Measuring Mr. Darcy’s income

Hmm, no, not quite:

A conversion chart, supposedly showing the modern-day worth of Jane Austen characters’ fortunes, has surfaced on Twitter. At first glance, it seems to show that Mr Darcy’s supposedly vast 1803 fortune in Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, worth $331,000 per year in modern US dollars, might not in fact stretch to quite the luxury of his 19th-century lifestyle if Darcy was alive today.

They’ve tried comparing it upgraded for standard inflation, and also as a percentage of GDP. That second is better, as it does give an idea of the percentage of society’s wealth that could be comannded with that income.

However, as Piketty points out himself, one of the great changes in the past couple of hundred years is the collapse in the value of land. Darcy’s income was £10k a year: that’s roughly (it’s more like £1.2 or £1.3 per acre in rent in 1820 money but still….and 1820 is a reasonable enough year as the Corn Laws were holding up those values after the Napoleonic Wars) the rent from 10,000 acres. A decent enough estate of course. Wouldn’t mind having that myself these days.

But enough to run a stately home the size of Chatsworth? Not a chance these days.

Current ag land rents appear to be around £100 an acre (this is screwed up by single farm payment which is about that again (roughly) but that goes to the farmer, not the landlord). So 10,000 acr5es brings in £1 million a year: before tax. Call it £600,000 then.

About what a top end City solicitor or accountant earns (pre-tax but still a lot less than a premiership footballer).

A very nice income but no, not drop dead I can buy anything and everything in the country.

And you’d not get more than a dozen servants for that these days either. Hardly enough to run a proper coach and four let alone a household full of them.

12 comments on “Measuring Mr. Darcy’s income

  1. How you make money from your estate changes over the years though.

    Earl Spencer’s Althorp is the finest house in its county and an estate of 13,000 acres making it comparable to Pemberley. Yet Earl Spencer appears to lead a more than comfortable aristocratic life.

    Instead of renting your land to early C19th tenant farmers to inefficiently grow turnips you rent farm buildings to IT companies, and allow people to hire your Ball Room for weddings, and TV companies to film Sunday evening dramas etc etc.

    And that’s before you start raking in the subsidies for your wind farm & biomass generator.

    So a large landed estate could provide the equivalent income of a top professional footballer if it were managed correctly.

  2. We might want to factor in the income and corporate taxes Darcy would pay. At that rate, he’d be in a small guest cottage while Justin Beiber screwed up his pile and tried to pull Lizzie 🙂

  3. The cost of servants comparison is not strictly fair, since wages have grown at a greater pace than the other factors in the comparison.

    Back in the day you effectively gave a servant a room and a bed, and some pocket money. Now you’re expected, nay obliged, to pay them properly.

  4. “Current ag land rents appear to be around £100 an acre (this is screwed up by single farm payment which is about that again (roughly) but that goes to the farmer, not the landlord).”

    No, it mostly ends up with the landlord, unless the tenant is on one of the old style 3 generation tenancies that give total security of tenure, and the rents are calculated on the earning capacity of the farm. Under the new style Farm Business Tenancies, which tend to run for up to 5 years (typically 3) the tenant tenders for the rent up front, and this tends to mean that the rent ends up being the subsidy + whatever the tenant thinks it can afford out of the profits from farming the land. Which means market rents can be in excess of £200/acre for arable land these days (though the recent drop in commodity prices must be giving a few tenants sleepless night, having signed up to high rents when wheat was £180/tonne, and finding its now only £120)

  5. I looked around and they seemed to be at £270-£300 a hectare…..£100 an acre closely enough. Is that wrong?

  6. On the Mr Darcy point: surely the comparison is how much of other people’s labour you can buy, because ultimately getting other people to do your stuff is what wealth is about, rather than working yourself. Thus in 1800 a labourer cost £12/year (here:http://www.afamilystory.co.uk/history/wages-and-prices.aspx), so Mr Darcy could employ an army of over 800 labourers for his income. That nowadays, even at minimum wage would cost over £11m, if you go by median wages (around £20k/yr) its over £16m.

    Which puts him on a par with Lionel Messi (over £00K/week).

  7. “they seemed to be at £270-£300 a hectare…..£100 an acre closely enough”

    Depends on the land. And the location. Arable land capable of getting 3 tonne+ to the acre would definitely in the last few years have gone for in excess of £200/acre, including the subsidy. Probably not today due to the commodity price falls.

    Grassland is a very variable market that depends entirely on location. Down in Wales where there’s loads of livestock grassland makes good money, £150/acre for just a summer grazing and mowing let. In arable areas where there’s no livestock you can hardly give it away for someone to look after it and keep it tidy.

    Another factor is the biodigester market for land to grow maize. If you are in an area with lots of biodigesters (Herefordshire seems to have a lot) then the demand has pushed rents sky high, £300+acre.

  8. But a top end City solicitor or accountant, or a premiership footballer, is unlikely to attract as spirited and intelligent a girl as Lizzie, so Darcy still wins. Plus he gets to ride around on a horse all day, rather than having an occasional jog or pedal through urban murk.

    And he might well have had a better education too.

  9. It is somewhat amusing, basing an argument around figures quoted in a work of fiction. Fiction written in a time when story setting accuracy had never even been considered to be of the slightest importance.

  10. Is it so much the “collapse” in the value of land or the vast increase in the price of labour?

    It has occurred to me that, as a borderline 1%er, 100 years ago I’d have, as that city solicitor or accountant, had staff. Not many, but certainly a nanny, a maid, and possibly a cook some days of the week. But the top end of the working class, no inherited wealth, no capital, admittedly from a family that could accord the education needed, but still, would have been a regular employer himself.

    Nowadays of course, the state takes taxes off the top end of the working class to such an extent that they cannot do this. And uses those taxes to pay people to do nothing, forcing up the price of low-skilled labour, making it even more unlikely that our city accountants and bankers and other working class professionals will hire domestics.

    Progress eh, when only those with inherited rather than earned wealth can have the staff!

Leave a Reply

Name and email are required. Your email address will not be published.