Soil (production factor)

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Soil ( English land ) is the second original production factor in economics , which includes the economically used earth's surface .


In addition to the soil, economics knows human labor as a further original production factor . Together with the derivative production factor capital , they form the three classic production factors. Since these production factors are scarce , they have a price in classical economics which is rent for land , wages for labor and interest for capital . In 1828 Jean-Baptiste Say added the production factor “entrepreneurial activity” to the factor system, the price of which is the entrepreneur's wages. As far as the soil is consumed for one's own purposes (for example a private garden ), it is not a production factor but a consumer good .


The Physiocrats subjected the soil to a comprehensive scientific analysis for the first time. They were based on the production factor soil, which as nature is always regenerating and sustaining itself without any effort . For them, the production factor soil, i.e. agriculture , is the only source of all economic prosperity , since only it is able to generate a surplus over the costs incurred. Its most important representative, François Quesnay, claimed in 1757 that wealth does not lie in movement ( trade ) but in rest (soil). The principle of all labor is the yield of the land , because all labor is based on the price of the products of the land. “The yield is the result of the nature of the soil and people. Without human work, the soil has no value ”. "The surplus of land is what agriculture ... makes available for taxation ..." While the physiocrats only considered agricultural work to be productive, in 1777 Johann Georg Schlosser added that the class "the artist." , Artisans and merchants “is productive. For Adam Smith , in the standard work The Prosperity of Nations , published in 1776, it was not the agricultural land that was the source of prosperity, but human labor.

According to Thomas Robert Malthus , the landowners owned the land as a class . In 1798 he examined the relationship between population growth and land yield and came to the prognosis that the land yield could only grow in arithmetic progression (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 etc.), but the population could grow in geometric progression (1, 2, 4, 8, 16 etc.) grow, with the result of hunger and poverty . In 1803 Jean-Baptiste Say put the work with land and capital on a par for the first time. David Ricardo said in 1821 that the soil only fails to generate income if it is in abundance. For Ricardo the soil was "not available in infinite quantity and generally the same quality". He recognized that in a growing economy, soil is the only non-reproducible factor of production. With further population growth, he foresaw that soil of less quality and less favorable location would have to be developed (“second-class soil”).

In 1848 John Stuart Mill pointed out the difference between soil and man-made goods: "Nobody made the soil, it is the original legacy of mankind". He coined in 1848 the concept of unearned land value increment ( English unearned increments ), which arises due to population growth and should be taxed.

Usability of the soil

Ground as part of the Earth's surface - except for the few possibilities of land reclamation and land improvement - not renewable. This not arbitrary multiplication of the soil is one of the prerequisites for the validity of the yield law in agriculture . The economic concept of soil is also limited to the economically used soil, so that unused land such as deserts are not included in the narrower concept of soil. The soil used includes agricultural ( cultivated soil : arable land , garden , pasture , meadow ), forestry ( commercial forest ), fishing , mining , industrial , residential areas or traffic routes . In a broader sense, this also includes the physiosphere and biosphere , insofar as they are to be understood as a production factor for the manufacture of raw materials , as a water filter , erosion prevention , producer of genetic material or other natural services, as well as the raw materials themselves (solid, liquid or gaseous ) and all forms of energy such as solar energy , nuclear energy , hydropower and wind .

As a factor of production, the soil is only useful if it is fertile or can be made fertile. This fertility theory is already known in the New Testament . The Evangelist Mark said: “The earth bears its fruit by itself, first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear” ( Mk 4,28  EU ).

Contrary to popular belief, agricultural soil is subject to wear and tear and has to be regenerated by lying fallow or by fertilization . On the other hand, depreciation due to the extraction of natural resources is irreparable.


Since these production factors are scarce , they have a price in classical economics which is rent for land , wages for labor and interest for capital . The ground rent was with Adam Smith of the land yield ( crop yield from harvesting or mining of raw materials ) and also consists today rental or lease income . According to Ricardo, the rent of the land is that part of the products of the land “which is paid to the landowner for the use of the original and indestructible forces of the land”; by that he meant the tenants. The price is income for the landowner and costs (rent or lease costs) for the land user.

Land question

The soil question deals with the philosophical question of fair access to the economic production factor soil and specifically the term soil in the narrower sense of property, possession and use of the earth's surface by humans. In contrast to the production factor capital, which is created by humans and whose production and maintenance thus requires an effort , the supply of land is fundamentally independent of humans ( inelastic ). While the valorization of the land requires an effort through labor and capital, the land itself has no production costs. The properties of the soil and the way it is used by humans result in the following problems:

  1. Since the soil was not created by humans, the soil has no clear original owner, owner or user.
  2. Since the supply of land is absolutely limited and, as a natural product, mostly heterogeneous, the ownership, possession or use of the land by a person leads to the exclusion of other people who, however, basically have the same original claim to it.
  3. The problem of external effects arises particularly in the case of urban land , since the economic value of the land exclusively reflects the costs of its valorisation by society (e.g. through the construction of roads, public safety; see Henry-George theorem ), the However, the benefit of the valuation often goes to a private owner. In this context, private property has a redistributive effect at the expense of society.

Today's meaning

The educational edifice of the physiocrats arose on the basis of natural law and attributed to it alone the ability to produce a profit . Adam Smith and David Ricardo highlighted the importance of soil as a factor and as a basis for factor income . In 1950, Hans Peter played down the importance of soil as a production factor. Only when, according to Peter, the needs of economic agents cannot be met by the available land, does the scarcity of the production factor affect the distribution of income. Modern economic theory once again made the importance of the soil dwindle in its search for another factor of production and found technical progress as a new object of knowledge .

More recently there has been a return to the importance of the soil factor with regard to environmental protection with its soil contamination or soil acidification issues . There is also the issue of overpopulation and famine , which are directly related to the soil. In countries with a high population density , land costs or rental prices increase sharply and can lead to financial risks , which underlines the scarcity function of land. This is also due to the completely inelastic supply of real estate ( residential and commercial real estate ). In developing and emerging countries with a high birth rate , more and more unused soil ( rainforest ) has to be converted into useful or living space , which is one of the causes of desertification .

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Jean-Baptiste Say, Comprehensive Textbook of Practical Economics , German translation, 1845, p. 121
  2. ^ François Quesnay, Getreide ( French "Grains" ), in: Encyclopédie vol. 7, Nov. 1757, p. 44
  3. ^ François Quesnay, Tableau Economique , 1757, p. 188
  4. ^ Johann Georg Schlosser, Political Fragments , 1777, p. 43
  5. ^ Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Wealth of Nations , 1776, translation Claus Recktenwald, 1995, p. 3
  6. ^ Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population , 1798, p. 8
  7. ^ Jean-Baptiste Say, Traité d'économie politique , 1803, p. 85
  8. David Ricardo, David Ricardo's Basic Laws of Economics and Taxation , Volume 1, Translation Edward Baumstark, 1837, p. 42 f.
  9. ^ David Ricardo, Basic Laws of Economics and Taxation , German translation, 1837, p. 44
  10. John Stuart Mill / Stephen Nathanson, Principles of Political Economy , 2004, p. 109
  11. ^ John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy , 1848, p. 817
  12. Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon, Volume 1, 1984, Col. 799
  13. David Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy or State Economy and Taxation , German translation, 1821, p. 47 f.
  14. Fabian Thiel: Land law in the Federal Republic: Has everything ever been debated? In: Bauwelt. June 2018, accessed April 30, 2019 .
  15. John Stuart Mill: The Principles of Political Economy . 1848 (English, ).
  16. ^ Why Henry George had a point. In: The Economist. April 2, 2015, accessed April 30, 2019 .
  17. Hans Peter, Introduction to Political Economy , 1950, p. 180