Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI: The Distribution of Landed Property in France - Socialistic Fallacies
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CHAPTER VI: The Distribution of Landed Property in France - Yves Guyot, Socialistic Fallacies 
Socialistic Fallacies (London: Cope and Fenwick, 1910).
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The Distribution of Landed Property in France
On November 21st, 1893, M. Jaurès exclaimed “Ownership of small properties is a legend. Of the seven millions of workers scattered over our soil there are hardly 1,500,000 who own their own land, and by their side are 800,000 farmers, 400,000 small farmers, two millions of farm labourers and two millions of day labourers.” These assertions are drawn from statistics to which M. Jaurès would not find it easy to refer. The facts are as follows.
The number of assessments for taxation of land unbuilt upon is:—
The number has decreased by about 4.9 per cent., a decrease which is due in great measure to the reduction in small properties effected by the law of 1897, which suppressed a certain number.
The number of assessments of land built upon has undergone an insignificant decrease:—
The number of assessments does not indicate the number of owners. According to the inquiry in 1851–1853 there were 7,845,000 owners for 12,445,000, or 63 per cent. A most complete inquiry into the valuation of properties unbuilt upon, made between 1879 and 1883, under the able direction of M. Boutin, exhibits the following proportions:—
The proportion is as follows:—
Admitting the number to have been reduced by 5 per cent., there remain more than eight million owners and 800 per thousand households, or a proportion of 80 per cent. of owners of property in land. A French family consists on an average of four individuals, so that we have 34 million direct or indirect owners of property in land unbuilt upon. We exclude the number of owners of land containing buildings in order to escape the charge of needless repetition, although a number of them only own one property, but we do not include them. It follows that 8 individuals out of 10 are in occupation of land.
A deduction must be made from the 52,857,000 hectares which represent the area of France, of State and municipal lands, which are not taxable, highways, roads, public squares, cemeteries, public buildings, rivers and lakes, and of the State forests occupying an area of 998,000 hectares, say a total of 2,822,000 hectares. This leaves 50,035,000 hectares, from which are to be deducted about 200,000 hectares of land covered with buildings, to which we propose to return, and 105,000 for railways and canals. What proportion of the total area is occupied by agricultural properties? The following list shews their sub-division according to the manner of cultivation:—
The distribution of property according to the size of the holdings, as ascertained by a survey made in 1884, and excluding 7,000 hectares in Paris and about 629,000 hectares in the communes of Corsica, Savoy and Upper Savoy which are not yet surveyed, is as follows:—
Nine-tenths of the holdings are less than six hectares, three-quarters are less than two. A detailed examination shews 2,670,000 holdings of between 20 and 30 ares; 2,482,380 of between 20 and 50, and 1,987,480 of from 50 ares to one hectare, i.e. 8,853,000 holdings or 61.14 per cent. of holdings of less than one hectare in proportion to the whole.
An analysis of the smallest holdings of less than one hectare discloses:—
The Socialist argument is based upon the existence of numerous small properties and of a small number of large proprietors owning the greater part of the soil. Large properties of more than 50 hectares occupy 17,400,000 out of 50,000,000 hectares, i.e. 34 per cent.
After indulging for a long time in recriminations against the sub-division of property, the public now exclaim against the dangers of large properties. From the total of large properties one has to deduct:—
The extent of these is as follows:—
The figure of 50,035,000 is therefore reduced by (in round numbers) 5,000,000, leaving a total area of 45,000,000 hectares. This deduction almost exclusively affects the large properties, whose extent being 17,400,000 hectares is therefore reduced to 12,400,000. But woodlands occupy an area of 8,397,000 hectares apart from the million hectares of State forests, and moorland and other land not under cultivation occupies an area of 6,746,000—a total area of 15,213,000 hectares, Deducting this from the total of 50 million hectares, we obtain 35 million. Woods and moorland are a considerable element in large properties, and are a negligible quantity in the small ones. As compared with the 35 million which are actually productive, we have:—
Small holdings are therefore 36 per cent. of the total area of arable land, meadows, vineyards, gardens, etc.
These figures can be checked by the agricultural survey of 1892, which should have been revised in 1902, but was neglected because so many statesmen and legislators are as frightened of statistics as bad men of business are of a balance-sheet. The small rural properties of less than 10 hectares number 4,852,000 out of 5,700,000 and occupy an area of 11,626,000 hectares. The 711,000 properties of from 10 to 40 hectares occupy 14,312,000 hectares, while the 138,000 properties of more than 40 hectares occupy 22,492,000. But the latter include 5,827,000 hectares of woods and forests and 3,913,000 of moorland, while the properties of from 10 to 40 hectares include 1,567,000 hectares of woods and forests, and 1,367,000 of moorland, giving a total of 7,324,000 hectares of woods and forests and 5,278,000 of moorland. The small properties only contain 1,107,000 hectares of woods and forests and 945,000 of moorland. A deduction of 12,700,000 hectares must therefore be made from the 36,800,000 hectares occupied by large and moderate-sized properties, leaving 23,800,000 hectares occupied by properties of less than 10 hectares.
According to the assessment of 1879–81 the value in the market of woods was 745 francs a hectare, and of moorland 207 francs, while the value of arable land was 2,197 francs and of meadow land 2,961. The agricultural survey of 1892 (p. 359) shows that the relative distribution of various kinds of cultivation (including woods but excluding moorland) was as follows:—
It was thus only in the large properties that the woodlands predominated. The number of large agricultural properties, localised in certain departments, had decreased from 1882 to 1892 from 142,000 to 138,000; the number of quite small ones had risen from 2,168,000 to 2,235,000 and from 1,083,000 hectares to 1,327,000. The average area of each had increased from 0.50 ares to 0.59—an increase of nearly one-fifth, and this increase was observable in 60 departments out of 87. In nearly all the departments North of the Loire and down the left bank of the Rhone as far as the Isère the areas of small and moderate-sized agricultural properties had increased during this decennial period. An inquiry made by order of the Ministry of Agriculture in 1908–1909 shewed that the number of small owners increased in 42 departments, diminished in 13, and remained the same in 17.
The agricultural survey of 1892 shewed that agricultural properties were held as follows:—
The number of tenant farmers has decreased, while the number of occupiers cultivating their own land exclusively has increased. The statistics of the census of 1901 give the number of independent cultivators of agricultural properties as having increased from 3,086,000 in 1896 to 3,469,000 in 1901. The survey of 1892 numbers 7,200,000 separate undertakings; a number of farmers and tenant farmers therefore cultivate two or more undertakings or properties.
M. Augé Laribé, a Socialist, who is the author of a book on vine-growing in the South of France, concludes that “on all points we find ourselves in the presence of contradictions and uncertainties.”1 We should be all the more anxious to congratulate him upon this admission seeing that Socialists have not accustomed us to so much modesty.
M. Briand says2 : “The ownership of his land is necessary to the agriculturist, and such ownership alone will protect him against his misfortunes.” But the Socialist idea, is the abolition of land as the property of the agriculturist, so that M. Briand in submitting the idea of peasant proprietorship is setting up an idea of political conservatism. Nevertheless he is mistaken if he believes that all the cultivators of the soil are anxious to possess their “instrument of labour.” Mr. Winfrey has given an account3 of an attempt at a home-colony which was made for fifteen years in the counties of Lincoln and Norfolk. He placed allotments of land, amounting in 1894 to 1,384 acres, at the disposal of a number of agricultural labourers. He reports that in order to save their small capital and to turn it to the best account they would rather rent their allotments than buy them.
Arthur Young, an English agriculturist, who studied agriculture in France from 1787 to 1789, said of his own countrymen at that time that any of them who possessed £200 “did not buy a piece of land, but rented it and equipped a good farm with the money.” Except in certain parts of the country, where cultivation on a small scale is rendered necessary by the nature of the soil or of what it produces, a French peasant with a piece of land worth such a sum finds it in his interest to sell it and devote the proceeds to the purchase of live stock, plant and improvements, and to rent a piece of land containing 20 or 30 hectares, instead of contenting himself with the two or three hectares which are the equivalent of such a capital sum. He can find an owner who will entrust him with a piece of land worth ten times the amount of his capital.
There is no other industry in which a capitalist on a small scale can obtain an investment of the same extent and with so small a liability. A farmer with method, good health and good management, and a wife with the same qualities, can bring up a family in conditions which are greatly superior than those which would have obtained had he been content with the piece of land of which he was originally the proprietor.
In spite of these advantages to the farmer, neither properties nor agricultural undertakings have tended to become concentrated in France, while German Socialists have been constrained to admit that the same observation holds good in their own country.
The ownership of the property of churches and religious congregations has changed, but not the properties themselves.
“La Viticulture industrielle,” 1907, Giard et Brière, édit.
Discours de Roanne, 24 juin 1906.
At the fifth congress of the International Co-operative Alliance.