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Robert Nozick and Economic Justice

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Robert Nozick is one of the great philosophers most people do not know about. He was born in 1938, and died in 2002. The topics he wrote on ranged from existentialism to universal construction. His best known writing, however, was a book published in 1974 titled "Anarchy, State, and Utopia."

The book was so profound that Nozick was given the title of the father of libertarianism. His arguments for a totally free market economic system are certainly more compelling than those proposed by Hayek, von Mises, and Ayn Rand. Unlike those three who seemed to have a personal agenda or financial backing to push, Nozick offered his philosophy from a humanistic standpoint.

He argued that taxation for the purpose of redistribution was a form of slavery. To support this contention, he created "the Wilt Chamberlain argument." The argument goes something like this: If all money were distributed equally among all people, and some people paid Wilt Chamberlain to entertain them, it is not only unjust to tax Wilt Chamberlain and redistribute his money back to the people who paid him for entertainment, it is also a form of slavery against him to force him to pay back people who voluntarily paid him for the entertainment and now do not have the same amount of money that he would rightfully have.

The argument is brilliant! It was a philosophical check mate on his opponents who were forced into a corner where they could either concede, or, contrary to their typically liberal natures, explain why that type of slavery is somehow justifiable! Taken on face value, it is difficult to imagine any scenario in which economic justice is served by forcing the great basketball player to utilize "his talent" for a greater good of society, and not color it as servitude.

Some have argued that "his talent" is not representative of capitalism, but rather the argument intentionally uses an African-American athlete to create an unfair illusion of slavery. Chamberlain’s talent contains no capital investment or production normally associated with capitalism, and taxing him personally to return money to those he entertained is inconsistent with true redistributive ideals. Regardless of the race of the subject of his argument, or the lack of some elements normally associated with capitalism, debates are commonly won by the person who puts forth the best argument, and undercuts his opponents’ possible rebuttals. As such, Nozick’s "Wilt Chamberlain argument" is singly the most persuasive example of the economic injustice of taxation for redistributative principles.

As I said earlier, though, Robert Nozick did not contain his philosophical ventures to politics or economics. He also contended that if other universes exist, they would be subject to the same physical laws that are in this universe. It is, he contended, a sort of DNA of universes that would exist outside the one that is real to us. Though it is contrary to some opinions on what may exist in alternative universes, if there are any, it is difficult to argue with the idea that something that is similar and began similarly would not be similarly constructed simply because it possibly may not be.

Also, as is the case with most people, Nozick’s philosophy would evolve as he aged and gained greater knowledge and understanding. "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" was written when he was a 36 year old professor at Harvard. In some of his later writings, he would confess that the libertarian philosophy he wrote about in that book "now seems to me seriously inadequate." He would concede that there are some things people in a society "choose to do together," apparently supporting principles of democracy over the individual interests of libertarian economics.

Perhaps this change happened simply through the evolutionary process of gained knowledge. Perhaps it happened because of changes in society moving from the liberal mindset of the 1960s and 1970s into the more conservative mindset of the 1980s, and the flaws of libertarian economics becoming more exposed as they became policy through things like deregulation and trickle-down economics.

Though Robert Nozick never fully renounced his theory of economic justice and injustice, it seemed it had evolved to placing more emphasis on the will of society through democracy than on individual self interest. He died in 2002 never fully explaining the reasoning behind this seeming evolution of his thoughts.

Barring discovery of some unpublished writings in which he explains this change in philosophy, we are left only with pondering and speculating the reasons for it.

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