Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1
formula. What Cohen rejects is the idea that mixing your labour establishes merely
‘first acquisition’. For Locke and Nozick, once the world is divided up into private
property the mixed labour formula ceases to be of any use. Cohen argues that a
worker constantlymixes his labour, such that there is a continuous claim on the
product. Locke’s argument that ‘the turfs my servant has cut are myturfs’ is rejected
by Cohen; insofar as the servant (worker) does not get the full value of his labour
he is exploited, and the resulting distribution is unjust. Rawls implicitly rejects the
notion of self-ownership; that does not mean we do not have rights over our bodies,
but rather we have no pre-social rights. The rights we have are the result of a choice
made in the original position. This becomes clearer if we look at the concept of
Desert is tied to effort: we get something if we do something. Rawls argues that
because we are not responsible for our ‘natural endowments’ – strength, looks,
intelligence, even good character – we cannot claim the product generated by those
natural endowments. Under the difference principle one person may earn 50 units
and another 15 units, but not a single unit of that 35 unit difference is justifiedby
reference to desert. Of course, in causal terms, the difference may be attributed, at
least in part, to native ability, but that does not justifythe difference. Rawls goes
as far as to say that natural endowments are a social resource to be used for the
benefit of the worst-off (Rawls, 1972: 179). It is strange that on desert Rawls is
the radical, whereas Cohen sides with Nozick. It is true that Nozick does not believe
that the rich are rich because they deserve to be rich – Wilt Chamberlain was rich
because other people chose to give him moneyto play basketball – but the idea of
self-ownership (private property rights) does imply a right to keep the fruit of your
Whether you accept Cohen’s argument against Rawls depends to some extent
on whether you endorse Marx’s labour theory of value. Many people would,
however, follow Thomas Nagel in arguing that the value of a product is not the
result of the amount of labour which went into it, but rather the other way round:
the value of labour is the result of the contribution that labour makes to the product
(Nagel, 1991: 99). Ask yourself this: if you have a firm making ‘next generation’
smartphones, which group of workers do you leastwant to lose: the canteen staff?
Cleaners? Assembly line workers? Phone designers? Venture capitalists? It could be
argued that the last two groups are the most important. The conclusion to be drawn
is that if we want to justify an egalitarian distribution of wealth we need what
Rawls attempts to offer, which is a moral justification that assumes that many of
the poorest will get morethan that to which their labour ‘entitles’ them.


The chapter began with a discussion of taxation, and asked you to consider whether
any taxes are justified and, if so, which are the fairest ones. As we have seen, Nozick
argues that taxation is ‘forced labour’, with the implication that he rejects it as
completely unjustified. There are a couple of responses that can be made to Nozick.
He defends the minimal state – meaning a state restricted to providing security –
and so has to explain how we pay for that security. In the earlier part of Anarchy,

94 Part 1 Classical ideas

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