One observer of this transformation was Thomas Paine, America’s pro-independence
pamphleteer. Seeing how enclosure of the commons benefited a few and disinherited
many others, Paine proposed a remedy — not a reversal of enclosure,
which he considered necessary for economic reasons, but compensation for
Like Locke, Paine believed nature was a gift of God to all. “There
are two kinds of property,” he wrote. “Firstly, natural property,
or that which comes to us from the Creator of the universe — such as
the earth, air, water. Secondly, artificial or acquired property — the
invention of men.” In the latter, he went on, equality is impossible,
but in the former, “all individuals have legitimate birthrights.” Since
such birthrights were diminished by enclosure, there ought to be an “indemnification
for that loss.”
Paine therefore proposed a “national fund” that would do two
[Pay] to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the
sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of
his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed
property: And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every
person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall
arrive at that age.
A century and a half later, America created a national fund to do part
of what Paine recommended — we call it Social Security. We’ve
yet to adopt the other part, but its basic principle — that
enclosure of a commons requires compensation — is as sound
in our time as it was in Paine’s. ... read
the whole chapter
Dividends from Common Assets
A cushion of reliable income is a wonderful thing. It can be saved for rainy
days or used to pursue happiness on sunny days. It can encourage people to
take risks, care for friends and relatives, or volunteer for community service.
For low-income families, it can pay for basic necessities.
Conversely, the absence of reliable income is a terrible thing. It heightens
anxiety and fear. It diminishes our ability to cope with crises and transitions.
It traps many families on the knife’s edge of poverty, and makes it
harder for the poor to rise.
So why don’t we, as Monopoly does, pay everyone some regular income — not
through redistribution of income, but through predistribution of common property?
One state — Alaska — already does this. As noted earlier, the
Alaska Permanent Fund uses revenue from state oil leases to invest in stocks,
bonds, and similar assets, and from those investments pays yearly dividends
to every resident. Alaska’s model can be extended to any state or nation,
whether or not they have oil. We could, for instance, have an American Permanent
Fund that pays equal dividends to long-term residents of all 50 states. The
reason is, we jointly own many valuable assets.
Recall our discussion about common property trusts. These trusts could crank
down pollution and earn money from selling ever-scarcer pollution permits.
The scarcer the permits get, the higher their prices would go. Less pollution
would equal more revenue. Over time, trillions of dollars could flow into
an American Permanent Fund.
What could we do with that common income? In Alaska the deal with oil revenue
is 75 percent to government and 25 percent to citizens. For an American Permanent
Fund, I’d favor a 50/50 split, because paying dividends to citizens
is so important. Also, when scarce ecosystems are priced above zero, the
cost of living will go up and people will need compensation; this wasn’t,
and isn’t, the case in Alaska. I’d also favor earmarking the
government’s dollars for specific public goods, rather than tossing
them into the general treasury. This not only ensures identifiable public
benefits; it also creates constituencies who’ll defend the revenue
Waste absorption isn’t the only common resource an American Permanent
Fund could tap. Consider also, the substantial contribution society makes
to stock market values. As noted earlier, private corporations can inflate
their value dramatically by selling shares on a regulated stock exchange.
The extra value derives from the enlarged market of investors who can now
buy the corporation’s shares. Given a total stock market valuation
of about $15 trillion, this socially created liquidity premium is worth roughly
At the moment, this $5 trillion gift flows mostly to the 5 percent of the
population that own more than half the private wealth. But if we wanted to,
we could spread it around. We could do that by charging corporations for
using the public trading system, just as investment bankers do. (For those
of you who haven’t been involved in a public stock offering, investment
bankers are like fancy doormen to a free palace. While the public charges
almost nothing to use the capital markets, investment bankers exact hefty
The public’s fee could be in cash or stock. Let’s say we required
publicly traded companies to deposit 1 percent of their shares each year
in the American Permanent Fund for ten years — reaching a total of
10 percent of their shares. This would be our price not just for using a
regulated stock exchange, but also for all the other privileges (limited
liability, perpetual life, copyrights and patents, and so on) that we currently
bestow on private corporations for free.
In due time, the American Permanent Fund would have a diversified portfolio
worth several trillion dollars. Like its Alaskan counterpart, it would pay
equal yearly dividends to everyone. As the stock market rose and fell, so
would everyone’s dividend checks. A rising tide would lift all boats.
America would truly be an “ownership society.” ... read
the whole chapter