Nozick on Distributive Justice

10 Apr

How does one set lines for taxes? Nozick and Rawls dissent on tax theory. Rawls thinks government’s purpose is to benefit all and ensure fairness and justice. Nozick believes the entitlement theory violates one’s individual rights, Rawls’ justifies his position according to Lockean civil society: government is an amalgamation of people who agree to benefit each other by living in society together to protect individuals’ interests and property. The idea that “progressive” taxation is the best way to tax: the wealthy are taxed higher in order for wealth to be redistributed to the least advantaged group of people in society. It is unclear as to whether or not Nozick believes progressive tax is fundamentally unjust, or just to a certain degree, he does however clearly dissent on the idea Rawls suggests. Nozick feels Rawls’ proposal is draconian and discriminatory.

Nozick feels Rawls’ argument results in injustice because it is extreme and flawed. Although what Nozick proposes is seemingly extreme as well. Nozick seems to think there is an unlimited amount of work out there to be performed by people. This is a flawed premise. To say that because someone chose to work a few extra hours and therefore deserves the pay he received is valid. But that presupposes (1) each person had a job; and (2) each job offered extra work to be done for compensation(overtime, or any work that would go beyond being compensated for bare subsistence). We are all familiar to the current job market as students getting ready to enter this abject prospect. Hopefully we were all aware of this in 2008 and planned accordingly, that is, competing with your fellow classmates for good grades. The fact of the matter: some of us will be living with our parents after college, and this is fine if our parents (and ourselves) are ok with that fact. However, not everyone (myself included) is content with living in their parents’ basement.

Nozick’s argument also neglects pay disparities. To say someone working at say, (the classic banal example) McDonald’s, decides to put in more hours than a roofer, who gets paid double, or even triple what the McDonald’s worker, the McDonalds’ worker could put in the extra hours and still get paid less for the work. That is not to say the roofer is not more deserving of the higher pay, (he is), but rather it presupposes both employees could potentially get the better paying job, and are qualified to do the work (physically and mentally). If everyone were equally endowed, i.e. fit to work, both received the same compensation and had access to the same  opportunities (to get overtime), then there would be no excuse for progressive taxation. It seems those are the unreasonable premises that Nozick bases his argument against progressive taxation. The gray area in between Nozick’s bare bones taxation and Rawls’ draconian progressive taxation has a reasonable mean, but both arguments seem excessively harsh. The only reason both need to be extreme is, they wouldn’t work otherwise. Nozick is extremely consistent(except for reparations), Rawls… not so much, Rawls’ argument, as Nozick points out, is extremely subjective and at some point must be considered invalid. When does excessive taxation of the rich reach a point where the Rich are not rich and the poor, perhaps not poor?

At some point in history, the playing field may have been equal, but it is no longer. Nozick’s idea of reparations and Rawls’ idea of justice as fairness are fundamentally the same: level the unequal playing field after millenia of inequalities and power struggles that (naturally) endowed some more than others. It will not happen, it cannot happen(objectively), it is not even worth thinking about because the idealism is too rich, too arbitrary, too redundant. The subject wanders too much into biased history. Attempting to right every wrong in history is dumb, both Rawls and Nozick suggest we attempt to, each gives different means by which to achieve, essentially, the same end.

1 Comment

Posted by on April 10, 2011 in Uncategorized


One response to “Nozick on Distributive Justice

  1. chan6435

    April 15, 2011 at 12:40 am

    I like the point that you make saying that things aren’t equal. It is important to realize that things aren’t equal in life. For instance I have a hearing loss, it is not equal for me to have to take not notes in class. That is a reason why I have hearing aids. Although, I disagree with your point that rectifying every wrong. I agree that righting all wrongs completely is impossible, but any step for minor fixing is an improvement. I also think that not every initative needs to happen immediately, they can occur over time with tax breaks or other measures.


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