The Common Sense of a Wealth Tax: Thomas Paine & Taxation as Freedom from Aristocracy
26 Florida Tax Review __ (2022 Forthcoming)
44 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2022 Last revised: 26 Oct 2023
Date Written: March 14, 2022
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.
Keywords: Wealth tax, income tax, Thomas Paine, Early Republic, tax policy, legal history, tax
JEL Classification: K34, N11
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation