Front Page Titles (by Subject) Section VII.—: On the causes which may mislead the Landlord in letting his Lands, to the Injury both of himself and the Country. - Principles of Political Economy
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Section VII.—: On the causes which may mislead the Landlord in letting his Lands, to the Injury both of himself and the Country. - Thomas Robert Malthus, Principles of Political Economy 
Principles of Political Economy (London: W. Pickering, 1836).
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On the causes which may mislead the Landlord in letting his Lands, to the Injury both of himself and the Country.
In the progress of a country towards a high state of improvement, the positive wealth of the landlord ought, upon the principles which have been laid down, gradually to increase; although his relative condition and influence in society will probably rather diminish, owing to the increasing number and wealth of those who live upon the profits of capital.
The progressive fall, with few exceptions,* in the value of the precious metals throughout Europe; the still greater fall, which has occurred in the richest countries, together with the increase of produce which has been obtained from the soil, must all conduce to make the landlord expect an increase of rents on the renewal of his leases. But, in re-letting his farms, he is liable to fall into two errors, which are almost equally prejudicial to his own interests, and to those of his country.
In the first place, he may be induced, by the immediate prospect of an exorbitant rent, offered by farmers bidding against each other, to let his land to a tenant without sufficient capital to cultivate it in the best way, and make the necessary improvements upon it. This is undoubtedly a most short-sighted policy, the bad effects of which have been strongly noticed by the most intelligent land-surveyors in the evidence brought before Parliament; and have been particularly remarkable in Ireland, where the imprudence of the landlords in this respect, combined perhaps with some real difficulty in finding substantial tenants, has aggravated the discontents of the country, and thrown the most serious obstacles in the way of an improved system of cultivation. The consequence of this error is the certain loss of all that future source of rent to the landlord, and wealth to the country, which arises from the good farming of substantial tenants.
The second error to which the landlord is liable, is that of mistaking a mere temporary rise of prices, for a rise of sufficient duration to warrant an increase of rents. It frequently happens that a scarcity of one or two years, or an unusual demand arising from any other cause, may raise the price of raw produce to a height at which it cannot be maintained. And the farmers, who take land under the influence of such prices, will, on the return of a more natural state of things, probably fail, and leave their farms in a ruined and exhausted state. These short periods of high price are of great importance in generating capital upon the land, if the farmers are allowed to have the advantage of them; but if they are grasped at prematurely by the landlord, capital is destroyed instead of being accumulated; and both the landlord and the country incur a loss, instead of gaining a benefit.
Some delay also is desirable in raising rents, even when the rise of prices seems as if it would be permanent. In the progress of prices and rents, rent ought always to be a little behind; not only to afford the means of ascertaining whether the rise be temporary or permanent, but even in the latter case, to give a little time for the accumulation of capital on the land, of which the landholder is sure to feel the full benefit in the end.
There is no just reason to believe, that if, in the present state of this country, the landlords were to give the whole of their rents to their tenants, corn would be in any marked degree cheaper. If the view of the subject, taken in the preceding inquiry, be correct, the last additions made to our home produce are sold at nearly the cost of production, and independent of agricultural improvements the same quantity could not be produced from our own soil at an essentially less price, even without rent, supposing the value of money to remain the same. The effect of transferring all rents to tenants, would be merely the turning them into landlords, and tempting them to cultivate their farms under the superintendence of careless and uninterested bailiffs, instead of the vigilant eye of a master, who is deterred from carelessness by the fear of ruin, and stimulated to exertion by the hope of a competence. The most numerous instances of successful industry, and well-directed knowledge, have been found among those who have paid a fair rent for their lands; who have embarked the whole of their capital in their undertaking; and who feel it their duty to watch over it with unceasing care, and add to it whenever it is possible.
But when this laudable spirit prevails among a tenantry, it is of the very utmost importance to the progress of riches, and the permanent increase of rents, that there should be the power as well as the will to accumulate; and an interval of advancing prices, not immediately followed by a proportionate rise of rents, furnishes the most effective power of this kind. These intervals of advancing prices, when not succeeded by retrograde movements, most effectually contribute to the progress of national wealth. And practically I should say, that when once a character of industry and economy has been established, temporary high profits are a more frequent and powerful source of accumulation than any other cause that can be named.* It is the only cause which seems capable of accounting for the prodigious accumulation among individuals, which must have taken place in this country during the last war, and which left us with a greatly increased capital, notwithstanding the vast annual destruction of stock for so long a period.
Among the temporary causes of high price, which may sometimes mislead the landlord, it is necessary to notice changes in the value of the currency from the issue of paper. When they are likely to be of short duration, they must be treated by the landlord in the same manner as years of unusual demand. But when they continue so long as they did at one time in this country, it is impossible for the landlord to do otherwise than regulate his rent accordingly, and take the chance of being obliged to lessen it again, on the return of the currency to its natural state.
With the cautions here noticed in letting farms, the landlord may fairly look forward to a gradual and permanent increase of rents; and in general, not only to an increase proportioned to the rise in the price of produce, but to the increase of its quantity occasioned by the extension of cultivation, and agricultural improvements.
If in taking rents, which are equally fair for the landlord and tenant, it is found that in successive lettings notwithstanding the increase of cultivation, they do not rise more than in proportion to the price of produce, it will generally be owing to heavy taxation.
Though it is by no means true, as stated by the Economists, that all taxes fall on the neat rents of the landlords, yet it is certainly true that they have little power of relieving themselves. It is also true that they possess a fund more disposeable, and better adapted for taxation than any other. They are in consequence more frequently taxed, both directly and indirectly. And if they pay, as they certainly do, many of the taxes which fall on the capital of the farmer and the wages of the labourer, as well as those directly imposed on themselves, they must necessarily feel it in the diminution of that portion of the whole produce, which under other circumstances would have fallen to their share.
[* ] Among these exceptions, the period since the war of the French revolution forms an important one.
[* ] Adam Smith notices the bad effects of high profits on the habits of the capitalist. They may perhaps sometimes occasion extravagance; but generally, I should say, that extravagant habits were a more frequent cause of a scarcity of capital and high profits, than high profits of extravagant habits.