Just transfer is dependent upon just acquisition, for you cannot justly transfer what
you have not justly acquired. Furthermore, acquisition is a very strong idea – it
entails full control over the thing that is acquired, including the power to transfer
it to another person. Nozick takes the example of Wilt Chamberlain (1936–99),
considered by many to be the greatest basketball player of all time. Consider the
exercise in the box.
Chapter 4 Justice 87
Wilt Chamberlain and just transfer
Imagine a basketball match watched by 3,000 people, each of whom pay $20 to see
Chamberlain play, and $8 of that $20 goes directly to Chamberlain (the $8 can be taken to be
Chamberlain’s marginal value: if he were not playing the organisers would have to sell the
tickets at $12). Let us assume that each of the 3,000 spectators and Chamberlain earn $40,000.
This is, of course, unrealistic, but it is intended to make a point. We can compare earnings –
what Nozick calls ‘holdings’ – before and after the tickets were bought:
Spectators’ holdings Chamberlain’s holdings
Before purchase $40,000 ×3,000 $40,000
After purchase $39,980 ×3,000 $64,000
Is there any reason why Chamberlain should not keep the $24,000 he has gained as a result of
the ticket purchases?
Nozick argues that so long as Chamberlain did not use threats or fraud to acquire
each $8 then his additional earning is legitimately his by a simple transfer (Nozick,
1974: 161–3). The fact that such transfers will over time create significant
inequalities – in the example we went from equality to inequality – is irrelevant,
for what matters is that individuals have consented to the transfer. Those who object
to such transfers want, in Nozick’s words, ‘to forbid capitalist acts between
consenting adults’ (Nozick, 1974: 163). To evaluate the force of Nozick’s argument
we need to compare his theory of justice with the alternatives.
Types of theory
Nozick divides theories of justice into two groups – end-state and historical (Nozick,
1974: 153–5) – with a subdivision of the second into patterned and unpatterned
theories (Nozick, 1974: 155–60).
- End-state theoriesThese theories are not concerned with what people do, but
only with the end result. Utilitarian theories fall into this category – the aim is