Ben Franklin on the Limits of the Right to Property

Benjamin Franklin:

“All Property, indeed, except the Savage’s temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it.

All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition.”

Nowadays the stooges for the SuperRich would attack old Ben as a Commie. But what he had to say wasn’t considered radical in his day but simply common sense. Of course, society creates wealth, sustains wealth and then deputizes today’s temporary holder of wealth to act as steward. As Pope John Paul II said, on all property there is a social mortgage. And all property is held subject to the “owner’s” debt to society for the privilege.

Thomas Paine built on this foundation and went on to write:

“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[uced] in this plan is to issue.

The property owners owe rent to those who do not own property for the privilege of cultivating the land, and taking away the natural ownership that all people have…

To create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling [a ton of money in those days], 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.”

So Paine would use the community’s accumulated Capital, land in his case, to induce property holders to compensate the community for its usage. Thus creating a pension or “guaranteed income” for those who have shared their common entitlement with the landowner (capitalist). Creative thinking!


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