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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30

Nationalization of the Land

Nationalization of the Land.

One would suppose from the pœans of the theorists who advocate this scheme, that such an idea had never been heard of before, but we have not far to go to find an example at our own doors. The old Maori tenure exactly fits the case, where the land was held by the tribe in common, and individual ownership was only given to the patch actually under cultivation at the time, which was protected from molestion by others of the tribe by the law of tapu. This is the general tenure among the natives of the South Seas. Is it seriously proposed that we shall revert to this barbarous tenure? Then we have examples in India and in Egypt, the effect being to raise a numerous population whose productions are divided between the Government and the cultivator, the latter getting for his share a bare subsistence, A people without power to assert their rights against the Government, their whole time taken up in providing for their daily wants on the most economical scale. It is held that the strength of a country depends upon the numbers of its population. In connection with cutting up land into small holdings, this statement must be taken with a qualification. If the means of the occupier of land are so limited by the smallness of his holding that all his time is taken up in keeping himself and his family alive, he can pay nothing to the state in money, nor can he go to the wars without abandoning the means of subsistence of his family. We have in England something similar to nationalization of the land in the estates of the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall. The management of these estates has, I believe, been much improved of late years, but it has been notorious for jobbery, and is far behind that of the average of private estates. There is no encouragement to extend the system.

What effect the nationalization of the land would produce in New Zealand and other colonies may be seen at a glance, and by the light of sundry measures which have come before the New Zealand Parliament during the present session, there would be the most frightful jobbery. The Crown tenants would either get control over Parliament, or the latter would grind the former, as the Government does in India or Egypt. Where would be the benefit? Government would make no landlords improvements, page 3 would not build a house, nor plant a tree. If it tried that sort of thing there would be added the jobbery of contractors and hangers on. The whole idea of land nationalization is utter humbug. It is totally unsuited to a civilized and progressive community, it is rolling the country back into barbarism and confusion. A better tenure than the old fee simple has yet to be discovered. Land nationalization is a contradiction in terms. Land has never been denationalized in this nor in any other country. The immediate effect of establishing such a system in this colony would be to deflect the stream of immigration to countries where more sensible views prevailed, and the results would be disastrous. Merely mooting the question has already damaged the property of the colony, cutting up land into small holdings. This is called in France morcellement du terrain, and we have the example of France and other countries to throw a light on the subject.

In France, although there are large holdings, a great part of the country is cut up into such small fragments that only a peculiarly frugal and industrious people could manage to live on their small estates. Many of these are under an acre in extent, perhaps a rood only. If the holder is flourishing, and wishes to extend his operations, he is probably forced to purchase a new plot at some distance, perhaps a mile or two, from his original holding. One can hardly call the working of these small plots farming, and on the other band, it may not come under the definition of gardening. By dint of working early and late, and living on the most economical scale, the French peasant manages to make sufficient to keep the bodies of himself and his small family alive, but it is a life of constant toil, unrelieved by relaxation, and the people thus situated have no time for mental improvement, and are ignorant and prejudiced to the lowest degree. No sort of agricultural machinery can be used under that system, and the produce of cereals is far inferior to that in the inferior soils and climate of Great Britain. I wish to lay particular emphasis on this latter point, because assertions are constantly made to the contrary. It is to be admitted that near certain large cities in Belgium, where manure is readily procurable, the gross produce is high on small plots, but this only amounts to the fact that market gardens give a large produce, not that the general cultivation of a country where manure is not procurable in quantities gives a similar result. The system may answer after a fashion for the very frugal and industrious French peasant with his family of one or two, but is totally unsuited to the British or Irish cultivator, with more liberal views of spending money, and his large family of young children. It must also be borne in mind that over a large part of France, the culture of vines, olives, and other productions of a warmer climate prevail, producing articles of such value that the returns from a few acres may give a large annual return, This makes the moroellemcnt du terrain less injurious than it would be in the British Islands, where the cultivation consists of articles of inferior value, such as wheat, oats, etc. There is a medium in everything. In Great Britain the holdings may be too large, in France too small. The way to adjust the proper proportion is not to bring in revolutionary measures to adjust the division of land by Government, but to remove restrictions upon the alienation of land, and allow the required division to come about naturally. Some persons m that case will get small farms, others large ones, and everyone will be served with what he wants. It is often asserted that the advantage of the French subdivision is to make the bulk of the people conservative, and thus to check revolutions. It seems to me that this conservatism is not worth much, for the rural population never seems able to resist the revolutions got up by any collection of tramps in Paris, and knock under at once. Small holdings are not confined to France, They are common in Switzerland, parts of Germany, and other parts of Europe. In the Ionian Islands, a single olive tree may belong to several individuals. We ought, in this colony, when we try to evade Scylla, to avoid falling into Charybdis. Fiat experi- page 4 mentum cruris in corpore vili. Is New Zealand reduced to such a vile body that she is to be experimented upon by the shallowest political tinkering?