Commutative Justice and the National Debt. In Chapter 4 of the text, the author examines commutative justice across the generations (see Section 4.5). This idea arises from the writings of British political thinker Edmund Burke (1790):
“Society is indeed a contract... a partnership in all art, a particular in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born...” (Reflections on the French Revolution, para. 165)
Burke’s idea of a social contract between generations is often cited in contemporary debates about the spiraling nation debt of the United States. What do young and old citizens living today owe, as a matter of commutative justice, to generations of citizens who are not yet born? Is it just for today’s citizens to demand policies (e.g., low taxes and high levels of government service) that create huge debts for future generations to pay?