Monday, September 2, 2013

Updating Thomas Paine on wealth-sharing and the basic income guarantee

If I had to pick one American everyone should know, I'd choose Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, the book that made the argument for the American Revolution. If I had to pick one quote to sum up my philosophy, I'd choose this, from his The Rights of Man: "I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good."

Paine noted in Agrarian Justice:
It is a position not to be controverted that the earth, in its natural, cultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race. In that state every man would have been born to property. He would have been a joint life proprietor with rest in the property of the soil, and in all its natural productions, vegetable and animal.
Because we are all the world's shareholders, he thought governments should:
Create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property. And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age.
 Perfectly calculating what money was worth in other times is impossible, but it can be done in broad strokes. 1000 Pounds notes, "A typical landless farm laborer might earn £30 a year--- about the same wage as a school teacher."

The median American school teacher pay is $54,270, so, if the US had adopted Paine's proposal, today, at the age of twenty-one, every US citizen would get about $25,000, and would be paid $18,000 a year for life on becoming fifty.