Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 2

Causes of Difference

Causes of Difference.

Causes of Difference.

What then is the cause of this extraordinary difference? Why is it that land in England is in the possession of so few, and in every other part of the world of so many? Is it the result of economic laws only, working freely, without any artificial aid or encouragement by the State, or is it the result of legislation, and of political or social causes? Has it resulted in the full development of the resources of the land? Has page 19 it tended to the well-being of all classes, and

Causes of Difference.

stimulated the industry and promoted the thrift of the lowest, as well as subserved the enjoyment of the highest?

Where a very marked difference is observed in the conditions of one and more countries, the political inquirer instinctively looks about for other differences, and on finding them concurrent in all cases, connects them together as cause and effect. In the case therefore of land ownership, it is not strange that we should at once have our attention called to the fact, that this country differs not only in its condition but in its laws; while in every other country above referred to, the laws either give no sanction to the accumulation of landed property upon eldest sons, or, as in the case of France and some others, compel its distribution equally among all the children on the death of their parent, and generally offer no facilities for the maintenance of property in particular families by means of entails, in this country the law gives prominent sanction to the one practice and facilities for the other.

There are, however, economists, and by no means an unimportant class, who believe that the present distribution of land in England has no reference whatever to these laws, and that it is due solely to economic causes, which they conceive tend in a wealthy country to the inevitable aggregation of land in a few hands, and to a complete separa- page 20

Causes of Difference.

tion of the functions of landowners, farmers, and labourers. In the view of such persons, the existing condition is defensible on the ground that it leads to the best development of the resources of the land, and is inevitable, as .with the growth of wealth and luxury, land itself must become a luxury of the highest quality, the ownership of which can be indulged in only by the rich.

According to this school the existing tendency will be carried much further, and we may look forward, as wealth increases in this country, to the gradual but certain extinction of those few small ownerships of land which still exist in rural districts, and to the absorption of all small estates in larger properties; and they preach the doctrine that the further this monopoly of land, as they frankly admit it to be, is carried, the better will it be for the country, as the better prospect there will be of the duties of landlords being carried out. Land is, and should be, in this view, an article of luxury which only the rich can afford to hold; and it is only to be expected, and is certainly to be desired, that the smaller proprietors should convert their capital as landowners into tenants' capital, by selling their land and becoming the tenants of five times as much land as they could hold as owners.

It may be replied to this, that in other parts of Europe, where there is great accumulation of wealth, there is no such tendency. Belgium is page 21 one of the wealthiest parts of Europe. It compares

Causes of Difference.

with the manufacturing districts of England. In proportion to its size and population, there is certainly as much of capital invested in manufactories and railways; and yet so far from the tendency being to a reduced number of owners, the reverse is the case, and the movement of property is towards a gradually increasing number of landowners. Small capitalists outbid the larger capitalists for landed property; and not only is a great part of Belgium .cultivated by its owners, but of the remaining half a large portion is owned in very small portions, and is let out to farming tenants at very high rents. Land is there the luxury of all classes, although there are many very large proprietors.
The same may be said of Normandy, the wealthiest, happiest, and most populous part of France. It is a rich manufacturing district. There would be the same motive there, as is alleged to exist in England, for small proprietors to sell their lands, become tenants of what they previously owned, and to invest their money either in industrial enterprises returning a much higher rate of interest, or in tenants' capital, enabling them to hire more land than they could own. Yet such is not the fact. Small proprietors give higher prices than large proprietors, prices that would appear to be excessive in the agricultural parts of England, yet there is no tendency for land page 22

Causes of Difference.

to fall into few hands. There is great variety of ownership in that part of France; large owners and small owners intermix; large farms and small farms are found side by side; but the large owners are not prone like pike in a pond to swallow up the smaller fry of their kind.

The price of land in rural districts of France is generally forty years' purchase of the annual value, and often more. The peasants are not without appreciation of other investments giving higher returns; it is well known that the great loans raised of late years to meet the war expenses and the German indemnity, have been mainly raised from the savings of the peasants; they are not the less ready however to purchase land returning one-half less interest. M. de Laverne has shown that the common statement about the indebtedness of the small proprietors in France is not true; the mortgages on their properties average no more than ten per cent, of the value of the land.

The same may be said of Holland, a country where there is more accumulation of savings than in any other part of Europe; whose inhabitants are accustomed to lend out money to every borrowing power in Europe, and often in loans of the most risky nature. They appear none the less able to understand the value of safe investments in land at a very low return. Land is even more valued by the small capitalist than by the wealthy.

So again in the United States. In many of its page 23 States the general condition of society is much

Causes of Difference.

the same as in England. Land in some of the older States has attained a value approaching closely to its agricultural value in England and Ireland, but there is not the smallest tendency to its passing from the hands of the occupiers to a class of proprietary landlords. The land is universally owned by its occupiers.

So far then from being able to draw any conclusions from other countries in favour of the proposition that with advancing civilisation and with increasing wealth and luxury, land tends to fall into fewer hands and to become more exclusively the luxury of a particular class, the very reverse is the case; and everywhere we find other classes competing for land with the wealthy, and giving for it prices, which would be considered very high even in this country.

We are not, however, left to the resource only of comparing existing things and tendencies in other countries with what we experience in this country; we are also able to point to the changes which have been made in those countries, with the very object of bringing about their present state, and of avoiding the condition which this country presents.

It is important to recollect that the condition which exists in England was that exhibited not many years ago throughout the greater part of Europe, that the laws such as we now have in page 24

Causes of Difference.

England were the laws of the whole of Europe, and that Europe has within the last hundred years almost universally abandoned them; and further, that our colonists took these laws with them to the New World, but there speedily got rid of them, finding them opposed to the principles on which their communities were founded, and intolerable in their results upon the free commerce of land.