Monday, June 20, 2016

Nozick on LeBron James and Social "Justice"

...with minor qualifications
On the popular conception of social "justice," justice is equality of outcomes.  One can determine whether an economic arrangement is just simply by looking at the distribution of whatever commodity or good one is interested in and seeing whether the distribution is equal.  On the heals of last night's NBA championship, here is an updated selection from Robert Nozick's "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" (pp. 160-1) showing that this is false:

[Suppose that there is some just distribution of money, D1.] Now suppose that LeBron James is greatly in demand by basketball teams, being a great gate attraction.  (Also suppose contracts run only for a year, with players being free agents.)  He signs the following sort of contract with a team: In each home game, fifteen dollars from the price of each ticket of admission goes to him.  (We ignore the question of whether he is "gouging" the owners, letting them look out for themselves.)  The season starts, and people cheerfully attend his team's games; they buy their tickets, each time dropping a separate fifteen dollars of their admission price into a special box with James's name on it.  They are excited about seeing him play; it is worth the total admission price to them.  Let us suppose that in one season one million persons attend his home games, and LeBron James winds up with $15,000,000 a much larger sum than the average income and larger even than anyone else has.  Is he entitled to his income?  Is this new distribution D2, unjust?  If so, why?  There is no question about whether each of the people was entitled to the control over the resources they held in D1; because that was the distribution (your favorite) that (for the purposes of argument) we assumed was acceptable.  Each of these persons chose to give fifteen dollars of their money to James.  They could have spent it on going to the movies, or on candy bars, or in donations to the Huffington Post, or Salon or for a Hillary Clinton speech.  But they all, at least one million of them, converged on giving it to LeBron James in exchange for watching him play basketball.  If D1 was a just distribution, and people voluntarily moved from it to D2, transferring parts of their shares they were given under D1, isn't D2 also just?  If the people were entitled to dispose of the resources to which they were entitled (under D1), didn't this include their being entitled to give it to, or exchange it with, LeBron James?  Can anyone else complain on grounds of justice?  Each other person already has his legitimate share under D1.  Under D1, there is nothing that anyone has that anyone else has a claim of justice against. 

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