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Friday, July 24, 2009

Common Sense Rights of Man and others Part II: Common Sense and The American Crisis

This is almost one of America's lost work.  I'm glad to see it's getting a resurgence.  In every history you read about the Revolutionary War this book is mentioned but I don't remember passages being quoted or passages being required reading in any of the history classes I've taken.

I loved reading it because the ideas that we take for granted in America and that permeate our society were once new and fresh and revolutionary.  That men should be free to choose their own executive, that democracy prevents war, that people have a natural propensity and right to form societies and that government actually gets in the way of this natural course of events were fresh and new and somehow dangerous and seductive ideas.

This work was written completely about the American situation at the time.  It gave the case for American to be separate from Great Brittan, it explained why the course was already set and explained why that moment in time was the best time for it to happen.  Looking back at history I was fully convinced that Mr. Paine was right and I'm so grateful that he made his case so well.
Now I'm amazed at what a high level Paine wrote at, this work is a work of populism but Paine certainly didn't  dumb it down like politicians do today.  I like to think that I know a few words, I don't mind using some overpriced words in everyday conversation but I did need to keep a dictionary at hand.  I'm impressed that Paine didn't go with a few cheap easy slogans but laid out a simple case in an intellectual way.  He was not afraid to build up a case for a complex idea slowly and lead the reader by the hand to a complex conclusion.  Along the way he also was able to see things from the viewpoint of someone on the other side and point out why he comes to a different conclusion.  Unfortunately this is a skill that many of our modern leaders either lack or that modern man doesn't respect.

If we had a few more like Mr. Paine around today, or would listen to those that we have, we would have a better world today.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Common Sense Rights of Man and others Part I: Agrarian Justice

I have finally finished the Signet Classics version of Thomas Paine's major writings.  It was five weeks of reading off and on, I do have to say it was one of the most difficult set of writings that I've read this year, partially because Mr. Paine wrote with quite a vocabulary.  I did learn what sinecure means so barring all else I've expanded my knowledge of words.

Let me get this out of the way.  There is a famous conservative commentator who has a book on top of the best seller's list right now called Common Sense.  My mother is a fan of said commentator so I'm very familiar with this commentator's views.  After reading the writings of Thomas Paine I'm curious as to why this individual chose this title and seems to claim in the subtitle of his book that he is carrying on the traditions and views of Thomas Paine.  It even includes a copy of the original work.  Now to be fair I haven't read this modern version.  I have read the two chapters that are provided on Amazon and several of the reviews there so I feel I have a fair view of the proceedings within this book however I don't have a direct knowledge of the contents.  As I said before I'm also very familiar with this individual's other writings and show so I'm familiar with his viewpoints.

So just to be clear Thomas Paine was no conservative, not even by today's standard.  He was Deist.  He rejected Christianity outright, even going so far as to poke a sharp stick in it's eye.  I'll go into that more in my next installment.  Thomas Paine favored a large inheritance tax and wanted to fund a wealth transfer program with it, in fairness the wealth was being transferred from the dead to the living but still it was a liberal wealth transfer.  Thomas Paine was also very anti war.  He was very pro-revolution but partially because he believed that revolution against corrupt government prevented international conflict.

So now that I've actually read Thomas Paine I'm confused as to why he's become such a conservative touchstone.  Being a liberal myself though I would say that anything that leads people to read this forgotten father of America is ultimately a good thing.

So Agrarian Justice, it's the shortest of Thomas Paine's major writings and probably the least thought through.  Thomas Paine advocates establishing an inheritance tax and with the proceeds paying a pension to everyone over the age of 21 and a larger pension to everyone over 50.   Now I've often thought of our capitalist system and wondered why there is no minimum standard of living.  Why are there houses, especially now, lying empty while there are homeless people fishing by the river?  Why are there meals going half eaten and supermarket food being thrown out yet there are also hungry people lining up at the food bank?

I'm not sure Mr. Paine had the math right however.  I'm not sure that a modest to severe tax on estates would cover a pension like this.  Now I am for an estate tax but for different reasons than this but I believe Mr. Paine's scheme of a generation transfer tax would not be nearly sufficient to promote a minimum standard of living among the living.  I mean there are a few people living off of inheritances and all of us enjoy the blessings that the preceding generations left to us but work today must be done and it is a rare few that are able to have a minimum standard of living without it.

In our current system if you don't do a certain amount of work (and are unfortunate enough not to be loved by someone who does) you are unable to enjoy the lavish benefits that our large middle class enjoys.  This is incredibly unfair to those that are unfortunate to not be able to do valuable work.  The social choice we have made is that those who don't do this work for the most part go without property, fall victims to predatory practices both from corporations and individuals and in extreme cases to the elements.  I know that often times those that fall victims to these risks are the young, the disabled and to people who for reasons of sanity or intellect or disorder just aren't able to do the work required.  However it does do the trick of putting the whip to the lazy and the would be lazy, and since the world would be much less of a place without their work we are most likely better off altogether.

So Mr. Paine, yes the industrial and agricultural age has robbed us of our birthright of wandering free.  Yes it has created a scheme where some have more than they can use and some have less, but as long as my birthright includes clean clothes, good food and Blu-Ray I'm willing to concede that things are working to some extent, but I am open to a better idea if one comes along.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff, and It's All Small Stuff

So this is cheating, writing about a book that I actually read ten years ago.  Still though I've loved this book and it's been a great influence on my life.

Many years ago I had a friend, it was before the days of e-mail so we wrote to each other frequently.  Imagine that.  I don't even spend time writing to my friends now even though the letters would go instantly.  The downside of the web is that when I sit down in front of the computer I spend hours reading useless stuff and not enough time writing to people that I care about.  I'll have to change that.

In that time of writing though she sent me this book.  I devoured it.  Before this book I had read the Tao of Pooh and the Tao Te Ching and this book fit right in with that philosophy.  I love the ideas in the book, see the glass as already broken, see the innocence in other people's behavior, spend time to thank someone today.

I'd say that not only is this book worth a read but it's worth a read and worth time to put into practice.