation at the regulating market-price so as to yield a profit and rent) two conditions work in opposing directions, now cancelling one another, now alternately exerting the determining influence. The rise in market-price — provided the cost-price of cultivation has not fallen, i.e., no technical progress has given a new impetus to further cultivation — may bring under cultivation more fertile soil formerly excluded from competition by virtue of its location. Or it may so enhance the advantage of the location of the inferior soil that its lesser fertility is counterbalanced by it. Or, without any rise in market-price the location may bring better soils into competition through improvement in means of communication, as can be observed on a large scale in the prairie States of North America. In countries of older civilisation the same also takes place constantly if not to the same extent as in the colonies, where, as Wakefield correctly observes, location is decisive. [[E. Wakefield] England and America. A Comparison of the Social and Political State of both Nations, Vol. I, London, 1833, pp. 214-15. — Ed.] To sum up, then, the contradictory influences of location and fertility, and the variableness of the location factor, which is continually counterbalanced and perpetually passes through progressive changes tending towards equalisation, alternately carry equally good, better or worse land areas into new competition with the older ones under cultivation.

Secondly. With the development of natural science and agronomy the soil fertility is also changed by changing the means through which the soil constituents may be rendered immediately serviceable. In this way, light soil types in France and in the eastern counties of England, which were regarded as inferior at one time, have recently risen to first place. (See Passy. [H. Passy, Rente du sol. In: Dictionnaire de l’économie politique, Tome II. Paris. 1854, p. 515. — Ed.]) On the other hand, soil considered inferior not for bad chemical composition but for certain mechanical and physical obstacles that hindered its cultivation, is converted into good land as soon as means to overcome these obstacles have been discovered.

Thirdly. In all ancient civilisations, old historical and traditional relations, for instance, in the form of state-owned lands, communal lands, etc., have purely arbitrarily withheld from cultivation large tracts of land, which only return to it little by little. The succession in which they are brought under cultivation depends neither upon their good quality nor siting, but upon wholly external circumstances. In tracing the history of English communal lands turned successively into private property through the Enclosure Bills and brought under the plough, nothing would be more ridiculous than the fantastic idea that a modern agricultural chemist, such as Liebig, had indicated the selection of land in this succession, designating certain fields for cultivation owing to chemical properties and excluding others. What was more decisive in this case was the opportunity which makes the thief; the more or less plausible legalistic subterfuges of the big landlords to justify their appropriation.

Fourthly. Apart from the fact that the stage of development reached at any time by the population and capital increase sets certain limits, even though elastic, to the extension of cultivation, and apart from chance effects which temporarily influence the market-price — such as a series of good or bad seasons — the extension of agriculture over a larger area depends on the overall state of the capital market and business conditions in a country. In periods of stringency it will not suffice for uncultivated soil to yield the tenant an average profit — no matter whether he pays any rent or not — in order that additional capital be invested in agriculture. In other periods when there is a plethora of capital, it will pour into agriculture even without a rise in market-price if only other normal conditions are present. Better soil than hitherto cultivated would in fact be excluded from competition solely on the basis of unfavourable location, or if hitherto insurmountable obstacles to its employment existed, or through chance. For this reason we should only concern ourselves with soils which are just as good as those last cultivated. However, there still exists the difference in cost of clearing for cultivation between the new soil and the one last cultivated. And it depends upon the level of market-prices and credit conditions whether this will be undertaken or not. As soon as this soil then actually enters into competition, the market-price will fall once more to its former level, assuming other conditions to be equal, and the new soil will then yield the same rent as the corresponding old soil. The assumption that it does not yield any rent is proved by its advocates by assuming precisely what they are called upon to prove, namely that the last soil did not yield any rent. One might prove in the same manner that houses which were the last built do not yield any rent for the building outside of house-rent proper, even though they are leased. In fact, however, they do yield rent even before yielding any house-rent, when they frequently remain vacant for a long period. Just as successive investments of capital in a certain piece of land may bring a proportional surplus and thereby the same rent as the first investment, so fields of the same quality as those last cultivated may bring the same proceeds for the same cost. Otherwise it would be altogether inexplicable how fields of the same quality are ever brought successively under cultivation; it seems that either it would be necessary to take all together, or rather not a single one of them, in order not to bring all the remaining ones into competition. The landlord is always ready to draw a rent, i.e., to receive something for nothing. But capital requires certain conditions to fulfil his wish. Competition between pieces of land does not, therefore, depend upon the landlord desiring them to compete, but upon the capital existing which seeks to compete with other capitals in the new fields.

To the extent that the agricultural rent proper is purely a monopoly price, the latter can only be small, just as the absolute rent can only be small here under normal conditions whatever the excess of the product’s value over its price of production. The essence of absolute rent, therefore, consists in this: Given the same rate of surplus-value, or degree of labour exploitation, equally large capitals in various spheres of production produce different amounts of surplus-value, in accordance with their varying average composition. In industry these various masses of surplus-value are equalised into an average profit and distributed uniformly among the individual capitals as aliquot parts of the social capital. Landed property hinders such an equalisation among capitals, invested in land, whenever production requires land for either agriculture or extraction of raw materials, and takes hold of a portion of the surplus-value, which would otherwise take part in equalising to the general rate of profit. The rent, then, forms a portion of the value, or, more specifically, surplus-value, of commodities, and instead of falling into the lap of the capitalists, who have extracted it from their labourers, it falls to the share of the landlords, who extract it from the capitalists. It is hereby assumed that the agricultural capital sets more labour in motion than an equally large portion of non-agricultural capital. How far the discrepancy goes, or whether it exists at all, depends upon the relative development of agriculture as compared with industry. It is in the nature of the case that this difference must decrease with the progress of agriculture, unless the proportionate decrease of variable as compared with constant capital is still greater in the case of industrial than in the case of agricultural capital.

This absolute rent plays an even more important role in the extractive industry proper, where one element of constant capital, raw material, is wholly lacking and where, excluding those lines in which capital consisting of machinery and other fixed capital is very considerable, by far the lowest composition of capital prevails. Precisely here, where the rent appears entirely attributable to a monopoly price, unusually favourable market conditions are necessary for commodities to be sold at their value, or for rent to equal the entire excess of a commodity’s surplus-value over its price of production. This applies, for instance, to rent from fisheries, stone quarries, natural forests, etc. [37]


35. Wakefield, England and America, London, 1833. Compare also Das Kapital, Buch I, Kap. XXV [English edition: Ch. XXXIII. — Ed.].

36. See Dombasle [Annales agricoles de Roville, ou Mélanges d’agriculture, d’économie rurale et de législation agricole, Paris, 1824-37. — Ed.] and R. Jones [An Essay on the Distribution of Wealth, and on the Sources of Taxation, Part I, Rent, London, 1831, p. 227. — Ed.]. XLV-1018

37. Ricardo deals with this very superficially. See the passage directed against Adam Smith concerning forest rent in Norway, at the very beginning of Chapter 11, in Principles.