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Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

July 21, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 62




Tom Fox But what about justice?

By Tom Fox, NCR publisher

Approaching the Fourth of July it is fitting to ponder the birth of our nation and the founding principles upon which it was formed.

Dr. Mortimer Adler, American philosopher and last living founder of the Great Books program at Saint John's College, spent a life analyzing these principles. He concluded that the strength of the American political tradition rests in three concepts: equality, liberty and justice for all. Justice, he wrote, mediates between the often-conflicting goals of "liberty" and "equality."

How often, growing up, did we recite the Pledge of Allegiance, concluding with the words, "with liberty and justice for all"? Yet curiously, we seem to give this foundational phrase little more than lip service today.

There is no shortage of verbiage from our political leaders when it comes to "liberty." It is highly valued. Freedom has no bounds among patriots.

But what about justice?

Liberty without justice has a hollow ring. Taken to its logical end, it creates a world in which there is little, if no, collective responsibility, no commitment to the common good.

It is within this imbalance, however, that we see government doing its work today.

Without government acting to foster both liberty and justice we end up with a nation in which the rich and powerful become ever more rich and powerful and the poor become ever more weak and vulnerable. This is what has been happening over the past quarter century; we began to lose this balance during the Reagan administration.

More evidence of this trend comes from new data provided by the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS says the 400 wealthiest taxpayers accounted for more than 1 percent of all the income in the United States in 2000, more than double their share just eight years earlier.

The IRS also indicated that the tax burden for those 400 plummeted over the period.

The data showed that the average income of the 400 wealthiest taxpayers was almost $174 million in 2000. That was nearly quadruple the $46.8 million average in 1992. The minimum income to qualify for the list was $86.8 million in 2000, more than triple the minimum income of $24.4 million of the 400 wealthiest taxpayers in 1992.

A second IRS report found that 2,328 wealthy people avoided all U.S. income taxes in 2000, a 45 percent jump from the previous year.

Money is getting sucked up the economic pyramid. Fewer and fewer control more and more resources and government access.

Had President George Bush's latest tax cuts been in effect in 2000, the average tax bill for the top 400 would have been about $30.4 million -- a savings of $8.3 million, or more than a fifth, according to an analysis of the IRS data by The New York Times.

As imbalance between liberty and justice grows government ends up representing a relative few, those with the freedom that money provides.

This was especially clear a few weeks back when congressional members, representing these relative few, denied the parents of 8 million children, from relatively poor families, the tax breaks going to the rich. Allowing those child credit breaks would have cost the rich a tiny fraction of the money they gained in the tax cut.

This was one more breach of the common good. It is no wonder state governments are going bankrupt. They are being starved by tax shortages, with most of those tax cuts going to the wealthier members of society.

Some have estimated, for example, that over the next 10 years the recent Bush tax cut will cost the nation some $800 billion in programs and services!

So what does a patriot do? For the moment, one might start by taking the words of the Pledge of Allegiance more seriously. And when you come to the words, "with liberty and justice for all," say them slowly and think of taking them seriously.

Tom Fox is NCR publisher. He can be reached at

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