Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1
State and Utopiahe offers an imaginary account of how monopoly providers of
security might emerge from the operation of the market. In effect, competing
providers are squeezed out of the market and those who would have chosen their
services are compensated. They are, however, required now to pay the monopoly
provider (Nozick, 1974: 57). Only a sleight of hand would not call this taxation.
It might be what in the United States is called an ‘individual mandate’ – the require-
ment to buy a service – but this is controversial (it was central to the opposition
to ‘Obamacare’, with opponents arguing that citizens were in effect being required
to buy health care and this amounted to European-style socialised medicine).
The second objection takes issue with likening taxation to forced labour. Nozick’s
analogy is between being a slave – being forced to work – and having to make
compulsory payments (that is, pay taxes). But the analogy does not work, because
it fails to distinguish arbitrary treatmentand legitimate expectations. A slave has
no rights and no expectations of treatment: he is at the mercy of the whims of his
owner. A worker paying tax does have rights and legitimate expectations. If you
get a job paying $30,000 a year then you know that you will have to pay tax on
a certain amount of that income and the rules governing the payment of tax are
publicly stated and impartially applied; if you progress to $50,000 a year then you
know that the amount and rate of tax will increase, and, again, the tax rate is public
knowledge. If the state demanded a payment which was not based on any rule, or
the rule was not stated, or was clearly discriminatory, then that certainly would
amount to an arbitrary seizure of your property, and so be illegitimate.
If we accept that some forms of taxation are legitimate then which on the list
produced at the start of the chapter are the fairest? Can any of the arguments set
out in this chapter help us come to a judgement on their respective merits? We will
conclude by assessing in tabular form (see p. 96) each against four perspectives,
those of liberal egalitarianism (Rawls), right libertarianism (Nozick), left libertari-
anism (Steiner) and quasi-Marxism (Cohen) (we say ‘quasi-Marxist’ because as we
suggested most Marxists do not engage in debates withinliberalism, but rather
simply reject liberal–capitalist society). For each of the four positions we pose the
fundamental question, and then in assessing each form of taxation consider whether
the question is answered.


Human beings need to decide how resources are to be distributed and, unless we
endorse the anarchist position, then the state, which is a coercive entity, will play
a role in their distribution. Political theorists disagree about the extent of state
involvement in the distribution of resources – Nozick argues for a minimal role,
while Rawls – and, implicitly, Cohen – argue for a more extensive role. Underlying
the three theories discussed are different conceptions of what it means to be an
agent, and of human motivation. Rawls assumes that human beings have mixed
motives: they are self-interested but also ‘reasonable’. Nozick avoids a discussion
of motivation by arguing for a strong conception of human agency – property rights
are an extension of self-ownership: so long as we do not violate others’ rights, what
we do with our rights is for us to decide. Cohen endorses the emphasis on self-

Chapter 4 Justice 95
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