CRF Blog

A Brief History of the Idea That Everyone Should Get Free Cash for Life

by Bill Hayes

Mother Jones magazine provides A Brief History of the Idea That Everyone Should Get Free Cash for Life.

[T]he idea of basic income has been around for more than 200 years, rising on waves of political and economic turmoil only to disappear in calmer times. Here are some of the highlights of its long, turbulent history:

1795–97: As the Industrial Revolution widened the gap between rich and poor, land reform was seen by some as an answer to social inequity. Thomas Paine, who two decades earlier had written Common Sense, drafted Agrarian Justice in the winter of 1795 and 1796. The earth by right belongs to all people, Paine argued, but the private ownership of land has stripped us of this “natural inheritance”; at 21 years old, citizens should be compensated for their loss with a sum of 15 pounds. A year later, fellow British-born radical Thomas Spence responded with a pamphlet titled The Rights of Infants. Writing in the character of a woman (“because the men are not to be depended on”), Spence said society should be organized into parishes that would lease out all houses and lands and then, after the community’s expenses had been paid, distribute their remaining funds equally among members. [more]