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Thomas Paine supported the estate tax

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 3 months ago

It is ironic in a country as devoted to individual liberty and free enterprise as ours that the most ardent promoters of a federal estate tax have been some of our fiercest patriots and richest capitalists: Thomas Paine, Andrew Carnegie, Theodore Roosevelt and Warren Buffet to name a few. Reviewing the thinking of these four men can only add clarity to the current ideological debate over estate tax reform. One might think of these gentlemen as comprising the Mount Rushmore of the estate tax edifice.


I emphasize the proponents of the estate tax in this brief history because the burden of proof is clearly on the proponents in the current debate (no one in their right mind wants to pay taxes).


Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine wrote the first bestseller in American history: a fiery pamphlet titled Common Sense that successfully encouraged a declaration of independence from England. The 150,000 copies published between January 1776 and July 1776 obviously had the intended effect.


The heart of Paine’s famous pamphlet is his withering criticism of hereditary government. This critique extends through all his works. “All hereditary government is in its nature tyranny.” “Hereditary succession . . . is in its nature an absurdity, because it is impossible to make wisdom hereditary. . . . History informs us that the son of Solomon was a fool.” “To the evil of monarchy we have added that of hereditary succession; and as the first is a degradation and lessening of ourselves, so the second . . . is an insult and an imposition on posterity.”


Later in life, Paine extended his critique of inherited political power to a critique of inherited economic power. (And this critique comes from a man who distrusted governments, disliked taxes and heartily approved of late night tea parties in Boston Harbor!) In two works, The Rights of Man and Agrarian Justice, Paine argued for the adoption of an inheritance tax in England to balance out the unfair distribution of “landed property.” For Paine, it was common sense that God gave “the Earth as an inheritance” to all of God’s children.


Paine proposed that an inheritance tax be used to create a national fund that (1) would give the sum of 15 pounds sterling to everyone turning 21 years old as a compensation for the loss of their “natural inheritance,” and (2) would give a sum of 10 pounds a year to every person over the age of 50 as an early version of Social Security.

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