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Thomas Paine (1737‐1809) and Thomas Spence (1750‐1814) on land ownership, land taxes and the provision of citizens' dividend

John Marangos (Department of Economics, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA)

International Journal of Social Economics

ISSN: 0306-8293

Article publication date: 11 April 2008




The aim of this paper is to outline and compare the land ownership, land taxes and citizens' dividend proposals by Thomas Paine and Thomas Spence.


Paine wrote “Agrarian justice” in which he argued that every proprietor of cultivated land owes to the society a ground‐rent for the land which the person holds because it is common property. This ground rent would take the form of a tax per year of 10 per cent on inheritances. It is this ground‐rent that would fund the payments made to every person based on some age restrictions. In response, Spence wrote “The rights of infants” in which he went a step further as he recommended the abolition of aristocracy. As a result, there would have been common ownership of land and revenue derived from land would be administered by the parishes and distributed to everyone equally.


In assessing the two proposals using the citizens' dividend criterion, each proposal has consistent and inconsistent elements.

Practical implications

It can be argued that the two proposals are primitive versions of citizens' dividend as espoused today.


The paper contributes to knowledge regarding the debate at the time. During that period, public opinion associated classical political economy with a resolute denial of the right to subsistence to the poor and vigorous opposition to the English Poor Law based on the ideas of Malthus. Students of social economics would benefit from this paper in placing on equal footnoting in the historical debate the counter‐proposals to the dominant position at the time.



Marangos, J. (2008), "Thomas Paine (1737‐1809) and Thomas Spence (1750‐1814) on land ownership, land taxes and the provision of citizens' dividend", International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 35 No. 5, pp. 313-325.



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