Superphysics Superphysics
Part 1a

Food: The raw produce which always affords Rent

by Adam Smith Icon
10 minutes  • 2065 words
Table of contents

10 Food is always in demand because men, like animals, naturally multiply in proportion to their subsistence.

Food can always command labour, especially the class of labour in the neighborhood that grew it. But it might not always command a higher class of labour which have much higher wages than the class that produced the food.

11 Agricultural lands produce more food than is needed by the agricultural labour that produces it.

The surplus food is always more than enough to replace the stock employed, with profits. Therefore, some rent always remains for the landlord.

12 The uncultivated lands of Norway and Scotland produce some pasture for cattle.

It provides milk and meat which is more than enought to:

  • maintain all the labour needed to tend the cattle,
  • pay the ordinary profit to owner of the herd,

The rent increases in proportion to the goodness of the pasture.

In time, more cattle are raised and less labour is needed to tend them.

The landlord gains both ways by:

  • the increase of the produce, and
  • the reduction of the labour which it must maintain.

13 The rent of land varies with its fertility and situation.

Land in a town gives a greater rent than land in a distant part of the country. The distant land may cost the same labour to cultivate, but it must always cost more to bring its produce to the market. Therefore, more labour must be maintained out of the distant land and its surplus price must be reduced. But in the distant parts, the profit rate is generally higher than in a large town. Therefore, a smaller proportion of this reduced surplus must belong to the landlord.

14 Good roads, canals, and navigable rivers reduce transportation costs.

They put the remote parts of the country more equal with those of the town. This makes them the greatest of all improvements. They encourage the cultivation of the remote parts, which makes up most of the country. They are advantageous to the town by breaking down the monopoly of the nearby countryside. They are advantageous even to that countryside by opening new markets to its produce, even if they bring in rival commodities.

This rivalry will encourage good management as a form of self defence. 50 years ago, some people near London petitioned the parliament against the extension of the turnpike roads into the remoter counties.

They pretended that those remoter counties which had cheap labour could:

  • sell their grass and wheat cheaper in London,
  • reduce their rents, and
  • ruin their cultivation.

Their rents, however, have risen.

Their cultivation has improved since then.


15 A moderately fertile wheat field produces more food for man than the best pasture of equal size.

Though its wheat cultivation requires much more labour, the surplus which remains after replacing the seed and maintaining the labour is much greater. If a pound of meat was never supposed to be worth more than a pound of bread, this greater surplus would bring more profit for the farmer and more rent to the landlord. This is universal in the rude beginnings of agriculture.

16 But the relative values of bread and meat are very different in the different periods of agriculture.

In its rude beginnings, the unimproved wilds are all abandoned to cattle. There was more meat than bread. Bread had the highest price due to high competition.

Ulloa says that 50 years ago at Buenos Aires, an ox was priced at 4 reals or 21 pence halfpenny sterling.

Oxen cost little more than the labour of catching them. But everywhere, wheat requires plenty of labour. Labour in Argentina could not be very cheap because it lies on the Rio de Plata river. It is the main artery from the Potosi silver mines in Bolivia to Europe. In the advanced state of agriculture, there is more bread than meat. It raises the price of meat higher than bread.

17 By extending cultivation, the unimproved wilds become insufficient to supply the demand for meat.

Much of the cultivated lands must be employed in rearing and fattening cattle. The price of cattle therefore must be sufficient to pay:

  • the labour for tending them, plus
  • the rent of the landlord, and
  • the profit of the farmer for tillage.

The cattle bred on uncultivated land have the same price as those reared on improved land.

The proprietors of uncultivated land profit by cattle.

They raise their rent with the price of their cattle.

Less than a century ago, meat was cheaper than oatmeal-based bread in the highlands of Scotland. The union opened the market of England to Scottish cattle. Their ordinary price is now three times that at the beginning of the century. The rents of many highland estates have tripled or quadrupled. In Great Britain, 1 pound of the best meat is currently worth more than 2 pounds of the best white bread.

18 In the progress of improvement, the rent and profit of unimproved pasture come to be regulated by the rent and profit of improved pasture.

Improved pasture is then regulated by the rent and profit of wheat Wheat is an annual crop. Meat is a crop which requires four or five years to grow. An acre of land will produce much less meat than wheat. The inferiority of the quantity of meat must be compensated by a superiority of price. If it was more than compensated, more wheat land would be turned into pasture. If it was not compensated, pasture would be brought back into wheat.

19 This equality between the rent and profit of land for grass (food for cattle) and for wheat (food for humans) takes place only in the improved lands of a great country.

However, the rent and profit of grass in some local situations are much superior to the rent and profit from wheat.

20 In a big town, the demand for milk and forage for horses raises the value of grass over wheat.

However, this local rise in grass value cannot be communicated to distant lands.

21 Some countries are so populous that the whole territory has been insufficient for the subsistence of their inhabitants.

Their lands were principally employed in grass production They imported wheat from foreign countries.

22 Holland is currently in this situation, as was ancient Italy during Roman prosperity.

According to Cicero, Cato said that the most profitable things in the management of a private estate were:

  • To feed well
  • To feed tolerably well
  • To feed ill
  • To plough

Tillage was very much discouraged in Italy because of the very low price of wheat from the conquered provinces. Those provinces were obliged to give 10% of their produce at 6-pence a peck to the republic as an alternative to taxes. This low price sunk the price of the wheat produced from Latium (the ancient territory of Rome) and discouraged its cultivation.

23 In an open country which mainly produces wheat, grass land will frequently rent higher than any nearby wheat field.

Grass land is convenient for the maintenance of the cattle for wheat cultivation. Its high rent is paid from the wheat lands cultivated by those cattle. This high rent is likely to fall if the neighbouring lands are completely enclosed. The present high rent of enclosed land in Scotland is due to the scarcity of enclosures. The advantage of enclosure is greater for pasture than for wheat. It saves the labour of guarding the cattle. Those cattle feed better when undisturbed by their keeper or his dog.

24 The rent and profit of the common vegetable food of the people naturally regulates the rent and profit of pasture where there are no enclosures.

25 The use of turnips, carrots, cabbages, etc. as alternative cattle feed for grass, should reduce meat prices over bread.

In the London market, the current price of meat is lower than its price in the beginning of the last century, relative to bread.

26 In the appendix to The Life of Prince Henry, Thomas Birch listed meat prices commonly paid by that prince.

Four quarters of an ox weighing 600 pounds usually cost him 2,280 pence or 380 pence per 100 pounds. Prince Henry died on November 6, 1612 at 19 years old.

27 In March 1764, there was a parliamentary inquiry into the causes of the high prices of provisions.

Proof was given that in March 1763, a Virginia merchant had supplied his ships with food for 288 pence the hundred weight of beef, considered as the ordinary price.

But in that dear year of 1764, he paid 324 pence. However, this high price in 1764 is 56 pence cheaper than the ordinary price paid by prince Henry for the same best beef, fit for distant voyages. [380-324]

28 Prince Henry paid 3.8 pence per pound of ox.

The choice pieces were sold for not less than 4.5 pence to 5 pence per pound by retail.

29 In the parliamentary enquiry in 1764, the witnesses said that:

  • the price of the coarse pieces of the best beef was between 1.75 to 2.75 pence per pound, and
  • the price of the choice pieces were 4 pence to 4.5 pence.

This was 0.5 pence dearer than the same pieces sold in March. But even this high price is still much cheaper than the ordinary retail price in prince Henry’s time.

30 From 1600-1612, the average price of the best wheat at the Windsor market was 459.5 pence the quarter of nine Winchester bushels.

31 But from 1752-1764, the average price of the best wheat was 501.5 pence.

32 From 1600-1612, wheat was much cheaper than meat than from 1752-1764.

33 In all great countries, most of the lands are employed in producing:

  • food for men, such as wheat, or
  • food for cattle, such as pasture.

The rent and profit of lands producing wheat or pasture regulate the rent and profit of all other cultivated land.

If the non-wheat or non-pasture lands provided less rent and profit than wheat and pasture lands, they would soon be turned into wheat or pasture. If they provided more rent and profit than wheat and pasture lands, wheat and pasture lands would soon be turned into whatever they produced.

34 Such lands would need an added cost to be converted.

The profits and rent would be increased to defray this added cost, but they will seldom provide more than this reasonable compensation.

35 In hop, fruit, and kitchen gardens, the landlord’s rent and the farmer’s profit are greater than those of wheat or grass fields.

But its preparation is more expensive. Hence a greater rent becomes due to the landlord of gardens. It needs a more attentive and skilful management, giving more profit to the farmer. The hop and fruit crops too are more precarious. Its price must afford something like the profit of insurance. Gardeners are not commonly over-recompensed. Their delightful art is practised by so many rich people for amusement. It is not so profitable because their rich customers can supply themselves.

36 The advantage that the landlord derives from such improvements were never greater than what was sufficient to compensate their expence.

In ancient husbandry, a well-watered kitchen garden yielded the most valuable produce after the vineyard. Democritus wrote about husbandry 2,000 years ago.

He was regarded as one of the fathers of husbandry. He thought that kitchen gardens should not be enclosed. He said the profit would not compensate the cost of a stone wall, while sun-baked bricks required constant repairs. Columella, who wrote about Democritus, does not deny it.

He proposed a very frugal enclosure with a hedge of brambles and briars acting as a lasting and an impenetrable fence not commonly known in Democritus’ time. Palladius adopted the opinion of Columella which was recommended before by Varro. In the judgment of those ancient improvers, the produce of a kitchen garden was little more than enough to pay the extraordinary cost of watering in warm countries.

In most of Europe, a kitchen garden is not presently supposed to deserve a better enclosure than that recommended by Columella. In Great Britain and some northern countries, a wall is needed for the finer fruits. Their price must be enough to pay the cost of building and maintaining that wall. The fruit-wall that frequently surrounds the kitchen garden is a cost which its own produce could seldom afford.

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