Robert Nozick On Equality Of Opportunity

The political theory outlined by Robert Nozick in his famous book Anarchy, State, and Utopia is a bit nutty, but unlike Paul Ryan, he was a very rigorous thinker so he doesn’t pretend that strident opposition to income redistribution can somehow go hand in hand with glorifying equality of opportunity:

The major objection to speaking of everyone’s having a right to various things such as equality of opportunity, life, and so on, and enforcing this right, is that these “rights” require a substructure of things and materials and actions; and other people may have rights and entitlements over these. No one has a right to something whose realization requires certain uses of things and activities that other people have right and entitlements over. Other people’s rights and entitlements to particular things (that pencil, their body, and so on) and how they choose to exercise these rights and entitlements fix the external environment of any given individuals and the means that will be available to him. If his goal requires the use of means which others have rights over, he must enlist their voluntary cooperation. Even to exercise his right to determine how something he owns is to be used may require other means he must acquire a right to, for example, food to keep him alive; he must put together, with the cooperation of others, a feasible package.

In other words, if it’s wrong to tax David Koch in order to give some waitress somewhere a bit of extra cash, it’s equally wrong to tax David Koch in order to give the waitresses’ daughter money to go to college. David Koch’s money is David Koch’s money, damnit, and you can’t take it from him.

Milton Friedman always tried to thread the needle on this by saying he was for “equality of opportunity,” but what equality of opportunity meant to him was “equality before the law.” This is the kind of thinking that prompted Anatole France’s famous quip that “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” The idea, in other words, is not just inadequate but virtually meaningless.

My view is that what’s really needed is a political system and policy framework that display equal concern for the interests of all the members of the community.