Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nozick on Social Justice

While Rawls thinks that fairness is most important to make a just society, Nozick thinks that entitlement is the criterion for a just society.  Basically, goods should be distributed to people who are entitled to them because they have worked hard or are talented.  He is a political libertarian, meaning that he wants to maximize personal liberty.

Three principles of justice.  The Principle of Justice in Acquisition is the idea that people are entitled to goods like wealth, clean water and love only if the goods are acquired in a just way.  For example, if a loaf of bread is stolen, then a person is not entitled to it whereas if you work hard to earn money to buy bread then you are entitled to it.  The idea is that if you work for something, you deserve it.  The Principle of Justice in Transfer is the idea that holds transferred from one person to another is only just if done so voluntarily and if the person transferring them acquired them justly.  For example, buying stolen goods from a thief is not a just transfer because the thief acquired them in an unjust way.  The Principle of Rectification is the idea that if there is not justice in acquisition or in transfer, then the rightful owners should have their goods returned.

Objections.  Nozick is not specific about what it means to acquire goods justly.  Also, what about native societies who are the first to gain ownership of goods?  Are Native Americans, for example, entitled to all the land and resources that they once held?  Also, since the goods were taken from Native Americans were taken by force, does this mean we should return the goods?

Nozick on Justice in Transfer.  Nozick calls his version of justice entitlement justice.  He calls Rawls' version of justice end-state justice.  Nozick notes that goods in many societies are distributed unequally.  For example, the richest 5% of a population may control 90% of the wealth.  While Rawls would say that this situation requires a re-distribution (transfer) of goods, Nozick says that the inequality itself is not enough of a reason to transfer goods.  Nozick thinks that we must consider if the wealthiest people are entitled to that wealth or not.

Nozick thinks that only an unregulated market is just.  He thinks that using taxation, for example, to redistribute wealth, is just like stealing.  Of course people cannot steal or cheat in order to get wealth, but people should be free to earn as much wealth as possible for them.

Nozick uses an example with basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain to show that Rawls in wrong.  First, imagine that we are in a society where Rawls' method of distributing goods has been used.  This means that goods are distributed as equally as possible.  Now, imagine that Wilt has signed a contract with his basketball team according to which he gets a profit of 25 cents from the sale of each ticket.  Because of this, Wilt earns a massive fortune.  Now, the acquisiton of this wealth seems just but Rawls is forced to say that this is an unfair distribution.  Nozick thinks that it is ridiculous to deny that Wilt deserves his wealth!  Basically, if people chose to make Wilt so dang rich, then it is fair that Wilt is to dang rich!

Sven notes that we can offer a slightly different case in order to continue to test whether Rawls or Nozick is right.  For example, say that instead of 25 cents, Wilt is earning $250 per ticket that his fans purchase.  Or imagine that there is a monopoly where there is only one provider of a good.  Maybe Wilt was extra industrious and he bought up all the rubber trees in the world in order to be the sole provider of basketballs and basketball shoes.  Wilt then decides to charge $500 per basketball and $1.000 per pair of shoes.  Even though Wilt has justly acquired that wealth, can we say that he deserves it?  Nozick would say yes but Rawls would say no.

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