“The tax system should be continually evaluated in terms of its impact on the poor.” So stated the U.S. bishops in their 1986 pastoral “Economic Justice for All.” They enunciated three guiding principles:
First, the tax system should raise adequate revenues to pay for the public needs of society, especially to meet the basic needs of the poor. Secondly, the tax system should be structured according to the principle of progressivity, so that those with relatively greater financial resources pay a higher rate of taxation. The inclusion of such a principle in tax policies is an important means of reducing the severe inequalities of income and wealth in the nation. ... Thirdly, families below the official poverty line should not be required to pay income taxes. Such families are, by definition, without sufficient resources to purchase the basic necessities of life. They should not be forced to bear the additional burden of paying income taxes.
Four years ago, a friend told me that he was voting for candidate so-and-so for president because it would be best for the business in which he worked. My friend is a good man, but in this case he had it wrong. The measure of a candidate can’t be my business, my taxes, my state, or even my family. The ultimate measure for a voter is not any personal interest, but the ancient standard of the common good. Born out of Greek and Roman philosophy, the common good described the goal of political life, the good of the city (the pólis), and the task entrusted to civic leaders.
After centuries of Christian scholarship and debate, we arrive at the definition in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, taken from Vatican II, and ultimately from Pope John XXIII in Mater et Magistra (1961):
According to its primary and broadly accepted sense, the common good indicates “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”