What is the deeper meaning of the story "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" in relevance to man's need and man's greed?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Pakhom is not a particularly distinctive character. Tolstoy presents him as a "type" of peasant, one who is greedy, ambitious and perpetually dissatisfied. It was Tolstoy's purpose to point a moral in this story, and he was obviously addressing it to the common people, especially the peasant farmers. Tolstoy's lesson to these people is that greed is a common human failing and that greed hurts everyone, including the greedy person himself. By attempting to acquire more land that he obviously needs, Pakhom would be helping to create a shortage of land, making it harder for everyone to gain a living. Others would be tempted to follow his example and buy up as much of the land as they could acquire for themselves. 

Tolstoy was deeply impressed by the writings of the American philosopher/economist Henry George, whose best-known work is Progress and Poverty. The basic principle of Henry George's teaching is that no one has a right to own any part of the earth, any more than he has a right to own any part of the ocean or the sky. Such a man did not create the land, nor did he acquire it from anyone who created it. The government should task land for its full rental value and use this as its only income for whatever expenditures were necessary. George's idea was called "The Single Tax." There were Henry George Schools in the U.S., Great Britain, and elsewhere. As Tolstoy explains in his writings on Henry George, if the government took the entire rental value of land in taxes, then there would be no incentive for anyone to monopolize more land than he could actually use. There would be no sales taxes, excise taxes, income taxes, or taxes on homes and buildings--only on the value of the land itself.

Tolstoy believed that if a private person could acquire more land than he needed it would force others to pay him rent on something he was not entitled to own. This was an offense pointed out by Jean-Jacques Rousseau before the French Revolution.

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