網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

absolutely without check, it would in the course of a few centuries overspread with a dense mass of human beings every corner of the habitable earth. In far less time than it has taken to produce the now comparatively thin and scattered population of the globe, the fecundity of mankind must have been arrested by the failure not of subsistence only, but of space.”* If so, then I ask, in what sense does Mr. Rickards maintain the negative of the dilemma he has put—that neither is “man too prolific,” nor yet “the earth too sterile” ? Subsistence, he admits, cannot be increased as fast as human beings are capable of multiplying ; in other words, the earth is “too sterile” for the fecundity of mankind, for the possible increase of human beings. Then in what sense does he deny that the earth is too sterile? Will he say “ too sterile” for the “actual” increase of mankind? And does his point after all amount only to this, that human beings do not, in point of fact, multiply faster than subsistence can be prepared for them, and that in this sense the earth is not too sterile ? Surely that is only to say that men cannot live without food—a harmless truism, with which few will be disposed to quarrel, and which, one would imagine, might be defended without resorting to so formidable a dilemma.

* P. 179.

LECTURE VI.

OF THE THEORY OF RENT.

Of those principles of Political Economy which have of late years been made the subject of controversy amongst economists, one of the most fundamental and important is the theory of rent, generally designated from the name of its ablest expounder, Mr. Ricardo. Mr. Rickards of Oxford, some of whose objections to the doctrine of population, as taught by Malthus, I considered in my last lecture, is also an opponent of Ricardo's theory of rent. In the sixth lecture of his work on Population and Capital, he remarks upon the close relation which exists between these two doctrines. “The arguments for both,” he says, “ rest on one and the same hypothesis” . .....“The same assumption—that of the diminishing productiveness of the land as compared with the undiminished power of human fecundity—forms the basis” of both theories.

Substantially I take this to be a correct statement of the grounds on which the doctrines of population and rent rest, and I am quite prepared to stake their truth upon this issue. But, before adverting further to Mr. Rickards' objections, it will be desirable first to understand what the doctrine of rent is, as well as its proper limitations. what is sufficient to replace the cost of production, together with the ordinary profits. Now it is this surplus value, whether derived from agricultural or from manufacturing operations, whether retained by the producer or handed over to the owner of the productive instrument, which constitutes “rent” in the economic sense of that word, and the existence of which is the fact to be accounted for.

The object of the theory of rent is to explain the fact of rent, and the conditions which determine its rise and fall. In order, therefore, to judge of the theory, we must form a clear and definite idea of the fact of which it is designed to afford the explanation. The fact, then, which the theory of rent is adduced to explain is the existence in certain branches of industry of a permanent surplus value in the product, beyond what is sufficient to replace the capital employed in production, together with the usual profits which happen to prevail in the country. Thus a farmer, after replacing the circulating stock employed in cultivating his farm with the usual profits, and reserving besides interest on such capital as may have been sunk in permanent improvements, finds that the proceeds of his industry still leave him a surplus value.

This value, if he be merely the occupier of his farm, goes to his landlord; or, should he, during the continuance of his lease, be able to retain a portion of it, he will at all events on its termination be compelled by the competition of other farmers to hand it over to his landlord ; on the other hand, if the farmer be himself the proprietor of the land which he tills, the surplus value will of course remain with him. In the same way the patentee of a successful invention on selling the produce of his industry, finds himself also in possession of a surplus value over and above

[ocr errors]

You will observe, I say “in the economic sense of the word,” because this is one of those cases in which the necessity under which Political Economists are placed of using popular phraseology in scientific discussions, has led to much confusion of ideas and perplexity of reasoning. The term “rent” is in popular language applied to the revenue which the proprietor of any article derives from its hire. Such a revenue, however, may owe its existence to different causes. The rent, e. g. which a landlord receives from a farmer for the hire of his land, is derived from a surplus value in the proceeds of the farmer's industry beyond what will cover the expenses and profits of his farm. On the other hand, the building-rent of a house represents no surplus value of this kind. It is not anything in addition to the ordinary profit, but is simply the ordinary profit or interest which the builder of the house receives on the capital which he has sunk.* There may indeed.be fluctuations in the

* It will perhaps occur that the rent of land may equally be regarded as the interest of the landlord's capital sunk either in the purchase or improvement of his estate. So far as the rent paid by the tenant is the consequence of improvements made in the land, the case is no doubt strictly analogous to that of building-rent, and the payment which the landlord receives in consideration of such improvements is properly regarded as the returns on the capital which he has sunk. But with regard to the remainder, it is paid for the inherent powers of the soil. The payment of this by the tenant is not a consequence of the landlord's purchase of the land in the same way as the increase in his rent, in consideration of improvements, is a consequence of these improvements) ; on the contrary, the money paid for the purchase of the land is a consequence of the rent. Farmers do not pay rent because landholders have invested money in the purchase of their estates ; but landlords invest money in this way, because farmers are willing to pay rent. If landlords had obtained their estates for nothing, as many have so obtained them, farmers would not the less pay rent ; on the other hand, if, owing to any cause, corn fell permanently in value, rents would fall, whatever might have been the amount of the purchase-money given for estates.

[graphic]

returns upon building speculations, as upon any other speculations—the speculators receiving sometimes more sometimes less than average profits ; but there is in this case nothing like what occurs in the case of agricultural rent-a permanent surplus value beyond what is sufficient to indemnify the capitalist. The existence of this surplus value, then, is the problem which the theory of rent has to solve ; and the question is, what are the causes to which it owes its existence, and what are the laws which regulate its amount ?

Several theories have at different times been advanced in explanation of rent. That which was given by the French economists, and which, to a certain extent, was adopted by Adam Smith, was, that rent was a. consequence of the superior productiveness of agricultural industry—a result of the positive fertility of the soil. It was said that industry was so productive in

« 上一頁繼續 »