Locke + Nozick = Locke

by John Quiggin on October 16, 2016

In the discussion of my threepart critique of Locke, I mentioned my view that Rothbard and Nozick added nothing of value, and promised to expand on this when I got some time. I discussed Rothbard here, and have finally got around to Nozick.

Someone (I think Jerry Cohen) remarked that Nozick was be taken very seriously by Marxists and not nearly as much by social democrats and (US) liberals. Obviously, my reaction (that of a social democrat) illustrates this. The reason for this divergence is obvious enough. If you would like to derive property rights from a notion of self-ownership (and the Marxist concept of exploitation is close to this), Nozick provides a reductio ad absurdam. So, a critique like Cohen’s is essential.

OTOH, if you start from the ground that property rights are social structures, and that their justice or otherwise is inseparable from that of the society in which they operate, Nozick is of no real interest. All the important errors in his work were already made by Locke. However, I’ll point out some new ones.

The basic problem with Nozick is the same as with all propertarians. He wants to treat (a subset of) the property rights created under existing states as indefeasible, while dismissing any conditions currently attached to those rights as unjust. Invariably this produces hopeless contradictions. I’ll discuss a couple, one relatively trivial and the other fundamental.

Nozick claims that a requirement to pay taxes is on a par with slavery, which puts the recipients of tax-funded payments (just about everyone, at some point in their lives) in the position of slaveholders. But, if someone has used tax-funded income to buy a piece of property, Nozick wants to treat their ownership as a natural right. But how can the proceeds of enslavement be justly held.

Nozick blurs this point with a long discussion of how things might have been in a state of nature, and what, theoretically, might be involved in rectifying past injustices, before assuming he has a can-opener (‘Idealizing greatly, let us suppose sophisticated theoretical investigation will produce a principle of rectification). From then on, he forgets about rectification and implicitly assumes that existing rights in private property (but not, it seems, rights to Social Security or public education) have been justly acquired.

The second problem is, I think, more fundamental. Nozick begins by dismissing arguments about justice based on an ‘end-state’ of the current and future allocation of welfare.. In his dismissal of consequentialism, he makes no attempt to claim that the changes he favors would make everyone better off compared to the current situation. This is obviously that this is not the case and, if it were, Nozick would be writing a very different book (something more like Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson.

Yet only a few pages later, Nozick introduces the Lockean proviso that the appropriation of property rights by some should not worsen the position of others. He tehn asserts (p 182) ‘I believe that the free operation of a market system will not actually run afoul of the Lockean proviso’, that is it will not make anyone worse off.

Compared to what? Clearly not the status quo: Nozick has implicitly conceded this already. Presumably, he has in mind some sort of propertyless state of Nature in which we are all engaged in a Hobbesian war of all against all. With the same starting point, Hobbes derived the conclusion that we must all submit to absolute and untrammeled state power. Nozick invokes the same argument to conclude that only a minimal state is justified. The two claims refute each other. Once the correct comparison, that with the status quo, is made, Nozick’s whole case collapses.

Finally, I’ll respond to Nozick’s Wilt Chamberlain example, which seems to have impressed quite a few readers. The basic point is that, if lots of people would be willing to pay a small amount to watch Wilt play, he could get very rich, while the watchers would be better off. At the core of this example is simply the observation that, given any initial allocation of property rights, there are potential gains from trade and that voluntary trade between two parties will make them both better off (though it may make others worse off, a point Nozick does not address). Furthermore, there is nothing inherent in this process that prevents some people from getting very rich.

But the choice of sport as an example is self-refuting. As the history of sport demonstrates, marginal differences in the structure of property rights could produce very different outcomes. If today’s intellectual property laws had been in place in 1891, James Naismith could have patented the idea and copyrighted the rules (the copyright would have expired in 2009, too late to help Chamberlain). If his invention were viewed as a work for hire, it might be the property of the YMCA. Or, if basketball was organized like college sports, Chamberlain wouldn’t be able to cash in at all, while his coaches could earn a fortune.

The actual structure of property rights under which Wilt Chamberlain acquired a net worth estimated at $10 million is one that includes an obligation to pay taxes at rates determined by legislation. Nozick gives no coherent reason why this particular feature of the property rights system is unjust, while the rest of the system is fine.

{ 93 comments }

1

ben wolfson 10.16.16 at 5:43 am

If the point of the Chamberlain example is that “given any initial allocation of property rights, there are potential gains from trade and that voluntary trade between two parties will make them both better off” and that this is totally fine and dandy and unobjectionable and whatever else you might to say about people’s willingness to fork over small sums of money individually to one person who enjoys the aggregate of all the sums, but is not intended to show that taxation or any other specific feature of a system of property is unjust (which, as you’ve presented it, anyway, it is not), then the observation that the actually obtaining system that enriched Chamberlain includes obligation to pay taxes seems irrelevant. I’m sure it’s true that Nozick has nothing interesting to say about why taxation is unjust but the rest is hunky-dory but I can’t at all see how there’s a self-refutation lurking in this example.

2

John Quiggin 10.16.16 at 6:42 am

I’m pretty sure that Nozick thinks the Wilt Chamberlain story shows something more than “gains from trade”. It’s (I think) the only concrete example he provides in a book devoted to the claim that the outcomes of trade [based on existing property rights, but he ignores this] are morally sacrosanct. Maybe someone who found more in Nozick than I did can spell out what we are both missing.

3

ZM 10.16.16 at 6:43 am

“As the history of sport demonstrates, marginal differences in the structure of property rights could produce very different outcomes.”

I think this is an interesting observation. Not so much about the sports since I don’t really follow sports, but the idea of marginal changes making very different outcomes, like the butterfly effect.

I was reading a link someone posted on Facebook about Joseph Stiglitz talking at the International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec, where he was saying how reviving and increasing the numbers of co-ops in the economy could help reduce inequality and risk which have grown with neoliberalism over the past few decades:

“He said that alongside changes in the political landscape, such as Brexit and the upcoming elections in the USA, the world faced economic issues which are beyond the control of individuals and even national governments.

“These are problems which the private sector won’t solve – partly because the private sector created these problems,” he said. “Co-ops and the social economy provide a key third pillar. That’s one of the reasons why I was particularly happy to address you this morning.”

Many countries are witnessing growing inequality which was the result of “the laws of men”, he added.

“Growing inequality is a result of how we have structured the market economy – in particular how we have restructured it in the last third of a century,” he said. “Inequality has been a choice.”
….
“Citizens know that the establishment has either lied to them or been totally incompetent. They feel that the economic system is rigged. They have lost trust in government and in the fairness of the political and economic system.”

What is the role of co-ops in addressing this inequality? Prof Stiglitz thinks they represent a better way of responding to the risks presented by the society.

“There are alternatives to the current system, even if some suggest there are not,” he said. “Some suggest at most we need minor tweaks on the system. But problems are deep and fundamental. Minor tweaks won’t solve it.””

http://www.thenews.coop/110090/news/business/joseph-stiglitz-proposes-co-ops-models-alternative-trickle-economics/

4

ZM 10.16.16 at 6:46 am

He also said that Hilary Clinton was sympathetic to co-operative enterprises in the US:

“Prof Stiglitz predicts that the co-operative model will take a larger share of the economy in some countries.
“There is going to be volatility, and co-ops are better able to manage risks than the private sector,” he said, adding that the Democratic US presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, was sympathetic to the idea of having more worker voice and participation in enterprises. Prof Stiglitz is an adviser to Ms Clinton.”

5

Chris Bertram 10.16.16 at 8:31 am

1. Yes it was Jerry Cohen in his article “Marxism and Contemporary Political Philosophy, or, why Nozick exercises some Marxists more than he does any egalitarian liberals.” A version of which is ch.6 of Self-Ownership, Freedom and Equality and is imho one of his most interesting papers. He was also very concerned with the baseline question you identify.

2. I don’t think it is correct for you to say that Nozick’s baseline is a Hobbesian state of war, rather it is a condition before any private appropriation has taken place. On this, I think his discussion of Fourier in a footnote is of some interest (and reveals that Nozick is in a bit of a tangle about this question).

3. You say rights are social structures. (Well yes, but so are beehives and wasps nests.) I find your focus on property as created by the laws of particular societies problematic in part because it suggests that particular societies and their legal systems are the locus of justice, which rather naturally (though not inevitably) leads to an anti-cosmopolitan view of global justice. The whole social democratic/egalitarian liberal project, with its stock response to natural rights libertarians on property rights, rather easily slips into a nationally limited view of things.

6

One of Many 10.16.16 at 9:40 am

The Wilt Chamberlain example was intended to show that a distribution’s being just (i.e. not unjust) can’t be determined by its conforming to a certain pattern (e.g. its being an egalitarian distribution). The idea is that no matter what pattern you specify, you can get to a Rich-Wilt distribution that differs greatly from that pattern but which is intuitively ‘just as just’ as the original pattern, because it can be reached from the original pattern by intuitively just increments. That doesn’t in itself mean that taxing the result can’t also be just, i.e. interfering with a just outcome need not be itself unjust. You need to add further assumptions to get to the conclusion that taxing Wilt would be unjust. Though if the argument worked it would show that taxing Wilt on the grounds that the Rich-Wilt outcome was unjust would be bad reasoning. (I’m not a libertarian, btw, nor libertarian-curious.)

7

Gabriel 10.16.16 at 9:45 am

As a bit of trivia apropos to not much, the rules of a game cannot in fact be copywrighted. This fact has caused a lot of consternation for modern corporate game-makers (Games Workshop, etc).

8

John Quiggin 10.16.16 at 10:13 am

@7 Google pointed me to Australian links, and it appears that in Oz you can patent games

https://legalvision.com.au/can-i-patent-a-board-game/

9

Faustusnotes 10.16.16 at 10:30 am

Games workshop license out their warhammer product to others. Fantasy flight games just stopped producing their (excellent) range of warhammer fantasy role playing games because they could not get a new license. WFRP2 was also licensed out (to black industries I think) and included the rules. So I suspect that the uk also allows game copyrights of some kind.

10

bruce wilder 10.16.16 at 11:28 am

Wilt Chamberlain’s windfall is attributable to more than a personal talent, and property rights figure in it as mediated by elaborate and technical economic organization. Not just the rules of basketball and the social investment of mass interest in the game, but the building and operation of a league, of arenas where the game can be watched, news media to promote interest in the game, television and radio broadcast that enable millions to follow or watch games at low marginal cost. Without all that, Wilt Chamberlain’s remarkable talent might have given the man the pleasures of some personal pastime, shared with a few friends — something to which he may be entitled, though it is hard to say how justice enters into it.

Nozick’s argument comes down to a lazy and sociopathic solipsism dressed up as intuition and presented in philosophic defense of a social order that benefits a few possessed of great power and also incidently a few lottery of life winners like Chamberlain. That Nozick could make a good living as a bad philosopher examining the justice of winning the lottery of life, because his philosophy suited the interests of a few immensely rich and greedy folks deserves more scrutiny than the anatomy of Wilt Chamberlain’s career.

11

engels 10.16.16 at 11:45 am

That Nozick could make a good living as a bad philosopher examining the justice of winning the lottery of life, because his philosophy suited the interests of a few immensely rich and greedy folks deserves more scrutiny than the anatomy of Wilt Chamberlain’s career.

+1

12

Chris Bertram 10.16.16 at 11:56 am

I’m not sure that John in the OP or subsequent commenters see the whole picture re Wilt Chamberlain. The key point is not that Chamberlain becomes rich, but that liberty disrupts (just) patterns and therefore confronts anyone committed to a the view that justice requires a pattern (such as equality) with a dilemma (override free choices to enforce the pattern or give up the pattern in the name of free choice). The example also makes use of a seemingly plausible principle, namely, that any distribution that arises from a just initial distributive pattern by just steps, is itself just. There are replies to both of these points, but they require us to adopt a more sophisticated view of both pattern and process than Nozick does (see 40 years of subsequent argument in political philosophy). Seeing that Nozick is an apologist for inequality is the easy part. But that’s hardly an observation than rebuts his anti-egalitarian arguments. Presumably that’s something that we value doing.

13

bruce wilder 10.16.16 at 12:25 pm

Presumably that’s something that we value doing.

“Something” in this case is the rebuting of Nozick’s anti-egalitarian arguments? Or, taking those arguments seriously, so as to legitimize them as a philosophical position?

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Val 10.16.16 at 12:40 pm

ZM thanks for providing that information about Prof Stiglitz and the cooperatives conference. I’m very interested in coops as an alternative to the hierarchical ‘kingdom’ structure that is found in most organisations, and will probably recommend in my final thesis that that’s the model health promotion and community development should be advocating for.

People will likely say it doesn’t work because there aren’t clear lines of authority (I know some will say ‘we tried that in the 70s and it didn’t work’ because I’ve heard that), but I think it’s possible to have clear lines of authority without institutionalising inequalities of wealth and power.

I’ve actually been a member of three cooperatives -they had some problems but they worked. One was business enterprise that made money, so there you go.

15

LFC 10.16.16 at 1:09 pm

B Wilder
That Nozick could make a good living as a bad philosopher examining the justice of winning the lottery of life, because his philosophy suited the interests of a few immensely rich and greedy folks

Did Nozick become substantially better off financially than his peers in philosophy whose books espousing different positions sold roughly as well? GA Cohen implicitly or explicitly criticized his own relative affluence in If You’re an Egalitarian How Come You’re So Rich? Has anyone ever claimed that Cohen made a good living as a philosopher b/c his philosophy “suited the interests of a few immensely rich” people?

16

Merkwürdigliebe 10.16.16 at 1:12 pm

@Faustnotes 9

The stories, names, characters, art and so on are all copyrighted (just like in the case of books or films) – the game mechanics are not. Fantasy flight games could develop and sell a mechanically identical game, but they couldn’t call it Warhammer and set in the same universe.

17

Chris Bertram 10.16.16 at 1:27 pm

Bruce, I’m afraid your “so as to legitimize” remark reveals that you think we engage in philosophical argument only with the purpose of defeating political opponents we already know to be wrong.

18

stevenjohnson 10.16.16 at 1:28 pm

In college and shortly after I read a fair amount of Rand (and other SF like Heinlein and L. Neil Smith…SF is amazingly important to libertarianism, which should tell you something, shouldn’t it?), Rothbard, von Mises and some popularizations like David Friedman’s Machinery of Freedom. Nozick always seemed like a waste of time, not least because the reviews of the time usually cited the Wilt Chamberlain example. I may have read it too but it left no impression if I did.

The first thing about “Wilt” is that you can’t assume there’s really no difference between owning a bank account and owning things like a shipping firm with vessels and office scattered all over the world; a gold mine in South Africa; a semiconductor factory in Shenzhen; a chain of supermarkets in Latin America; an investment bank in the City; a football franchise; T-bills; the copywrite on Anarchy, State and Utopia; the patent on paper clips, and no doubt other examples of “property” that play different roles in the economy.

It seems to me that ever since Adam Smith we have known that an ongoing system of production is what constitutes the wealth of nations, not a stock of things (whether grossly tangible or financial in nature.) “Wilt”‘s cash in hand is a personal consumption good. It would be too much to say that inequalities in these are irrelevant to the philosophical morality of an economic system. But it is ridiculous to pretend that it can stand for all those issue. The only philosophical question here I think is whether this is a common red herring or a category error.

Given the self-flattering libertarian notion that they are the ones with a hard headed grasp of how economic science has informed their philosophy (or how it is the foundation of a scientific politics and morals,) an economic primitivism that hasn’t absorbed The Wealth of Nations is shocking. That they have so much support in economics departments is just the permanent scandal of apologetics.

The second thing is the implicit notion that a singular exception to perfect equality of outcomes in an hypothetically ideal system serves as a counterexample to very notion of fairness in outcomes as a standard at all. If “Wilt” does not seize permanent command of some part of the production process, for himself and his heirs, in the long run his inequality is a temporary deviation from perfection. Another way of putting it is that Nozick moves the goalposts for a just society. Again, he’s ridiculous.

But as is well known there are still many philosophers and other academics who insist still on taking Nozick and other libertarians seriously. Insofar as there is anything besides an apologetic purpose behind that, it seems to be the bizarre presumption that every philosopher is entitled to pretend to reinvent the world. So sure, Nozick can pretend that some exceptional dude with lots of spending cash can stand in for captialists.

But…The reference to G.A. Cohen reminds me of a not too long ago example. As I understand it Cohen wrote a book, Why Not Socialism? (I’ve only read his critique of Marx’s theory of history.) In it, apparently there was yet another philosophical thought experiment that relied on the parable of a camping trip. Apparently the gist is that you’d rather go camping with socialists than capitalists. The, ah, extraordinary, Jason Brennan, of course wrote a book, Why Not Capitalism?, which attacked Cohen for straw manning the capitalist campers as rotten people. In his publicity pieces, Brennan expands at length how if you don’t do this, camping with capitalists is good fun. Yes, well, camping with John Galt, Dagny Taggart, Henry Rearden, Francisco whozis and Ragnar whatzis is fun? The way Brennan’s little pieces blithely ignore what we know perfectly well about how libertarians really see things, Nozick ignores what we know perfectly well about how economic inequality really works.

19

mbrave 10.16.16 at 1:57 pm

Have you actually *read* either Nozick or the voluminous commentary on him? Did you even bother to read Cohen’s refutation? If you had, you’d quickly realize that Nozick’s critique of distributive justice, socialist or otherwise, is not principally grounded in self-ownership. It is a species of immanent critique, arguing that *whatever* the mechanism of egalitarianism is established, it will inevitably result in, or at least authorize, a sequence of interactions that will result in an unequal distribution, compelling an intervention to “set things right” that *violates the grounding principle of justice*. Even Cohen gets this right, before completely failing to offer a satisfying refutation. (Tellingly, he refuses to offer any substantive definition of socialism in response to Nozick. When he does so elsewhere, the result is laughably inadequate).

So the notion that Nozick adds nothing to Locke is decidedly false. As generations of philosophers and social critics have learned, the best way to refute Nozick is not by appeal to the abolition of property but by an immanent critique of the market economy, coupled with substantive proposals for democratic forms of redistribution that avoid the contradiction he has identified. Heck, even Rawls himself took Nozick’s argument onboard. But then he was not so arrogant as to dismiss a serious counterargument out of hand.

20

Mike Huben 10.16.16 at 1:59 pm

I have a page on Robert Nozick at my Critiques of Libertarianism wiki.

Nozick is self-refuting: he declares that liberty disrupts patterns but doesn’t explain how is pattern of historical entitlement would be free of disruption.

Nozick begins with an appeal to gut-feeling “truthiness”. “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)”

Nozick declares enforcing patterns is too invasive of liberty: yet ignores the fact that the pattern of property is the most invasive, ubiquitous and continuous pattern in our daily lives. Property is everywhere, and we are forbidden by men with guns to touch it. Walk down a street, and everything you look at is somebody else’s property that you are forbidden to use.

Nozick’s Lockean Proviso could be activated whenever price exists, denoting
scarcity.

The Wilt Chamberlain argument is silly: lots of people could have claims on the money for lots of reasons. Mostly having to do with pre-existing agreements. Credit card companies could be taking their slice. Assorted women could have legal judgements for alimony or child support. Nobody pays to see Chamberlain play by himself: other teammates and another team are involved, and they could demand a slice. The venue could demand a slice. And if you consider the nation a venue, it could demand a slice too.

Nozick simply works by philosophical smoke and mirrors. Most of his examples are designed to add an emotional “yuck” factor to “injustice: eyeball transfers, for example. Why not kidney or blood transfers, which exist in real life but aren’t so yucky? His marriage example depends on the choices of the bride and groom: why not the choices of the families in arranged marriages which may be financially more responsible, or why not have a government prohibition on such arranged marriages to protect individual freedom from antique custom? Why does his example assume monogamy?

Worst of all is the fake mathematical inductive logic in his entitlement theory of justice. I have my own analysis at The Entitlement Theory of Justice.

Maybe I should tell you what I REALLY think…. :-)

21

jake that antisoshul soshulist 10.16.16 at 2:31 pm

@stevenjohnson #18
Good point about Libertarians and speculative fiction. I suppose you could say the same about Libertarian economists or political philosophers. They have to create an imaginary scenario in which their preferences would function. But, then that critique might apply to most economists. ;-)

22

Chris Bertram 10.16.16 at 2:31 pm

As it happens we’re planning a post on the way our comments threads work, and anyway this is JQ’s post, but I can’t help observing that comments are for conversation and not for long declarations of *the truth* by people who are not open to arguments to the contrary.

23

Mike Huben 10.16.16 at 3:12 pm

Chris Bertram@ 21:
It is important to appraise others of the origins and political settings of ideas so that they can be alert to biases as they read them. US libertarianism has a very well documented origin through pro-capitalist propaganda organizations who have been massively funded by the wealthy for at least 3 generations. Critical appraisal of texts doesn’t just happen: the reader needs to be prepared to recognize how motives of the author may be shaping his argument. That’s how JQ has been analyzing Locke, for example.

Why shouldn’t that be part of the conversation as well?

24

Hidari 10.16.16 at 3:23 pm

25

bianca steele 10.16.16 at 3:41 pm

Chris Bertram @ 5: 3. You say rights are social structures. (Well yes, but so are beehives and wasps nests.) I find your focus on property as created by the laws of particular societies problematic in part because it suggests that particular societies and their legal systems are the locus of justice, which rather naturally (though not inevitably) leads to an anti-cosmopolitan view of global justice. The whole social democratic/egalitarian liberal project, with its stock response to natural rights libertarians on property rights, rather easily slips into a nationally limited view of things.

I’m curious: What would be a more comfortably cosmopolitan basis for a view of justice? Ideal theory? Peter Singer’s kind of utilitarianism? Or just more traditional kind of “philosophical” thinking generally? Or are you only making a specific criticism of society or legal institutions as a basis for morality?

26

ben wolfson 10.16.16 at 3:50 pm

but I can’t help observing that comments are for conversation and not for long declarations of *the truth* by people who are not open to arguments to the contrary.

If I say that a brick is for building and not for being used to keep plans from flying away, despite its demonstrable ability to serve the latter purpose, I have some idea what I could say to back up my claim. Among my defenses would not be “the particular people who provided me with this brick think it’s for building.” How do you know that comments are for conversation? It’s certainly not an idea that anyone who’s been reading CT comments for, like, the past decade would have arrived at, I think.

27

Rich Puchalsky 10.16.16 at 4:16 pm

I think that it would be perfectly fitting for the blog to get a thorough comment philosophy, sociology, and enforcement redesign just as its medium dies out altogether. Twitter will do the same thing in 2030.

28

LFC 10.16.16 at 4:21 pm

RichP,
Don’t you have a blog yourself? Why are so eager to proclaim that blogs are obsolete? (Radio didn’t become obsolete with TV. TV didn’t become extinct as a result of the internet. etc. Blogs won’t become extinct simply b/c some people prefer Twitter.)

29

Chris Bertram 10.16.16 at 4:42 pm

@bianca steele thanks. My point is just that the leading social democratic response to Nozick and some other libertarians, that favoured by people like Thomas Nagel, carries with it some baggage that some of us find problematic, so we might just want to hesitate a bit before grabbing onto it. My own view, only really worked out for one question (immigration) is that particular state actions and structures, to be just, have to be constrained by principles acceptable to everyone, including those beyond their borders, and that implies a conception of rights that isn’t merely what particular societies decide on.

30

Chris Bertram 10.16.16 at 4:44 pm

@Mike Huben, is there some evidence that Robert Nozick was massively funded by wealthy people and that this explains why he wrote Anarchy, State and Utopia? I’m not aware of any such thing myself.

31

bruce wilder 10.16.16 at 4:49 pm

CB @ 17

Thank you for reading my mind. Speaking from my position of epistemic privilege, I had been unaccountably unaware that I thought that at all. But what a conversation starter!

32

Peter Dorman 10.16.16 at 4:50 pm

I first bumped into Nozick when I was working on the theory of alienation. Nozick treats this as a fit subject for compensating wage differentials: if job A has more of an “alienation cost” than job B, it will pay correspondingly higher wages. Thus alienation is not a problem for his free market utopia.

My response was to see him as implicitly operating from a pre-social conception of the individual subject. People are who they are and always have been, and such things as their relations to one another and the content of their daily lives are simply consumption goods to be transacted between them in the market. Introducing the notion of endogenous self-change would greatly complicate and probably vitiate his system.

One of the things that struck me about Nozick was how unaware he was of actual social science in the fields he speculated on—actual economics, law, social psychology, anthropology, etc. You’d think pure speculation would need to be disciplined by knowledge of the world. Did he ever do any applied work?

33

ccc 10.16.16 at 4:54 pm

It is useful to look at the context where Nozick introduces the Chamberlain case.

From ASU 1974 p160-163:

“It is not clear how those holding alternative conceptions of distributive justice can reject the entitlement conception of justice in holdings. For suppose a distribution favored by one of these nonentitlement conceptions is realized. Let us suppose it is your favorite one and let us call this distribution D 1; perhaps everyone has an equal share ”
… “Now suppose that Wilt Chamberlain is greatly in demand by basketball teams” [here follows the Chamberlain story]
… [Nozick next attempts to make a point based on the case] “If D 1 was a just distribution, and people voluntarily moved from it to D2, transferring parts of their shares they were given under D1 (what was it for if not to do something with?), isn’t D2 also just?” … “The general point illustrated by the Wilt Chamberlain example … is that no end-state principle or distributional patterned principle of justice can be continuously realized without continuous interference with people’s lives.”

One problem here is that Nozick starts by misrepresenting competing theories as single time only redistribution views (D1). But those theories in fact have *ongoing* distribution sensitivity. They aim for a social structure where the value of equality between people (combined with other values) is *ongoingly* realized. As technology progresses the aggregated choices in a complex social system will indeed recurringly upset distributive patterns. Therefore egalitarians call for enduring but adaptive institutions like taxation, limits on power and wealth concentration and provision of welfare state services instutitions that together function to adjust patterns.

“Aha!”, some nozickian may say, “but then you admit that your theory leads to continuous interference in peoples lives.” Answer: of course the theory leads to continuous interference, but that is in itself no objection because so does *every* political philosophical theory. Nozick’s too. For example the minimal nozickian state would continuously interfere in peoples lives to enforce its favored constructed set of near absolute negative property rights. For example some people who at no fault of their own are born with abilities not valued by the specific marketplace constructed by the nozickian rules may in that state face starvation. People who starve in the midst of plenty are unlikely to acquiesce in death. So the nozickian state will in practice violently coerce (perhaps even execute) such starving people to prevent them from e.g. taking fruit from lands some rich person claims ownership over.

34

Mike Huben 10.16.16 at 5:13 pm

Chris Bertram@28, no there is no evidence I am aware of that he was funded by anything but his job and a fellowship from the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. However, it is pretty clear that he would make a lot of money pandering to libertarians (his “bad company”), who desperately needed a real philosophical name rather than the collection of cranks who preceded Nozick. He credits crank Murray Rothbard for his interest in the subject, and Rothbard made his living through funding by the wealthy for his tracts.

Judging from his later recantation, perhaps Nozick was duped by the propaganda of this libertarian conspiracy. But even if he was a dupe and not being paid money, he was laboring for the common purpose of the conspiracy which was created to serve the wealthy. Readers ought to know about these origins so that they can spot the systematic biases for the wealthy.

35

Brian 10.16.16 at 6:28 pm

Typos
“This is obviously that this is not the case and, if it were, Nozick would be writing a very different book (something more like Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. ” => “Obviously, this is not the case…”
“He tehn asserts (p 182)..” => “He then…”

I’d suggest a parenthetical definition of “indefeasible” to make it more readable to lay people. Also, a parenthetical definition of consequentialism would do the same.

I am thinking of the “hill of bones” upon which property rights rest. As they say in the Marines, “Sorry pal, you shoulda fought harder.” To a biologist, this is even more obvious.

No territorial rights exist for animals except those that are taken and enforced. Kitty-cats stake out their territories in neighborhoods and those territories are in a constant state of flux. (Similar in their dynamics to the time-lapse bondaries of nations in Europe.) From birdsong claiming land (hat-tip to Aussie birds who don’t sing, but rather croak, garble and gabble to do the same) and the aerial dogfights of hummingbirds, to the territorial grab a sub-adult cougar kicked out of mom’s territory by its mother or father, and on to the territorial stakes claimed by street gangs of teenage boys (who sometimes go on to be adult gangsters) — no property rights exist except those that can be enforced. Inevitably, some of those fights over property are battles to the death.

Thus, the hill of bones is the ground of property rights. There is no justice except that which we agree on after the battles are over. And we go to battle again sooner or later.

36

Robert 10.16.16 at 7:06 pm

Nozick was mistaken on economics. He says that marginal productivity is a (patterned) theory of distribution. But it is not a theory of distribution.

(Somewhere on my blog, I have a post on Anarchy, State, and Revolution.)

37

John Quiggin 10.16.16 at 7:37 pm

Chris, thanks for the Cohen cite and your comments. In response to them

2. Given Rothbard’s analysis, a situtation prior to the appropriation of property rights must be something like a Hobbesian state of nature, I think. In any case, it’s the kind of awful starting point from which you can deduce the desirability of any political setup you want, posed as the sole alternative. As I think you first said, the syllogism here runs along the lines that “(The state of nature is so awful that) we must do something. X (my plan) is something. So we must do X”

3. On cosmopolitanism, I’d have thought the opposite. Any claim that property rights exist naturally and independent of any particular state would seem to imply that the current inhabitants of a given area have rights superior to those of later arrivals. Responding to Bianca Steele, it seems to me that classical utilitarianism leads naturally to a view of the consequentialist good as being the welfare of humanity as a whole, and therefore to cosmopolitanism as regards state-created institutions like property rights.

I’m pretty sure I remember Mill saying something like this, to the effect that the progress of thinking was reflected in a steady broadening of the sphere of sympathy, eventually encompassing the whole of humanity.

38

John Quiggin 10.16.16 at 7:39 pm

Robert @35 There was an attempt to develop marginal productivity ethics by JM or JB Clark in C19. Generally rejected but it maintains a subterranean existence as an intuitive basis for the beliefs of free market types.

39

Robert 10.16.16 at 8:04 pm

John Bates Clark. John Maurice Clark, his son, was an institutionist, exploring what his father might have called dynamics.

Academics often explore mistaken ideas. Nozick knowing no better in the 1970s is a black mark against him. He could have taken local experts to dinner and drinks to find out better.

40

Chris Bertram 10.16.16 at 8:16 pm

@JohnQ I’m not sure I get what your argument is re cosmopolitanism, and maybe we’re at cross-purposes about what that means. I’d say that both libertarianism and classical utilitarianism are cosmopolitan views, because the same basic principles apply to individual human beings wherever they and any special duties are either the result of contract between individuals (libertarianism) or are simply the assignment of duties to particular agents for reasons of efficiency(utilitarianism). The Nagel et al view [simplifying massively here] otoh is that co-citizens of particular states create property rights together on its territory (rejection of Nozick-style views) and that this co-creation brings mutual obligations of justice (including distributive justice) that hold among those citizens but not between them and outsiders outside the boundaries of that state’s authority. In other words, a lot of people seem to believe that thinking of justice (including property rights) as the creation of particular states and legal systems also has anti-cosmopolitan implications for its scope.

41

bianca steele 10.16.16 at 9:41 pm

Chr

Thanks. I was assuming John Quiggin was making an argument like Robert Reich’s that the structures of the market are up to us (the political “us”), rather than being dictates of nature. So it should be up to the electorate, in a democracy, what rights people have and what kinds of economic activities would be considered legitimate. But if I understand Chris Bertram’s point about cosmopolitanism correctly, arguments about rights that are addressed only to one community aren’t likely to be acceptable to those outside the community; so arguments acceptable from a broader view are preferred. (I hadn’t known Thomas Nagel supported that view, and given what I (thought I) knew about his “view from nowhere” it surprises me.)

how the economy should work, what should be produced, and how people should benefit from growth–or alternately how much those things should be left to choice outside political processes (presumably within broad bounds set by some number of real economic principles).

42

bianca steele 10.16.16 at 9:42 pm

ack. editing window too small, sorry about stranded text.

43

Yan 10.16.16 at 10:23 pm

mbrave @19 is right to remind us that Nozick’s argument is “a species of immanent critique, arguing that *whatever* the mechanism of egalitarianism is established, it will inevitably result in, or at least authorize, a sequence of interactions that will result in an unequal distribution.”

But this just reinforces what an embarrassingly bad, because absurdly question-begging, argument it is. An imminent critique succeeds by critiquing a view from its own premises. Nozick’s mindboggingly bad argument starts from two transcendent normative positions not shared and directed challenged by egalitarianism: 1) that liberty is a primary and inviolable political value and 2) that liberty is defined negatively and simplistically as non-interference.

It is a comically failed, almost absurdist parody, of immanent critique. Like an immanent utilitarian critique of Kant that proves a perfect Kantian world will harm the greatest net happiness. No shit, shitlock.

compelling an intervention to “set things right” that *violates the grounding principle of justice*. Even Cohen gets this right, before completely failing to offer a satisfying refutation. (Tellingly, he refuses to offer any substantive definition of socialism in response to Nozick. When he does so elsewhere, the result is laughably inadequate).

So the notion that Nozick adds nothing to Locke is decidedly false. As generations of philosophers and social critics have learned, the best way to refute Nozick is not by appeal to the abolition of property but by an immanent critique of the market economy, coupled with substantive proposals for democratic forms of redistribution that avoid the contradiction he has identified. Heck, even Rawls himself took Nozick’s argument onboard. But then he was not so arrogant as to dismiss a serious counterargument out of hand.

44

Yan 10.16.16 at 10:24 pm

Oops, sorry–please ignore the last two quoted paragraphs, accidentally left in.

45

Howard Frant 10.16.16 at 11:24 pm

Mike Huben@33

“But even if he was a dupe and not being paid money, he was laboring for the common purpose of the conspiracy which was created to serve the wealthy. Readers ought to know about these origins so that they can spot the systematic biases for the wealthy.”

I have no idea what this means. In what sense is he “laboring for the common purpose of the conspiracy”? What systematic biases of your own do you think readers need to be warned about?

46

John Quiggin 10.17.16 at 12:22 am

@Bianca I agree, assuming I’ve put your argument together right. It seems to me that Nagel must be adding something else to get from the proposition “property rights are created by states” to the claim about moral duties that Chris imputes to him. I haven’t read him on this topic, so I’ll leave it there.

I would want to reverse what I understand to be Nagel’s position . If we have moral obligations to people outside our country of the kind that can in practice only be implemented by states (for example, obligations to ensure that no one starves) then a system of Westphalian (I know this terminology is inaccurate) nation states is problematic. We need a different system of states, with something like a version of the UN that can hold national governments to their commitments, which in turn requires the kind of legitimacy that would be granted if people in general accepted a cosmopolitan view.

47

John Quiggin 10.17.16 at 12:23 am

I’d like to call a halt on the question of Nozick’s motivations. It doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere and is creating the kind of atmosphere that discourages more positive contributions.

48

Mike Huben 10.17.16 at 12:29 am

Howard Frant@44: The purpose of the conspiracy has been to privilege the rich by exempting their property from taxation, granting them control of government and other organizations through assorted forms of crony capitalism, to privatize profit while socializing costs, and minimizing the possibilities of government action for justice or equality.

Nozick’s arguments strongly support the first and last of those objectives.

If you want to read about my biases, I detail them at Critiques of Libertarianism:About The Author and the pages it links to.

49

Kurt Schuler 10.17.16 at 1:18 am

If nothing else, this thread illustrates the capacity for self-delusion. People, do you have any idea how hard it is to get a professorship at Harvard? Even in Robert Nozick’s time there were a lot of unemployed philosophers, and somehow he wound up with tenure at the world’s richest and most eminent university, in a department dominated by people with views quite different from his. Apparently his fellow philosophers, who had their pick of just about anybody in the world as a colleague, saw something special in him. It is fine to argue with Nozick and give your reasons, as John Quggin does, but the anonymous commentators whose most sustained public writing is a paragraph or two in an obscure blog should think about whether the condescension runs the way they think it runs.

50

engels 10.17.16 at 2:14 am

People, do you have any idea how hard it is to get a professorship at Harvard? Harvard? Even in Robert Nozick’s time there were a lot of unemployed philosophers, and somehow he wound up with tenure at the world’s richest and most eminent university

The spirit of Socrates walks among us

51

LFC 10.17.16 at 3:42 am

Kurt Schuler @48

somehow he wound up with tenure at the world’s richest and most eminent university

Richest yes, “most eminent” I don’t think so, since that designation is pretty meaningless. [*]

in a department dominated by people with views quite different from his.

As I recall (cd be wrong), he got tenure for some fairly technical papers of not much interest to anyone outside a narrow circle of professional philosophers. He already had tenure when he wrote ASU; however, my guess is that he would also have gotten tenure if the chronology had been reversed, bec. ASU won the nat’l book award, became famous (for certain values of “famous”), etc.

——

[*] In my experience (undergrad, late 1970s), all one had to do to be disabused of the notion that Harvard was the world’s “most eminent” university was to take one mediocre Harvard course (while there were plenty of good ones, there were also some mediocre ones). [By the way, Nozick has a passage in ASU where he imagines Harvard undergrads bolstering their self-esteem (assuming it needed bolstering, e.g. if they weren’t doing all that well academically or whatever) by thinking of their age-mates who are at (supposedly) “lesser” institutions. Nozick doubtless thought the passage was psychologically insightful, but it comes across more as snarky, and frankly somewhat nasty, than anything else.]

52

Kurt Schuler 10.17.16 at 4:21 am

LFC, regrettably, pathbreaking scholars are not necessarily good teachers. My father was taught by Herbert Simon in an MBA program and thought Simon was a terrible teacher. The Nobel committee awarded Simon the economics prize anyway. And eminence among educational institutions is not meaningless. The next time you apply for a job, say that you got your degree from Roxbury Community College and see what difference it makes.

53

Howard Frant 10.17.16 at 6:17 am

Deleted I specifically asked for a stop to this kind of thing

54

phenomenal cat 10.17.16 at 6:33 am

“I’d say that both libertarianism and classical utilitarianism are cosmopolitan views, because the same basic principles apply to individual human beings wherever they and any special duties are either the result of contract between individuals (libertarianism) or are simply the assignment of duties to particular agents for reasons of efficiency(utilitarianism).
The Nagel et al view [simplifying massively here] otoh is that co-citizens of particular states create property rights together on its territory (rejection of Nozick-style views) and that this co-creation brings mutual obligations of justice (including distributive justice) that hold among those citizens but not between them and outsiders outside the boundaries of that state’s authority. In other words, a lot of people seem to believe that thinking of justice (including property rights) as the creation of particular states and legal systems also has anti-cosmopolitan implications for its scope.”
Bertram @39

Well, this gets at the problem with universal or “cosmopolitan” claims to rights, doesn’t it? Mutually recognized claims to justice and rights need something approaching a material basis or embodiment that is bounded in some way (even if in the final analysis the basis is actually symbolic)–territory, nationality, class, religion, social practice, etc–otherwise the effects or consequences of justice, and certainly “rights”, become too diluted or diffuse to command allegiance or respect. The thinking would be something like: “What is the use of a right that everyone has? If everyone has it then it is no longer a right, at best it’s condition to which I’m subject.”

Note also your shorthand description of individuals in the libertarian and utilitarian schemas. Nothing defines them, there is no content to them. In order to accord them “universal” rights they have to be stripped of any particularity or contingency and abstracted from the context and conditions that would define their actual individuation.

I’m all for a cosmopolitan, even a cosmological, sense of justice. But given our current world-historical dispensation, I don’t see how we arrive there through the continued invocation of the rights of abstracted, featureless, individually universal and therefore exchangeable political subjects. –who, by the way, seem perfectly suited to serving the interests of transnational, corporate power structures. Coincidence? Not likely.

55

Chris Bertram 10.17.16 at 7:04 am

@JohnQ agree with your #45. Just to clarify, Nagel (and Rawls for that matter) don’t deny that we have obligations to outsiders such as to respect their general human rights, they deny that we have obligations of distributive justice towards them such that inequality between them and us calls for redress (for example). They’d accept there’s an obligation to see to it that nobody starves (or, at least, they’d accept that there’s a duty for wealthy states to assist states so poor that it is inevitable that some people starve).

56

Chris Bertram 10.17.16 at 7:07 am

@phenomenal cat ““What is the use of a right that everyone has? If everyone has it then it is no longer a right, at best it’s condition to which I’m subject.”

Really? I’d have thought that a right not to be tortured, and mutual recognition that we are under a duty not to torture is pretty useful, even if everyone has such a right. But maybe I misunderstand your point.

57

reason 10.17.16 at 7:30 am

Kurt Schuler @48
Yes but how do you explain Naill Ferguson. It seems to me that a professorship at Harvard is a sign of some sort of unique quality, but that quality doesn’t have to be academic merit.

58

Chris Armstrong 10.17.16 at 12:14 pm

Nozick claims that a requirement to pay taxes is on a par with slavery, which puts the recipients of tax-funded payments (just about everyone, at some point in their lives) in the position of slaveholders. But, if someone has used tax-funded income to buy a piece of property, Nozick wants to treat their ownership as a natural right. But how can the proceeds of enslavement be justly held.

I was interested in this bit of what John says. Does Nozick actually say that we’d have good claim to property we’d bought with the proceeds of unjustly taxing people’s labour? He might just have said that in a welfare state all of our claims to our property are undermined to the extent that this is their origin.

59

MisterMr 10.17.16 at 1:51 pm

Not sure if this is relevant for the thread, but:

The idea that this or that political choice can “maximize freedom” is a nonsense, because freedom is a zero-sum game. For example, in a dictatorship, people are unfree, but if you free them you limit the freedom of the dictator, who was very free earlier.

In my opinion, the modern idea of freedom was born when “liberals” started questioning aristocratic values (Locke too is part of this movement). In the aristocratic (feudal) world, some people (the aristocrats) had more rights than the others (the commoners), or in other words the aristocrats were more free than the commoners. Liberals were opposed to this state of things, and proposed a state of equality of rights, that they called freedom:
– the “subject” of the monarchy becomes a citizien;
– the government is not up to the monarch (or the aristocrats) “chosen by God”, but is democratically elected so that everyone has the same political rights;
– various forms of rights are supposed to be “human” general rights, so that also the right to property is supposed to come from labor;
– etc.

Thus “freedom” in reality means “equality of rights”.

But, this equality of rights did lead to a society where there was (more or less, generally less) an equality of right but there was also a big inequality of income, so that the socialist movement came up with the idea that the equality of rights thingie was just an empty shell without an equality of income to complete it (I totally share this perspective).

In my opinion, the difference between Locke and Nozick (I didn’t read either) is this:
– different time period, Locke was debating with aristocrats, Nozick with socialists, so Locke’s glass is half full whereas Nozick’s one is half empty;
– Nozick totally doesn’t understand what “freedom” means, because he doesn’t get that freedom is a form of equality (specifically equality of rights), whereas Locke does understand this, since he is polemising with aristocrats (who are against equality of rights by definition).

60

Robert 10.17.16 at 2:08 pm

My name links to my take on Anarchy, State, and Utopia from several years ago. A couple of comments on that post have a well-taken correction on my reading.

61

Howard Frant 10.17.16 at 2:44 pm

What kind of thing?

62

Sebastian H 10.17.16 at 3:27 pm

“Really? I’d have thought that a right not to be tortured, and mutual recognition that we are under a duty not to torture is pretty useful, even if everyone has such a right. But maybe I misunderstand your point.”

It is the whole negative rights “right to be free from…” vs. positive rights “right to have…” thing. Really they shouldn’t be the same word. They aren’t similar concepts at all.

63

Sebastian H 10.17.16 at 3:28 pm

Actually on reflection the reason they have the same word is we used to think of them both as ‘natural’ rights, but no one on the left professes to believe in natural rights anymore so things got muddled.

64

engels 10.17.16 at 4:25 pm

It is the whole negative rights “right to be free from…” vs. positive rights “right to have…” thing. Really they shouldn’t be the same word. They aren’t similar concepts at all.

You reckon? Seems to me they’re more similar than most people realise. It’s hard to see how I can have a right not to be murdered (a negative right to have people not do certain things to me) unless I also have a right to effective societal/state deterrence against those who would otherwise murder me (a positive right to resources and for people to do certain things for me)…

65

Howard Frant 10.17.16 at 4:46 pm

@52

Seriously, are you referring to Chris Bertram@21? Did my post in any way resemble this? As opposed to, say, MisterMr@58, which pretty much epitomizes it?

66

Sebastian H 10.17.16 at 4:55 pm

A right and the societal processes which work toward the protecting that right are two separate issues. (See for example “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”). A right to not be murdered doesn’t require anybody to do anything other than not murder you (negative right). A right to not be raped doesn’t require anybody to do anything other than not rape you. (See all of the “how about you just don’t rape women” memes).

It is tough to see how a right to education could work that way in the modern sense. I suppose you could cast it as a negative right to avoid having your reading interfered with, but for the most part it requires that someone teach you. And if there aren’t enough teachers it requires that society provide them.

The classic negative rights tend to be more obviously bounded. The right not to be raped can’t be extended off in confusing directions very easily. (Though there are philosophers here, so I’m sure someone could make up a crazy edge case). The right to education isn’t so obviously bounded. Does your ‘right’ to demand societal resources extend to basic reading, high school, college, masters degrees, Phds, multiple Phds?

The original negative rights were ones which in the natural rights concepts that you can defend with violence. You could try to kill the person who was trying to rape or murder you and it would be self defense. Is it ok to kill a teacher who refuses to teach you? Probably not.

67

Sebastian H 10.17.16 at 5:02 pm

To be clear I’m not saying that education is unimportant. I’m saying that it doesn’t fit in well with the rubric of ‘rights’ in the same way as a right to not be murdered so treating them as if they are similar doesn’t help analyze how we can vinidicate them very usefully.

68

engels 10.17.16 at 5:06 pm

A right and the societal processes which work toward the protecting that right are two separate issues.

Maybe in theory, but in practice if you’re committed to one you’re committed to the other. If you’re okay committing resources to the enforcement of a negative right like personal security then why aren’t you okay doing that for a positive right like education? What, other than politics, motivates the sharp distinction you want to draw?

69

LFC 10.17.16 at 5:20 pm

@Howard Frant
I believe JQ was referring to his comment @46 re N’s ‘motivations’.

70

engels 10.17.16 at 5:24 pm

The right to education isn’t so obviously bounded

Whether or not the object if the right is ‘bounded’ seems quite unrelated to whether the right us negative or positive. Consider e.g. harassment, drinking water

71

Sebastian H 10.17.16 at 5:38 pm

“What, other than politics, motivates the sharp distinction you want to draw?”

Does that phrase change meaningfully change your sentence at all?

The distinction is between things that people can avoid violating all on their own, and things that require affirmative action to get done. If everyone chooses not to murder anyone else, no further action is required by society to vindicate that right. The same is not true of education. If everyone chooses not to educate anyone else, education doesn’t happen. So in order to fulfill a ‘right to education’ society needs to take steps to make sure that happens.

The flip side of that is what does society need to do in order to vindicate the right. In order to vindicate the right not to be murdered, society only has to stop other people from murdering you. (I say ‘only’ but as it turns out that isn’t as easy as we would wish). To vindicate a *whatever we want to call it* to education, society can’t merely prevent other people from interfering with your ‘thing’ to education. Society has to actively provide it.

So far as society has to get involved, ‘negative’ rights are those that society merely has to stop other people from interfering in while ‘positive’ rights are those that society has to take affirmative steps to provide. From that perspective, property rights are in one of the in between areas. On a close personal level property rights are vindicated by not letting people take your stuff. But as things get further and further from you, (not the thing you personally made, or the house you inhabit, but the house 4 states away that you want to rent or the tone pattern you want to copyright) the more it looks like property rights are in the ‘positive’ rights area where society has to provide them.

Which may be why property rights are so contentious, they occupy both areas but we try to define them in only one of those areas.

72

mds 10.17.16 at 7:56 pm

Kurt Schuler @ 48 and 51:

Oddly enough, even though I am merely a pseudonymous commenter who attended lesser educational institutions, I still nevertheless learned about “appeal to accomplishment.” You might want to look it up.

73

Asteele 10.17.16 at 8:19 pm

Society has to provide you with the positive right to own property before it can stop someone from taking it.

74

engels 10.17.16 at 8:20 pm

“society only has to stop other people from murdering you”
“society merely has to stop other people from interfering”

Compare and contrast:
1. Right to not to be harassed (negative)
2. Right to be vaccinated against Hepatitus (positive)

1 requires police, courts, judges, lawyers, prisons, poss. surveillance, education on the law, and so on to deter category if behaviour nebulous and contested
2 requires production of specific vaccine, its distribution and administration

The effort and resources required for 2 seem a lot more ‘mere’ to me

75

L2P 10.17.16 at 8:42 pm

“The example also makes use of a seemingly plausible principle, namely, that any distribution that arises from a just initial distributive pattern by just steps, is itself just.”

Isn’t that the problem with the Wilt example, though? Nozick’s example is a pretty fact specific trade – it involves a minor amount of funds for something ephemeral, and more importantly non-exclusive. No one is starving either way, and everyone can buy and Wilt can sell as much of his basketball as needed. Of course that won’t upset an initially just system. It doesn’t have much effect at all. It’s set up to avoid having any hypothetical consequences except making Wilt rich.

But that’s not representative of all trades. This is literally a first-world problem, something that only matters to very wealthy people who can blow money on basketball games without much harm. If instead Wilt has the only method of curing cancer, and is demanding that you become his slave to get it, well, not so sure that’s just no matter how just the initial distribution was.

That’s how he can ignore the initial distribution. If you make the trades so meaningless that you are basically at the initial distribution anyway, of course it’s fine. We’re never really leaving the initial distribution.

76

Howard Frant 10.17.16 at 9:40 pm

L2P

Actually, even in Third World countries people buy tickets to sporting events. I doubt if the point is different if you use Ronaldo (net worth $150 million).

Your example is pretty extreme in the other direction. How about one where you don’t actually hold the power of life and death over someone?

77

Sandwichman 10.17.16 at 10:01 pm

Nope.

Locke + Nozick < Locke

78

John Quiggin 10.18.16 at 12:36 am

Chris @57

Does Nozick actually say that we’d have good claim to property we’d bought with the proceeds of unjustly taxing people’s labour? He might just have said that in a welfare state all of our claims to our property are undermined to the extent that this is their origin.

He doesn’t actually say either of this things, but his position implies them. If he took his own rhetoric seriously, achieving a just allocation would require scrapping all existing property rights, and starting from scratch. That’s nonsensical, and he knows it, which is why he ducks the question of “rectification”. What he (and propertarians in general) actually wants to do is scrap the property rights he doesn’t like and enhance those he does.

79

Tircuit 10.18.16 at 6:00 am

This is the way my Stanford’s prof refuted Nozick:

Wilt only gets rich if fans have limited information and/or make poor choices (which happens, or course). If they knew that paying Wilt $1 would contribute to (inequality) Wilt’s gaining power over them and the planet and probably causing loss of liberty and harm, they ought to refrain.

80

J-D 10.18.16 at 6:04 am

What he (and propertarians in general) actually wants to do is scrap the property rights he doesn’t like and enhance those he does.

Colour me unsurprised.

81

MisterMr 10.18.16 at 8:20 am

There is also this other point: that libertarians generally assume that the government doesn’t have property rights; but if we see how things developed in the middle ages:
1) Someone (the King) owned all the land;
2) He “gave” the land to some subject (nobles), in exchange of some tribute, but the land still was part of his kingdom;
3) Finally the noble “gave” the land to some serf, again in exchange of some tribute;
4) There was some land that was “completely owned”, known as “allodal land”, on wich the owner had no tribute to pay.

We can see “tributes” as a form of taxes, and the king and the aristocrats as the “government”; but we can also see the tributes as rent, and the king and the aristocrats as big landlords with weird forms of subrenting; the concept of allodal land only makes sense if there is no distinction between “sovereignity” (government) and “ownership” (landlords).

Only later the concept of ownership and sovereignity became distinguished, and his is the modern concept of the “state”; libertarian theories only make sense in this more modern legal conception (where the president of the USA is not the owner of the USA, whereas Charlemagne basically was the owner of the empire).

82

Brett Dunbar 10.18.16 at 2:33 pm

JK Rowling or Bob Dylan sell an item, entertainment, that is worth a small amount to a very large number of people. The aggregate of the total benefit to all the purchasers is very large. So the product of mutually beneficial trade gives them a very large total wealth; as they contribute far more to the success of their business than anyone else involved.

83

John Quiggin 10.18.16 at 9:38 pm

MisterMr @81 I gave exactly this story in a CT post I can no longer find

84

John Quiggin 10.19.16 at 4:08 am

Found it on my own blog, before I started with CT

http://johnquiggin.com/2003/07/08/notes-on-nozick/

85

Peter T 10.19.16 at 5:39 am

“Charlemagne basically was the owner of the empire”

and JQ’s post linked to @84.

Sigh. No – medieval society did not work like this. The government – of which the king was head – had over-riding public rights, and could resume property either on conviction for certain crimes or after payment. Conditional rights tended to become absolute over time (so counts started as public offices supported by revenue from public lands, fines and so on but morphed into owners in France. In Germany they negotiated ownership from the imperial crown in return for political support. In England, government was stronger, and periodically returned to conditional holding through writs of quo warranto). Gifting and other forms of personal exchange played a much larger part than we are used to, rights were more complex insofar as they usually involved families rather than individuals and they were bundled differently, but that’s all.

Really, the image of medieval government commonly held is outdated by several decades at least.

86

MisterMr 10.19.16 at 8:36 am

@Peter T 85
How so?
– The son of the kings iherited the king’s rights in the same way they inherited land;
– Serfs (I’m specifically thinking of “servi della gleba”, I d0n’t know the word in english) were linked to the land, and when the land was sold they went with the land, however they weren’t slaves (and couldn’t be sold), their serfdom was a standard feudal relationship of lieges to the lord (the same of the nobles to the king);
– “corvées”, the services the serfs owed to the lord, were initially in nature, and so the services the nobles owed to the king;
– The lord of “allodal” land was both the owner and the sovereign of said land.

Where is the boundary between “sovereignity” and “ownership”?
I’m open to a critic based to a better understanding of the middle ages (I’m not an historian, I might well be wrong) but it seems to me that your explanation of medieval “government” (where do you put the line? Who was part of the government and who wasn’t?) doesn’t change the fact that there wasn’t a distinction between “public” and “private”.

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Peter T 10.19.16 at 9:25 am

“there wasn’t a distinction between “public” and “private””.

There was is the short answer. The public tended to become private over time (as it still does), but the king held some land directly, as “private” owner, some as the royal domain, some under various conditions (eg land held in trust for minors or unmarried female heirs). The Merovingians and early Carolingians seem to have treated the realm as a whole as a collective family possession, but divisions still affected royal and private domains differently – Chlodovic might get, say, a third of the realm as his share, but would retain any personal holdings in the other two-thirds. And some rights would be reserved to the head of the family as holder of the overall public sphere.

Feudal government was very personal, largely a matter of custom and spoken agreement, and incredibly diverse in practice. Neat chains of tenure and obligation are a matter of later (mostly post-feudal) legal tidying-up. But there was always a clear concept of public and private – the arguments were about what belonged where, not about the categories themselves.

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MisterMr 10.19.16 at 11:35 am

” the arguments were about what belonged where, not about the categories themselves”

This is interesting. Is this true also for nobles who weren’t kings? or for the church?
Because if this was true for the king but not for the Marquis or the Baron, it’s like to say that the president is an elected official but the mayor owns the city.

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John Quiggin 10.19.16 at 7:49 pm

Peter T: All interesting qualifications, but I don’t see how they affect the argument.

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Peter T 10.20.16 at 12:38 am

“This is interesting. Is this true also for nobles who weren’t kings? or for the church?”

Basically, yes. South of the Loire and in Italy, Roman law broadly applied. This made clear distinctions between public and private. North and east, customary law applied – the distinction was still there, but likely to be slightly different in every locality and for each of the many categories of person (slave, villein, semi-free, free but low, person with town-right, noble holding direct, noble holding indirect…).

JQ: No, they don’t affect the argument. But a better understanding of what actually happened – one that stopped bandying about terms like “feudal” or “capitalist” with little reference to periods or places or the evolution of terms and institutions – would greatly assist in figuring out where we are and what happens next.

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John Quiggin 10.20.16 at 1:55 am

@90 Sure. In my case, I told a “just so” story, then observed that it corresponded, very roughly, to the actual historical process. But if someone had time, it would be good to go over all this and show how our existing set of property rights evolved in detail

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F. Foundling 10.20.16 at 3:27 pm

@ 90
It’s a fact that some distinction between public governance and private ownership emerged early. It’s also a fact that overall, said distinction was less pronounced and more easily straddled in the past than it is now. I still think that the word ‘feudal’ is a neat shorthand for such situations and their implications, although the world wouldn’t end if that shorthand were replaced with another.

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Mark Engleson 10.20.16 at 9:14 pm

It’s not philosophically relevant, but Bill Russell was actually paid a higher salary than Chamberlain. Nozick was in Boston metro. Come on.

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