Absence in United Kingdom

Definition of Absence

In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of Absence :

(in court procedure) The nonappearance of a party to litigation or a person summoned to attend as a witness.


An absentee may be variously defined:

  • as a landed proprietor who resides away from his estate, or
  • from his country ; or more generally
  • any unproductive consumer who lives out of the country from which he derives his income.

Examples of these species are:

  • a seigneur under the ancien regime living in Paris at a distance from his estates ;
  • an Irish landlord resident abroad;
  • an Anglo-Indian ex-official resident in England and drawing a pension from India.

In writing briefly on the evils of absenteeism it is difficult to use general terms appropriate to all the definitions ; but considerations primarily relating to some one definition may easily be adapted to another by the reader.

It is useful to consider separately the effects of the absentee proprietor’s consumption upon the wealth of his countrymen ; and the moral, as well as economical effects of other circumstances.

L The more abstract question turns upon the fact that the income of an absentee is mostly remitted by means of exports. “The tribute, subsidy, or remittance is always in goods . . . unless the country possesses mines of the precious metals ” (Mill). So far as the proprietor, if resident at home, would consume foreign produce, his absence, not increasing exports, does not affect local industry. So far as the proprietor’s absence causes manufactures to be exported, his countrymen are not prejudiced. For they may have as profitable employment in manufacturing those exports as, if the proprietor had resided at home, they would have had in supplying manufactured commodities or services for his use. But if the proprietor by his absence causes raw materials to be exported, while if present he would have used native manufactures and services, his absence tends to deprive his countrymen of employment, to diminish their prosperity, and perhaps their numbers. This reasoning is based on Senior’s Lectures on the Rate of Wages (Lecture II.), and Political Economy (pp. 155-161). Senior’s position is in a just mean between two extremes, —the popular fallacy and the paradox of MCulloch.

On the one hand it is asserted that between the payment of a debt to an absentee and a resident there is the same difference as between the payment and non-payment of a tribute to a foreign country. On the other hand it is denied that there is any difference at all. The grosser form of the vulgar error, the conception that the income of the absentee is drawn from the tributary country in specie, is exemplified in Thomas PRIOR’S List of Absentees (1829). M’Culloch’s arguments are stated in the essay on ” Absenteeism ” in his Treatises and Essays on Money, etc., and in the evidence given by him before some of the parliamentary commissions which are referred to below. Asked ” Do you see any difference between raw produce and manufactured goods,” M ‘Cul loch replies, ” I do not think it makes any difference ” (compare Treatises and Essays, p. 232).

He appeals to observation, and finds that the tenants of absentee landlords are “subjected to less fleecing and extortion than those of residents.” J. 8. Mill attributes to absenteeism a tendency to lower the level of prices in the country from which the absentee draws an income ; with the consequence that the inhabitants of that country obtain their imports at an increased cost of effort and sacrifice (Unsettled Questions, essay i. p. 43). Mill’s meaning may be made clearer by a study of the rest of the essay which has been cited, and of the parallel passage in his Political Economy (bk. v. eh. iv. § 6), where he argues that an inequality between exports and imports results in an ” efflux of money ” from one country to another.

Upon less distinct grounds QUESNAY connects absenteeism with a development of trade and industry in an unhealthy direction (Euvres, 6d. Oncken, p. 189). Among recondite considerations which may bear on the subject should be mentioned CANTILLON’S theory concerning the effect of the consumption of the rich on the growth of population (Essai, pt. i. ch. xv.) II. Other economical advantages lost by absenteeism are those which spring from the interest which a resident is apt to take in the things and persons about him. Thus he may be prompted to invest capital in local improvements, or to act as an employer of workmen. ” It is not the simple amount of the rental being remitted to another country,” says Arthur YOUNG, ” but the damp on all sorts of improvements.” D’ ARGENSON in his Considerations sur le gouvernement ancien et present de la France (1765, p. 183), attributes great importance to the master’s eye.

The good feeling which is apt to grow up between a resident landlord and his tenantry has material as well as moral results, which are generally beneficial. The absentee is less likely to take account of circumstances (e.g. tenant’s improvements), which render rackrenting unjust. He is less likely to make allowance for calamities which render punctual payment difficult. ” Miseries of which he can see nothing, and probably hear as little of, can make no impression,” A. YOUNG. He is glad to get rid of responsibility by dealing with a ” middleman,” or intermediate tenant—an additional wheel in the machinery of exaction, calculated to grind relentlessly those placed underneath it. Without the softening influence of personal communication between the owner and the cultivator of the soil, the ” cash nexus ” is liable to be strained beyond the limit of human patience, and to burst violently. There can be little doubt but that absenteeism has been one potent cause of the misery and disturbances in Ireland. The same cause has produced like effects in cases widely different in other respects. The cruellest oppressors of the French peasantry before the Revolution were the fermiers, who purchased for an annual sum the right to collect the dues of absentee seigneurs. The violence of the GRANGER Railway legislation in the western states of America is attributed to the fact that the shareholders damnified were absentee proprietors (Seligman, Journal of Political Science, 1888).

There are also the moral advantages due to the influence and example of a cultivated upper class. The extent of this benefit will vary according to the character of the proprietors and the people. In some cases it may be, as Adam SMITH says, that “the inhabitants of a large village, after having made considerable progress in manufactures, have become idle in consequence of a great lord having taken up his residence in their neighbourhood.” The opposite view, presented by Miss EDGEWORTH in her Absentee, may be true in other states of civilisation. Perhaps the safest generalisation is that made by Senior that ” in general the presence of men of large fortune is morally detrimental, and that of men of moderate fortune morally beneficial, to their immediate neighbourhood.” [1]



  1. Robert Harry Inglis, Sir, Dictionary of Political Economy, 1915

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