An Essay on Profits

An Essay on Profits



In treating on the subject of the profits of capital, it is necessary to consider the princples which regulate the rise and fall of rent; as rent and profits, it will be seen, have a very intimate connexion with each other. The principles which regulate rent are briefly stated in the following pages, and differ in a very slight degree from those which have been so fully and so ably developed by Mr Malthus in his late excellent publication, to which I am very much indebted. The consideration of those principles, together with those which regulate the profit of stock, have convinced me of the policy of leaving the importation of corn unrestricted by law. From the general principle set forth in al Mr Malthus's publications, I am persuaded that he holds the same opinion as far as profit and wealth are concerned with the question; -- but, viewing, as he does, the danger as formidable of depending on foreign supply for a large portion of our food, he considers it wise, on the whole, to restrict importation. Not participating with him in those fears, and perhaps estimating the advantages of a cheap price of corn at a higher value, I have come to a different conclusion. Some of the objections urged in his last publication, -- "Grounds of an Opinion," &c. I have endeavoured to answer; they appear to me unconnected with the political danger he apprehends, and to be inconsistent with the general doctrines of the advantages of a free trade, which he has himself, by his writings, so ably contributed to establish.


Mr Malthus very correctly defines, "the rent of land to be that portion of the value of the whole produce which remains to the owner, after all the outgoings belonging to its cultivation, of whatever kind, have been paid, including the profits of the capital employed, estimated according to the usual and ordinary rate of the profits of agricultural stock at the time being."Whenever, then, the usual and ordinary rate of the profits of agricultural stock, and all the outgoings belonging to the cultivation of land, are together equal to the value of the whole produce, there can be no rent.

And when the whole produce is only equal in value to the outgoings necessary to cultivation, there can neither be rent nor profit.

In the first settling of a country rich in fertile land, and which may be had by any one who chooses to take it, the whole produce, after deducting the outgoings belonging to cultivation, will be the profits of capital, and will belong to the owner of such capital, without any deduction whatever for rent.

Thus, if the capital employed by an individual on such land were of the value of two hundred quarters of wheat, of which half consisted of fixed capital, such as buildings, implements, &c.

and the other half of circulating capital, -- if, after replacing the fixed and circulating capital, the value of the remaining produce were one hundred quarters of wheat, or of equal value with one hundred quarters of wheat, the neat profit to the owner of capital would be fifty per cent or one hundred profit on two hundred capital.

For a period of some duration, the profits of agricultural stock might continue at the same rate, because land equally fertile, and equally well situated, might be abundant, and therefore, might be cultivated on the same advantageous terms, in proportion as the capital of the first, and subsequent settlers augmented.

Profits might even increase, because the population increasing, at a more rapid rate than capital, wages might fall;and instead of the value of one hundred quarters of wheat being necessary for the circulating capital, ninety only might be required: in which case, the profits of stock would rise from fifty to fifty-seven per cent.

Profits might also increase, because improvements might take place in agriculture, or in the implements of husbandry, which would augment the produce with the same cost of production.

If wages rose, or a worse system of agriculture were practised, profits would again fall.

These are circumstances which are more or less at all times in operation -- they may retard or accelerate the natural effects of the progress of wealth, by rising or lowering profits -- by increasing or diminishing the supply of food, with the employment of the same capital on the land.(1*)We will, however, suppose that no improvements take place in agriculture, and that capital and population advance in the proper proportion, so that the real wages of labour, continue uniformly the same; -- that we may know what peculiar effects are to be ascribed to the growth of capital, the increase of population, and the extension of cultivation, to the more remote, and less fertile land.

In this state of society, when the profits on agricultural stock, by the supposition, are fifty per cent the profits on all other capital, employed either in the rude manufactures, common to such a stage of society, or in foreign commerce, as the means of procuring in exchange for raw produce, those commodities which may be in demand, will be also, fifty per cent.(2*) If the profits on capital employed in trade were more than fifty per cent capital would be withdrawn from the land to be employed in trade. If they were less, capital would be taken from trade to agriculture.