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About this book

Common wealth dividends are universal cash payments funded by fees on the private use of common resources like land, minerals, and the atmosphere as a carbon sink. Thomas Paine’s 1797 pamphlet Agrarian Justice and Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend are staples in the literature on Basic Income, but there is much more to common wealth dividends beyond these highlights, and common wealth dividends have a distinctive ethical justification and distinctive policy implications that merit discussion. This monograph, the most comprehensive study of common wealth dividends to date, will be of interest to students, teachers, and advocates of Basic Income and those in the field of environmental studies, including sustainable development, natural resource management, and climate policy.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Introduction

Abstract
The subject of this book is a moral intuition: the idea that there are some things in this world, like land and natural resources, that ought to be considered our common heritage, and that those who own or control these common-heritage resources owe some compensation to the rest of us who are excluded from their use. This insight has struck many individuals separately over the years. In at least three significant cases, as we will see, it was discovered and fleshed out independently in different domains: land, natural resources, and ecosystem services. As a work of history, this book tells the story of the discovery and rediscovery of this moral insight. As a work of theory, it explores the possibility of articulating a general theory of common wealth dividends and extending it to man-made commons. As a variant on the concept of basic income, common wealth dividends have two distinct advantages: the source of funding is baked right in to the plan, and the income is a right.
Brent Ranalli

Chapter 2. Thomas Paine Solves the Perennial Problem of Land Reform

Abstract
Inequitable distribution of land has been a perennial problem for human societies. Corrections have often been difficult and involved bloodshed, and they have rarely provided lasting relief. Thomas Paine struck upon a permanent, fair solution in the 1790s, drawing on the natural law tradition associated with Grotius and Locke. He proposed that landholders compensate the landless by paying into a trust fund. In Paine’s vision, the trust fund would issue universal dividends in the form of seed capital for young adults and pensions for the elderly and disabled. Paine’s 1797 pamphlet Agrarian Justice had little contemporary impact, but others worked out variants of the idea, most notably the American reformer Henry George. George left a lasting legacy in scholarship and policy. Although George is on record as approving a limited issuance of dividends, he is primarily known for proposing that land tax revenue be used to fund government. A useful distinction can be made between a “Paineite” approach of taxing land to fund dividends and a “Georgeist” approach of taxing land to fund government.
Brent Ranalli

Chapter 3. Natural Resources and the Alaska Model

Abstract
In the 1960, oil was discovered on Alaska’s North Slope. Under the leadership of Governor Jay Hammond, Alaska established a Permanent Fund in 1976 to receive a portion of the oil revenues for purposes of investment and in 1982 began issuing dividends to every Alaska resident out of the Permanent Fund’s earnings. The “Alaska model” has inspired many imitations involving a wide range of resources. It is also recognized internationally as a template for responsible management of non-renewable resources. Placing the resource rents into a dedicated Fund serves to (a) preserve them so they can continue to benefit future generations, and (b) mitigate the “resource curse” (lax fiscal discipline, lack of accountability, corruption) that often accompanies mineral extraction when rents go directly into government coffers. Issuing dividends from investments serves to give every constituent some tangible benefit from the resource and create a political constituency to protect and preserve the Fund.
Brent Ranalli

Chapter 4. Ecosystem Services and Carbon Dividends

Abstract
In the late 1990s, entrepreneur and author Peter Barnes began writing about the commons. He proposed that formalizing universal rights to common assets via trusts could help solve both economic inequality and environmental degradation. As applied to the atmosphere as a carbon sink, this produced the idea of the carbon dividend. Barnes’s idea was taken up by others, including climate scientist James Hansen, and carbon dividends are now in the mainstream of climate change mitigation policy debates in the U.S. Many nations and subnational jurisdictions already recycle some carbon pricing revenue back to citizens. This chapter walks through the elements of a viable carbon tax or cap-and-permit system. It argues that dividends will be an essential element of any successful carbon pricing policy design. Meeting climate change mitigation benchmarks will require carbon prices to rise much more rapidly than they have to date, and many households will require a financial boost from carbon dividends (or similar) to weather the transition.
Brent Ranalli

Chapter 5. Common Wealth Dividends, Generalized

Abstract
This chapter accomplishes four tasks. First, we situate what we have learned so far within the context of sustainable natural resource management. The imperative of sustainability places some constraints on how and when Nature should be treated as a source of universal dividends. Second, we explore the possibility of articulating a general theory of common wealth dividends, one that can unify the insights from the domains of land, natural resources, and ecosystem services and extend them to other domains such as man-made commons. Specifically, we examine the public trust doctrine, the labor theory of property, and the concept of economic rent. Third, we look at some specific examples of man-made commons (or commons with man-made elements) as candidate sources of common wealth dividends. Finally, we review some parameters of common wealth dividend program design.
Brent Ranalli

Backmatter

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