A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What We've Borrowed And What They'll Owe

Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison 220 years ago, wondering rhetorically whether "one generation of men has a right to bind another." He then pronounced his treatise: "I set out on this ground, which I suppose to be self-evident, that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living."

I suppose his words can be interpreted to mean that the fruits of the earth are to be held in trust by the current generation, enjoyed by faithful stewards and yet not encumbered in detriment to those who will inherit them. We ought to have been able to live well yet put things back as we found them. Put another way: each generation should be able to open the box as if the game were new, get out the pieces and board, play a while, then put the game back in its box for someone else to use. Use of the fruit - usufruct.

Given my generation's overuse and abuse of the land, sea, and air and now its mismanagement of the global economy, we've obviously tapped our line of credit and are running up the next generation's debts. This Earth Day we should each consider what we have, what we need, and what we owe to our children. Let's hope we can set things right.

To read more about Jefferson's words, see Chapter 9 of Jeffersonian Legacies. The chapter was written by Herbert Sloan.


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