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of that good quality in money, of yielding yearly six per cent. to four, does not presently so sink its value, in respect of land, that one-third more is required in exchange: falling of interest from six to four, will not raise land from twenty to thirty years purchase; the rising and falling of the price of land, as of other things, depends much on the quantity of land set to sale, compared with the quantity of money designed for that traffic, or, which amounts to the same thing, upon the number of buyers and sellers; for where there are many sellers and few purchasers, though interest be lessened, land will be cheap, as I have already showed. At least this is certain, that making a law to reduce interest will not raise the price of land; it will only, by driving it more into the banker's hands, leave the country barer of money; whereby, if the price of land about London should be accidentally raised, that of remoter countries would thereby have fewer purchasers, and at lower rates.
This being so, that the low rate of land depends much on the great number of sellers in proportion to purchasers, the next thing to be inquired into is, what makes plenty of sellers? And to that the answer is obvious, general ill husbandry, and the consequence of it, debts. If a neglect of government and religion, ill examples, and depraved education, have introduced debauchery, and art, or chance, has made it fashionable for men to live beyond their estates, debts will increase and multiply, and draw with them'a necessity on men, first of encumbering, and then selling their estates. This is generally the cause why men part with their land: and I think there is scarce one in an hundred that thinks of selling his patrimony, till mortgages have pretty well eat into the freehold; and the weight of growing debts force a man, whether he will or no, out of his possessions. When almost is there ever a clear and unencumbered estate set to sale? It is seldom a thriving man turns his land into money, to make the greater advantage: the examples of it are so rare, that they are scarce of any consideration in the number of sellers.
This, I think, may be the reason, why, in queen
Elizabeth's days (when sobriety, frugality, and industry, brought in daily increase to the growing wealth of the kingdom) land kept up its price, and sold for more years' purchase than corresponded to the interest of money, then busily employed in a thriving trade, which made the natural interest much higher than it is now, as well as the parliament then set it higher by law.
On the contrary side, what makes scarcity of purchasers ?
1. The same reason, ill husbandry. When the tradesman lives up to the height of his income, and the vanity of expenses either drains the merchant's coffers, or keeps them from overflowing, he seldom thinks of purchasing. Buying of land is the result of a full and satiated gain : and men in trade seldom think of laying out their money upon land, till their profit has brought them in more than their trade can well employ; and their idle bags, cumbering their counting-houses, put them upon emptying them on a purchase.
2. Another thing that makes a scarcity of buyers of land, are doubtful and ill titles: where these are frequent and fatal, one can no more expect that men, who have money, should be forward to purchase, than ships, richly laden, to venture themselves amongst rocks and quicksands. It is no wonder such seas should not be much frequented, where the examples and remains of daily wrecks show the folly and hazard of the venture, in the number of those who have miscarried.
3. A general decay of trade discourages men from purchasing: for this threatens an universal poverty, , which is sure to fall first and heaviest upon land. The merchant, who furnishes the improvident landholder, will not fail to have money for his wares with gain, whether the kingdom get by his trade or no, and he will keep his money rather employed in trade, which brings him in profit, (for the merchant may get by a trade that makes the kingdom poor) than lay it out in land, whose rent he sees sinking, and foresees, by the course of trade, is likely to continue to do so. When a nation is running to decay and ruin, the merchant and monied man, do what you can, will be sure to starve last: observe it where you will, the decays that come upon, and bring to ruin any country, do constantly first fall upon the land : and though the country gentleman, (who usually securely relies upon so much a year as was given in at his marriage settlement, and thinks his land an unmoveable fund for such an income) be not very forward to think so; yet this nevertheless is an undoubted truth, that he is more concerned in trade, and ought to take a greater care that it be well managed and preserved, than even the merchant himself. For he will certainly find, when a decay of trade has carried away one part of our money out of the kingdom, and the other is kept in the merchant and tradesman's hands, that no laws he can make, nor any little arts of shifting property amongst ourselves, will bring it back to him again: but his rents will fall, and his income every day lessen, till general industry and frugality, joined to a well-ordered trade, shall restore to the kingdom the riches and wealth it had formerly.
This by the way, if well considered, might let us see, that taxes, however contrived, and out of whose hands soever immediately taken, do, in a country where their great fund is in land, for the most part terminate upon land. Whatsoever the people is chiefly maintained by, that the government supports itself on: nay, perhaps it will be found, that those taxes which seem least to affect land, will most surely of all other fall the rents. This would deserve to be well considered, in the raising of taxes, lest the neglect of it bring upon the country gentleman an evil, which he will be sure quickly to feel, but not be able very quickly to remedy. For rents once fallen are not easily raised again. A tax laid upon land seems hard to the landholder, because it is so much money going visibly out of his pocket: and therefore, as an ease to himself, the landholder is always forward to lay it upon commodities. But, if he will thoroughly consider it, and examine the effects, he will find he buys this seeming ease at a very dear rate: and, though he pays not this tax immediately out of his own purse, yet his purse will find it by a greater want of money there, at the end of the year, than that comes to, with the lessening of his rents to boot : which is a settled and lasting evil, that will stick upon him beyond the present payment.
To make this clear, let us suppose in the present state of affairs in England, that the rents of England are twelve millions, and that the charge and necessities of the government require a supply of three millions from the parliament, which is laid on land. Here is onefourth part of his yearly income goes immediately out of the landlord's and landholder's pocket. This is a burden very apt to be felt. The country gentleman, who actually pays the money out of his pocket, or finds it deducted out of his rent at quarter-day for taxes, sees and very sensibly observes what goes thus out of his estate. But though this be a quarter of his yearly income, and, out of an estate of four hundred pounds a year, the public tax now openly takes away one hundred; yet this influences not at all the yearly rent of the land, which the rack-renter, or under-tenant, pays: it being the same thing to him, whether he pays all his · rent to the king, or his landlord; or half, or a quarter, or none at all to the king; the case is all one to him, what hand receives his rent, when due: so trade flourishes, and his commodities go off well, he will be able to pay his rent on.
This lessens not any more the value of his farm, than a high or a low chief rent does, paid out of it to the lord of the fee: the tenant's bargain and profit are the same, whether the land be charged, or not charged, with an annuity payable to another man. We see this in college leases, where though the college tenant pays for it to the college some years five times as much as he does others, upon the varying rate of corn; yet the under-tenant feels not this alteration in the least, nor finds a reason to have his rent abated, because a greater part of it is diverted from his landlord. All this is but changing the hand that receives the rent, without any influence at all upon the yearly value of the estate; which will not be let for one penny more, or less, to the renter, however, or amongst whomsoever, the rent
he pays be divided. From hence it is evident, that taxes laid on land do not in the least make rents fall.
But suppose, to shift off the burthen from the land, some country gentleman should think fit to raise these three millions upon commodities, to let the land
go free. First, it is to be considered, That since the public wants require three millions, (for that we supposed for argument's sake; let it be three millions, or one million, that is all one) and so much must go into the king's coffers, or else the necessities of the government will not be supplied: that for raising these three millions on commodities, and bringing so much into the exchequer, there must go a great deal more than three millions out of the subjects' pockets. For a tax of that nature cannot be levied by officers, to watch every
little rivulet of trade, without a great charge, especially at first trial. But supposing no more charges in raising it than of a land-tax, and that there are only three millions to be paid, it is evident that, to do this out of commodities, they must, to the consumer, be raised a quarter in their price; so that every thing, to him that uses it, must be a quarter dearer. Let us see now who, at long-run, must pay this quarter, and where it will light. It is plain, the merchant and broker neither will, nor can; for, if he pays a quarter more for commodities than he did, he will sell them at a price proportionably raised. The poor labourer and handicraftsman cannot: for he just lives from hand to mouth already, and all his food, clothing, and utensils costing a quarter more than they did before, either his wages must rise with the price of things, to make him live, or else, not being able to maintain himself and family by his labour, he comes to the parish; and then the land bears the burthen a heavier way. If the labourer's wages be raised in proportion to the increased rates of things, the farmer who pays a quarter more for wages, as well as all other things, whilst he sells his corn and wool, either at the same rate, or lower, at the market (since the tax laid upon it makes people less forward to buy) must either have his rent abated, or else break and run away in his landlord's debt; and so the yearly