[Classics] Anti-Dühring

9. Natural Laws of the Economy. Rent of Land

Up to this point we have been unable, despite our sincerest efforts, to discover how Herr Dühring, in the domain of economics, can

“come forward with the claim to a new system which is not merely adequate for the epoch but authoritative for the epoch” {D. K. G. 1}.

However, what we have not been able to discern in his theory of force and his doctrine of value and of capital, may perhaps become as clear as daylight to us when we consider the “natural laws of national economy” {D. C. 4} put forward by Herr Dühring. For, as he puts it with his usual originality and in his trenchant way,

“the triumph of the higher scientific method consists in passing beyond the mere description and classification of apparently static matter and attaining living intuitions which illumine the genesis of things. Knowledge of laws is therefore the most perfect knowledge, for it shows us how one process is conditioned by another” {59}.

The very first natural law of any economy has been specially discovered by Herr Dühring.

Adam Smith, “curiously enough, not only did not bring out the leading part played by the most important factor in all economic development, but even completely failed to give it distinctive formulation, and thus unintentionally reduced to a subordinate role the power which placed its stamp on the development of modern Europe” {64}. This “fundamental law, to which the leading role must be assigned, is that of the technical equipment, one might even say armament, of the natural economic energy of man” {63}.

This “fundamental law” {66} discovered by Herr Dühring reads as follows:

Law No. 1. “The productivity of the economic instruments, natural resources and human energy is increased by inventions and discoveries” {65}.

We are overcome with astonishment. Herr Dühring treats us as Molière's newly baked nobleman is treated by the wag who announces to him the news that all through his life he has been speaking prose without knowing it. That in a good many cases the productive power of labour is increased by inventions and discoveries (but also that in very many cases it is not increased, as is proved by the mass of waste-paper in the archives of every patent office in the world) we knew long ago; but we owe to Herr Dühring the enlightening information that this banality, which is as old as the hills, is the fundamental law of all economics. If “the triumph of the higher scientific method” in economics, as in philosophy, consists only in giving a high-sounding name to the first commonplace that comes to one’s mind, and trumpeting it forth as a natural law or even a fundamental law, then it becomes possible for anybody, even the editors of the Berlin Volks-Zeitung, to lay “deeper foundations” {11} and to revolutionise science. We should then “in all rigour” {9, 95} be forced to apply to Herr Dühring himself Herr Dühring's judgment on Plato:

“If however that is supposed to be political-economic wisdom, then the author of” the critical foundations “shares it with every person who ever had occasion to conceive an idea“ or even only to babble “about anything that was obvious on the face of it” {D. K. G. 20}.

If, for example, we say animals eat, we are saying quite calmly, in our innocence, something of great import; for we only have to say that eating is the fundamental law of all animal life, and we have revolutionised the whole of zoology.

Law No. 2. Division of Labour: “The cleaving of trades and the dissection of activities raises the productivity of labour” {D. C. 73}.

In so far as this is true, it also has been a commonplace since Adam Smith. How far it is true will be shown in Part III.

Law No. 3. “Distance and transport are the chief causes which hinder or facilitate the co-operation of the productive forces” {91}.

Law No. 4. “The industrial state has an incomparably greater population capacity than the agricultural state” {107}.

Law No. 5. “In the economy nothing takes place without a material interest” {126}.

These are the “natural laws” {4, 5} on which Herr Dühring founds his new economics. He remains faithful to his method, already demonstrated in the section on Philosophy. In economics too a few self-evident statements of the utmost banality—moreover quite often very ineptly expressed — form the axioms which need no proof, the fundamental theorems, the natural laws. Under the pretext of developing the content of these laws, which have no content, he seizes the opportunity to pour out a wordy stream of economic twaddle on the various themes whose names occur in these pretended laws—inventions, division of labour, means of transport, population, interests, competition, and so forth—a verbal outpouring whose flat commonplaces are seasoned only with oracular grandiloquence, and here and there with inept formulations or pretentious hair-splitting over all kinds of casuistical subtleties. Then finally we reach rent of land, earnings of capital, and wages, and as we have dealt with only the two latter forms of appropriation in the preceding exposition, we propose now in conclusion to make a brief examination of the Dühringian conception of rent.

In doing this we shall not consider those points which Herr Dühring has merely copied from his predecessor Carey; we are not concerned with Carey, nor with defending Ricardo's views on rent of land against Carey’s distortions and stupidities. We are only concerned with Herr Dühring, and he defines rent as

“that income which the proprietor as such draws from the land” {D. C. 156}.

The economic concept of rent of land, which is what Herr Dühring is to explain, is straightaway transferred by him into the juridical sphere, so that we are no wiser than we were before. Our constructor of deeper foundations must therefore, whether he likes it or not, condescend to give some further explanation. He compares the lease of a farm to a tenant with the loan of capital to an entrepreneur, but soon finds that there is a hitch in the comparison, like in many others.

For, he says, “if one wanted to press the analogy further, the earnings left to the tenant after payment of rent must correspond to the balance of earnings of capital left with the entrepreneur who puts the capital to use after he has paid interest. But it is not customary to regard tenants' earnings as the main income and rent as a balance... A proof of this difference of conception is the fact that in the theory of land rent the case of management of land by the owner is not separately treated, and no special emphasis is laid on the difference between the amount of rent in the case of a lease and where the owner produces the rent himself. At any rate no one has found it necessary to conceive the rent resulting from such self-management of land as divided in such a way that one portion represents as it were the interest on the landed property and the other portion the surplus earnings of enterprise. Apart from the tenant’s own capital which he brings into the business, it would seem that his specific earnings are mostly regarded as a kind of wages. It is however hazardous to assert anything on this subject, as the question has never been raised in this definite form. Wherever we are dealing with fairly large farms it can easily be seen that it will not do to treat what are specifically the farmer’s earnings as wages. For these earnings are themselves based on the antithesis existing in relation to the rural labour-power, through whose exploitation that form of income is alone made possible. It is clearly a part of the rent which remains in the hands of the tenant and by which the full rent, which the owner managing himself would obtain, is reduced” {157-58}.

The theory of land rent is a part of political economy which is specifically English, and necessarily so, because it was only in England that there existed a mode of production under which rent had in fact been separated from profit and interest. In England, as is well known, large landed estates and large-scale agriculture predominate. The landlords lease their land in large, often very large, farms, to tenant-farmers who possess sufficient capital to work them and, unlike our peasants, do not work themselves but employ the labour of hands and day-labourers on the lines of full-fledged capitalist entrepreneurs. Here, therefore, we have the three classes of bourgeois society and the form of income peculiar to each: the landlord, drawing rent of land; the capitalist, drawing profit; and the labourer, drawing wages. It has never occurred to any English economist to regard the farmer’s earnings as a kind of wages, as seems to Herr Dühring to be the case; even less could it be hazardous for such an economist to assert that the farmer’s profit is what it indisputably, obviously and tangibly is, namely, profit on capital. It is perfectly ridiculous to say that the question of what the farmer’s earnings actually are has never been raised in this definite form. In England there has never been any necessity even to raise this question; both question and answer have long been available, derived from the facts themselves, and since Adam Smith there has never been any doubt about them.

The case of self-management, as Herr Dühring calls it — or rather, the management of farms by bailiffs for the landowner’s account, as happens most frequently in Germany—does not alter the matter. If the landowner also provides the capital and has the farm run for his own account, he pockets the profit on capital in addition to the rent, as is self-understood and cannot be otherwise on the basis of the existing mode of production. And if Herr Dühring asserts that up to now no one has found it necessary to conceive the rent (he should say revenue) resulting from the owner's own management as divided into parts, this is simply untrue, and at best only proves his own ignorance once again. For example:

“The revenue derived from labour is called wages. That derived from stock, by the person who manages or employs it, is called profit... The revenue which proceeds altogether from land, is called rent, and belongs to the landlord... When those three different sorts of revenue belong to different persons they are readily distinguished; but when they belong to the same they are sometimes confounded with one another, at least in common language. A gentleman who farms a part of his own estate, after paying the expense of cultivation, should gain both the rent of the landlord and the profit of the farmer. He is apt to denominate, however, his whole gain, profit, and thus confounds rent with profit, at least in common language. The greater part of our North American and West Indian planters are in this situation. They farm, the greater part of them, their own estates, and accordingly we seldom hear of the rent of a plantation, but frequently of its profit... A gardener who cultivates his own garden with his own hands, unites in his own person the three different characters, of landlord, farmer, and labourer. His produce, therefore, should pay him the rent of the first, the profit of the second, and the wages of the third. The whole, however, is commonly considered as the earnings of his labour. Both rent and profit are, in this case, confounded with wages."

This passage is from the sixth chapter of Book I of Adam Smith. The case of self-management was therefore investigated a hundred years ago, and the doubts and uncertainties which so worry Herr Dühring in this connection are merely due to his own ignorance.

He eventually escapes from his quandary by an audacious trick:

The farmer's earnings come from the exploitation of the “rural labour-power” and are therefore obviously a “part of the rent” by which the “full rent”, which really should flow into the landowner’s pocket, “is reduced”.

From this we learn two things. Firstly, that the farmer “reduces” the rent of the landowner, so that, according to Herr Dühring, it is not, as was considered hitherto, the farmer who pays rent to the landowner, but the landowner who pays rent to the farmer—certainly a “from the ground up original view” {D. Ph. 525}. And secondly, we learn at last what Herr Dühring thinks rent of land is: namely, the whole surplus-product obtained in farming by the exploitation of rural labour. But as this surplus-product in all economics hitherto—save perhaps for the work of a few vulgar economists—has been divided into land rent and profit on capital, we are compelled to note that Herr Dühring's view of rent also is “not the accepted one” {D. K. G. 497}.

According to Herr Dühring, therefore, the only difference between rent of land and earnings of capital is that the former is obtained in agriculture and the latter in industry or commerce. And it was of necessity that Herr Dühring arrived at such an uncritical and confused view of the matter. We saw that his starting-point was the “really historical conception”, that domination over the land could be based only on domination over man. As soon, therefore, as land is cultivated by means of any form of subjugated labour, a surplus for the landlord arises, and this surplus is the rent, just as in industry the surplus-labour product beyond what the labourer earns is the profit on capital.

“Thus it is clear that land rent exists on a considerable scale wherever and whenever agriculture is carried on by means of any of the forms of subjugation of labour” {D. C. 162}.

In this presentation of rent as the whole surplus-product obtained in agriculture, Herr Dühring comes up against both English farmer’s profit and the division, based on English farming and recognised by all classical political economy, of that surplus-product into rent of land and farmer’s profit, and hence against the pure, precise conception of rent. What does Herr Dühring do? He pretends not to have the slightest inkling of the division of the surplus-product of agriculture into farmer’s profit and rent, and therefore of the whole rent theory of classical political economy; he pretends that the question of what farmer’s profit really is has never yet been raised “in this definite form” {157}, that at issue is a subject which has never yet been investigated and about which there is no knowledge but only illusion and uncertainty. And he flees from fatal England—where, without the intervention of any theoretical school, the surplus-product of agriculture is so remorselessly divided into its elements: rent of land and profit on capital—to the country so beloved by him, where the Prussian law exercises dominion, where self-management is in full patriarchal bloom, where “the landlord understands by rent the income from his plots of land” and the Junkers’ views on rent still claim to be authoritative for science—where therefore Herr Dühring can still hope to slip through with his confused ideas of rent and profit and even to find credence for his latest discovery: that rent of land is paid not by the farmer to the landlord but by the landlord to the farmer.