English Property Rights Vs French Peasant Farming


English Property Rights Vs. French Peasant Farming & Productivity Essay, Research Paper

The view that England?s advantage in terms

of agricultural productivity was related to its system of property rights and

agrarian institutions is far from new.?

It was Arthur Young in the late 18th century that famously

cited enclosure as the major factor in the differing levels of agricultural

productivity the two countries.? To

Young big was beautiful and the agglomerated and enclosed farms of England were

far superior to the ?infinitesimally small? peasant farms of

France.? Young furthered his arguments

by suggesting that partage, the opposite of English primogeniture, augmented

the creation of inefficiently small farms.?

On the standard of living of the peasants who inhabited these farms, he

remarked: ?In general they are poor and miserable, much arising from the minute

division of their little farms among all children?.? On the subject of agrarian institutions Young was equally

scathing.? He described the open field

system as ?The Goths and Vandals of the open system? as well as

referring to French agricultural practices as barbarous.? The classic, pre-revisionist response to

this question is an unequivocal yes.?

However a revisionist school has countered the tradition of Young and

others.? A reassessment of old data and

the formulation of new data have led to opposing answers to this question.? In this essay I will outline and discuss the

classic as well as the revisionist arguments.Allen terms the classic viewpoint on

property rights and agrarian institutions as Agricultural Fundamentalism.? Agricultural fundamentalism explains how and

why England?s agriculture developed more quickly than France?s.? This theory emphasizes how agrarian

institutions and property rights were crucial to the development of English

agriculture and the so-called retardation of French agriculture.? Enclosure, a concept that contains

institutional and teneurial facets, is central to this classic argument.? The enclosures of open-fields created

capitalist farming and extended markets.?

Agglomerated farms allowed the accumulation of capital, which in turn

led to the rapid diffusion of more intensive mixed husbandry techniques.? With greater capital accumulation a greater

intensity of animals could be farmed, thus raising output from animal products,

and raising arable yields through the nitrogen-fixing properties of manure.? Young argued that larger, enclosed farms

were necessary for this intensification of livestock rearing.? Marxists and Tories alike agreed that

enclosure raised agricultural productivity and output, although only the

Marxists argued that it led to a fall in rural employment.? The enclosure movement in England,

especially the post 1750 Parliamentary Enclosure movement allowed now redundant

rural labour to move into urban areas to power the industrial revolution.? The agricultural revolution was a

prerequisite for the industrial revolution.Traditionally it has been argued that

France?s failure to match England?s agricultural productivity, or its failure

to reform its agricultural system, necessitated its much slower industrial

development.? The agrarian revolution

was delayed which in turn restricted industrial growth.? France?s failure to enclose its open fields

was seen by Young as the reason for France?s failure to improve agriculture

productivity.? There can be no doubt

whatsoever that France was slow to enclose.?

By the end of 19th century 40% of French agricultural land

was still in peasant hands, whereas a mere 11% was in the hands of the English

rural poor.? France?s failure to enclose

has been linked to a wide variety of factors.?

The strength and experience of the peasantry in maintaining their access

rights from the seigneurs went back decades, and historians have suggested that

ancien regime monarchs protected such rights in order to protect their tax

base.? The French revolution, which

occurred during the height of the third enclosure movement in England served to

strengthen the peasants? position.?

Partage and other inheritance measures meant small farms persisted,

whilst judicial and tax reforms eased the peasantry?s economic burden.? The accompanying inflation of the period

served to eradicate peasant debt which augmented the peasant?s ability to buy

land.? The French peasantry, as O?Brien

describes, were wiling to trade the short run gains from enclosure for the

stability and wealth of landowning.? In

contrast rural workers in England continued to lose land.? The power of the French peasantry and their

penchant for landownership is directly contrasted with the seemingly helpless

and landless position of the rural population in England.? In England the enclosure movement, which

originated with tenant evictions in 16th century, had all but removed peasant

rights to common land by 1815.? The

English peasantry now worked for larger, more efficient capitalist farms owned

by a few great landowners.? This

concentration of landownership is traced back to the aristocratic domains

generated by the Norman Conquest of 1066.?

The strong British monarchy and ability of the governing classes to ride

roughshod over the rural masses allowed the open-field system to be enclosed,

agricultural productivity to rise and labour to be released into the growing

urban manufacturing sectors.? The

differing political and legal heritages of the two countries facilitated

differing levels of enclosure at differing times, which in turn raised England?s

agricultural productivity ahead of France and allowed agrarian and industrial

revolutions to proceed apace. This classic argument has been revised in

the last forty years. There have been a variety of challenges to the basic

thesis, but for this essay two main criticism stand out.? Firstly, the causal function of the system

of property ownership and agrarian institutions has been reviewed and secondly

the extent of the productivity gap has been called into question.? Allen and others have questioned the role of

enclosure in increasing agricultural productivity and thus revising the

seemingly sacred rhetoric of Young and the early secondary historians.? Allen?s study of the South Midlands placed

emphasis on yields as opposed to real rents as a measure of agricultural

productivity.? Rents are poor indicators

of agricultural productive, as Clark argues, as they are distorted in their raw

format by land inflation and tithe levels.?

Turner, Becket and Afton highlighted very low real rents rises accruing

from enclosure, and Clark estimated that a 40% rise was the very highest

possible increase.? Thus Overton?s

argument that parliamentary enclosure directly caused some kind of agrarian

revolution is contradicted by rent level data.?

Allen is even more skeptical of the productivity effects of enclosure.? He negates the rent problem by analyzing

yield data in the south Midlands.? He

sees the period of 1750 to 1800, the apex of the parliamentary enclosure

movement, as a period of stagnation in productivity growth.? He does admit that enclosure had some

positive productivity effects at differing levels of agricultural intensity,

but crucially he sees these small gains in the context of a longer period of

productivity growth.? Allen argues for a

rising productivity trend since the middle ages and makes to sure emphasize the

role of open-farmers in increasing yields per acre.? Allen sees a yeoman revolution, which enabled large productivity

growth on owner-occupied farms followed by a landlord revolution.? Was it the system of tenure that allowed the

yeomanry to develop on owner occupied farms that allowed productivity to rise?

The yeomanry powered productivity growth on open fields whilst enclosure by the

landlords merely redistributed income in their favour as rents rose to reflect

their true market value.? In this way he

sees Young as an apologist for the aristocracy.? Young?s proclamations of efficiency, new intensive husbandry and

higher levels of capital are in Allen?s eyes an attempt to conceal a

self-interested process of income redistribution.? Clark adds weight to Allen?s argument by questioning why

enclosure did not occur earlier.? Clark

dismisses real rent gains estimated at well over 100% by contemporary sources

and labels 18th century reformers as ?wild-eyed?.? The efficiency gain of enclosure was only

2.8% between 1720 and 1840 and barely profitable before this period.? Enclosure happened at this time because the

relative costs of the investment needed for enclosure fell.? Clark states that common fields persisted in

northern Europe because they were not inefficient!? If enclosure was so profitable and productive why did it not

happen earlier?If we question the role of property rights

and agrarian institutions as the main reason behind the differences in

productivity we must seek alternatives for the supposed productivity gap.? Newell argues that the diffusion of mixed

husbandry was at least partly responsible for the agricultural revolution.? He sees the adoption of these new forms of

husbandry as crucial to the raising of yields.?

His argument would therefore support a positive answer to the question

by suggesting that the earlier diffusion of mixed husbandry in England was

responsible for its earlier agricultural productivity growth.? However, Grantham continues where Newell

left off by suggesting that the relatively slow diffusion of intensive animal

husbandry in France was in a large measure due to factor endowments.? Grantham sees the lands around Paris

utilizing the modern husbandry more readily because of the loamy nature of the

soil. The costs of converting to this new husbandry were high and a farm?s

productivity often fell upon initial conversion.? Therefore diffusion would be quickest in areas were yields would

recoup investments in the shortest possible time.? Grantham saw soil and climate as the main determinants for the

diffusion of new intensive husbandry techniques, and as O?Brien shows England

had a distinct advantage over France in both quality of land and climate.? Relative prices were also important.? The introduction of railways and the surge

in urban meat consumption between 1840 and 1860 raised meat prices and urban

demand to a level that encouraged intensive husbandry diffusion.? O?Brien agrees to some extent with Grantham.? The differing natural endowments of England

and France meant that new agricultural methods diffused at different

rates.? The higher number of farm

animals per head in England, a reflection of a historical trend as well as

capital formation trend, allowed easier diffusion in England.? Similarly relative advantages in relief,

soil type and climate also heightened diffusion in England.The work of Patrick O?Brien sheds new light

on the productivity gap between the two countries.? O?Brien compares the yields of the most productive land in both

countries and sees little difference in productivity.? He extrapolates further and remarks that the highest yielding

land in France differs very little in terms of tenure type from the rest of

France.? O?Brien attributes 58 to 71% of

the difference in relative productivity to the superior land endowment of

British farmers.? This larger land

endowment is in many ways due to natural factors, but also the increased

attachment to the land felt by the French peasantry.? The French peasantry are then in some way responsible for the

labour productivity gap by over-populating rural areas.? O?Brien suggests that this lower labour

productivity is partly caused by the French peasantry?s lack of mobility.? However, he informs us that the French

peasantry were far from the boorish, ill-informed farmers that contemporary

writers portray.? O?Brien states that

agricultural productivity in farming was roughly similar to that of England?s

and that the only real difference was in arable productivity.? Yet, O?Brien attributes only 40% of the productivity

variation to physical yields and crop mix.?

The allocation of land between pasture and arable was the key to the

slower development of French agriculture.?

Even if yields on the arable had approached British levels productivity

would have been significantly lower.? It

is hard not to see O?Brien?s work as reaffirming the importance of natural

endowments in the relative agricultural development of the two

agricultures.? However, he is also sure

to affirm the significance of the deficiency of capital in French agricultural

that resulted from small-scale farm size.?

O?Briens? important work suggests that small scale farm size, or the

strength of the peasantry, was important in restricting capital accumulation

and thus the adoption of new productive techniques, but he also stresses the

importance of non-tenurial and non-institutional factors.The earlier adoption of intensive mixed

husbandry aided the growth of agricultural productivity in England over France.

Yes, enclosure certainly aided this process, but the majority of the groundwork

was accomplished by the English yeomanry in the open-fields before the classic

late 18th century period of enclosures.? If we must talk about the significant causal functions of systems

of property ownership we should do so in periods well before the classic 1750

waves of enclosure.? The persistence of

France?s system of peasant farming was certainly aided by systems of property

ownership highlighted earlier in this paper, but this form of agriculture is

perhaps less inefficient than historians first thought, especially as the gains

from more enclosed layouts have been down graded.? Newer works correctly highlight the importance of natural

endowments and ratios of land to labour.?

Indeed historians are beginning to question whether a large productivity

gap existed at all.? It would be

presumptive to assume that French agricultural productivity was on a par with

England?s, but it would be short sighted, unfair and narrow to suggest that the

differences were entirely down to systems of property ownership.? Yes, the speed of diffusion of new

techniques of husbandry was important, but it would be incorrect to blame the

peasantry for the France?s slower adoption of intensive animal husbandry.? It is too easy to overly praise the visible

effects of enclosure and too unfair to underplay the diligence and innovation

of both the English yeomanry and the French peasant.

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