Essential Nozick: Income inequality and the role of choice
Welcome to the essential ideas of Robert Nozick.
The idea that government should redistribute income between different
groups of people has become quite popular. Nozick argued that looking at differences
in income and wealth at any particular point in time misses important explanations for why
different people might reasonably have different amounts of income or wealth.
For example, John and Tommy earn vastly different incomes. John is a successful surgeon who earns
a high income, whereas Tommy works part time as a dishwasher and earns a lot less.
Many people think it's OK for the government to take some of John's income and give it to Tommy.
Nozick explained that you need to consider the choices people make when looking at differences.
20 years earlier, John and Tommy were both smart students. After high school,
John attended University, and then medical school. After studying hard for many years,
John became a surgeon and his skills were in high demand, which results in a high salary.
Tommy, however, moved to a small town on the west coast after graduation to pursue his passion:
surfing. Tommy freely decided not to go to college, and chose to get a part-time job as
a dishwasher so he had the freedom to surf. Simply looking at the income Tommy and John
earn at a particular point in ,me—say, 20 years after graduation--you would only see
John earns a lot more than Tommy. But because the different levels of income are the result of John
and Tommy's free choices, Nozick explained, it wouldn't be right for the government to take
some of John's income and give it to Tommy. Nozick's insights into the role of voluntary
choices helps explain why it's reasonable and even acceptable that people have
different levels of income and why enforced redistribution policies often overlook that fact.
For more information on Robert Nozick, visit EssentialNozick.org, and to learn about
more essential scholars, visit EssentialScholars.org