Elements of Political Economy by James Mill (1844)
Of the four sets of operations, Production, Distribution, Exchange, and Consumption, which constitute the subject of Political Economy, the first three are means. No man produces for the sake of producing, and nothing farther. Distribution, in the same manner, is not performed for the sake of distribution. Things are distributed, as also exchanged, to some end.
That end is Consumption. Things are produced that they may be consumed; and distribution and exchange are only the intermediate operations for bringing the things, which have been produced, into the hands of those who are to consume them.
Of Consumption, there are two species; the distinctive properties of which it is of great importance to comprehend.
These are, 1st, Productive Consumption; 2dly, Unproductive Consumption.
1. That production may take place, a certain expenditure is required. It is necessary, that the labourer should be maintained; that he should be provided with the proper instruments of his labour, and with the materials of the commodity which it is his business to produce.
What is thus expended, for the sake of something to be produced, is said to be consumed productively.
In productive consumption, three classes of things are included. The first is, the necessaries of the labourer, under which term are included all that his wages enable him to consume, whether these confine him to what is required for the preservation of existence, or afford him something for enjoyment. The second class of things consumed for production is machinery; including tools of all sorts, the buildings necessary for the productive operations, and even the cattle. The third is the materials of which the commodity to be produced must be formed, or from which it, must be derived. Such is the seed from which the corn must be produced, the flax or wool of which the linen or woollen cloth must be formed, the drugs with which it must be dyed, or the coals which must be consumed in any of the necessary operations.
Of these three classes of things, it is only the second, the consumption of which is not completed in the course of the productive operations. The machinery and buildings, employed in production, may last for several years; the necessaries, however, of the labourer, and the materials, either primary or secondary, of the commodity to be produced, are all completely consumed. Even of the durable machinery, the wear and tear amount to a partial consumption.
2. Thus it is, that men consume for the sake of production. They also consume, however, without producing, and without any view to production. The wages which a man affords to a ploughman, are given for the sake of production; the wages which he gives to his footman and his groom, are not given for the sake of production. The flax which the manufacturer purchases, and converts into linen, he consumes productively; the wine which he purchases, and uses at his table, he consumes unproductively. These instances are sufficient to illustrate what is meant, when we speak of unproductive consumption. All consumption, which does not take place to the end that an income or revenue may be derived from it, is unproductive consumption.
From this explanation, it follows, that productive consumption is itself a means; it is a means to production. Unproductive consumption, on the other hand, is not a means. This species of consumption is the end. This, or the enjoyment which is involved in it, is the good which constituted the motive to all the operations by which it was preceded.
From this explanation, it also follows, that, by productive consumption, nothing is lost: no diminution is made of the property, either of the individual, or of the community; for if one thing is destroyed, another is by that means produced. The case is totally different with unproductive consumption. Whatever is unproductively consumed, is lost. Whatever is consumed in this manner, is a diminution of the property, both of the individual and of the community; because, in consequence of this consumption, nothing whatever is produced. The commodity perishes in the using, and all that is derived is the good, the pleasure, the satisfaction, which the using of it yields.
That which is productively consumed is always capital. This is a property of productive consumption, which deserves to be particularly remarked. A man commences the manufacture of cloth with a certain capital. Part of this capital he allots for the payment of wages; another part he lays out in machinery: and with what remains he purchases the raw material of his cloth, and the other articles, the use of which is required, in preparing it for the market. It thus appears, that the whole of every capital undergoes the productive consumption. It is equally obvious that whatever is consumed productively becomes capital; for if the manufacturer of cloth, whose capital we have seen to be productively consumed, should save a portion of his profits, and employ it in the different kinds of productive consumption required in his business, it would perform exactly the functions performed by his capital, and would, in truth, be an addition to that capital.
The whole of what the productive powers of the country have brought into existence, in the course of a year, is called the gross annual produce. Of this the greater part is required to replace the capital which has been consumed; to restore to the capitalist what he has laid out in the wages of his labourers and the purchase of his materials, and to remunerate him for the wear and tear of his machinery. What remain of the gross produce, after replacing the capital which has been consumed, is called the net produce; and is always distributed, either as profits of stock, or as rent.
This net produce is the fund, from which all addition to the national capital is commonly made. If the net produce is all consumed unproductively, the national capital remains unaltered. It is neither diminished nor increased. If more than the net produce is consumed unproductively, it is taken from the capital; and so far the capital of the nation is reduced. If less than the net produce is unproductively consumed, the surplus is devoted to productive consumption; and the national capital is increased.
Though a very accurate conception may thus be formed of the two species of consumption; and the two species of labour; productive, and unproductive; it is not easy to draw the line precisely between them. Almost all our classifications are liable to this inconvenience. Between things, which differ the most widely, there are almost always orders of things, which approach by insensible gradations. We divide animals into two classes, the rational and irrational: and no two ideas can be more clearly distinguished. Yet beings may be found, of which it would be difficult to say, to which of the two classes they belonged. In like manner, there are consumers, and labourers, who may seem, with some propriety, to be capable of being ranked, either in the productive, or the unproductive class. Notwithstanding this difficulty, it is absolutely necessary, for the purposes of human discourse, that classification should be performed, and the line drawn somewhere. This may be done, with sufficient accuracy both for science and. for practice. It is chiefly necessary that the more important properties of the objects classified should be distinctly marked in the definition of the class. It is not difficult, after this, to make allowance, in practice, for those things which he, as it were, upon the confines of two classes; and partake, in some degree, of the properties of both.
From what we have now ascertained of the nature of production and consumption, it will easily be seen, that the whole of what is annually produced is annually consumed; or, that what is produced in one year, is consumed in the next.
Every thing, which is produced, belongs to somebody, and is destined by the owners to some use. There are however, but two sorts of use: that for immediate enjoyment, and that for ultimate profit. To use for ultimate profit, is to consume productively. To use for immediate enjoyment, is to consume unproductively.
We have just observed, that what is used for ultimate profit, is laid out, as expeditiously as possible, in wages of labour, machinery, and raw material. This is a fact of primary importance; and many errors of those who reason loosely in Political Economy, arise from the neglect of it. Whatever is saved from the annual produce, in order to be converted into capital, is necessarily consumed; because to make it answer the purpose of capital, it must be employed in the payment of wages, in the purchase of raw material to be worked into a finished commodity, or, lastly, in the making of machines, effected in like manner by the payment of wages, and the working up of raw materials. With respect to that part of the annual produce, which is destined for unproductive consumption, there is less frequently any mistake. As it would be attended with a loss to lay in a greater stock of articles of this class than is required, for immediate use, all of them, except a few, of which the quality is improved by their age, are always expeditiously consumed, or put in a course of consumption.
A year is assumed, in political economy, as the period which includes a revolving circle of production and consumption. No period does so exactly. Some articles are produced and consumed in a period much less than a year. In others, the circle is greater than a year. It is necessary, for the ends of discourse, that some period should be assumed as including this circle. The period of a year is the most convenient. It corresponds with one great class of productions, those derived from the cultivation of the ground. And it is easy, when we have obtained forms of expression, which correspond accurately to this assumtion, to modify them in practice to the case of those commodities, the circle of whose production and consumption is either greater or less than the standard to which our general propositions are conformed.
It requires only a few explanations to show, that this is a direct corollary from the proposition established in the preceding section.
A man produces, only because he wishes to possess. If the commodity, which he produces, is the commodity which he desires to possess, he stops when he has produced as much as he desires; and his supply is exactly proportioned to his demand. The savage, who makes his own bow and arrows, does not make bows and arrows beyond what he wishes to possess.
When a man produces a greater quantity of any commodity than he desires for himself, it can only be on one account; namely, that he desires some other commodity which he can obtain in exchange for the surplus of what he himself has produced. It seems hardly necessary to offer any thing in support of so necessary a proposition; it would be inconsistent with the known laws of human nature to suppose, that a man would take the trouble to produce any thing without desiring to have any thing. If he desires one thing, and produces another, it is only because the thing which he desires can be obtained by means of the thing which he produces, and better obtained, than if he had endeavoured to produce it himself.
After labour has been divided and distributed, to any considerable extent, and each producer confines himself to some one commodity or part of a commodity, a small portion only of what he produces is used for his own consumption. The remainder he destines for the purpose of supplying him with all the other' commodities which he desires; and when each man confines himself to one commodity and exchanges what he produces for what is produced by other people, it is found that each obtains more of the several things, which he desires, than he would have obtained, had he endeavoured to produce them all for himself.
So far as a man consumes that which he produces, there is, properly speaking, neither supply nor demand. Demand and supply, it is evident, are terms which have reference to exchange; to a buyer and a seller. But in the case of the man who produces for himself, there is no exchange. He neither offers to buy any thing nor to sell any thing. He has the property; he has produced it; and does not mean to part with it. If we apply, by a sort of metaphor, the terms demand and supply to this case, it is implied, in the very terms of the supposition, that the demand and supply are exactly proportioned to one another. As far then as regards the demand and supply of the market, we may leave that portion of the annual produce, which each of the owners consumes in the shape in which he produces or receives it, altogether out of the question.
In speaking here of demand and supply, it is evident that we speak of aggregates. When we say of any particular nation, at any particular time, that its supply is equal to its demand, we do not mean in any one commodity, or any two commodities. We mean, that the amount of its demand, in all commodities taken together, is equal to the amount of its supply in all commodities taken together. It may very well happen, notwithstanding this equality in the general sum of demands and supplies, that some one commodity or commodities may have been produced in a quantity either above or below the demand for those particular commodities.
Two things are necessary to constitute a demand. These are, 1st, a wish for the commodity; 2dly, an equivalent to give for it. A demand means the will to purchase, and the means of purchasing. If either is wanting, the purchase does not take place. An equivalent is the necessary foundation of all demand. It is in vain that a man wishes for commodities, if he has nothing to give for them. The equivalent which a man brings is the instrument of demand. The extent of his demand is measured by the extent of his equivalent. The demand and the equivalent are convertible terms, and the one may be substituted for the other. The equivalent may be called the demand, and the demand the equivalent.
We have already seen, that every man, who produces, has a wish for other commodities, than those which he has produced, to the extent of all that he brings to market. And it is evident, that whatever a man has produced, and does not wish to keep for his own consumption, is a stock which he may give in exchange for other commodities. His will, therefore, to purchase, and his means of purchasing, in other words, his demand, is exactly equal to the amount of what he has produced and does not mean to consume.
But each man contributes to the general supply the whole of what he has produced and does not mean to consume. In whatever shape any part of the annual produce has come into his hands, if be proposes to consume no part of it himself, he wishes to dispose of the whole; and the whole, therefore, becomes matter of supply: if he consumes a part, he wishes to dispose of all the rest, and all the rest becomes matter of supply.
As every man's demand, therefore, is equal to that part of the annual produce, or of the property generally, which he has to dispose of, and each man's supply is exactly the same thing, the supply and demand of every individual are of necessity equal.
Demand and supply are terms related in a peculiar manner. A commodity which is supplied, is always, at the same time, a commodity which is the instrument of demand. A commodity which is the instrument of demand, is always, at the same time, a commodity added to the stock of supply. Every commodity is always, at one and the same time, matter of demand, and matter of supply. Of two men who perform an exchange, the one does not come with only a supply, the other with only a demand; each of them comes with both a demand and a supply. The supply, which he brings, is the instrument of his demand; and his demand and supply are of course exactly equal to one another.
But if the demand and supply of every individual are always equal to one another, the demand and supply of all the individuals in the nation, taken aggregately, must be equal. Whatever, therefore, be the amount of the annual produce, it never can exceed the amount of the annual demand. The whole of the annual produce is divided into a number of shares, equal to that of the people to whom it is distributed. The whole of the demand is equal to as much of the whole of the shares as the owners do not keel) for their own consumption. But the whole of the shares is equal to the whole of the produce. The demonstration, therefore, is complete.
How complete soever the demonstration may appear to be, that the demand of a nation must always be equal to its supply, and that it never can be without a market sufficiently enlarged for the whole of its produce, this proposition is seldom well understood, and is sometimes expressly contradicted.
The objection is raised upon this foundation, that commodities are often found to be too abundant for demand.
The matter of fact is not disputed. It will easily, however, be seen, that it affects not the certainty of the proposition which it is brought to oppugn.
Though it be undeniable, that the demand, which every man brings, is equal to the supply, which he brings, he may not find in the market the sort of purchaser, which he wants. No man may have come desiring that sort of commodity, of which he has to dispose. It is not the less necessarily true, that he came with a demand equal to his supply; for he wanted something in return for the goods which he brought It makes no difference to say, that perhaps he only wanted money; for money is itself goods; and, besides, no man wants money but in order to lay it out, either in articles of productive, or articles of unproductive consumption.
Every man having a demand and a supply, both equal; if any commodity be in greater quantity than the demand, some other commodity must be in less.
If every man has a demand and supply both equal, the demand and supply in the aggregate are always equal. Suppose, that of these two equal quantities, demand and supply, the one is divided into a certain number of parts, and the other into as many parts, all equal; and that these parts correspond exactly with one another; that as many parts of the demand as are for corn, just so many parts of the supply are of corn; as many of the one as are for cloth, so many of the other are of cloth, and so on: it is evident, in this case, that there will be no glut of any thing whether the amount of the annual produce be great or small. Let us next suppose, that this exact adaptation to one another of the parts of demand and supply is disturbed; let us suppose that, the demand for cloth remaining the same, the supply of it is considerably increased: there will of course be a glut of cloth, because there has been no increase of demand. But to the very same amount there must of necessity be a deficiency of other things; for the additional quantity of cloth, which has been made, could be made by one means only, by withdrawing capital from the production of other commodities, and thereby lessening the quantity produced. But if the quantity of any commodity is diminished, a demand equal to the greater quantity remaining, the quantity of that commodity is defective. It is, therefore, impossible, that there should ever be in any country a commodity or commodities in quantity greater than the demand, without there being, to an equal amount, some other commodity or commodities in quantity less than the demand.
The effects, which are produced, in practice, by the want of adaptation in the parts of demand and supply, are familiar. The commodity, which happens to be in superabundance, declines in price; the commodity, which is defective in quantity, rises. This is the fluctuation of the market, which every body sufficiently understands. The lowness of the price, in the article which is superabundant, soon removes, by the diminution of profits, a portion of capital from that line of production: The highness of price, in the article which is scarce, invites a quantity of capital to that branch of production, till profits are equalized, that is, till the demand and supply are adapted to one another.
The strongest case, which could be put, in favour of the supposition that produce may increase faster than consumption, would undoubtedly be that, in which, every man consuming nothing but necessaries, all the rest of the annual produce should be saved. This is, indeed, an impossible case, because it is inconsistent with the laws of human nature. The consequences of it, however, are capable of being traced; and they serve to throw light upon the argument, by which the constant equality has been demonstrated of produce and demand.
In such a case, what came to every man's share of the annual produce, bating his own consumption of necessaries, would be devoted to production. All production would of course be directed to raw produce and a few of the coarser manufactures; because these are the articles for which alone there would be any demand. As every man's share of the annual produce, bating his own consumption would be laid out for the sake of production, it would be laid out in the articles subservient to the production of raw produce and the coarser manufactures. But these articles are precisely raw produce and a few of the coarser manufactures themselves. Every mans demand, therefore, would consist wholly in these articles; but the whole of the supply would consist also in the same articles. And it has been proved, that the aggregate demand and aggregate supply are equal of necessity; because the whole or the annual produce, bating the portion consumed by the shareholders, is brought as the instrument of demand; and the whole of the annual produce, with the same abatement, is brought as supply.
It appears, therefore, by accumulated proof, that production can never be too rapid for demand. Production is the cause, and the sole cause, of demand. It never furnishes supply, without furnishing demand, both at the same time, and both to an equal extent.
It has been objected, that, for the validity of the argument it is necessary to suppose, "that new tastes and new wants spring up with the new capital." A single reflection will, I think, make it clear that the taste, and wants, in question, are essentially and necessarily implied in the very existence of the capital.
The new capital is all to be laid out in the purchase of something, according to the plans of the owner. It is of infinite importance to observe, that every creation of capital is the creation of a demand. It is surprising that this material point is so frequently overlooked. It seems to be little less than self evident, and if admitted, it carries in itself an answer to every argument that has been, or that can be adduced, in favour of the glut.
What is it that we mean, when we say the demand of a nation, speaking of the aggregate, and including a definite circle of production and consumption, such as that of a year? Do we, or can we, mean any thing but its power of purchasing? And what is its power of purchasing? Of course, the goods which come to market. What, on the other hand, is it we mean, when, speaking in like manner aggregately, and including the same circle, we say the supply of the nation? Do we, or can we mean any thing, but the goods which come to market? The conclusion is too obvious to need to be drawn.
What produces the confusion of ideas, which so often occurs in the consideration of this subject, is the glut, which may, and does take place, of particular commodities. Does it follow from this, that there can be a glut of commodities in the aggregate, when it is necessarily true that there cannot be an aggregate supply without an equal aggregate demand, equal both in quantity and in value?
To the argument, which shows that to the same degree, in which one or more commodities may be in such abundance as exceeds the demand, some other commodities must fall short of the demand, it has been replied, that the commodities which are supplied in superabundance fall in value, that this involves all the evil of the glut, and is therefore a reply to the whole of the argument which denies its existence.
This is a reply in words only. What is maintained in my argument is, that there can be no glut of commodities in the aggregate, though there may be in particular instances. The answer made to me is that there may be a glut in particular instances.
In the very words of the pretended reply, the certainty of the disputed fact is admitted. The value, it is said, of the goods, which are in the state of superabundance, falls. If this is not a play upon the word, it implies the very thing which it is brought to dispute, that whenever one set of goods is supplied above the demand, another is supplied below the demand.
What is it that is necessarily meant, when we say that the supply and the demand are accommodated to one another? It is this: that goods which have been produced by a certain quantity of labour, exchange for goods which have been produced by an equal quantity of labour. Let this proposition be duly attended to, and all the rest is clear.
Thus, if a pair of shoes is produced with an equal quantity of labour as a hat, so long as a hat exchanges for a pair of shoes, so long the supply and demand are accommodated to one another. If it should so happen that shoes fell in value, as compared with hats, which is the same thing as hats rising in value compared with shoes, this would imply that more shoes had been brought to market, as compared with hats. Shoes would then be in more than the due abundance. Why? Because in them the produce of a certain quantity of labour would not exchange for the produce of an equal quantity. But for the very same reason hats would be in less than the due abundance, because the produce of a certain quantity of labour in them would exchange for the produce of more than an equal quantity in shoes.
What is true of any one instance is true of any number of instances. It is therefore universally true, that, as the aggregate demand and aggregate supply of a nation never can be unequal to one another, so there never can be a superabundant supply in particular instances, and hence a fall in exchangeable value below the cost of production, without a corresponding deficiency of supply, and hence a rise in exchangeable value, beyond cost of production, in other instances. The doctrine of the glut, therefore, seems to be disproved by reasoning perfectly conclusive.
Let us recapitulate the points. A glut, as it is supposed in this doctrine, namely an excess of production in the aggregate, can take place only by a continued increase of production. Let us imagine that we have just come to the supposed point, when, the supply being full, any additional production will be so much of glut. The additional production takes place, and comes to market. What is the consequence? This new product seeks an equivalent. That is to say, it is a new demand. How then is it possible to say that every new supply is a glut, when a new demand is created equal to it? It is obviously nugatory to say, that this new supply may not find purchasers, or the new demand may not find the commodities to which it is directed; for this is only to say that in particular instances there may, from miscalculation, be superabundance or defect. The natural effects, in such a case, may be easily traced, and they afford decisive evidence. The commodities, of which the additional production consists, may be naturally supposed to consist of some of the sorts which are previously in the market. By supposition, the goods previously in the market were accommodated to one another, no species being either in defective, or superabundant supply. The addition which is made to some sorts of these goods, by the new production, would render them superabundant, if there was not a new demand created. These goods would fall in exchangeable value as compared with others, others would rise in exchangeable value as compared with them. But there is a new demand created; for the owner of the new produce, as he has come into the market to sell goods of some kinds, so he has come to buy goods of some other kinds. As the supply, which he brought, of certain kinds of goods tended to reduce their value, so the demand, which he brings, for other kinds tends to increase their value. The result is, that now there are certain kinds of goods, which it is less profitable than usual to produce; others, which it is more profitable than usual to produce: and this is an inequality, which tends immediately to correct itself. This is the mode, in which every addition is made to the productions of a country, and it is a mode, which is evidently the same at every stage of the progress, from the greatest defect. to the greatest excess, of national riches. It commonly, of course, happens, that the man, who brings into the market an addition of produce, endeavours to bring it in goods that are in defective supply, and to purchase goods that are in superabundant supply; and the state of the market generally enables him to do so: so that an addition of produce brought into the market may just as often remedy a glut as be in any degree the cause of it.
The doctrine of Mr. Malthus, on the subject of the glut, seems, at last, to amount to this: that if saving were to go on at a certain rate, capital would increase faster than population; and that if capital did so increase, wages would become very high, and profits would sustain a corresponding depression. But this, if it were all allowed, does not prove the existence of a glut; it only proves another thing, namely, that there would be high wages and low profits. Whether such an increase of capital, scarcely coming within the range even of a rational supposition, would be a good thing or an evil thing, it would infallibly produce its own remedy, as the power, of capital to increase is diminished with the diminution of profits.
Mr. Malthus further says, that the high wages thus produced would generate idleness in the class of labourers. The prediction may be disputed; but, allowed to be correct, what is its import? If, wages continuing the same, less work is done, this is higher pay for an equal quantity of labour; it is therefore the same thing as a rise of wages. It would merely accelerate that diminution of profits, which must in time retard and finally stop the increase of capital, in consequence of which wages would naturally fall. This, therefore, is not a different objection from the former; it is precisely the same objection, only in a different form.
Mr. Malthus, thus, totally failing to prove a glut, even from a continued increase of capital greater than the greatest increase of population, substitutes, for arguments to prove that effect, arguments to prove certain other effects.
He says, that were the annual produce thus to go on increasing, its value would be diminished. But this is merely a play upon the word. He says, I call the value of a commodity the number of days' wages it is equal to. If then wages are more than doubled, though you double the amount of your commodities, and have twice as much of every thing, yet you will have less value. An arbitrary change, however, in the meaning of a word proves nothing. The facts, and their relations, remain the some, whatever Mr. Malthus, or I, may choose to call them. The facts still are merely these, that society would have the supposed amount of commodities, and all its benefits, and that wages would be very high.
Mr. Malthus further says, that this rapid increase of capital would tend to diminish production. That on which the increase of production depends, is the increase of its two instruments, capital and labourers. By the very supposition which Mr. Malthus himself has made, and on which he is reasoning, both of these instruments are increasing at their most rapid possible rate. It seems therefore a most extraordinary supposition, that production should not be increasing at its most rapid possible rate.
If it be true, as Mr. Malthus supposes, that the high wages supposed would diminish labour, it will be true that less work will be done, and less production effected, than if every man worked more. Let us suppose that the diminution of labour goes on gradually, as wages increase, till at last each man does only half as much work as before, what then is the consequence? Merely this, that if population is going on at its greatest possible rate, doubling itself in twenty years, there will not be a greater increase of production from labour, than there would be if it doubled itself only in forty years, and each man performed twice as much work. This would still be a more rapid rate than that at which capital increases, except in some very rare and extraordinary circumstances. But, if labour were so very dear, and capital so abundant, the consequence would be, that as little as possible of production would be performed by man's labour, as much as possible by machinery and cattle. Ingenuity would be racked to find the means of superseding the most costly instrument. Machines would be multiplied and improved without end; and a much greater proportion of the annual produce would be the result of capital, a much less the result of immediate labour. The diminution of production would not therefore be nearly in proportion to the diminution of each man's labour.
The supposed effects therefore are really of no importance, otherwise it might still be questioned how far the inference is warranted, that high wages tend to diminish industry. Experience seems to be very full on the opposite side. Where wages are excessively low, as in Ireland, there is no industry; where excessively high, as in the American United States, there is the greatest. What does Mr. Malthus himself mean by the stimulus which he says is given to industry by an enlargement of the market?
All consumption is either by individuals, or by the government. Having treated of the consumption of individuals, it only remains that we treat of that which has government for its cause.
Although the consumption by government, as far as really necessary, is of the highest importance, it is not, unless very indirectly, subservient to production. That which is consumed by government, instead of being consumed as capital, and replaced by a produce, is consumed, and produces nothing. This consumption is, indeed, the cause of that protection, under which all production has taken place; but if other things were not consumed in a way different from that in which things are consumed by government, there would be no produce. These are reasons for placing the expenditure of government under the head of unproductive consumption.
The revenue of government must be derived from rent, from profits of stock, or from wages of labour.
It is, indeed, possible for government to consume part of the capital of the country. This, however, it can only do for one year, or for a few years. Each year in which it consumes any portion of the capital, it so far reduces the annual produce; and, if it continues, it must desolate the country. This, therefore, cannot be regarded as a permanent source of revenue.
If the revenue of government must always be derived from one or more of three sources; rent, profits, wages; the only questions requiring an answer, are; in what manner, and in what proportion, should it be taken from each?
The direct method is that which most obviously suggests itself. I shall, therefore, first, consider what seems to be most important in the direct mode of deriving a revenue to government from rent, profits, and wages; and, secondly, I shall consider the more remarkable of the expedients which have been employed for deriving it from them indirectly.
It is sufficiently obvious, that the share of the rent of land, which may be taken to defray the expenses of the government, does not affect the industry of the country. The cultivation of the land depends upon the capitalist; to whom the appropriate motive is furnished, when he receives the ordinary profits of stock. To him it is a matter of perfect indifference; whether he pays the surplus, in the shape of rent, to an individual proprietor; or, in that of revenue, to a government collector.
In Europe, at one period, the greater part of, at least, the ordinary expenses of the sovereign was defrayed by land, which he held as a proprietor; while the expense of his military operations was chiefly defrayed by his barons, to whom a property in certain portions of the land had been granted on that express condition. In those times, the whole expense of the government, with some trifling exception, was, therefore, defrayed from the rent of land.
In the principal monarchies of Asia, almost the Whole expenses of the state have in all ages been defrayed from the rent of land; but in a manner somewhat different. The land was held by the immediate cultivators, generally in small portions, with a perpetual and transferable title; but under an obligation of paying, annually, the government demand; which might be increased at the pleasure of the sovereign; and seldom amounted to less than a full rent.
If a body of people were to migrate into a new country, and land had not yet become private property, there would be this reason for considering the rent of land as a source peculiarly adapted to supply the exigencies of the government; that industry would not, by that means, sustain the smallest repression; and that the expense of the government would be defrayed without imposing any burden upon any individual. The owners of capital would enjoy its profits; the class of labourers would enjoy their wages; without any deduction whatsoever; and every man would employ his capital, in the way which was really most advantageous, without any inducement from the mischievous operation of a tax, to remove it from a channel in which it was more, to one in which it would be less productive to the nation. There is, therefore, a peculiar advantage in reserving the rent of land as a fund for supplying the exigencies of the state.
There would be this inconvenience, indeed, even in a state of things, in which land had not been made private property; that the rent of the land, in a country of a certain extent, and peopled up to a certain degree, would exceed the amount of what government would need to expend. The surplus ought undoubtedly to be distributed among the people, in the way likely to contribute the most to their happiness; and there is no way, perhaps, in which this end can be so well accomplished, as by rendering the land private property. As there is no difficulty, however, in rendering the land private property, with the rent liable for a part of the public burdens; so there seems no difficulty in rendering it private property, with the rent answerable for the whole of the public burdens. It would only in this case require a greater quantity of land to be a property of equal value. Practice would teach its value as accurately, under these, as under present circumstances; and the business of society would, it is evident, proceed without alteration in every other respect.
Where land has, however, been converted into private property, without making rent in a peculiar manner answerable for the public expenses; where it has been bought and sold upon such terms, and the expectations of individuals have been adjusted to that order of things, rent of land could not be taken to supply exclusively the wants of the government, without injustice. It would be partial and unequal taxation; laying the burden of the state upon one set of individuals, and exempting the rest. It is a measure, therefore, never to be thought of by any government, which would regulate its proceedings by the principles of justice.
That rent, which is bought and sold, however; that rent, upon which the expectations of individuals are founded, and which, therefore, ought to be exempt from any peculiar tax, is the present rent; or at most the present, with the reasonable prospect of improvement. Beyond this, no man's speculations, either in making a purchase, or in making provision for a family, are entitled to extend. Suppose, now, that, in these circumstances, it were in the power of the legislature, by an act of its own, all other things remaining the same, to double that portion of the produce of the land which is strictly and properly rent: there would be no reason, in point of justice, why the legislature should not, and great reason, in point of expediency, why it should, avail itself of this, its own power, in behalf of the state; should devote as much as might be requisite of this new fund to defray the expenses of the government, and exempt the people. No injury would be done to the original land-owner. His rent, such as he had enjoyed it, and to a great degree such even as he bad expected to enjoy it, would remain the same. A great advantage would at the same time accrue to every individual in the community, by exemption from those contributions for the expense of the government, to which he would otherwise have had to submit.
The legislature may, without any straining of language, be said to possess that power, which I have now spoken of only as a fiction. By all those measures which increase the amount of population and the demand for food, the legislature does as certainly increase the net produce of the land, as if it had the power of doing so by a miraculous act. That it does so by a gradual progress in the real, would do so by an immediate operation in the imaginary case, makes no difference with regard to the result. The original rent, which belonged to the owner, that upon which he regulated his purchase, if he did purchase, and on which alone, if he had a family to provide for, his arrangements in their favour were to he framed, is easily distinguishable from any addition capable of being made to the net produce of the land, whether it be made by a slow or a sudden process. If an addition made by the sudden process might, without injustice to the owner, be appropriated to the purposes of the state, no reason can be assigned why an addition by the slow process might not be so appropriated.
It is certain, that, as population increases, and as capital is applied with less and less productive power to the land, a greater and a greater share of the whole of the net produce of the country accrues as rent, while the profits of stock proportionally decrease. This continual increase, arising from the circumstances of the community, and from nothing in which the landholders themselves have any peculiar share, does seem a fund no less peculiarly fitted for appropriation to the purposes of the state, than the whole of the rent in a country where land had never been appropriated. While the original rent of the landholder, that upon which alone all his arrangements, with respect both to himself, and his family, must be framed, is secured from any peculiar burden, he can have no reason to complain, should a new source of income, which cost him nothing, be appropriated to the service of the state; and if so, it evidently makes no difference to the merits of the case, whether this new source is found upon the land, or found any where else.
If we assume with Mr. M'Culloch, (see a very masterly article on Taxation in the Supplement to the Encyc. Britan. p. 617) that the whole of what the land can ever yield, is conferred, in the case supposed, on the owner of the land, by the previous legislation, there is an end of the question; for it is impossible for any one to express a more decided opinion, than I entertain, against partial taxation; against imposing burthens upon the property of any one class more than upon the property of another class. The real question is, whether any thing beyond a certain amount of annual benefit, namely, what is at present derived, with such increase as can he rationally anticipated within the number of years' purchase for which the land would sell, can, in a really equitable, excluding a merely technical, mode of considering the subject, be regarded as the property of the land-owner. The considerations, which I have adduced, seem to me to establish, that no point of utility would be violated by such a restriction of the meaning of the term as I have proposed.
I utterly disallow the parallelism of the case of capital, which Mr. M'Culloch has adduced; as if because increased profits of stock ought not to be exclusively taxed, therefore the rent, which accrues in the manner above supposed, could not be justly appropriated to the service of the state. Nobody is more aware of the fundamental differences between profits of stock and rent of land than Mr. M'Culloch: it is, therefore, the more surprising that he should have founded his argument on an agreement between them, which does not exist.
Only a few lines before, in the same passage, he recognizes such a distinction between rent and profits, as in my opinion is fatal to his argument. "The circumstance," he says, "of rent unavoidably rising in the progress of society, inclines us to think that it would be good policy for the governments of countries, such as the United States, which are possessed of large tracts of fertile and unappropriated land, to retain the property of this land in their own hands:" that is, in other words, to reserve the rent for the service of the state. The case of profits is not only different, but the reverse. Instead of rising, in the progress of society, they decrease. Land exists by the gift of nature; capital is the product of human industry. Land is originally not the property of any man; capital always is. The profits of stock must be secured to the owner to afford a motive for its preservation and augmentation. For the preservation of the land, or the augmentation of its produce, it is not of the least importance to whom the rent is consigned. Profits are, in reality, the fund, out of which rent is always taken; and every increase of rent, in the progress of society, is a deduction from profits, in other words, may be regarded as a tax upon profits, not for the benefit of the state, but that of the landlords.
Contents | next section | Political Economy Archive