TRANSITIONS OF FORMS OF RENTS.
Transition from Métayer Rents.
I will resume what has just been said. The Doctrine of Rent as delivered by modern economists, has been considered as the most remarkable example of reasoning on such subjects. But this doctrine applies only to Farmers' Rents; now Farmers' Rents are the sums paid for the use of the Land by capitalist, farming for Profit: it being implied that profits are determined by competition; and that if the farmers do not make such an amount of profit they will remove their capital to some other employment. But these conditions are not generally verified in countries as they exist actually. The cultivator is not a capitalist, and the stock employed upon the land is not moveable. Taking the surface of the earth at large, the conditions on which the cultivator holds it are different in different countries; but Farmers' Rents exist nowhere except in England and a few regions elsewhere. Taking the actual conditions of culture, it appears that tenants may be divided, as I said before, into four classes; Métayers, Serfs, Ryots, and Cottiers, in addition to Farmers.
It may be observed that we have, in. this new view of the subject, an example of the inductive method applied to Political Economy, in distinction from the deductive method, which is that of Ricardo and his school. Their method consists in taking definitions, and reasoning downwards from them, as is done in geometry; and thus, as Mill says, we come to propositions which, like those of geometry, require an aptitude for such reasoning in the student. We take the definition of Rent, that it is what is paid by a capitalist for the use of the land, and we come to the proposition that Rent is the excess of good soils above the worst. In the other method we begin not from definitions, but from facts. We take the facts as we find them in the various countries of the globe: we classify these facts; and having so classified them, we see what propositions can be truly asserted concerning each class. And this method is the more useful, because the truths to which we are thus led are those which are characteristic of the social and political condition of each people; of the relations of ranks; and of the means and chances of change and progress. I will mention a few such propositions mainly as examples. The work of Mr Jones on Rent to which I have already referred, is occupied almost entirely with the consideration of such subjects.
Next to Farmers' Rents, which occupy the soil of England, we may consider Métayer Rents, which occupy a large part of the soil of France and Italy. The usual form of such rents is, as the name implies, that the proprietor and the cultivator divide the produce equally. A French gentleman who came from a Métayer part of France gave me a very definite image of this equal division. He said that the produce was every year garnered by the cultivator into two barns, locked up there with two keys, and then the proprietor took which key he chose, the cultivator taking the other, each being thus put in possession of his half of the harvest.
Countries in a state of Métayerage are commonly far less rich and populous than countries where Farmers' rents prevail: but the difference is not a difference which can be remedied by any alteration in the system. The system itself depends upon the general state of wealth and population in the country. M. de Lavergne has pointed out with great precision the difference of France and England in this respect: and has made a remark which appears to be of the highest importance, following Arthur Young: namely: that the progress of agriculture from the system of métayerage to the system of farmers depends on the existence of a Market (débouchés) for agricultural produce. He says (p. 166):
"Beginning with the reign of Queen Anne, England visibly gets the start of France in industry and commerce; that is to say, in everything, for progress in these respects includes all other progress. After the American war, when the nation, afflicted at the loss of its principal colony, threw itself back upon itself to find compensation in its own resources, the vigour of its advance was quite without parallel. Then appears Adam Smith, who in an important work, examines the cause of the wealth and greatness of nations. Then appeared great inventors, as Arkwright and Watt, who are as it were the instruments of Adam Smith, to realize his theories in the practice of industry. Then appears William Pitt, who carries the same spirit into the administration of public affairs. Finally there appear Arthur Young and Bakewell, who apply the new ideas to agriculture.
"The system of Arthur Young is very simple. It is comprized in a single word, of which Adam Smith had recently fixed the meaning--a market. Till that time the English cultivators, like those of the continent, had worked but little with a view to a market. The greater part of agricultural produce had been consumed upon the spot by the producers themselves: and though more was sold in England than elsewhere, the idea of the market was not that which governed the process of production. Arthur Young is the first who made the English agriculturists understand the growing importance of a market, that is, of the sale of agricultural produce to a non-agricultural population. This non-agricultural population, till that time small, began to grow into importance; and since then, thanks to the expansion of industry and commerce, the multiplication of their population is become immense.
M. de Lavergne then notices the enormous progress which the use of steam has produced in England, especially in Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire: cotton at Manchester, iron at Sheffield, wool at Leeds, commerce at Liverpool. He notices the wealth arising from the coal-fields. "Under these circumstances," lie says, "the population of Great Britain rose between 1801 and 1851 from 10 millions to 21. The population of Lancashire and of the West Riding was tripled. France in no instance shews anything like this: in the same interval it increased only by a quarter [a third]. It advanced from 27 millions to 36. The most populous departments, those du Rhone and du Nord, have only two inhabitants per hectare.
"If we pass into the departments of France which are most backward, those du Centre and du Midi, what do we find there A thin population reaching at most to the third of the English population, one inhabitant for two hectares, instead of three inhabitants. And this population is almost exclusively agricultural. Few or no cities: few or no manufactures: trade only so much as is strictly requisite for the narrow needs of the inhabitants: the centres of consumption being far asunder and the means of communication dear and difficult, the expenses of transport would absorb the whole value of the produce. Here the cultivator can find little or nothing to sell. For what purpose then does he labour? To feed himself and his master with the produce. The master shares the produce in kind, and consumes his part. If it is wheat or wine, the master and the métayer eat wheat and drink wine. If it is rye, sarrasin, potatoes, master and métayer eat rye, sarrasin, and potatoes. Wool and hemp are shared in like manner, and serve to make the coarse stuffs in which the two partners alike are dressed. If besides this there are a few lean sheep in the sheds, a few calves suckled with difficulty by cows exhausted with labour, and to which the milk is grudged, these they sell to pay the taxes.
"This system," he goes on to say, "has been much blamed: but it is really the only possible system there, where there are no markets. In such a country as this, agriculture cannot be a profession, a speculation, a trade. In order to speculate a man must sell, and he cannot sell when he finds no one to buy. When I say no one, it is to push the supposition to an extreme point, which it seldom reaches in fact. In France, even in the most secluded cantons, there are always some small number of buyers: sometimes a tenth, sometimes a fifth, sometimes a fourth, of that population which lives solely on agriculture. And in proportion as the number of these consumers increases, the condition of the cultivator improves; except it happens that he himself supplies the income of these customers under the form of legal dues, or interest of loans, which happens at least in some instances. But the tenth, the fifth, even the fourth, is not enough to furnish a sufficient market; especially if this part of the population also is composed of producers, that is, of tradesmen and manufacturers.
"In this case the cultivator must grow food, in order to live. So long as the population is thin, this may be done; but when population increases, the want of subsistence is felt.
"But let us now pass to the part of France which is most populous and most industrious, that of the Western North. We find there not exactly the counterpart of the English population; we find an inhabitant for each hectare, instead of 1½ (as in England): but this is already the double of what we had elsewhere; and of this population, one half applies itself to trade, manufactures, and the liberal professions. What is especially called the country is not more populous than in the centre, and the South; but in addition to the population we find cities numerous, rich, the seats of manufacturers; and among these, the largest and most opulent of them all, Paris. There is in this region a large trade in agricultural produce. On all sides, the grain, the wines, the cattle, the wools, the fowls, the eggs, the milk, stream from the country to the towns, which pay with their manufactures for what they purchase. When we reach this stage, farmers' rents become possible, and are found paid in fact: this is the true cause of farmers' rents. The existence of such rents is an infallible indication of an economical situation, where the sale of produce is the rule, and where consequently cultivation can become a trade."
And thus the transition from métayer rents to farmers' rents depends upon the existence of a regular market. And as the author says, that which was previously a series of problems, is perfectly explained.
M. de Lavergne traces the consequence of this view into various interesting details: but for these I have not time. I will turn to another transition from one form of Rent to another. For these transitions mark the great steps in the progress of each nation, and are really far more important than the greatest events, in their history, as history is commonly narrated.
Transition from Serf Rents.
Serf rents are, as I have said, the rents paid: in labour to the owner of the soil by a peasant who is allowed to raise his own subsistence by labouring on the soil. They prevail now in Russia and in the eastern part of Europe. But previously they existed over the whole of Europe: they existed in England. How were they got rid of in England? When did this great event take place. I will give you Mr Jones s account of this change, (p. 40):
"Thirteen hundred years have elapsed since the final establishment of the Saxons. Eight hundred of these had passed away, and the Normans had been for two centuries settled here, and a very large proportion of the body of cultivators was still precisely in the situation of the Russian serf. During the next three hundred, the unlimited labour rents paid by the villeins for the lands allotted to them were gradually commuted for definite services, still payable in kind; and they had a legal right to the hereditary occupation of their copyholds. Two hundred years have barely elapsed since the change to this extent became quite universal, or since the personal bondage of the villeins ceased to exist among us. The last claim of villeinage recorded in our courts was in the 1 5th of James I., 1618. Instances probably existed some time after this. The ultimate cessation of the right to demand their stipulated services in kind has been since brought about, silently and imperceptibly, not. by positive law; for, when other personal services were abolished at the Restoration, those of copyholders were excepted and reserved."
Mr Jones goes on to say that throughout Germany, similar changes are taking place: though they are perfected perhaps nowhere, and in some large districts they exhibit themselves in very backward stages. We have heard lately that great changes in the condition of the Serfs are aimed at in Russia. The Emperor, we are told, has taken large steps for the emancipation of his Serfs. But such aims and such measures are far from new in Russia. Mr Jones describes these aims and attempts (p. 63):
"A wish to extend the authority and protection of the general government over the mass of cultivators and to increase their efficiency, and through that the wealth and financial resources of the state, has led the different sovereigns always to co-operate, and often to take the lead, in putting an end to the personal dependence of the serf, and modifying the terms of his tenure. To these reasons of the sovereigns and landlords, dictated by obvious self-interest, we must add other motives which do honor to their characters and to the age, the existence of which it would be a mere affectation of hard-hearted wisdom to doubt; namely, a paternal desire on the part of sovereigns to elevate the condition and increase the comforts of the most numerous class of the human beings committed to their charge; and a philanthropic dislike on the part of the proprietors to be surrounded by a race of wretched dependents, whose degradation and misery reflect discredit on themselves. These feelings have produced the fermentation on the subject of labour rents, which is at this moment working throughout the large division of Europe in which they prevail. From the crown lands in Russia, through Poland, Hungary, and Germany, there have been within the last century, or are now, plans and schemes on foot, either at once or gradually to get rid of the tenure, or greatly to modify its effects and improve its character; and if the wishes or the authority of the state, or of the proprietors, could abolish the system, and substitute a better in its place, it would vanish from the face of Europe. The actual poverty of the serfs, however, and the degradation of their habits of industry, present an insurmountable obstacle to any general change which is to be complete and sudden. In their imperfect civilization and half-savage carelessness, the necessity originated which forced proprietors themselves to raise the produce on which their families were to subsist. That necessity has not ceased; the tenantry are not yet ripein some instances not riper than they were. a thousand years agoto be entrusted with the responsibility of raising and paying produce rents. But as the past progress and actual circumstances of different districts are found unlike, so their capacity for present change differs in kind and degree."
It must be for future years to determine whether the attempts made in our time to accelerate this change arc effectual; and what is the result of the effort at so great a social revolution.
Transition from Ryot Rents.
Another kind of peasant rent prevails in Asia, and especially in India, called, as I have said, Ryot rents; Ryot being the name for the cultivator. These rents are a produce rent, paid to the sovereign as proprietor of the soil. Mr Jones says (p. 138):
"There is nothing mischievous in direct effect of ryot rents. They are usually moderate; and when restricted to a tenth, or even a sixth, fifth, or fourth of the produce, if collected peacefully and fairly, they become a species of land-tax, and leave the tenant a beneficial hereditary estate. It is from their indirect effects therefore, and from the form of government in which they originate, and which they serve to perpetuate, that they are full of evil, and are found in practice more hopelessly destructive of the property and progress of the people than any form of the relation of landlord and tenant known to us.
"The proprietary rights of the sovereign, and his large and practically indefinite interest in the produce, prevent the formation of any really independent body on time land. By the distribution of the rents, which his territory produces, the monarch maintains the most influential portion of the remaining population in the character of civil or military officers. There remain only the inhabitants of the towns to interpose a check to his power; but the majority of these are fed by the expenditure of the sovereign or his servants. We shall have a fitter opportunity to point out how completely the prosperity or rather the existence of the towns of Asia, proceeds from the local expenditure of the government. `As the citizens are thus destitute from their position of real strength, so the Asiatic sovereigns, having no body of powerful privileged landed proprietors to contend with, have not had the motives which the European monarchs had: to nurse and foster. the towns into engines of political, influence, and the citizens are proverbially the most helpless and prostrate of the slaves of Asia. There exists, therefore, nothing in the society beneath him which can modify the power of a sovereign who is the supreme proprietor of a territory cultivated by a population of ryot peasants. All that there is of real strength in such a population, looks to him as the sole source, not merely of protection, but of subsistence; he is by his position and necessarily a despot. But the results of Asiatic despotism have ever been the same: while it is strong it is delegated, and its power abused by its agents; when feeble and declining, that power is violently shared by its inferiors, and its stolen authority yet more abused. In its strength and in its weakness it is alike destructive of the industry and wealth of its subjects, and all the arts of peace; and it is this which makes that peculiar system of rents particularly objectionable and calamitous to the countries in which, it prevails."
The land-tax in this system is in practice arbitrary, and thence oppressive. Mr Mill relates (. 379) how the English rulers when they succeeded to the powers of the previous sovereigns attempted to remedy this oppression. They wished to found a class of great landlords, that India might prosper as England has prospered under her landlords. For this purpose they pitched upon a set of tax-gatherers called Zemindars. But this plan seems to have failed. It seems now, says Mr Jones (p. 1 18), to be generally admitted that the claims of the Zemindars were overrated, and that if something less had been done for them and something more for the security and independence of the Ryots, the settlement, without being less just or generous, would have been more expedient.
But the system of cultivation in India seems on the point of undergoing a great change from causes extraneous to the ryot system. The Governor-General has instituted, it is recently stated, system of grants of the unoccupied land, on terms which make the grantees independent cultivators. The unoccupied land is wide and fertile, and thus a race of cultivators may arise whose condition will be free from the evils of the ryot tenure. This however belongs to the Political Economy of the Future.
Transition from Cottier Rents.
I now take another case.
Ireland is cultivated in a great measure by Cottiers. Mr Mill has put these in the same chapter as the ryots of India. At this I marvel much; for he has himself pointed out the broad differences which exist between the two systems. He truly states that in India the payments have been regulated by custom; in Ireland by competition; a vast difference, of which he himself has forcibly pointed out the importance. Add to this that in India the owner of the land is the sovereign; in Ireland a private person. And we may add furtherwhat is also a very important feature that the rent is contracted to be paid in money, not in produce; and therefore does not vary with the amount of the crops. And this last circumstance especially has great importance in the progress of the country in which these systems are found.
Ryot rents have no tendency to change; they have existed in India from the time of the Greeks: probably much longer. The Cottiers' rents of Ireland offer remarkable facilities for change; Mr Jones says (p. 152):
"The principal advantage the cottier derives from his form of tenure is the great facility with which, when circumstances are favourable to him, he changes altogether his condition in society. In serf, métayer, or ryot countries extensive changes must take place in the whole framework of society before the peasants become capitalists and independent farmers. The serf has many stages to go through before he arrives at this point, and we have seen how hard it is to advance one step. The métayer too must become the owner of the stock on his farm, and be able to undertake to pay a money-rent. Both changes take place slowly and with difficulty, especially the last, the substitution of money-rents, which supposes a considerable previous improvement in the internal commerce of the nation, and is ordinarily the result, not the commencement of improvement in the condition of the cultivators. But the cottier is already the owner of his own stock; he exists in a society in which the power of paying money-rents is already established. If he thrives in his occupation, there is nothing to prevent his enlarging his holding, increasing his stock, and becoming a capitalist, and a farmer in the proper sense of the word. It is pleasing to hear the resident Irish landlords, who have taken some pains and made some sacrifices to improve the character and condition of their tenantry, bearing their testimony to this fact, and stating the rapidity with which some of the cottiers have, under their auspices, acquired stock and become small farmers. Most of the countries occupied by Métayers, Serfs, and Ryots, will probably contain a similar race of tenantry for some ages. If the events of the last half century are favourable to Ireland, her Cottiers are likely to disappear, and to be merged into a very different race of cultivators. This facility for gliding out of their actual condition to a higher and a better, is an advantage, and a very great advantage, of the cottier over the other systems of peasant rents, and atones for some of its gloomier features."
This auspicious anticipation. has been wonderfully verified since Mr Jones wrote. Circumstances in the recent history of Ireland, most disastrous in their first aspect, have done much to break up the system of cottier tenure and to introduce a better kind of cultivation. The Famine and the Exodus, the Poor Law and the Encumbered Estate Act, have produced a wonderful change in the condition of Ireland. I will read from a valuable article in the Edinburgh Review, for 1857, an account of the manner in which the cottier system was affected by these events.
The Poor Law had been introduced into Ireland in 1840: but had not been brought face to face with the needs of the people till the famine in 1847. In that year it was modified so as to shake the cottier system.
Ed. Rev. p. 110: "The Poor Law of 1847 provided for the problem of emancipating the soil from the cottier system. The Acts of 1838 and 1844 had probably had this object in view; for they had charged the Irish landlords with the entire poor-rate in respect of the smaller class of holdings; and this naturally tended to the consolidation of farms. But the Act of 1847 went much further; it refused relief altogether to occupiers of more than a quarter of a statute acre; and thus, by basing the right of public charity upon giving up the larger portion of their land, it forced off the Irish cottiers in masses from the soil, and left it free for a new race of agriculturists. The poorest of the cottiers abandoned their buildings for the workhouses, from which, however, the large majority of them have since emerged, while those among them who had still any residue of property, commenced that strange and unparalleled emigration, which has sent Irish energies to a hopeful field, and has opened the land of Ireland for a better system. The law which did this was stern, but it was not unjust, and no one can deny the good it has accomplished.
The Encumbered Estates Act operated in the same direction.
Ed. Rev. p. 116: "A law which `freed the land of Ireland from all checks on alienation, which broke down the equity mode of transfer, with its jealous impediments to puisne creditors, its fearful delays, its ruinous expense, and its cumbrous and unsatisfactory procedure, and which, besides, offered every security to purchasers, would necessarily, under any circumstances whatever, have brought a great many estates to the market. But passing at a time when the equity courts were crowded with embarrassed estates, when the ruin occasioned by the famine, and the poor-rates, and the panic resulting from the repeal of the corn-laws, and the lowness of prices, had made all creditors on real property in Ireland extremely anxious to realize their securities, it operated to an extent well nigh inconceivable. In a period of less than eight years, the Irish Encumbered Estates Commission has dealt with landed property representing a net rental of upwards of £1,450,000 sterling, and covering an area of more than four million one hundred thousand acres. A Court of Justice, sitting in a remote corner of Dublin, has peaceably changed the ownership of a larger mass of land that probably passed under Cromwell's confiscations. Of the vast district brought within its grasp, about six-sevenths, containing three millions five hundred thousand acres, with a rental of one million two hundred and thirty thousand pounds sterling, has been sold and transferred, leaving a residue of six hundred thousand acres of the yearly value of two hundred and twenty thousand pounds sterling still undisposed of. The encumbrances upon the estates already sold, and which hitherto had been pent up in the courts of equity or left in the hands of ruined inheritors reached the extraordinary sum of thirtysix millions sterling, or upwards of twenty lour years' purchase upon the net rental. This single fact shews the state of landed bankruptcy that existed in Ireland, and is an ample justification of the law."
And again, p. 119
"The good done to Ireland by this important statute, and its vast results, are beyond all question. Large tracts of land, which hitherto had no real proprietors, which were either in the hands of Chancery receivers, or of inheritors sunk in debt, on which a lease could not be made, nor a secure tenure be obtained, and which, accordingly, were invariably the receptacles of the worst specimens of the cottier tenantry, have now fallen into the hands of owners who can use them for all the purposes of property. On a great portion of the surface of Ireland there is no longer an impenetrable barrier to natural fanning tenures, and to the legitimate conditions of a real agriculture. Even the breaking up of the large properties into small estates has been of advantage; for it has tended to extend the area of the farmer by reducing the size of private demesnes; it has stimulated provident and industrious habits, by opening the land-market to small capitalists; and probably it has considerably encouraged the investment of money in the improvement of the soil. In a word, a great breadth of Ireland has now been set free, and is subjected to more civilizing influences. The evidences of this most salutary change are perfectly clear in every part of the country. Moderate mansions, neat farmhouses, and good farm buildings, rising from among trim corn fields and pastures,the true proofs of a substantial agricultural middle class,are now to be met with, and that not unfrequently on estates which had long been mouldering in Chancery ruin. As regards this point, however, we prefer to cite a single example to making any general statements.
"In the years 1852, 1853, Mr Allan Pollok, of Glasgow, purchased estates in the county of Galway, under the Encumbered Estates. Act, for which he gave £230,000. He has since expended £150,000 on them in fitting them with proper appliances for agriculture. In the year 1852 there were 100 acres of green crops on his lands, and in the year 1856 there were 2000 acres of green crops, and 3000 of corn. If the improvements effected by other purchasers under the Encumbered Estates Act, even remotely approach the changes accomplished by Mr Pollok, there can be no doubt that the wealth of Ireland will be increased in an extraordinary degree."
The general results are thus stated:
"These laws have wrought a complete revolution in Irish agriculture; have transferred the soil from pauper cottiers to real farmers; have caused an evident improvement in every species of husbandry; have brought capital in large quantities to a hopeful field for investment; have planted in the land a numerous small proprietary, and have settled the true conditions of Irish prosperity. A few figures will demonstrate these results. In the year 1841, the farms in Ireland, exceeding thirty acres in area, were in the proportion of seven to the hundred; at the close of 1855 they had increased to more than 26 per cent., and occupied upwards of three-fourths of the country. In the year 1841, there were about six and a quarter millions of acres out of cultivation; in the year 1855 only four million eight hundred and ninety thousand. In 1847, 727,000 acres of Ireland were under a green crop; in 1855, the number had nearly doubled. In 1841, the livestock of Ireland was valued at £19,400,000. In 1855, at the same rates, it had reached thirty three millions and a half. The average circulation of all the banks of Ireland was in 1850 four millions and a half; at the close of 1855, it had almost increased a third. Lastly, while the Irish excise duties of 1850, amounted to £1,400,000, those of 1856, are £2,600,000. it may, we think, be stated, that so rapid and happy and economical a revolution, so quick a transition from a sinking and perilous, to a hopeful and flourishing landed system, is without a parallel in history. The foundations of Irish prosperity have at length been laid in reformed modes of owning and occupying the soil; and there can be no doubt but that they will support a superstructure of general welfare."
One remark I will make in concluding this brief view. We live in an eventful age. That is a reflexion. which every one is ready to make; every one ready to assent to. But there is a further reflexion suggested by what I have been saying. Besides and beyond the events which make the age appear eventful to common observerswar and peacerevolutions of states and dynastiesthe rise and fall of kingdoms and empires, republics and federationsevents which shake the ground with their earthquake, and fill the air with their thunder; beside and beyond these, there are events taking place, noiseless and almost imperceptibleadvancing like vegetation over a desert, or summer over the woods and fieldsevents of far more consequence than all that comes with convulsion and tumultevents which will by the political economist of the future be regarded as far more important than any political eventshappier than any restoration, more glorious than any revolution:the events of the decay and extinctionto be replaced by something betterin short, the Euthanasiaof Métayer Rents in France, Serf Rents in Russia, Ryot Rents in India, and Cottier Rents in Ireland.