The Science of Political Economy
Book III, The Production of Wealth*
The First Factor Of Production -- Land
Showing That Land Is The Natural Or Passive Factor In All Production
Man produces by drawing from nature. Land, in political economy, is the term for that from which he draws -- for that which must exist before he himself can exist. In other words, the term land in political economy means the natural or passive element in production, and includes the whole external world accessible to man, with all its powers, qualities and products, except perhaps those portions of it which are for the time included in man's body or in his products, and which therefore temporarily belong to the categories, man and wealth, passing again in their re-absorption by nature into the category, land.
The original and ordinary meaning of the word, land, is that of dry superficies of the earth as distinguished from water or air. But man, as distinguished from the denizens of the water or the air, is primarily a land animal. The dry surface of the earth is his habitat, from which alone he can venture upon or make use of any other element, or obtain access to any other material thing or potency. Thus, as a law term, land means not merely the dry superficies of the earth, but all that is above and all that may be below it, from zenith to nadir. For the same reason the word land receives like extension of meaning when used as a term of political economy, and comprises all having material form that man has received or can receive from nature, that is to say, from God.
Thus the term "land" in political economy means the natural or passive factor, on which and by or through which labor produces, and can alone produce.
But that land is only a passive factor in production must be carefully kept in mind. It is a thing, but not a person, and though the tendency to personification leads not merely in poetry but in common speech to the use of phrases which attribute sentiment and action to land, it is important to remember that when we speak of a smiling, a sullen, or an angry landscape, of a generous or a niggard land, of the earth giving or the earth receiving, or rewarding or denying, or of nature tempting or forbidding, aiding or preventing, we are merely using figures of speech more forcibly or more gracefully to express our own feelings by reflection from inanimate objects. In the production of wealth land cannot act; it can only be acted upon. Man alone is the actor.
Nor is this principle changed or avoided when we use the word land as expressive of the people who own land. Landowners, as landowners, are as purely passive in production as land itself; they take no part in production whatever. When Arthur Young spoke of the "magic of property turning sands to gold" he was using a figure of speech. What he meant to say was that the effect of security in the enjoyment of the produce of labor on land was to induce men to exert that labor with more assiduity and intelligence, and thus to increase the produce. Land cannot know whether men regard it as property or not, nor does that fact in any degree affect its powers. Sand is sand and gold is gold, and the rain falls and the sun shines, as little affected by the moral considerations that men recognize as the telegraph-wire is affected by the meaning of the messages that pass through it, or as the rock is affected by the twitter of the birds that fly over it.
I speak of this because although their definition of land as a factor in production is precisely that which I have given, there is to be found in the accepted treatises on political economy a constant tendency to the assumption that landowners, through their ownership of land, contribute to production.
That the persons whom we call landowners may contribute their labor or their capital to production is of course true, but that they should contribute to production as landowners, and by virtue of that ownership, is as ridiculously impossible as that the belief of a lunatic in his ownership of the moon should be the cause of her brilliancy.
We could not if we would, and should not if we could, utterly eschew metaphors; but in political economy we must be always careful to hold them at their true meaning.