Citizens and Government Share Responsibility for Intergenerational Justice

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March 4, 2011
By Gideon Strauss and Stephanie Summers

In a press call yesterday, the Center for Public Justice, in partnership with Evangelicals for Social Action, and with the support of a list of signatories that include Richard Mouw, Andy Crouch, Michael Gerson, Jonathan Merritt, H. Dean Trulear, and Stanley Carlson-Thies, issued A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis. We invite all of our readers to read the Call and sign on in support of it.

The Call addresses the present moment by insisting that as citizens we share with government two urgent, moral responsibilities: for intergenerational justice with regard to fiscal stewardship (which demands cutting the debt), and the administration of justice for the most vulnerable (which demands maintaining federal funding for effective programs of domestic and international poverty relief and health crisis assistance).

In our Guideline on Citizenship the Center for Public Justice proposes that “responsible citizenship includes…helping to shape the political community to conform to the demands of justice.”  We have applied this principle in the Call, where we argue that while “Reforming our culture of debt is not just the responsibility of government…government does have the primary responsibility to reverse at least one part of our mad rush to economic disaster—our ever-increasing government debt.”

Subsequently, in the Call we insist that “citizens must tell elected officials that we recognize our duty to temper our wants, and even sacrifice with regard to some of our legitimate desires: for the sake of frugal stewardship and long-term sustainability of our economy, for the sake of continuing governmental care for the poor and weak, and for the sake of doing justice to our children and our children’s children.”  Confronted by necessary federal austerity measures, citizens of all ages must place the demands of justice before immediate self-interests, sharing costs and making sacrifices to support these difficult but moral responsibilities.

In our Guideline on Government the Center for Public Justice proposes, “Citizens should approach government not as the power that can give them what they want, but as the authority that ought to uphold a just public order for them and for all their neighbors.” 

And so in this Call to Intergenerational Justice we say:

  • We must cut federal spending;
  • We must control healthcare expenses;
  • We must make Social Security sustainable; and,
  • We must reform the tax code. 

At the same time, in our Guideline on Welfare, the Center for Public Justice proposes that “government bears responsibility to guard against the emergence of intractable poverty in society and to ensure that appropriate and effective steps are taken to address such poverty.” And, while we recognize that poverty is alleviated primarily by means of a flourishing economy and secondarily through the charitable efforts of faith communities and non-governmental, non-profit organizations (NGOs), we also propose that “because people in dire poverty need help even when their neighbors are not generous or when economic conditions restrict private charity…government will at times have to act in ways that go beyond preventive measures and the support of NGOs, for it must address critical conditions that endanger the welfare of society as a whole.”

Reducing the debt while doing justice for the poor is an enormously complex challenge that will require wise statecraft. It would be simplistic to portray the present challenge as a simple matter of “guns vs. butter” and to overemphasize the contribution that prudent reductions in defense spending, however necessary, would make to the current debt crisis. In our Guideline on Security and Defense the Center for Public Justice recognizes that the United States remains “the world's dominant military power.” Given our responsibility to help “defend the innocent against unjust aggression,” we must craft our defense budget to conform to our responsibilities, given the demands and constraints of Just War doctrine.

In issuing this Call, the Center for Public Justice joins Evangelicals for Social Action in addressing those who make our nation’s laws and those who administer these laws, to “fulfill [their] proper task and high purpose”—not to try and give us as citizens what we want, nor to try to balance the diversity of our interests, but to act to uphold a just public order for us and for all our neighbors.

—Gideon Strauss is editor of Capital Commentary and CEO of the Center for Public Justice.  Stephanie Summers is the COO of the Center for Public Justice.

To respond to the author of this Commentary: capcomm@cpjustice.org

Topic(s): deficitjustice

Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion.