January 31, 2004

A Short Note on Nozick's "Tale of the Slave"

Being reminded of Robert Nozick's "Tale of the Slave" in his Anarchy, State, and Utopia makes me remember that it is just one of many passages in ASU that made me conclude that Nozick was vastly, vastly overrated:

Consider the following sequence of cases... and imagine it is about you.

  1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal master's whims. He often is cruelly beaten, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.
  2. The master is kindlier and beats the slave only for stated infractions of his rules (not fulfilling the work quota, and so on). He gives the slave some free time.
  3. The master has a group of slaves, and he decides how things are to be allocated among them on nice grounds, taking into account their needs, merit, and so on.
  4. The master allows his slaves four days on their own and requires them to work only three days a week on his land. The rest of the time is their own.
  5. The master allows his slaves to go off and work in the city (or anywhere they wish) for wages. He requires only that they send back to him three- sevenths of their wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if some emergency threatens his land; and to raise or lower the three-sevenths amount required to be turned over to him. He further retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return, for example, mountain climbing, cigarette smoking.
  6. The master allows all of his 10,000 slaves, except you, to vote, and the joint decision is made by all of them. There is open discussion, and so forth, among them, and they have the power to determine to what uses to put whatever percentage of your (and their) earnings they decide to take; what activities legitimately may be forbidden to you, and so on.
  7. Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into the discussions of the 10,000, to try to persuade them to adopt various policies and to treat you and themselves in a certain way. They then go off to vote to decide upon policies covering the _vast_ range of their powers.
  8. In appreciation of your useful contributions to discussion, the 10,000 allow you to vote if they are deadlocked; they commit themselves to this procedure. After the discussion you mark your vote on a slip of paper, and they go off and vote. In the eventuality that they divide evenly on some issue, 5,000 for and 5,000 against, they look at your ballot and count it in. This has never yet happenned; they have never yet had occasion to open your ballot. (A single master also might commit himself to letting his slave decide any issue concerning him about which he, the master, was absolutely indifferent.)
  9. They throw your vote in with theirs. If they are exactly tied your vote carries the issue. Otherwise it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.

The question is: which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it no longer the tale of a slave?"

There are, of course, two things that make this argument of Nozick's deceptive and objectionable:

  1. The (false) implicit claim that there is a sharp dividing line separating "slavery" from "freedom," and that differences within the classifications are unimportant.
  2. The (false) implicit claim that there are only two choices: Nozick's minimal state on the one hand, and a pure majoritarian dictatorship on the other. You have to go a long way beyond Nozick's #9 to get to anything that approximates what we have in America today.

Posted by DeLong at January 31, 2004 09:16 AM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

Ah, big-L libertarians. God love 'em.

Though it must be said when I was watching a History Channel show on the pyramids, I thought reflectively on the pharoah's alleged levy requirement from the peasantry -- 2 months out of the year is a lot less labor that I'm required to give to the gov't these days...

Posted by: Troy on January 31, 2004 09:47 AM

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The "boundary argument" that Nozick uses is silly.

As Amartya Sen has said, there is some uncertainty about the border between India and Pakistan, but it still means something to talk about India or to talk about Pakistan as somewhere different. In a similar fashion, there is no one frequency at which the colour in the rainbow changes from red to orange to yellow. Does that mean red and yellow are the same thing? No.

Posted by: Tom Slee on January 31, 2004 09:55 AM

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Brad

How I do love you - not that there's anything wrong with that - for this post.

Anne

Posted by: anne on January 31, 2004 09:58 AM

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Isn't this just the old Sorites Paradox in fancy new dress?

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on January 31, 2004 10:00 AM

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Professor DeLong says, "You have to go a long way beyond Nozick's #9 to get to anything that approximates what we have in America today."

Maybe prior to 2000. Now I would say that we are at #6 or, realistically, at #5.

Consider: Are the thoughts of anyone outside the ruling class geuinely considered to be of interest to their discussion? When people are cordoned off into "First Amendment Zones", is there genuinely free speech? When the most credible news source on major media is a comedy show, are informed decisions being made?

Posted by: Charles on January 31, 2004 10:05 AM

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This man is just another David B***ks type -- a complete waste of time. He doesn't even begin to understand what freedom is. Not even at step 9.

Posted by: bulent on January 31, 2004 10:13 AM

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what Abiola said. A 7' man is tall, a 4' man is not tall. Somewhere in between there are people who may or may not be tall. When I was a kid the dividing line was 6', and nowadays it's probably 6'2". There's absolutely no rigorous way to tell exactly where the line is, but the fact remains that some people are tall and others are not.

This is the kind of thing that fuzzy-set theory wroks with. (Bush's jokes about "fuzzy math" are especially infuriating to me, partly because they're so ignorant but also because his own numbers are so often dishonest). I've been told that fuzzy sets play a big role in robotics and AI, because they keep a system from freezing up when one of the values isn't exactly right, while still making it possible to notice that there might be a problem.

In Plato there was an argument about this somewhere. Seemingly Plato's Socrates had an idea of tallness which was not a relative on (not also an idea of shortness) and he used a very complicated method of saying that A was taller than B but shorter than C. I believe that Plato had to do this because he didn't want to allow a continuum where "good" meant "less bad" and "bad" meant "less good". He wanted an absolute Good, which paradoxically leads to the slippery slope, whereas if you have a relative concept with two ends, you can argue about the middle without making either end disappear entirely (without either making everyone tall, or everyone short). Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu, to mind, in Chinese philosophy had solutions to this problem superior to Plato's.

To me Nozick's argument is just an example of what happens when an attempt is made to use the impoverished toolkit of analytic philsophy on any kind of reality. Peter Singer is another instance. Rorty has defined analytic philosophy simply as training in argumentation, and analytic philosophers seem to choose the cases to advocate (animal rights, anarchism) strictly on whim, after which "making the case" becomes a professionalized technical operation. They're like public defenders sitting and waiting for a defendant to be assigned them by the court. The lawyer's job isn't to find the truth, but to defend the defendant.

Whereas philosophy (quite rightly) also used to function as the judge and jury too, making the best real world judgement they could of the actual truth of the matter.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on January 31, 2004 10:34 AM

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I don't think much of your objections to the argument that Nozick is trying to make. When you try to figure out the implicit premises in an argument you really ought to be more charitable.

BDL: "The (false) implicit claim that there is a sharp dividing line separating "slavery" from "freedom," and that differences within the classifications are unimportant."

His argument doesn't need the claim that there is a sharp dividing line between slavery and freedom. Even if Nozick actually thought this, you can not use this as an objection to his argument if this claim was not necessary for the argument to work. His argument would work just as well if there were substantial similarities between the fate of the slave in the first version and in the last version, and if those similarities were central to what is bad about being a slave.

BDL: "The (false) implicit claim that there are only two choices: Nozick's minimal state on the one hand, and a pure majoritarian dictatorship on the other. You have to go a long way beyond Nozick's #9 to get to anything that approximates what we have in America today."

Again his argument does not need the claim that there are only two alternatives. In fact you appear to concede what he was actually arguing for, namely that we would still be slaves under an unrestrained majoritarian rule.

A better counter-argument would point out that there really is a "sea change" in the middle of this series of stories, that makes #1 a tale of a Slave but #9 a tale of a substantially free citizen. When you have 10,000 masters, instead of one master, then you are no longer dependent on the arbitrary will of just one person. When your ten thousand masters no longer decide simply what you will do, but must decide what rules you and they will obey, then you are no longer subject to arbitrary commands of a master who does not need to care about the interests of those who he commands. Both of these features of the situation in #9 were regarded as *the* crucial distinctions between slaves and citizens in ancient and early modern republican political theory.

If you really want to respond to Nozick you should try making a case for democracy and the rule of law, rather than inserting the most implausible "implicit" premises that you can think of into his argument.

Posted by: glen on January 31, 2004 10:52 AM

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Troy: 2 months per year

Right, but you probably get back much more from the government than the Pharao's peasants. Most of that you don't get directly to your name, but you get a collective share in collectively provided stuff, or are entitled to a collective share in certain circumstances (the oft-cited freeways, fire services, national/state parks, welfare etc.).

But it is less than we should collectively get back. Well, in the aggregate it all does go back, but too much of it arguably not to "us".

Posted by: cm on January 31, 2004 11:15 AM

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There is a crucial issue that Nozick seems to forget. In most form of government where voting is used the decisions that the governing body takes include the use of the money paid to the "master" (taxes). Only implying (without saying it) that the "slaves" have no say over how the money they pay to the "master" is used can you see the "master" having any real power. Of course this condition is not true of any democratic goverment that I know.

Posted by: Carlos on January 31, 2004 11:16 AM

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Zizka writes: "I've been told that fuzzy sets play a big role in robotics and AI, because they keep a system from freezing up when one of the values isn't exactly right, while still making it possible to notice that there might be a problem."

OT, but fuzzy logic per se is rather out of fashion these days in the AI community. People these days are more likely to use probabilistic models to account for uncertainty and boundary cases of this sort. In other words, rather than saying "X is sort-of a member of the tall set" (fuzzy logic), the programmer will devise a way of saying "X has Y probability of being classified as tall". In English it seems like a minor difference, but when you formalize it and code it up, they come out quite different.

Posted by: Armature on January 31, 2004 11:41 AM

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It looks to me that the author makes the classical mistakes of sophistry, replacing complex concepts by simplified concepts, and making unwarranted analogies. But then this is probably the same as what zizka was saying.

To unravel the argument and see where pitfalls are hiding, it should be useful at each step to question what actually constitutes slavery. You will probably find it's not that easy. The same is true with many abstract concepts of human society.

In points 7-9 the is no more mention of the "master" (and perhaps the implied notion that the government has taken his place). But that analogy is fallacious, because the government does not have ownership rights in its people, and even if "it" has the power to control "their" lives to a large extent, the analogy breaks down. A better (but probably not much more useful) analogy would be one where the slaves can elect new masters.

Viewed from a slightly different angle, points 1-9 are not inconsistent with the definition of slavery, but they do not describe today's society, but something which only looks superficially similar when you don't look closely.

On a different subject, you would probably not say that a pear is more an apple than an orange, although it looks more like one in many aspects.

Posted by: cm on January 31, 2004 11:50 AM

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The space Nozick is attempting to describe is two-dimensional, individual liberty and popular sovereignty being the two dimensions. Arraying them on a scale in that way totally confuses the point Nozick is trying to make.

Possibly Nozick believes that the consent of the governed is irrelevant to an appraisal of one's freedom. Possible but less likely is that Nozick didn't think his readers could handle a two-dimensional vector.

Posted by: son volt on January 31, 2004 11:56 AM

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Nozick din'dt quite make it to the _next_ number!

10. Several clever slaves set themselves up as "capitalists" and "Republicans" and start bilking their fellow slaves. They eventually become so rich that they find it possible to bribe old master (who is on-nay oh-say ight-bray) with glittering baubles in return for making them free from taxation. Thus the poorer slaves become responsible more than their three-sevenths share of the total tax revenues, and are also tricked into paying sales taxes on every item they consume. The rich slaves also cleverly re-work stupid old master's accounting system in such a way as to cheat their fellow slaves out of trillions of dollars. They convince master to start stupid useless wars, from which the rich slaves' also profit mightily--- although it is the poor slaves children who do all the fighting and the dying. And when any of the poor slaves dare to complain about this situtation, their rich brethren retort, "Why do you hate Slaveland so?"

Posted by: glenstonecottage on January 31, 2004 12:26 PM

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Well, look, OK, let us look at it at a very fundamental level: Even where slavery is the law of the land, the slave, as a human being with God given faculty to judge and choose, has a choice to do nothing or attempt escape. OK? So let us say the Constitution or the premises underlying the Constitution explicitly or implicitly empowering the people to overthrow a Government once it has lost legitimacy is a nice detail, because people have in them the God given power to do that no matter what the Law says any way.

Let us also say that it doesn't matter who the heck the master is -- let us say any body outside your own circle of family and friends empowered by law to tell you what to do or not to do is "master". OK?

Then:

I once imagined the State as an omnipresent Robot in compliance with Isaac Asimov's Laws of Robotics -- I thought; "why not just replace the word Robot by the word State?" (later on I discovered big flaws with that thinking but I forgot what the flaws were!! :-/)

Well let us say the State is a robot that lets you do any thing you want, including doing nothing, and also the State itself does for you any thing you want, except for letting you violate, directly or indirectly, let us say, a subset of the Ten Commandments, like "thou shalt not kill".

There is still a "master". But there is "rule of law" as well.

"Rule of law" means the "master" is none other than "the law" itself. "The word" is the master. The master is never a person.

Any body who takes "rule of law" to mean "law enforcement" or "law and order" is a complete waste of time.

Differences of quality cannot always be represented on fuzzy scale.

And, when you have a State that does any thing for you any way as long as what you want is moral, what daya care if the tax rate is a hundred percent?

This guy Nozick is a complete waste of time.

Posted by: bulent on January 31, 2004 12:29 PM

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"If you really want to respond to Nozick you should try making a case for democracy and the rule of law, rather than inserting the most implausible "implicit" premises that you can think of into his argument."

Right!

Posted by: Bulent on January 31, 2004 12:33 PM

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If this is Nozick trying to be persuasive, it's not very good. But I haven't read the book...perhaps someone can enlighten me.

No doubt he knows about (and dismisses) the entire long tradition that defines "freedom" as "ruling and being ruled in turn under good laws" (that, as I recall, is roughly Aristotle's version, but it has a long tail down well beyond the Renaissance, taking modern form as "the rule of law". (Bulent lays a version of it nicely).

But a moments thought should persuade anyone that the purely negative freedom (a la Berlin) implicit in his definition -- slavery is having to obey anyone -- doesn't get anyone very far. To be free, in Nozick's world, would appear to leave everyone in a Hobbesian state of nature. If everyone is "not a slave" in this sense, what's left? That, no doubt, is what ASU tries to do: is anyone persuaded by his answers?

Posted by: PQuincy on January 31, 2004 03:00 PM

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Freedom entails choice. We are most free when we have the largest possible number of choices, not for consumption, but for action. We do not give up freedom when we accept rules that have the effect of making it possible for other people to be free themselves, secure, and able to enjoy choices for their own actions. Their status, and ours, as free, reinforces each of our abilities to increase the number of choices available and the ability to pick effectively from those choices.

Posted by: masaccio on January 31, 2004 04:07 PM

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From The New Republic, Dec. 22, 1986:

Postcard Cambridge: ANARCHY, STATE, AND RENT CONTROL

by William Tucker

Robert Nozick, a philosophy professor at Harvard, is the intellectual hero of libertarians. His book, "Anarchy, State, and Utopia", winner of the National Book Award in 1974, argues that "free minds and free markets" are the key to a successful society. While endorsing personal choice on social issues like drugs and pornography, Nozick mocked the economic interventionism of contemporary liberals who, he said, are "willing to tolerate every kind of behavior except capitalistic acts between consenting adults." Alas, it now appears that like so many other advocates of the free market, Nozick is willing to make one small exception --himself.

In September 1983, Nozick signed a one-year lease on a condominium apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, owned by Eric Segal, the eminent classical scholar and author of _Love Story_. Segal, who bought the place in 1972, has lived there only occasionally and now resides in England. The apartment is a beauty, actually two combined units with 2,500 square feet of space, a wine "safe", Jacuzzi, sauna, and a 50-foot balcony overlooking the Charles River. As a consenting adult, Nozick agreed to pay Segal $1,900 a month.

When the lease came up for renewal a year later, Segal bumped the rent up to $2,400. A lot, but Cambridge is a hot real estate market and Nozick, as a consenting adult, signed again for another year. But he apparently was miffed. Cambridge, after all, has one of the nation's most draconic rent control ordinances --as do many college communities where students and junior professors have imposed economic regulations on the "townies" who rent them apartments during the school year. Was it possible, Nozick wondered, that Segal might be violating the law?

Less than a month later, Nozick showed up at the offices of the Cambridge Rent Control Board and asked if the city rent regulation applied to his apartment. "We told him it certainly did," said Bernard "Buddy" Packer, who makes sure all rents are fair and square in Cambridge. "The final, legal, maximum rent on that apartment should have been $1,900." And so the matter was settled, as far as Buddy Packer and the Rent Control Board were concerned. Nozick's rent was rolled back to $1,900. He received a $500 refund on his first month's rent.

But Nozick wasn't satisfied. Like the son of a missionary discovering pornography, Nozick apparently became fascinated with rent control. "I was up there showing the apartment to some brokers at one point," says Ken Edelman, a New York attorney who was soon representing Segal. "There was a copy of the Cambridge Rent Control Ordinance sitting on the coffee table."

Nozick decided the situation was more grave than even the rent control board had suspected. In Cambridge, rent increases are allowed only through occasional citywide raises, or through individual exceptions granted to petitioning landlords. But how was the _original_ rent determined? The law says it is the rent at which the apartment was let when the ordinance first went into effect. Multifamily unit housing was regulated in 1970 and owner-occupied condominiums were brought under the law as of March 31, 1976.

If an apartment was not being rented at the time, the first rent at which it was let becomes the base rent. All subsequent raises are figured by a complicated formula only the Cambridge Rent Control Board seems to understand.

Nozick knew he had not been the first tenant. Segal had rented out the apartment several times before to friends and acquaintances. After some investigating, Nozick turned up a couple in the building who house-sat the apartment for six months in 1976, without a lease, paying only $675 a month.

In September 1985, Nozick's second lease expired. Even though he had no contractual right to stay in Segal's apartment, he did not want to move out. The interventionist state to the rescue once again! Under Cambridge's rent control ordinance, even a tenant without a lease is evictable only if the owner himself wanted to move into the apartment. Not only did Nozick stay put, but a month later he filed suit against Segal in Cambridge District Court. Nozick argued the rent --based on the $675 base figure-- should now be only about $800. He demanded a $25,000 refund for two years of "overpayment" --plus triple damages.

The case dragged on for two years. In May 1986 the Cambridge Rent Control Board issued a new ruling. Basing the rent on a 1977 lease where the tenant had paid $1,000, the board decided the final, legal, maximum rent should be $1,303. (Rent control boards always seem to choose mysterious figures in order to give themselves an air of authority. Segal's monthly maintenance, property tax, and mortgage costs were more than $2,000.)

This fall the parties settled out of court. Nozick agreed to move out of the apartment on September 15, and Segal agreed to pay his tenant $31,000. "We thought it was a pretty good settlement," said Edelman, Segal's attorney. "Cambridge's rent control ordinance is one of the strictest in the country. Nozick was in a very strong position."

Based on the $1,303 figure, however, the refund for the entire three-year "overcharge" should have been about $21,000. Why the extra $10,000? "Eric wants to sell the place," said Edelman. "With Nozick in there, the apartment was virtually unmarketable. Any new owner would inherit the problem. Basically, we had to pay off Nozick to get rid of him. Otherwise, he might have been there forever."

Nozick refused all comment.

No one, not even a philosopher, is morally obligated to live as if the world were the way he wishes it were. Robert Nozick pays taxes and is entitled to enjoy the government benefits they finance --even benefits he thinks should not exist. Perhaps the libertarian philosopher should not be expected to opt out of rent control voluntarily. But should he be pursuing his landlord through the maze of rent control regulations like a man possessed? And should he be using his ability to make a nuisance of himself under these regulations for simple, if lawful, cash extortion?

They say that policeman make the best burglars. After a few years on the job, they know all the tricks. The same thing seems to be true of philosophers. If you're looking for someone to manipulate a rent control ordinance, find an advocate of the free market.

Posted by: Lee A. on January 31, 2004 06:39 PM

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Great Story

Posted by: Matt Young on January 31, 2004 06:46 PM

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A further problem with Nozick's argument is that even his minimal state is allowed to levy contributions for the purpose of protecting property rights. The proportion of income might be less, but there's no permission to opt out.

What's more, in practice, minimal states tend to employ highly unappealing methods of extracting military contributions, such as the press gang, because they lack the machinery for anything more equitable.

Posted by: John on January 31, 2004 11:32 PM

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P Quincy: "To be free, in Nozick's world, would appear to leave everyone in a Hobbesian state of nature."

Or at least, public goods would have to be provided on some sort of voluntary basis. I don't think anyone would really choose to live in such a place.

That's why it seems obvious that "freedom" essentially happens at step 6 - assuming the master has no more power than the other 9999.

Not that (even if I'm on to anything) this renders Nozick's logic uninteresting or unuseful.

Posted by: Joe Mealyus on February 1, 2004 12:24 AM

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The Master, after conferring with his heads of state, realizes that you cannot possible be the tie-breaker among 10,000 individual votes, and decides therefore to disregard the vote entirely as flawed, finding five overseas armed services internet votes that swing the tally his way.
Then He orders the supreme justices last ruling reinstated to allow consolidation of all public media into five corporations, consolidation of agricultural production into seven corporations, and the consolidation of public defense into four corporations. You're screwed. Life sucks.
Add to Occum's Razor, Niblik's Diversion by Fractional Logic: "All things are moral by degree. Failing that, then by decree."

Now get back to work.

Posted by: Trebor Howard on February 1, 2004 01:03 AM

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"Not that (even if I'm on to anything) this renders Nozick's logic uninteresting or unuseful."

Nozick logic is not only deceptive and objectionable, as Brad points out, but also indeed uninteresting and unusufel.

I now see, however, judging by the number of comments here, why Brad felt the need to allocate space to Nozick -- there is a need, as it turns out, to point out that Nozick logic is deceptive and objectionable.

Posted by: bulent on February 1, 2004 10:30 AM

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Scrolling down I see that Glen has made the point I wanted to make (although his tone is a bit hard on Brad). The traditional (Kantian) argument that we are free is that the majority as our "master" can command us only through laws also binding on the majority.

OK so Glen took pro and I have to take con.
Glen and Immanual do not reassure me completely. What is a law ? Any competent lobbyist can write a law which benefits all corporations whihc have between 5231 and 5232 employees on Feb 1 2004 etc etc that happens to apply only to his or her personal client.

Oh Glen's other point about 10000 masters not one does not convince at all. In 1789 all remaining serfs in France were serfs of the church and did not have a single master, still they were serfs.

I think Brad's first point as rephrased by Tom Slee that red isn't Yellow, is the best counterargument, although, like Tom Slee I don't dare make the radical claim that red is not orange either.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on February 1, 2004 01:26 PM

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I agree with the posts on this (and maybe the next) that say Nozick's approach misrepresents and trivializes the concept of slavery. A slave is owned as property, and the master has control of the slaves whole life, and has a legal claim on the slave's production, except for humanitarian legal restrictions on the master's requirements on the slave.
To compare this to rule making in societies where people retain most of their freedom and ownership of their time and the product of their labor is just absurd. Exactly how would a completely voluntary society actually work from day to day? Libertarians can never tell you. They spend most of their time whining and venting outrage based on silly anologies as in the Nozick passage. They are like Marx in that respect -detailed criticism of current and past societies and then the workers paradize happens and we are all in some kind of ideological heaven, that looks like.... what?
I have never understood the libertarain anarcho-capitalists. They seem to want a world in which we have night-watchman state that only protects property and contracts, and other than that everything else is voluntary.
But aren't rules needed to define property and govern contracts? What are these obvious rules that every one can agree on? And what happens when one party disagrees about the consequences of those rules, in general or a particular case? How are those rules made, and how could they be made and applied in pracical situations in an conceivably real world that wouldn't result in something that by Nozick's thinking, could be called slavery?
Most respectable people understand this problem and try to understand it somewhere along the line -economists do, historians do, lawyers do, even the riff-raff in sociology, public admin, and political science do. But libertarians don't. So until they can deal with this problem more seriously than Nozick does, I cannot take them seriously at all. If there is a libertarin out there who can refer me to something with more substance that Nozicks silly tales, I would like to know. And I will definitely look at, since I would like to see *something* that is not laughable.

Posted by: jml on February 1, 2004 02:16 PM

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Its a shame to dismiss important philosophers (certainly one of the 10 best moral philosophers of the past century) on spurious grounds. Nozick should be taken as posing an important challenge to all of us who hold more liberal theories, and as such ought to be taken seriously. Two comments then.

First, this is poor grounds to think of Nozick as overrated since it is neither his argument nor a summary of his argument. He just appends it as an alternative after 300 pages of his own argument. Indeed, he says 'Other tales, some of unjust origins, also might be told...' right before the bit you quoted.

Second, this argument does not turn on vagueness, either linguistic, conceptual, or otherwise. Go ahead, be a supervaluationist about the vague terms (precisify for each acceptable meaning) and run the argument again. You'll see it is a demand for a principle which seems to be fundamentally unstable.

Posted by: adm on February 3, 2004 10:21 AM

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Jml wrote,

"I have never understood the libertarain anarcho-capitalists. They seem to want a world in which we have night-watchman state that only protects property and contracts, and other than that everything else is voluntary."

You are confusing anarcho-capitalists with minarchists. Minarchist libertarians advocate a night-watchman state. Anarcho-capitalists libertarians, as the name implies, do not.

"But aren't rules needed to define property and govern contracts? What are these obvious rules that every one can agree on? And what happens when one party disagrees about the consequences of those rules, in general or a particular case? How are those rules made, and how could they be made and applied in pracical situations in an conceivably real world that wouldn't result in something that by Nozick's thinking, could be called slavery?
Most respectable people understand this problem and try to understand it somewhere along the line -economists do, historians do, lawyers do, even the riff-raff in sociology, public admin, and political science do. But libertarians don't. So until they can deal with this problem more seriously than Nozick does, I cannot take them seriously at all. If there is a libertarin out there who can refer me to something with more substance that Nozicks silly tales, I would like to know."

I don't think its fair for you, or any of the other people in this thread, including Professor Delong, to characterize Nozick's views as laughable or silly. First of all, I believe that Nozick mentioned at the beginning of ASU that he was not trying to formulate water-tight, knock-down arguments as many philosophers try to do - if he was trying to do this, he might have spent a bit more time explaining where rights come from. Rather, my reading of Nozick is that he was presenting interesting arguments against the conventional viewpoint. Some work, some don't.

In this particular case, although I am not familiar with the context of the passage, it seems that Nozick's point has nothing to do with either a "sharp dividing line separating 'slavery' from 'freedom,'" nor is he presenting a false alternative between a minimal state and a majoritarian dictatorship, as Delong contends. Rather, he is trying to demonstrate that voting does not justify anything at all. That is the important point here. What is so special about voting the suddenly turns an unjust state of affairs into a just one? This argument succeeds at making us question this rarely-criticized assumption.

As for your characterization of libertarians as unthinking clods, there certainly are many unthinking libertarian clods, just as there are many unthinking socialist clods. Don't simply assume that libertarians don't address these issues just because you have not yet read any libertarian writers who do. Randy Barnett (http://www.randybarnett.com ), Bruce Benson (http://garnet.acns.fsu.edu/~bbenson/ ), and David Friedman (http://daviddfriedman.com/ ) are three libertarians who have spilled much ink over this very topic. All three reject simplistic notions of libertarianism (while allowing that such simplifications may be useful as a short-hand guide to justice), and instead provide complex accounts of what a libertarian legal system should look like. If you are looking for immediate and free reading, David Friedman has a few chapters of his book, "The Machinery of Freedom," available on his website (http://daviddfriedman.com/Libertarian/Machinery_of_Freedom/MofF_Contents.html ). Particularly relevant to your question is the chapter, "Police, Courts, and Laws--on the Market," which provides a rought sketch of what such a system would look like and how it might work, and "Answers: The Economic Analysis of Law," which solves the problems mentioned in the two preceding chapters. His later book, "Law's Order: What Economics Has to Do with Law and Why It Matters," goes into more depth on this issue.

Posted by: Micha Ghertner on February 3, 2004 05:15 PM

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The difference between #5 and #6 is, frankly,
enormous. Suddenly there is a change from one master to a group of 10,000 masters who have to vote on things. It may not be a change for the one without the vote, but it's a change for all the *others*.

The difference between 3 and 4, or between 3 and 5, is also enormous. Control of their own time? This is a key aspect of freedom.

Technically, I supposed I'd say that 4-5 was when it stopped being about a "slave". Which doesn't mean it's the tale of someone entirely free yet, of course.

I could construct far better and more detailed gradations. The point is, the gradations do, in fact, matter. If Nozick is trying to indicate that they don't, he's either being disingenuous, or he's an idiot.

Posted by: Anon. on February 6, 2004 02:58 AM

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Slavery

1. Your fortune is tied to your master's. If there is no slave agreement for release at a certain criteria, then you are really just a slave with extra privileges. You are still at your location, there at the whim of your master. You can be sold at any time, families split up, whatever.

2. If freedom is granted, to really be free you have to be able to learn and compete in the world you live in. But I don't know the exact statistics of when you can consider things like those sharecropper arrangements as free or slave relationships. But I would think that a system that allowed people to keep their children would carry some weight over the slave alternative, even if the slave alternative made very good temporary promises as in the later things listed on that chart. I would always be suspicious that if anything happened to the master, fortunes could change overnight.

Also, you may not have to look very far, maybe even in your own academic department to see something that is very close to a slave/feudal arrahgement. It's called working on soft money on a grant. In that situation your work life is totally dependent on grant money. And yes you can make suggestions to the PI, but in the end it is their project.

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