Originally Posted by Hubie
The first part of Paine's essay is reproduced below. It is an extremely messy hodgepodge of assumptions and errors, leading to unsustainable conclusions. It could have just as easily been titled "Common Nonsense" for its flaws.
by Thomas Paine
To preserve the benefits of what is called civilized life, and to remedy at the same time the evil which it has produced, ought to considered as one of the first objects of reformed legislation.
Whether that state that is proudly, perhaps erroneously, called civilization, has most promoted or most injured the general happiness of man is a question that may be strongly contested. On one side, the spectator is dazzled by splendid appearances; on the other, he is shocked by extremes of wretchedness; both of which it has erected. The most affluent and the most miserable of the human race are to be found in the countries that are called civilized.
To understand what the state of society ought to be, it is necessary to have some idea of the natural and primitive state of man; such as it is at this day among the Indians of North America. There is not, in that state, any of those spectacles of human misery which poverty and want present to our eyes in all the towns and streets in Europe. Paine is pulling a Rousseau trick, by romanticizing the primitive state of nature, but few people in America or Europe would have changed places with the Indians, whose lives were, in fact, a perpetual struggle for existence and the most basic level.
Poverty, therefore, is a thing created by that which is called civilized life. It exists not in the natural state. On the other hand, the natural state is without those advantages which flow from agriculture, arts, science and manufactures. Another misconception. Paine assumes that poverty is not a part of nature, when poverty is, in fact, the very state of nature before human ingenuity is applied to it.
The life of an Indian is a continual holiday, compared with the poor of Europe; and, on the other hand it appears to be abject when compared to the rich.
Civilization, therefore, or that which is so-called, has operated two ways: to make one part of society more affluent, and the other more wretched, than would have been the lot of either in a natural state. Again, a flawed assumption. Civilization has made all of society more affluent by creating the means for preserving surpluses, something that the Indians lacked.
It is always possible to go from the natural to the civilized state, but it is never possible to go from the civilized to the natural state. The reason is that man in a natural state, subsisting by hunting, requires ten times the quantity of land to range over to procure himself sustenance, than would support him in a civilized state, where the earth is cultivated.
When, therefore, a country becomes populous by the additional aids of cultivation, art and science, there is a necessity of preserving things in that state; because without it there cannot be sustenance for more, perhaps, than a tenth part of its inhabitants. The thing, therefore, now to be done is to remedy the evils and preserve the benefits that have arisen to society by passing from the natural to that which is called the civilized state. Paine misses the obvious, which is that the cultivation of land supports more people because fewer of them die from starvation as agriculture yields greater amounts of food at lower cost to the individual. It also permits specialization, which means that other areas now advance at a faster rate.
In taking the matter upon this ground, the first principle of civilization ought to have been, and ought still to be, that the condition of every person born into the world, after a state of civilization commences, ought not to be worse than if he had been born before that period.
But the fact is that the condition of millions, in every country in Europe, is far worse than if they had been born before civilization begin, had been born among the Indians of North America at the present. I will show how this fact has happened.
It is a position not to be controverted that the earth, in its natural, cultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race. In that state every man would have been born to property. He would have been a joint life proprietor with rest in the property of the soil, and in all its natural productions, vegetable and animal. Uh, no. In fact, in a natural state, the earth provides us with very little. We still have to extract its bounty, and that requires effort. Communal property invariably ends up lying fallow after it has been looted.
But the earth in its natural state, as before said, is capable of supporting but a small number of inhabitants compared with what it is capable of doing in a cultivated state. And as it is impossible to separate the improvement made by cultivation from the earth itself, upon which that improvement is made, the idea of landed property arose from that parable connection; but it is nevertheless true, that it is the value of the improvement, only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property.
Every proprietor, therefore, of cultivated lands, owes to the community ground-rent (for I know of no better term to express the idea) for the land which he holds; and it is from this ground-rent that the fund prod in this plan is to issue. Why does a proprietor owe the community, which buys his products in exchange for their own, more than the agreed upon prices which were the result of voluntary transactions? Paine presumes that because the cultivation of the earth does not result in equal outcomes, that all ownership is therefore suspect.
It is deducible, as well from the nature of the thing as from all the stories transmitted to us, that the idea of landed property commenced with cultivation, and that there was no such thing, as landed property before that time. It could not exist in the first state of man, that of hunters. It did not exist in the second state, that of shepherds: neither Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, nor Job, so far as the history of the Bible may credited in probable things, were owners of land. Paine conveniently ignores the fact that tribes of hunters fought over hunting grounds. The acquisition of a flock required the creation of secure facilities to house and protect it, and of rights to graze a particular plot of land, otherwise they would have to move constantly in order to prevent overgrazing. And, while nomadic shepards might not have owned the land that they grazed, but that also meant that they lived outside of fixed sites, and were subject to the depredations of nature, as well as their fellow man.
As demonstrated above, Paine's conception of the origins of land use and property rights is deeply flawed, if not outright bizarre, but that hasn't prevented him from proposing an absurd plan to alleviate the failures of society in properly redistributing wealth to... well, him, for one. I will stop commenting on this, as it will end up requiring multiple posts to point out all of the flaws, fallacies and failures in this essay. Read the rest of it at http://www.constitution.org/tp/agjustice.htm
Their property consisted, as is always enumerated in flocks and herds, they traveled with them from place to place. The frequent contentions at that time about the use of a well in the dry country of Arabia, where those people lived, also show that there was no landed property. It was not admitted that land could be claimed as property. And yet, the wells were property. Different clans and tribes guarded them and extracted money from caravans for their use.
There could be no such thing as landed property originally. Man did not make the earth, and, though he had a natural right to occupy it, he had no right to locate as his property in perpetuity any part of it; neither did the Creator of the earth open a land-office, from whence the first title-deeds should issue. Whence then, arose the idea of landed property? I answer as before, that when cultivation began the idea of landed property began with it, from the impossibility of separating the improvement made by cultivation from the earth itself, upon which that improvement was made.
The value of the improvement so far exceeded the value of the natural earth, at that time, as to absorb it; till, in the end, the common right of all became confounded into the cultivated right of the individual. But there are, nevertheless, distinct species of rights, and will continue to be, so long as the earth endures.
It is only by tracing things to their origin that we can gain rightful ideas of them, and it is by gaining such ideas that we, discover the boundary that divides right from wrong, and teaches every man to know his own. I have entitled this tract "Agrarian Justice" to distinguish it from "Agrarian Law."
Paine's approach is reminiscent of Rousseau before him, and Marx after, in that neither had any understanding of the creation of wealth. Pain's theory is based on a number of misconceptions, but this doesn't stop him from expanding upon them to create a proposal that is as unworkable as it is illogical. That the DUmp has adopted this is no surprise, except for the idea that they have heard of Paine at all.