Thomas Paine's Proposal for a National Fund

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Peter Barnes:

"I found Paine’s thinking more relevant to the Anthropocene than anyone else’s. Paine’s economic thinking is contained in his essay Agrarian Justice, which, despite its title, isn’t about agriculture but about property rights.

“There are two kinds of property,” Paine wrote. “Firstly, natural property, or that which comes to us from the Creator of the universe—such as the earth, air, water. Secondly, artificial or acquired property—the invention of men.” The latter kind of property must necessarily be distributed unequally, but the first kind rightfully belongs to everyone equally. It is the “legitimate birthright” of every man and woman, “not charity but a right.”

Paine’s genius was to invent a practical way to distribute income from shared ownership of natural property. He proposed a ‘National Fund’ to pay every man and woman roughly $17,000 (in today’s money) at age 21 and roughly $12,000 a year after age 55. Revenue for the fund would come from ground rent paid by landowners. Paine even showed mathematically how this could work. Presciently, Paine recognized that land, air, and water could be monetized, not just for the benefit of a few but for the good of all. Further, he saw that this could be done at a national level. This was a remarkable feat of analysis and imagining." (