Essay on the Nature of Commerce
[Part 2 of 7]
All Classes and Individuals in a State subsist or are enriched at
the Expense of the Proprietors of Land.
There are none but the prince and the proprietors of land who live
independent; all other classes and inhabitants are hired or are
undertakers. The proof and detail of this will be developed in the
If the prince and proprietors of land close their estates and will
not suffer them to be cultivated it is clear that there would be
neither food nor rayment for any of the inhabitants; consequently all
the individuals are supported not only by the produce of the land
which is cultivated for the benefit of the owners but also at the
expense of these same owners from whose property they derive all that
The farmers have generally two thirds of the produce of the land, one
for their costs and the support of their assistants, the other for the
profit of their undertaking: on these two thirds the farmer provides
generally directly or indirectly subsistence for all those who live in
the country, and also mechanics or undertakers in the city in respect
of the merchandise of the city consumed in the country.
The proprietor has usually one third of the produce of his land and
on this third he maintains all the mechanics and others whom he
employs in the city as well, frequently, as the carriers who bring the
produce of the country to the city.
It is generally calculated that one half of the inhabitants of a
kingdom subsist and make their abode in cities, and the other half
live in the country; on this supposition the farmer who has two thirds
or four sixth of the produce of the land, pays either directly or
indirectly one sixth to the citizens in exchange for the merchandise
which he takes from them. This sixth with the one third or two sixths
which the proprietor spends in the city makes three sixths or one half
of the produce of the land. This calculation is only to convey a
general idea of the proportion; but in fact, if half of the
inhabitants live in the cities they consume more than half of the
land's produce, as they live better than those who reside in the
country and spend more of the produce of the land being all mechanics
or dependents of the proprietors and consequently better maintained
than the assistants and dependents of the farmers.
But let this matter be how it will, if we examine the means by which
an inhabitant is supported it will always appear in returning back to
the fountain head, that these means arise from the land of the
proprietor either in the two thirds reserved by the farmer, or the one
third which remains to the landlord.
If a proprietor had only the amount of land which he lets out to one
farmer the farmer would get a better living out of it than himself;
but the nobles and large landowners in the cities have sometimes
several hundreds of farmers and are themselves very few in number in
proportion to all the inhabitants of a state.
True there are often in the cities several undertakers and mechanics
who live by foreign trade, and therefore at the expense of foreign
landowners: but at present I am considering only a state in regard to
its own produce and industry, not to complicate my argument by
The land belongs to the proprietors but would be useless to them if
it were not cultivated. The more labour is expended on it, other
things being equal, the more it produces; and the more its products
are worked up, other things being equal, the more value they have as
merchandise. Hence the proprietors have need of the inhabitants as
these have of the proprietors; but in this economy it is for the
proprietors, who have the disposition and the direction of the landed
capital, to give the most advantageous turn and movement to the whole.
Also everything in a state depends on the fancy, methods, and fashions
of life of the proprietors of land in especial, as I will endeavour to
make clear later in this essay.
It is need and necessity which enable farmers, mechanics of every
kind, merchants, officers, soldiers, sailors, domestic servants and
all the other classes who work or are employed in the state, to exist.
All these working people serve not only the prince and the landowners
but each other, so that there are many of them who do not work
directly for the landowners, and so it is not seen that they subsist
on the capital of these proprietors and live at their expense. As for
those who exercise professions which are not essential, like dancers,
actors, painters, musicians, etc. they are only supported in the state
for pleasure or for ornament, and their number is always very small in
proportion to the other inhabitants.
The circulation and exchange of goods and merchandise as well as
their production are carried on in Europe by Undertakers, and at a
The farmer is an undertaker who promises to pay to the landowner, for
his farm or land, a fixed sum of money (generally supposed to be equal
in value to the third of the produce) without assurance of the profit
he will derive from this enterprise. He employs part of the land to
feed flocks, produce corn, wine, hay, etc. according to his judgment
without being able to foresee which of these will pay best. The price
of these products will depend partly on the weather, partly on the
demand; if corn is abundant relatively to consumption it will be dirt
cheap, if there is scarcity it will be dear. Who can foresee the
increase or reduction of expense which may come about in the families?
And yet the price of the farmer's produce depends naturally upon these
unforeseen circumstances, and consequently he conducts the enterprise
of his farm at an uncertainty. ...
By all these inductions and many others which might be made in a
topic relating to all the inhabitants of a state, it may be laid down
that expect the prince and the proprietors of land, all the
inhabitants of a state are dependent; that they can be divided into
two classes, undertakers and hired people; and that all the
undertakers are as it were on unfixed wages and the others on wages
fixed so long as they receive them though their functions and ranks
may be very unequal. The general who has his pay, the courtier his
pension and the domestic servant who has wages all fall into this last
class. All the rest are undertakers, whether they set up with a
capital to conduct their enterprise, or are undertakers of their own
labour without capital, and they may be regarded as living at
uncertainty; the beggars even and the robbers are undertakers of this
class. Finally all the inhabitants of a state derive their living and
their advantages from the property of the landowners and are
It is true, however, that if some person on high wages or some large
undertaker has saved capital or wealth, that is if he have stores of
corn, wool, copper, gold, silver or some produce or merchandise in
constant use or vent in a state, having an intrinsic or a real value,
he may be justly considered independent so far as this capital goes.
He may dispose of it to acquire a mortgage, and interest from land and
from public loans secured upon land: he may live still better than the
small landowners and even buy the property of some of them.
But produce and merchandise, even gold and silver, are much more
subject to accident and loss than the ownership of land; and however
one may have gained or saved them they are always derived from the
land of actual proprietors either by gain or by saving of the wages
destined for one's subsistence.
The number of proprietors of money in a large state is often
considerable enough; and though the value of all the money which
circulates in the state barely exceeds the ninth or tenth part of the
value of the produce drawn from the soil yet, as the proprietors of
money lend considerable amounts for which they receive interest either
by mortgage or the produce and merchandise of the state, the sums due
to them usually exceed all the money in the state, and they often
become so powerful a body that they could in certain cases rival the
proprietors of lands if these last were not often equally proprietors
of money, and if the owners of large sums of money did not always seek
to become landowners themselves.
It is nevertheless always true that all the sums gained or saved have
been drawn from the land of the actual proprietors; but as many of
these ruin themselves daily in a state and the others who acquire the
property of their land take their place, the independence given by the
ownership of land applies only to those who keep the possession of it;
and as all land has always that it is from their property that all the
inhabitants of the state derive their living and all their wealth. If
these proprietors confined themselves to living on their rents it
would be beyond question, and in that case it would be much more
difficult for the other inhabitants to enrich themselves at their
I will then lay it down as a principle that the proprietors of land
alone are naturally independent in a state: that all the other classes
are dependent whether undertakers or hired, and that all the exchange
and circulation of the state is conducted by the medium of these
The Fancies, the Fashions, and the Modes of Living of the Prince,
and especially of the Landowners, determine the use to which Land is
put in a State and cause the variations in the Market price of all
If the owner of a large estate (which I wish to consider here as if
there were no other in the world) has it cultivated himself he will
follow his fancy in the use of which he will put it. (1) He will
necessarily use part of it for corn to feed the labourers, mechanics
and overseers who work for him, another part to feed the cattle, sheep
and other animals necessary for their clothing and food or other
commodities according to the way in which he wishes to maintain them.
(2) He will turn part of the land into parks, gardens, fruit trees or
vines as he feels inclined and into meadows for the horses he will use
for his pleasure, etc. ...
The owner, who has at his disposal the third of the produce of the
land, is the principal agent in the changes which may occur in demand.
Labourers and mechanics who live from day to day change their mode of
living only from necessity. If a few farmers, master craftsmen or
other undertakers in easy circumstances vary their expense and
compensation they always take as their model the lords and owners of
the land. They imitate them in their clothing, meals, and mode of
life. If the landowners please to wear fine linen, silk, or lace, the
demand for these merchandises will be greater than that of the
proprietors for themselves.
If a lord or owner who has let out all his lands to farm, take the
fancy to change considerably his mode of living; if for instance he
decreases the number of his domestic servants and increases the number
of his horses: not only will his servants be forced to leave the
estate in question but also a proportionate number of artisans and of
labourers who worked to maintain them. The portion of land which was
used to maintain these inhabitants will be laid down to grass for the
new horses, and if all landowners in the state did the like they would
soon increase the number of horses and diminish the number of men.
When a landowner has dismissed a great number of domestic servants,
and increased the number of his horses, there will be too much corn
for the needs of the inhabitants, and so the corn will be cheap and
the hay dear. In consequence the farmers will increase their grass
land and diminish their corn to proportion it to the demand. In this
way the fancies or fashions of landowners determine the use of the
land and bring about the variations of demand which cause the
variations of market prices. If all the landowners of a state
cultivated their own estates they would use them to produce what they
want; and as the variations of demand are chiefly caused by their mode
of living the prices which they offer in the market decide the farmers
to all the changes which they make in the employment and use of the
I do not consider here the variations in market prices which may
arise from the good or bad harvest of the year, or the extraordinary
consumption which may occur from foreign troops or other accidents, so
as not to complicate my subject, considering only a state in its
natural and uniform condition.
The Increase and Decrease of the Number of People in a State
chiefly depend on the taste, the fashions, and the modes of living of
the proprietors of land
Experience shows that trees, plants and other vegetables can be
increased to any quantity which the extent of ground laid out for them
he same experience shows that all kinds of the animal creation are to
be multiplied to any quantity which the land allotted to them can
support. ...In a word, we can multiply all sorts of animals in such
numbers as we wish to maintain even to infinity if we could find lands
to infinity to to nourish them; and the multiplication of animals has
no other bounds than the greater or less means allotted for their
subsistence. It is not to be doubted that if all land were devoted to
the simple sustenance of man the race would increase up to the number
that the land would support in the manner to be explained. ...
If the proprietors of land had at heart the increase of population,
if they encouraged the peasants to marry young and bring up children
by promising to provide them with subsistence, devoting their land
entirely to that purpose, they would doubtless increase the population
up to the point which the land could support, according to the produce
they allotted for each person whether an acre and a half or four to
five acres a head.
But if instead of that the prince, or the proprietors of land, cause
the land to be used for other purposes than the upkeep of the people:
if by the prices they offer in the market for produce and merchandise
they determine the farmers to employ the land for other purposes than
the maintenance of man (for we have seen that the prices they offer in
the market and their consumption determine the use made of the land
just as if they cultivated it themselves) the people will necessarily
diminish in number. Some will be forced to leave the country for lack
of employment, others not seeing the necessary means of raising
children, will not marry or will only marry late, after having put
aside somewhat for the support of the household.
If the proprietors of land who live in the country go to reside in
the cities far away from their land, horses must be fed for the
transport into the city both of their food and that of all the
domestic servants, mechanics and others whom their residence in the
city attracts thither. ...
But when the nobility and proprietors of land draw from foreign
manufactures their cloths, silks, laces, etc. and pay for them by
sending to the foreigner their native produce they diminish
extraordinary the food of the people and increase that of foreigners
who often become enemies of the state. ...
When I said that the proprietors of land might multiply the
population as far as the land would support them, I assumed that most
men desire nothing better than to marry if they are set in a position
to keep their families in the same style as they are content to live
themselves. That is, if a man is satisfied with the produce of an acre
and a half of land he will marry if the is sure of having enough to
keep his family in the same way. But if he is only satisfied with the
produce of five to ten acres he will be in on hurry to marry unless he
thinks he can bring up his family in the same manner. ...
In Europe the children of the nobility are brought up in affluence;
and as the largest share of the property is usually given to the
eldest sons, the younger sons are in no hurry to marry. They usually
live as bachelors, either in the army or in the cloisters, but will
seldom be fond unwilling to marry if they are offered heiresses and
fortunes, or the means of supporting a family on the footing which
they have in view and without which they would consider themselves to
make their children wretched. ...
If the proprietors of land help to support the families, a single
generation suffices to push the increase of population as far as the
produce of the land will supply means of subsistence. ...
The increase of population can be carried furthest in the countries
where the people are content to live the most poorly and to consume
the least produce of the soil. In countries where all the peasants and
labourers are accustomed to eat meat and drink wine, beer, etc. so
many inhabitants cannot be supported. ...
Men multiply like mice in a barn if they have unlimited means of
subsistence; and the English in the colonies will become more numerous
in proportion in three generations than they would be in thirty in
England, because in the colonies they find for cultivation new tracts
of land from which they drive the savages.
In all countries at all times men have waged wars for the land and
the means of subsistence. When wars have destroyed or diminished the
population of a country, the savages and civilised nations soon
repopulate in in times of peace; especially when the prince and the
proprietors of land lend their encouragement.
A state which has conquered several provinces may, by tribute imposed
on the vanquished, acquire an increase of subsistence for its own
people. The Romans drew a great part of their subsistence from Egypt,
Sicily and Africa and that is why Italy then contained so many
A state where mines are found, having manufactures which do not
require much of the produce of the land to send them into foreign
countries, and drawing from them in exchange plentiful merchandise and
produce of the land, acquires an increased fund for the subsistence of
its subjects. ...
But all these advantages are refinements and exceptional cases which
I mention only incidentally. The natural and constant way of
increasing population in a state is to find employment for the people
there, and to make the land serve for the production of their means of
It is also a question outside of my subject whether it is better to
have a great multitude of inhabitants, poor and badly provided, than a
smaller number, much more at their ease: a million who consume the
produce of 6 acres per head or 4 million who live on the product of an
acre and a half.