A preachy, high-falutin’ bit about justice

“Injustice … causes civil war, hatred and fighting among themselves, while justice brings friendship and a sense of common purpose. … Those who are completely unjust are completely incapable of accomplishing anything.”

—Socrates to Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic

The argument about taxes and budgets and the Nevada Constitution is, at its root, an argument about justice. The voters of Nevada elected representatives to state government to make decisions about justice, about what benefits the people of our state.

Most of these leaders, including the governor of our state, agree on the nature of justice. Most say that it is just to fund state services and to institute some kind of broad-based business tax that would apply to other enterprises besides gambling, which now funds the lion’s share of the state budget.

Our representatives have heard the arguments. They’ve studied the issues. Most have drawn the conclusion that such a tax would compel businesses to pitch in, businesses that have long been drawn to Nevada for it’s “pro-business regulatory environment, affordable housing and … good year-round climate.” (That last bit written by Philipp Harper in an MSN business publication.)

It’s actually kind of unfortunate that the casinos agree with this position. This casts suspicion on the entire proceedings because how could gambling—an industry based on greed—come down on the just side of any issue?

Yet allowing other businesses to shoulder a small part of the load now on the shoulders of gambling is just. That the gambling industry supports a position doesn’t make the position wrong. The majority of state legislators pinched their nostrils at the gambling lobby and agreed.

But the majority does not rule when it comes to taxes in Nevada.

Thanks to a spurious constitutional amendment—two-thirds vote to raise taxes—loved, appreciated and voted for by the unstudied, reactionary masses, the many have been ruled by the few. The few are buoyed by cries of “No new taxes!” from people who see only one issue at stake—the fatness of their wallets, which must not be diminished. It seems that no reason will ever appeal to these folks who believe that the state government spends enough already, that there’s no benefit to programs for the disabled or impoverished women with children, no need for boosts funds to education, law enforcement, prescriptions for the elderly and insurance for impoverished sick kids. These people refuse to educate themselves. Instead, they bombard legislators with e-mails and phone calls saying, “Hold the line, no new taxes, read our fat, red lips.”

A few legislators—more than a dozen Assembly Republicans and a handful of Senators—operate under the assumption that their position is, in fact, the just one. It’s an assumption worth examining.

Is it just for businesses to continue using the resources of our state without making any significant contributions? Is the payroll tax favored by these same few legislators—a tax that will directly affect the pocketbooks of Nevada workers—a just tax to invoke while the free ride for business continues? Is it just to hold up the entire democratic process in order to foist the opinions of the few over those of the many?

On the other hand, maybe justice can’t be so crisply defined. Ultimately, the solution must come through compromise. What might that look like? Quoting Socrates, Plato writes that justice will bring “friendship and a sense of common purpose.” No hint of lawsuits or the Nevada Supreme Court.

It’s no wonder that Socrates suggested the ideal society was not a democracy.