What happens when a philosopher who believes in less government gets benefits from government?
Here is the story:
In a building that Love Story author Erich Segal owned, Harvard professor Robert Nozick (1938-2002), a libertarian philosopher, was a tenant. After paying annual rent hikes, Nozick discovered that his apartment was rent controlled and the increases were illegal. Segal, however, refused to give him a refund saying, “You’ve abdicated the right to complain.” The reason was Novick’s book, Anarchy State and Utopia, in which he explained why society had no right to “commandeer” the fruits of an individual’s talent and hard work through redistribution.
Like taxes, rent control is redistribution. Rather than moving money from the rich to the poor, rent control redistributes income from landlords to tenants through government mandated lower rent.
This story ends in court where Nozick got a favorable decision and his money.
For us, though, the story is never ending. Dr. Novick’s ideas on distributive justice take us to how we view our tax system. Is the “just” society built on a foundation of individual talent with minimal redistribution or community sharing?
For a fascinating discussion of distributive justice from the divergent views of John Rawls (redistribution can be okay) and Robert Novick (not okay), I highly recommend this Econtalk podcast and transcript. More on rent control is here and from Novick, his single page “Tale of a Slave,” here.