If As Nozick Claims “Taxation Is Theft”, Can It Ever Be Just?

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The central argument to this debate is to what extent state intervention in the distribution of goods is justified, if at all.  It is a debate that has largely been established with the emergence and expansion of the Welfare State.  Theorists such as R Nozick, who claim that taxation is theft and who therefore, defend a minimal state where state intervention in the economy is kept to a minimum.  In contrast there are those who can loosely be described as social democrats who insist that there are moral grounds for state intervention.  I would address both of these views within this essay.

In his book Anarchy, State and Utopia, Nozick argues for a minimal state whose sole purpose should be to maintain order.  “The minimal state is the most extensive state that can be justified, any state more extensive violates peoples rights”

The minimal state is often advocated by the British Conservative party who favour a laissez faire approach that does not compliment the welfare concept.  According to Nozick the Welfare Concept infringes on a persons right to choose what they do with their  ‘holdings’.  Therefore, taxation for Nozick represents state intervention at the highest level.  He regards taxation, as being similar to forced labour.  “Taxation of earnings from labour is on par with forced labour”.  This argument is based on the notion, that by taxing a person’s wages you are in effect taking hours from a person.  He responds to his critics by arguing that even those who consider this claim to be ridiculous would object on principle to each person working an extra five hours in order to aid the disadvantaged.  

Using his entitlement theory, which outlines what we are legitimately, entitled to and how, Nozick claims that we are entitled to our holdings if gained legitimately.  “A person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in acquisition is entitled to that holding” He goes further to say that this also applies to the transfer of holdings from one person to another.

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Nozick claims that justice in what you own is historical, whereas the welfare principle is based on equality of outcome and therefore, does not take into consideration how a person acquires their holdings, as it is not deemed relevant to the distribution.  “Welfare economics is the theory of current time slice principles of justice”.  Therefore, advocates of Nozick’s entitlement theory consider history of what and how you have acquired your holdings as central to their idea of distributive justice.  In contrast, distribution based on for instance moral merit or any of what Nozick considers to be patterned principles deprives ...

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