Libertarianism: Lesson 3

Michael Jordan’s Money as a hypothetical example about the folly(as Nozick sees it) of redistribution of wealth:

“To set aside any question about initial holdings, let’s imagine, Nozick suggests, that you set the initial distribution of income and wealth according to whatever pattern you consider just – a perfectly equal distribution, if you like” (65).

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“Now the basketball season begins. Those who want to see Micahel Jordan play deposit five dollars in a box each time they buy a ticket. The proceeds in the box go to Jordan. (In real life, of course, Jordan’s salary is paid by the owners, from team revenues. Nozick’s simplifying assumption – that the fans pay Jordan directly – is a way of focusing on the philosophical point about voluntary exchange)”(64).

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Obviously, Jordan ends up with way more money than anyone else, thus the “initial distribution”, the distribution when everyone had the same income and wealth, no longer exists.

“Nozick believes this scenario illustrates two problems with patterned theories of distributive justice. First, liberty upsets patterns. Anyone who believes that economic inequality is unjust will have to intervene in the free market, repeatedly and continuously, to undo the effects of the choices people make. Second, intervening in this way –taxing Jordan to support programs that help the disadvantaged – not only overturns the results of voluntary transactions; it also violates Jordan’s rights by taking his earnings. It forces him, in effect, to make a charitable contribution against his will.

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“What exactly is wrong with taxing Jordan’s earnings? According to Nozick, the moral stakes go beyond money. At issue, he believes, is nothing less than human freedom” (65).

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Yes, what’s at issue for Nozick is human freedom.

Nozick: “Taxation of earnings from labor is on par with forced labor”

Sandel furthers Nozick thought: “If the state has the right to claim some portion of my earnings, it also has the right to claim some portion of my time. Instead of taking, say, 30 percent of my income, it might just as well direct me to spend 30 percent of my time working for the state. But if the state can force me to labor on its behalf, it essentially asserts a property right in me” (65).

Nozick’s own words: “Seizing the results of someone’s labor is equivalent to seizing hours from him and directing him to carry on various activities. If people force you to do certain work, or unrewarded work, for a certain period of time, they decide what you are to do and what purposes your work is to serve apart from your decisions. This …makes them a part-owner of you; it gives them a property right in you.”

Sandel: “This line of reasoning takes us to the moral crux of the libertarian claim – the idea of self-ownership

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“If I own myself, I must own my labor. (If someone else could order me to work, that person would be my master, and I would be a slave.) But if I own my labor, I must be entitled to the fruits of my labor. (If someone else were entitled to my earnings, that person would own my labor and would therefore own me.) That is why, according to Nozick, taxing some of Michael Jordan’s 31 million to help the poor violates his rights. It asserts, in effect, that the state, or the community, is a part owner of him” (65).

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p=own myself

q=own my labor

r=entitled to the fruits of my labor

If p, then q

If q, then r

Not r.

Therefore, not p.

This argument is the pivotal point of libertarianism.

“The libertarian sees a moral continuity from taxation (taking my earnings) to forced labor (taking my labor) to slavery (denying that I own myself)” (66).

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“Of course, even the most steeply progressive income tax does not claim 100 percent of anyone’s income. So the government does not claim to own its taxpaying citizens entirely. But Nozick maintains that it does claim to own part of us – whatever part corresponds to the portion of income we must pay to support causes beyond the minimal state” (66).

Translate this: If people force you to do certain work, or unrewarded work, for a certain period of time, they decide what you are to do and what purposes your work is to serve apart from your decisions. This …makes them a _______ of you; it gives them a __________ in you
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Do We Own Ourselves?

“If Congress may not force Jordon to return to the basketball court (for even a third of the season), by what right does it force him to give up one-third of the money he makes playing basketball?”(66).

Nozick claims that the government own Michael Jordan, at least one third of the time, making the state a part-owner of Michael Jordan.

“Those who favor the redistribution of income through taxation offer various objections to the libertarian logic” (66).

There are 5 objections, and according to Sandel, all by the last can be easily answered.

Objection 1:Taxation is not as bad as forced labor.

If you are taxed, you can always choose to work less and pay lower taxes; but if you are forced to labor, you have no such choice.

libertarian reply:Why should the state force you to make that choice? Why should people who prefer leisure be taxed less than those who prefer activities that cost money?

Objection 2: The poor need the money more

libertarian replymaybe so. Stealing from the rich to give to the poor is still stealing, whether it’s done by Robin Hood or the state. Just because a patient on dialysis needs one of my kidneys more than I do doesn’t mean he has a right to it. Needs don’t trump my fundamental right to do what I want with the things I own.

Objection 3: Michael Jordan doesn’t play alone. He therefore owes a debt to those who contribute to his success.

libertarian reply:these people have already been paid the market value of their services. Although they make less than Jordan, they voluntarily accepted compensation for the jobs they perform. And even if Jordan owes something to his teammates and coaches, it is hard to see how this debt justifies taxing his earnings to provide food stamps for the hungry or public housing for the homeless.

Objection 4:Jordan is not really being taxed without his consent. As a citizen of a democracy, he has a voice in making the tax laws to which he is subject

libertarian reply:Democratic consent isn’t enough. Does this mean that simply by living here as citizens, we write the majority a blank check, and consent in advance to all laws, however unjust? May the majority deprive me of freedom of speech and religion, claiming that, as a democratic citizen, I have already given my consent to whatever it decides?

Objection 5:Jordan is lucky

No matter how hard he has worked to develop his skills, Jordan cannot claim credit for his natural gifts, or for living at a time when basketball is popular and richly rewarded. These things are not his doing. So it cannot be said that he is morally entitled to keep all the money his talents reap. The community does him no injustice by taxing his earnings for the public good.

libertarian reply:This objection questions whether Jordan’s talents are really his. But this line of argument is potentially dangerous. If Jordan is not entitled to the benefits that result from the exercise of his talents, then he doesn’t really own them. And if he doesn’t own his talents and skills, then he doesn’t really own himself. But if Jordan doesn’t own himself, who does? Are you sure you want to attribute to the political community a property right in its citizens?”(66-69).

P=own myself

Q=own my labor

R=entitled to the fruits my labor

If p, then q.

If q, then r

Not r.

Therefore, not p

Translate this: True or False, The idea that I belong to myself, not to the state or political community, is one way of explaining why it is wrong to sacrifice my rights for the welfare of others.
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“His life is not for us to take and use, even for a good cause”(69).

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“The idea that we own ourselves figures in many arguments for freedom of choice. If I own my body, my life, and my person, I should be free to do whatever I want with them(provided I don’t harm others)”(70).

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Translate this: If we truly ____ our bodies and lives, it should be up to us to decide whether to sell our body parts, for what purposes, and at what risk to ourselves
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“The case for permitting assisted suicide does not necessarily depend on the idea that we own ourselves, or that our lives belong to us. Many who favor assisted suicide do not invoke property rights, but argue in the name of dignity and compassion” (73).

Here’s the most important paragraph for the idea of self-ownership, the ultimate test for self-ownership:

“Cannibalism between consenting adults poses the ultimate test for the libertarian principle of self-ownership and the idea of justice that follows from it. It is an extreme form of assisted suicide. Since it has nothing to do with relieving the pain of a terminally ill patient, it can be justified only on the grounds that we own our bodies and lives, and may do with them what we please. If the libertarian claim is right, banning consensual cannibalism is unjust, a violation of the right to liberty. The state may no more punish Armin Meiwes than it may tax Bill Gates and Michael Jordan to help the poor” (74).

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NOTE: This appears to be the last lesson so far. The course is not marked as finished so there should probably be more lessons in the future. In the meanwhile, you might want to check out some of the other courses we have:

Grammatical Terms a course of English with 1 lessons produced by Linas
Avoiding Fallacious Reasoning a course of English with 7 lessons produced by Kugel
Introduction to Uzbek Structures a course of Uzbek with 5 lessons produced by GBarto
Introduction to Russian a course of Russian with 5 lessons produced by Linas
Introduction to Polish a course of Polish with 5 lessons produced by Linas

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