Agrarian Justice

Thomas Paine (przeł. Andrzej Karalus)

Agrarian Justice was penned with an intent to adumbrate a plan to reform the existing socio-political relations. The text is based on an assumption stemming from the natural-right tradition, and claims that, initially, the earth in its uncultivated state was the common property of the human race. When the land started to be cultivated, the masses were gradually dispossessed by few wealthy individuals. It has to be qualified as a violation of natural law, which has culminated in rising social inequalities, sinking large swathes of the population in the state of chronic poverty and misery. If eradication of private property, enforced land parceling or simple return to common land ownership are inexpedient and undesired (since the improvements made by cultivation cannot be effectively separated from the value of the earth itself), the only viable solution left is material compensation for the dispossessed. For Paine it means that, firstly, we have to introduce inheritance tax in order to pay out one-time lump sum of £15 to everyone who reaches the 21st year of age (unconditional ground rent which amounts to the value of the expropriated land), and, secondly, pay out £10 annually to the lame and blind, and to everybody who happens to reach the age of 50 years. Paine produces several arguments to support his project of redistribution (natural right argument, utilitarian and deontological argument); he also crisply explains how to implement it.

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Keywords: agrarian justice · inheritance tax · reform in the state of civilization · natural right · unconditional ground rent

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