A story of landlessness

There was a young man, just entering adulthood. His father died in an accident while working. His mother had already died years ago of an illness.

They weren’t rich parents, so the young man wasn’t expecting to inherit much. It turned out that his father was in debt, so he inherited nothing at all.

He knew a local landlord, not much older than himself, who owned large estate. He approached the landlord, saying, “Sir, you have inherited plenty of land, and some of it is barely used; I have none. Please let me use a portion of it. I’ll build my own house on it, and grow my own food.”

The landlord replied, “Friend, if you want to live on my land, I’ll provide you with a house to live in, as well as enough money to buy adequate food and clothing. But as long as you live here, you must work for me.”

The young man agreed, and joined the other servants of the landlord, who worked on the same terms.

After some time, he wanted to save enough money to buy a beautiful dress for a woman he was courting. His wages were not sufficient for this, so he worked harder, hoping that the landlord would reward him for the extra work.

Instead, the landlord asked him, “Why have you not been working this hard for me until now? I ought to sue you for the extra work you should have been doing for me in the past. But I will be lenient. If you continue working for me as hard as you are now, I’ll let you keep your past wages.”

The young man objected, but the landlord said, “I didn’t force you to live on my land; you freely chose to live here on the terms we agreed to.”

So the young man tried to find another landlord who would offer better terms. But the next landlord he came to said the same thing, “If you want to live on my land, I’ll provide you with a house to live in, as well as enough money to buy adequate food and clothing. But as long as you live here, you must work for me.”

The young man tried to negotiate, but the landlord said, “All my other servants are willing to work on those generous terms, and if I need more workers, I can always find other vagrants to work for me.”

Every landlord said the same thing. So the young man finally found some unused land. It would require a long walk to visit his friends, including the young woman he was now engaged to. He started to build his own house there, and plant crops and fruit trees on the land around it.

One day, a rich man found him there and asked him, “Why are you building a house on my land? If you want to live here, I’ll provide you with a house to live in, as well as enough money to buy adequate food and clothing. But as long as you live here, you must work for me. If you don’t agree to these terms, I’ll have you put in jail for trespassing on my land.”

Was this young man free?

In a real, modern country, where all useful land is owned by someone, and a proportion of the population is always unemployed, is the situation of a landless worker any better or worse than that of this young man?

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