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

33 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2022 Last revised: 27 Jun 2022

See all articles by Jeremy Bearer-Friend

Jeremy Bearer-Friend

George Washington University Law School

Vanessa Williamson

Brookings Institution - Governance Studies

Date Written: March 14, 2022

Abstract

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

Bearer-Friend, Jeremy and Williamson, Vanessa, The Common Sense of a Wealth Tax: Thomas Paine & Taxation as Freedom from Aristocracy (March 14, 2022). 26 Florida Tax Review __ (2022 Forthcoming), GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2022-25, GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2022-25, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4057585 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4057585

Jeremy Bearer-Friend (Contact Author)

George Washington University Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Vanessa Williamson

Brookings Institution - Governance Studies ( email )

1755 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

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