The Common Sense of a Wealth Tax Thomas Paine and Taxation as Freedom from Aristocracy

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Jeremy Bearer-Friend
Vanessa Williamson


Thomas Paine’s writing helped spur the American colonies to independence and ensure that the new nation would be a republic, not a monarchy. In light of the renewed interest in wealth taxes, this article provides a close examination of Thomas Paine’s wealth tax proposal in the second volume of The Rights of Man. Unlike Paine’s proposal to tax inheritances, his 1792 proposal to tax wealth on an annual basis is often overlooked. The article identifies Paine’s various design specifications,  provides original estimates of the impact of Paine’s wealth tax proposal within his own time period and as applied to billionaires today, and discusses ambiguities in the proposal. The article then places Paine in conversation with the contemporary wealth tax policy debate and demonstrates how Paine informs both the design and evaluation of tax policy. Lastly, the article clarifies the relationship between democratic ideals and taxation, portraying tax policy as a normative expression of republican ideals.

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