Justice! Part 2

inheritance    We did not create the world.  God did.  But he created it for us - for all of us. Genesis says he gave us “dominion” over it.  But can the fact that the earth (or the creation) is our common inheritance reconcile itself with a modern economy?  A modern farmer needs a great deal of land in order to be productive.  A high-rise office building is normally situated on a small, but extremely valuable site in the middle of a bustling downtown.  Conversely, a person may choose to be an apartment renter rather than a homeowner, thereby forgoing any legal land ownership at all.  Do these situations offend justice?  Does the principle of our common inheritance in the creation square with the requirements of today’s economy?

Well if God created all this, he probably gave us some rules that can answer the question.  After all, as the creator, he has the right to set the rules.  And usually, rules that God sets are not to be ignored, both for moral and for practical reasons.  God does know what he’s doing.

Bible

The Rules

As found in The Tithe (sources) and The Tithe (uses) God set the terms for our use of his land.  He said we must pay a tithe of the land’s productive value every year.  Only ten percent of that tithe was to go to the religious establishment.  The other ninety percent of it went to fund what we now call civil government.  So a rent on land value is to be at least one source of the government’s revenue.  At the same time, levies against labor (income tax, etc.) were forbidden.  So were levies against people’s capital.  Such levies by a powerful government were considered theft, regardless of whatever civil law made them “legal.”

People create their own labor.  Labor is owned by the laborer.  No one has the right to take labor from the laborer.  Remember, we found slavery to be immoral.  So wages (salaries, etc.), being the economic return on our labor, are sacrosanct, under God’s rules.

If a person saves some of his wages, that savings is called wealth.  If wealth is put to use to create more wealth, we call it capital.  Capital comes from wages and is owned by the laborer or by the person to whom the laborer freely gives it.  Taking a person’s capital by force is also forbidden in God’s Law for the same reason that taking labor is forbidden.

So, under God’s rules, we should tax land value and untax labor and capital.  Some would say that there would not be enough money to run the a modern government if we did enact such a system.  However, God said the tithe would suffice.

And now we get back to justice.  Justice does not demand that I take part of your wage or your possessions and hand it over to folks who have little.  In fact, Justice is offended at such a thing – it’s just theft.  On the other hand, the whole community created land value – and God created the land.  So paying rent for using something I didn’t make but have exclusive use of and using it to benefit the common good – this does seem just.  We have established governments to provide common societal benefits like roads, police, contract enforcement, etc.  This land rent would be the natural and just source of revenue to provide these goods for the benefit of all.

blind

God is pretty smart.

Justice!

selfieJustice is a trait that our society is supposed to exhibit.  So what does Justice require of us?  How do we know if we have a just society?

blind

Justice can be defined as a condition that exists when everyone, regardless of position or circumstance, receives what they are entitled to receive.  Justice does not demand that outcomes are equal – because one person goes to jail, it does not follow that everyone must go.  Or if I become a best-selling author (how sweet that would be!) it does not follow that everyone must be a best-selling author.  Justice demands that all must begin with the same endowments.  If those endowments are supplemented by parental, societal, physical or political endowments (children born in the U.S. have a better shot at prosperity than do children born in Cambodia), justice is not insulted.

Our Declaration of Independence states that all of us are created as equal beings and that God endowed each of us, again, equally, with human rights.  The clear message is that God is the source of this equality.  And it is his positive will that we are equal.  A corollary to this idea is that to compromise anyone’s God-given equality without “just” cause is an offense against justice.  And people can “feel” it.  So slavery or crony capitalism, no matter their rationale, cause people to be uneasy at least, and more often offended.  And rightly so.

If Governments were the source of our rights, then there would be no moral problem with special grants of privilege to recipients whom the goverment happens to favor.  Whether the recipient is a titled aristocrat or a company like Solyndra, if government determines morality, then such grants, being legal, would be fine.  But we don’t feel that they’re fine, do we?  When the laws of the Third Reich required the Jews to be sent to concentration camps, the action was clearly legal, but any reasonable person could discern its fundamental immorality.

This innate knowledge, which all human beings share, is called the natural law.  This is why, in the Declaration, the writer used the term, “self-evident,” to legitimize his short list of rights.

So, to what are we all entitled?  What are God’s endowments?  Starting at the beginning, God created us.  None of us is able to create another person.  Only God appears to have that ability.  So we do not have unqualified ownership of another person.  Trusteeship, perhaps, as in parenting a child.  But not ownership.  Therefore we cannot, in justice, take another’s life, or part of another’s life.

Conversely, we do own ourselves.  Employing the rights of a creator, one might metaphysically assume that God owns us.  But God handed each of us over to our own person.  In order to excercise this self-ownership, God gave us intelligence and free will in order to be fundamentally independent beings.  We can hand over part of our “selves” to another, as in marriage or employment, but it is our choice – and we can change our mind and take that part handed over back to ourselves.  We can also pledge part of ourselves to the rest of society and agree to follow law, even law we don’t agree with.

 

God also created the earth, the physical world.  He created it for all of us. In Genesis, he gave us “dominion” over it.  But we know that he did not give more of it to the strong, the ruthless, the better-born, or the first arrivals inheritancethan he did to the weak, the scrupulous, the average, or the late-comers.  He gave it to all of us, and, at root, harkening back to the natural law, we believe we are all equal inheritors of God’s endowment.

This point, being equal inheritors of God’s creation, is a sticking point for us in our recognition and application of justice.  We will discuss it in the next post.