Letter on Henry George (II)

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Letter on Henry George (II)
by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Nathan Haskell Dole

THE scheme of Henry George is as follows : The advantage and profit from the use of land is not every- where the same ; since the more fertile, convenient portions, adjoining populous districts, will always attract many who wish to possess them ; and in proportion as these portions are better and more suitable they ought to be appraised more highly : the better, dearer ; the worse, cheaper ; the worst, cheapest of all.

So that the land which attracts but few should not be appraised at all, but left without payment to those who are willing to cultivate it by their own manual labor. According to such a valuation, good plowland in the government of Tula, for example, would be valued at about five or six rubles the desyatin ; 2 market garden land near villages at ten rubles ; the same, but watered by spring floods, fifteen rubles, and so on. In towns the valuation would be from one hundred to five hundred rubles the desyatin; and in Moscow and Petersburg, in go-ahead places, and about the harbors of navigable riv- ers, several thousands or tens of thousands of rubles the desyatin.

When all the land in the country has been thus ap- praised, Henry George proposes to pass a law declaring that all the land, from such a year and date, shall belong no longer to any separate individual, but to the whole country, to the whole nation ; and that thereafter every one who possesses land must pay to the State, that is, to the whole nation, the rent at which it has been ap- praised.

This payment must be expended on all the public needs of the State, so that it will take the place of every

1 Written to a Russian peasant living in Siberia.

  • A desyatin is 2.7 acres.


LETTERS ON HENRY GEORGE 419

kind of monetary imposition, both interior and exterior the custom-house.

According to this scheme it would follow that a land- owner, who was at present in possession of two thousand desyatins, would continue to own them, but would have to pay for them into the treasury, here in Tula, between twelve and fifteen thousand rubles a year, because here- abouts the best land for agricultural and building pur- poses would be included ; and as no large landowner would be able to bear the strain of such a payment, he would be obliged to give up the land. Whereas our Tula peasant would have to pay about two rubles less for each desyatin of the same ground than he does at present, would always have available land around him which he could hire for five or six rubles, and in addi- tion, would not only have no other taxes to pay, but would get untaxed all Russian and foreign articles which he needs. In towns the owners of houses and manu- factories can continue to possess their property, but will have to pay into the common treasury for the land they occupy, according to its valuation.

The advantage of such a system will be :

(1) That no one will be unable to obtain land for use.

(2) That there will cease to be idle men possessing land, and forcing others to work for them, in return for the use of the land.

(3) That the land will be in the hands of those who work it, and not of those who do not.

(4) That the people, being able to work on the land, will cease to enslave themselves as laborers in factories, and manufactories, and as servants in towns ; and will be scattered about the country.

(5) That there will be no longer any overseers and tax-collectors in factories, manufactories, stores, and custom-houses, but only collectors of payment for the land, which it is impossible to steal, and from which taxes may be most easily collected.

(6 and chiefly) That those who do not labor will be freed from the sin of profiting by the labors of others (in doing which they are often not to blame, being from childhood educated in idleness, and not knowing how to work), and from the still greater sin of every kind of falsehood and excuse to shift the blame from themselves ; and that those who do labor will be delivered from the temptation and sin of envy, condemnation of others, and exasperation against those who do not work ; and thus one of the causes of dissension between man and man will disappear.