Wednesday, April 10, 2013 by Markus Döring

Thomas Paine - bold pioneer of basic inheritance

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

In the USA, every child knows Thomas Paine. He is being considered as one of the founding fathers of the United States and was one of the boldest thinkers of his time. His life was determined by the pursuit of justice and freedom. This striving characterizes his entire life and also led him to develop the idea of a kind of basic inheritance. He formulated this idea in his pamphlet "agrarian justice"(1797), in which he also proclaimed the introduction of a pension-system. 

Life

Thomas Paine was born in England. He grows up in humble circumstances, attends school and takes up the profession of a tax officer. However, when he politically campaigns for a better payment for this profession, he comes under pressure from the authorities, whereupon he loses his job. He meets Benjamin Franklin, with whom he emigrates to America. Once there, he becomes a journalist and, together with others, founds a society to fight slavery. When violent clashes between settlers and the British army begin in 1775 due to reprisals by Great Britain against the American colonies, he commences his work on „Common Sense"; this was the central script of the American independence movement. After the successful independence, he returns to Great Britain.
The outbreak of the French Revolution motivates him to write two books („Rights of Man (I + II)") to support the revolution. In England, he is being declared outlawed due to „rebellious writings" and thus forced to flee to France. There, he participates in the French Revolution until its end in 1802, during which time he writes the work „Agrarian Justice" which was of interest to our foundation. In these writings, he sets out the idea of  basic inheritance.

Thomas Paine and the Basic inheritance

The core statement in „Agrarian Justice" is that every human being has the right to a share of the Earth with his [sic] birth to ensure his survival. It argues that it principally is not fair that certain people own so much land, that others are being denied their ownership of land.
Man did not make the earth, and, though he had a natural right to occupy it, he had no right to locate as his property in perpetuity any part of it [...]".
From this he derives the claim that those who cannot settle the earth freely, because the land is already taken over by others, must receive appropriate compensation. He does not blame the heirs or landowners for the undesirable development, but rather the general conditions. However, he makes it clear that compensation is legitimate.
In advocating the case of the persons so dispossessed, it is a right, and not a charity, that I am pleading for".
He does not call for expropriation or aggressive redistribution, but instead wants to carry out this compensation carefully, in the form of a fund. This is to be done through an inheritance tax, the so-called "ground rent". This is ethically based on the fact that originally, all assets were taken out of the earth in part of which every human being is entitled to a share. The funds received are used for a social security system and a one-off payment upon reaching adulthood. This one-off payment corresponds to our basic inheritance.

Paine's proposal:

Concrete design (for the year 1796 in Great Britain):
National wealth: £1.3 billion
Inherited: £43.3 million per annum
To close relatives £30 million, of which 10 % to the Fund and £13.3 million to distant relatives or strangers, of which 20 % to the Fund. So the fund has £5.6 million annually at its disposal. Four million of this will go to a pension system and the rest to people over 21 years of age, which is about £15 per capita.

This £15 is our central demand, the basic inheritance. With this, a more independent start into adult life can now be made. The money can be invested in private land, real estate or education; thus a foundation-stone for a real chance on self-determination and prosperity.