A Call for Intergenerational Justice

I’ve recently signed onto a statement put together by the Center for Public Justice and Evangelicals for Social Action titled A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal for the American Debt Crisis. The statement points to the immorality of passing our large national debt onto our children and children’s children. It states, 

Today’s federal debts threaten not only the present generation, but also our children and generations yet unborn. Intergenerational justice demands that one generation must not benefit or suffer unfairly at the cost of another.

It advises against, however, balancing our budgets by cutting programs that effectively serve our most needy. And, it offers four proposals as part of a “bipartisan agreement” on balancing our budgets. These proposals deal with defense spending, Social Security, and health care, among others. Since these categories make up the largest part of our federal budget, it takes the root causes of our debt crisis seriously, unlike what we have heard from President Obama and congressional Republicans, as I have argued elsewhere

The statement it also notable for the names that have been brought together. The statement includes voices from the left, such as Jim Wallis and Ron Sider, and voices from the right, such as Michael Gerson, Gideon Strauss, and Stanley Carlson-Thies.

One of the criticisms of the “Call” came from Jordan Ballor, a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Ballor is concerned that the statement would exclude programs that should be cut as part of an overall austerity package, doesn’t say enough about entitlement reform, and doesn’t include a principled statement about the proper role of government. You can read more here and here. Scroll down to the comments sections to read my responses.  

I don’t agree with everything I see in the “Call”. For instance, since we get less of what we tax, I would prefer that government revenue come from taxing consumption, rather than production. More production and less consumption would help us dig ourselves out of our current debt burden. The “Call” would seem to take this idea off the table–“We should … keep the tax code progressive.” Plus, while the “Call” suggests some proposals for fixing Social Security deficits (“slowly increase the retirement age, modestly reduce benefits for more wealthy seniors, and increase the amount of income taxed”), it makes no effort to address the cause of the deficits (namely, it is a “pay as you go” system).

Why then, you may ask, would I sign onto the statement if I have these disagreements? The “Call” needs to be understood for what it is–a bipartisan agreement. It represents a place where parties from different places along the ideological spectrum can come together and agree on some workable solutions to our nation’s debt crisis. This is important, because, any solution to our debt crisis will have to be bipartisan

Our Founders intentionally designed a government in which policies could not be passed without broad agreement (see, for instance, Federalist #10). For the most part, our government has worked and continues to work as intended. This is even more true during divided government, as we have now. So, whether or not you agree with the Founders, this is what we have to work with. I am willing, therefore, to give up on a national sales tax and personal accounts for Social Security if it means securing an agreement that will balance our budgets. This is why I endorse A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal for the American Debt Crisis, and encourage you to sign the petition.


Update: I you happen to find yourself near Grand Rapids, MI on Thursday, March 10, Action Institute will be hosting a discussion with Jordan Ballor and Gideon Strauss, CEO of CPJ on the “Call”.

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