Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Robert Nozick, father of libertarianism: Even he gave up on the movement he inspired.

Even the prime theorist for what became current libertarianism, stepped away from his flawed assumptions.

Or, put another way, Paul Ryan ain't Wilt the Stilt.
Just as Nozick would have us tax every dollar as if it were earned by a seven-foot demigod, apologists for laissez-faire would have us treat all outsize compensation as if it were earned by a tech revolutionary or the value-investing equivalent of Mozart (as opposed to, say, this guy, this guy, this guy, or this guy). It turns out the Wilt Chamberlain example is all but unkillable; only it might better be called the Steve Jobs example, or the Warren Buffett* example. The idea that supernormal compensation is fit reward for supernormal talent is the ideological superglue of neoliberalism, holding firm since the 1980s. It's no wonder that in the aftermath of the housing bust, with the glue showing signs of decay—with Madoff and "Government Sachs" displacing Jobs and Buffett in the headlines—"liberty" made its comeback. When the facts go against you, resort to "values." When values go against you, resort to the mother of all values. When the mother of all values swoons, reach deep into the public purse with one hand, and with the other beat the public senseless with your dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged.


fuguewriter said...

It is not the case that Robert Nozick abandoned libertarianism (any more than Greenspan abandoned wholesale his belief in markets, post-Crash). See this interview shortly before Nozick's death: . These deathbed-conversion tales are hopeful, but - as with those about Thomas Paine - often untrue.

Jim Valliant said...

First, every one -- regardless of his or her abilities -- deserves all of what he or she has earned. "Earning" is the concept missing completely here, but, yes, a few great individuals deserve much, much more than we can possibly ever repay. (It seems they were willing to take mere millions or billions.)

Whoever makes, creates and/or exchanges something in voluntary transactions owns 100% of the product of his or her effort or trade -- otherwise, he or she is a slave. And a majority vote cannot make slavery moral or legitimate, either.

Finally, Robert Nozick was never the "leading" (first, most popular, or even most academically cited, etc.) libertarian theorist, except in the minds of certain Leftists who don't read outside of their comfort zone, nor did he "inspire" the movement. He was never important among libertarians themselves, for example, and surely that counts for somethin'. Professor Tara Smith's recent work on Ayn Rand, published by Cambridge University Press, is just a tiny sample of the serious academic work being done on the philosopher who can lay claim to those titles. (Almost every Rand critic out there has been unable [or unwilling] to accurately state what her views actually were, so these can be dismissed out of hand.)

In summary, the concepts of "earn," "slave" and "right" are the key elements missing from this shoddy "analysis."

Jim Valliant said...

Wow. It sure takes an awful long time to review a perfectly clean and civilized responsive post. Not that I am unaccustomed to this kind of "openness" on the Left. Just another brick in the Wall...

Ellis Weiner said...

Then, when your dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged is in tatters, replace it with its definitive parody: Find out what John Glatt, Dragnie Tagbord, and the rest of the demi-god crew are up to, ten years later, here:

Mpeterson said...

Sorry Jim, my router died this week and it took ATT a bit of time to get around to me.

Nozick only wrote what he did because he was afraid Rawls was right. :^) That's the scuttlebutt in my profession at any rate.

Besides, he was wrong. The foundation of his arguments was problematic -- just like Adam Smiths.

And Nozick was not a leading libertarian theorist? Well, that's the sort of thing philosophers say when they talk about their own... but now you have me wondering: who were the other political philosophers who were leading "theoreticians" of libertarianism? I'm not sure I'm aware of any. Popularizers, maybe. Novelists,sure. But theoreticians? Can't think of any.

ps. again, sorry about the delay.