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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/515

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PRINCIPLES OF TAXATION.

have arisen from overlooking the most obvious facts or deductions from experience.

With a purpose of further elucidating this problem, attention is asked first to its consideration from an "abstract," and next from a practical standpoint of view. Let us endeavor to clearly understand the common meaning of the word "rent." It is derived from the Latin reddita, "things given back or paid," and in plain English is a word for price or hire. It may be the hire of anything. It is the price we pay for the right of exclusive use over something which is not our own. Thus we speak of the rent of land, of buildings and apartments, of a fishery, of boats, of water, of an opera box, of a piano, sewing machines, furniture, vehicles, and the like. In Scotland at the present time farmers hire cows to dairymen, who pay an agreed-upon price by the year or for a term of years for each cow, and reimburse themselves for such payment and make a profit on the transaction by the sale of the products of the animal. This hire is called a rent, and is clearly the same in kind as the rent of land. We do not apply the word "hire" to the employment of men, because we have a separate word—"wages"—for that particular case of hire. Neither do we apply the word "rent" in English to the hire of money, because we have another separate word—"interest"—which has come into special use for the price paid for the loan or hire of money. But in the French language the word rent is habitually and specially used to signify the price of the hire money, and that of "rentes" to investments of money paying interest; the French national debt being always spoken of as "les rentes"; while the men who live on the lending of money, or capital in any form, are called "rentiers."

The question next naturally arises, Why is it necessary to set up any special theory at all about the natural disposition of the price which we pay for the hire of land, any more than about the price we pay for the hire of a house, of furniture, of a boat, of an opera box, or of a cow? The particular kind of use to which we put each of these various things is no doubt very different from the kind of use to which we put each or all the others. But all of these uses resolve themselves into the desire we have to derive some pleasure or some profit by the possession for a time of the right of exclusive use of something which is not our own, and for which we must pay the price, not of purchase, but of hire.

The explanation of this curious economic phenomenon is to be found in the assumption and positive assertion on the part of not a few distinguished economists that the truly scientific and only correct use of the term "rent" is its application to the "income derived from things of all kinds of which the supply is limited, and can not be