Page:The Land Question.djvu/13

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.


in considering what would be an equitable division of the profits of agriculture, I think we ought to proceed in this way: first, the labourer should be kept, I do not say in as good condition as the horses who are his fellow-labourers—that would be too revolutionary—but at any rate in decent comfort; then the landlord should have a trifling payment for as it were putting the tenant in a position to use his capital, say, the value of what the land would grow uncultivated; then the landlord and the farmer should have a reasonable percentage on the actual capital they have put on to the land, and the farmer should have a fair return for his work and superintendence; and if there is something over afterwards, then the landlord might have part of it as purely unearned income over and above what he may fairly claim in respect of his capital invested in buildings, roads, and other improvements. I do not of course mean that this series of calculations is to be worked out year by year; but it does afford us some guidance both in arriving at what is a fair average or annual amount of rent, and also as to the degree in which circumstances modify the equity of a claim to rent. But what actually happens in practice? Until very recently a fixed rent, representing very much more than a return on the landlord's capital so expended, was the first thing to be secured out of the farm profits. Then, after this had been as it were written off, the farmer calculated what remained, and in bad times paid the labourers just enough to keep them alive, and in good times rather more; and the balance, if any, represented the farmer's profit. What ought to have come last came first, and instead of the rent being the surplus that was over after the workers had been paid, the wages of the workers, when they rose above starvation-point, were made dependent upon what the farmer could afford after the fixed and, so to speak, arbitrary amount of rent had been paid. In other words, owing to the great legal powers and the great social ascendency of the landlord, there was a sort of natural combination between the landlord and the farmer against the labourer; and instead of the farmer saying "What rent can I afford to give to the landlord after paying the labourer?" he said "What wages can I afford to give the labourer after paying the landlord's rent?" As you are aware, the landlord had until recent times almost unlimited power of confiscating the tenant's improvements. Everything