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LETTER V.: TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE. - John Millar, Letters of Sidney, on Inequality of Property. To which is added, a Treatise of the Effects of War on Commercial Prosperity 
Letters of Sidney, on Inequality of Property. To which is added, a Treatise of the Effects of War on Commercial Prsoperity (Edinburgh: the Office of the Scots Chronicle, 1796).
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TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE.
August 30. 1796.
The disadvantages of inequality of property, considered in a commercial view, are certainly less important than its effects on morals and politics; yet to those, whose opinions are guided merely by considerations of profit and loss, they may perhaps not prove uninteresting. The extent and variety of disquisition to which this might lead, would however be altogether unsuitable to this mode of publication, and therefore I shall confine myself to a few topics, and to a very short illustration.
The whole of the annual produce, it must be evident, arises from the land and labour; and from the savings from this produce, the whole accumulated riches of a nation, as has been demonstrated by the ingenious author of the Wealth of Nations* , must be derived. We may accordingly consider this subject in two different views; we may enquire, whether inequality diminishes the total produce of the land and labour? and whether it prevents a part of that produce from being annually saved and added to the national capital? To both questions, Sir, I apprehend our answer must be in the affirmative.
To those who have paid even a slight attention to the state of agriculture, few proofs of the mischiefs attending the accumulation of great landed estates, will be necessary. The fact is indisputable, that these estates are, almost in every case, worse cultivated than the surrounding country. All the habits of the proprietor are directly opposite to the care, attention, and perseverance, requisite to the improver. He therefore appoints a factor, who must pay a decent attention, but who has seldom any direct interest in the quantity of produce obtained. But the profusion consequent on inequality, produces effects still more detrimental than the indolence of the proprietor; it consumes all those funds which would otherwise have been employed in extensive and beneficial improvement. A man may be sensible that his income might soon be doubled, by a judicious outlay of a small sum of money; but while his expences equal or exceed his revenue, this is altogether out of his power. If he improves, he must do it by borrowing; he will feel the regular payment of the interest from his annual income a very great hardship; and being unaccustomed to any foresight or calculation, he will be too apt to neglect making provision for the repayment of the principal. He will increase his expences as he raises his rents, and will at last be forced to sell the estate to pay the charges of improvement. Experience has shown to landed proprietors the risks which, by this mode of proceeding, they must incur, and usually prefer the alternative of allowing their lands to remain uncultivated. Nor is this all; the same profusion induces them to raise their rents to their utmost pitch, and to grasp at immediate profit, even when attended by future loss. They prefer the tenant who offers the highest rent, without considering that, in order to reimburse himself, he must wear out the land, that, although their income may for a few years be increased, the farm will be nearly ruined at the end of the lease. Nay, to such a degree does the proprietor sometimes carry his folly, as to exact a fine at the beginning of the lease; thus diminishing the little capital of the farmer, which ought to have been employed in stocking his farm; thus precluding that complete cultivation which might have enabled the tenant to maintain his family in comfort, and to pay his rent with chearfulness, while he improved the estate. These circumstances fully account for the wretched condition of most of the great estates; and it must be evident, that they diminish, in a most important degree, the annual produce of the land that is in culture. At the same time, where excessive inequality prevails, large tracts of country are employed as parks, shrubberies, and pleasure-grounds, and thus almost wholly lost to production.
It must be still more obvious that great inequality of property diminishes the amount of the labour of a nation. It must strike even the most careless observer, that the rich, with their numerous train of servants and dependants, the indolent, and the profligate in all ranks of life, add nothing to the annual produce. When we consider the numbers which are thus rendered idle from inequality, we cannot hesitate in asserting that it is extremely hurtful to commercial prosperity. It may be objected, that those who do labour, work more constantly than they could be expected to do under a system of greater equality. This is undoubtedly true; under such a system, none would be oppressed and worn down with labour, but all would be prompted to such reasonable exertions, as would procure them comfort in their age, and secure the education, welfare, and independence of their children. Setting aside the happiness which would result from such an order of things, we may safely assert, that it would greatly increase the aggregate of the produce of labour. The number of those who at present are idle, is beyond computation. Vice prevents many of the middling ranks, and a prejudice against the useful professions prevents still more from exercising a proper industry. It is considered as the characteristic of a gentleman to do no kind of work; he values himself on his frivolity and uselessness. All who wish to rank with gentlemen, although in the most narrow circumstances, must imitate this lazy pride; and, in order to support what they reckon the honourable character of idleness, they submit to the most irksome and degrading of all employments, that of being sycophants to the great. This prejudice against the useful professions has appeared to the greatest of modern philosophers† sufficient, of itself, to account for the declension of commerce under despotical governments. It seems to me to arise, partly from inequality of rights, partly from inequality of property; it is not unknown in England, and, on the Continent, it has prevailed in the most destructive degree.
The ignorance of the labouring people is also very detrimental. In many branches of manufacture, there is room for great improvement by the ingenuity of the workmen; and in every business, the sobriety, attention, and enlargement of mind, consequent on knowledge, would be highly advantageous. Accordingly, in despotic countries, where all enquiry is anxiously forbidden; in Spain and Italy, even the most common and necessary manufactures are still in their infancy, and they are altogether supplied with the finer commodities by their more intelligent neighbours. This might lead to a very interesting speculation; but I shall only remark, in honour of my countrymen, that the number of Scotsmen who, every where, raise themselves in the world, by their ingenuity and industry, is a striking illustration of my opinion. In Scotland, almost every person learns to read and write, and this, as far as I know, is not the case in any other country of Europe. The minds of the people are therefore enlarged, their habits of attention and reasoning are strengthened, and they acquire a shrewdness which, whatever employment they may engage in, gives them a decided superiority over their ignorant competitors. I am, Sir,
[* ]Book II. Chap. III.
[† ]Hume’s Essays, Part I. Essay XII.