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Tuesday, July 14th 2009

Thomas Paine, rights, liberty, and income security

Thomas Paine, rights, liberty, and income security

Last Monday, June 8th, was the bicentennial of the death of Thomas Paine.

Paine was a great champion of liberty and democracy, rightly celebrated for his writings that helped spark the American Revolution. His words and ideas continue to be powerful and relevant.

Especially important today, though mostly ignored, is his call for “Agrarian Justice.” He maintained that we will never achieve true individual liberty and a succesful democracy unless we provide opportunities for everyone to participate as citizens.

I was reminded of Paine’s anniversary a few days ago, while watching Bill Moyers’ Journal on PBS. The guests were historian Harvey J. Kaye and journalist Richard Brookhiser. Though Kaye is an avowed liberal and Brookhiser a renowned conservative, both expressed great respect for Paine’s ideas.

A very good discussion, and I recommend watching the 24-minute video. It’s posted with a transcript  here.

As the discussion went on, I kept wondering if they would talk about Agrarian Justice. It was almost over when they did:

BILL MOYERS: Toward the end of his life, Paine urged American citizens to renew their patriotism in reference to, he said first principles. Today, 2009, what are the first principles you think Paine, if he were blogging today, would be espousing?

RICHARD BROOKHISER: Well, I think he would say liberty. I think he would say opportunity. And economic opportunity. I think those are the things that he would hammer at.

HARVEY KAYE: I agree. But I think I would take it a step further. And I go back to what I said at the beginning. Paine was a small “d” democrat. He was a political democrat. He became a political democrat by what he recognized in American life. And later, when he did come out of prison, he wrote “Agrarian Justice.” And there he lays out a social democratic vision. That’s where he says, “Let us create real opportunity for young people. And not give them a life of poverty. Let us tax the landed wealth, and use that money in some kind of community chest, a national treasury, to provide stakes, S-T-A-K-E-S.”

You know, grants to young people, so when they reach twenty-one, and he said that of men and women, which was a very progressive thing to do at the time. And that way, they’ll have a chance to, you know, buy land, gain an education, set up a small business. And we can also then afford pensions to the elderly. So, he did very much sort of look ahead to the idea, absolutely, of economic opportunity, but in a social democratic way, I think.

RICHARD BROOKHISER: Yes, if he had thought that there were people who were permanently stuck in a, you know, servile or lower economic class, he would not have liked that. And he would have–

HARVEY KAYE: Right. And he did say–

RICHARD BROOKHISER: –he looked for means to–

HARVEY KAYE: He did say–

RICHARD BROOKHISER: –move them outside of it.

HARVEY KAYE: –everyone had to accept the payment, whether you needed it or not. You could give it back afterwards. But he didn’t want it to be a charity.

BILL MOYERS: Richard Nixon came up with something like that. Remember that? Is that part of Paine’s genius, part of his greatness? That we, each of us, no matter what end of the political spectrum we’re on, find a real American there, a true American there?

Paine’s ideas lead directly to Citizen Dividends, the universal, guaranteed basic income, the theme of this blog and web site.

In my timeline of American advocates of guaranteed income security (I say American because some of my friends begin with Jesus and other early thinkers), Paine is second after Thomas Jefferson, who, while a delegate to the Virginia legislature, called for homesteads for propertyless individuals.

A direct link to my historical review is here. The entry on Paine includes the summary text he put on the cover of Agrarian Justice.  The complete pamphlet is here.

My updated version of Paine’s idea, and my plan for making it happen, is in Peaceful, Positive Revolution,.

Additional information is on the home page and elsewhere on this web site, www.IncomeSecurityForAll.org.

Please comment on this blog and help spread the word.

Steven Shafarman

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2 Responses to “Thomas Paine, rights, liberty, and income security”

  1. How I Make $300 a Day Online Says:

    Hey, nice post, really well written. You should post more about this.

  2. admin Says:

    Thanks. I will keep posting and submitting articles to other publications, though I can’t devote as much time and effort to these ideas as I’d like because I don’t have any income security. Know anyone who might help fund these efforts?