Rawls vs. Nozick | Are you responsible for how much you earn?

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If you were the best sports person on the planet, you would assume to be paid well. However, it depends on which sport you play. If you are a football player, you may be paid a vast amount, as compared to a weight lifter. Why is that?

There is a greater audience for football. More viewers, bring in more endorsements. More endorsements bring in more revenue collection, and a higher pay for every one involved in that sport – from the coach, to the football player, and even their entourage. The entire industry behind a popular sport such as football or cricket, is not necessarily due to the sport at all. The industry is created as a result of a global fan base.

By occupying the largest space in any industry, the viewers create the industry’s importance. By choosing to watch one sport over the other, one sport flourishes more than another. This is right in the name of liberty of choice, but not equality.

Equality and liberty may not go together. In fact their relationship hardly works out. Let’s understand an idea. There is no equality of pay among the sports people because there is liberty of choice amongst the viewers. Rawls argued that equality was important to keep balance in society. But equality would be accompanied by interference, Nozick clarifed. It would coerce equal pay for every sports person (in this example), and though that sounds fair, it does stand against liberty. If people are willing to use their liberty, in order to make a choice, where they put in more time and effort watching football, that too is fair.

Why should I, a football player be paid equal to a weight lifter when the people are willing to invest their time and money in my sport. Liberty does not give way to patterns. When liberty of choice is given, it takes away a comfortable prediction of how much people will want and choose. Because with choice, comes the choice of excess, or less.

Is it fair to give everyone the equal amount, even though it sacrifices someone’s liberty?

Rawls stated that choices/individual liberty must be resisted in order to maintain social equality. Whereas, Nozick argued that freedom is more important than social wealth imbalances. Because if the people’s choice do not align with equal payment for all, the aspired equal pay would not be fair, as it would oppose individual choices.

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How much a professional is paid, is dependent more on the choices people make as compared to the profession itself. Today there is no active system where equality trumps liberty. Now the world has more liberty than ever before, but also sees the highest surge in inequality. The excess choice made by people, has led to an un-precedented level of inequality – not only in incomes, but also choices due to these high incomes. There are too many aspiring artists, and sports people because there is a glamour attached to this incessant demand for their smile on a stage. ‘And who would not want to be this demanded?’ is an idea drawing too many. This leaves the technocratic and socially engaged population rather lonely.

Equality or liberty may not work together today, but if they ever do, it will only be when choices allow for equality. For both of them to find common ground liberty must part ways to make way for equality. For example, if two sellers come to a market to sell carrots, equality could say that they both must sell carrots at the same price – given they are of the same quality. However, equality can not be set on price alone, but must account for one seller who has come to the market from a 10 kilometre distance, and the other who just took a stroll to reach there.

Equality in the most basic sense tells you it is not set by any one factor alone, but is an attempt to bring every one on a plane field no matter where they come from. So if two carrot sellers come to the market, asking them to sell their produce at the same price is wrong, just as it is to ask them to liberally choose any price in mind. Therefore, we recognise a certain level of equality that must be maintained in the market, where the same quality carrots are being sold. In this case, we understand that equality can only exist if liberty makes way for it.

Only if people use their liberally given choice, to choose equality it may work together. They must allow for growth to continue not only from where people want to be, but also keeping in mind where they are right this moment. Liberty parting the way for equality, is the only way they both can sustain.

2 thoughts on “Rawls vs. Nozick | Are you responsible for how much you earn?

  1. Hi, while I feel this a good primer to ideas of Nozick and Rawls, I feel that both these theorists dealt primarily with the idea of the fundamental organisation of society, the basic grounds on which legal and moral (and therefore including redistributive) decisions are made, not so much on individual choice on a day to day level. That being said, from my own conceptual and ideological standpoint I have several problems with the Nozickian conception. While I agree with Nozick on his point of the fundamental dichotomy between patterned conceptions of justice and the nature and operation of the market, and his following critique of the contemporary left critique of markets, I think it suffers from some flaws. Nozick believes that markets upset patterns, and we should thus forego patterned conceptions of justice. This is all premised on the purported fact that in the process of exchange (ie in the market) buyers and sellers of commodities are on equal footing in all or most respects. This is not true in my opinion. The market itself operates within a sphere of power dynamics determined fundamentally by the social relations in society (which I believe derive from economic relations to the means of production, but that’s another issue). Unless these social relations, which includes social inequity, are addressed it is impossible in my view to have a process of exchange where the two subjects are on equal footing. Looking at his Wilt Chamberlain example in this light can help prove the point. I agree with Rawls, though not necessarily the Rawlsian view you describe, in that there is a strong case for redistribution and intervention in markets. The entire idea behind Nozickian liberty is that within the realm of exchange there is equality and thus that is all we should concern ourselves with, but the point is that inequity is not borne in the process of exchange alone, inequity is borne socially and in social relations outside of exchange. The granting of liberty in exchange and the sanctity of the process of exchange does not address these concerns. I grant that Nozick does place caveats on the application of his theory, but this still does not cover for the fact that inequities will naturally arise from free exchange because of inherent power imbalances. The core of the question then revolves around whether one is preferable to the other, but I would argue that liberty and rights are in themselves premised, and indeed even possible, on the attainment of social and economic equality.

    This may all seem ancillary to the main point of your post, but there are concerns with Nozick’s account which I felt should be pointed out since your post seemed to be veering just a little bit towards the ‘liberty’ side.


  2. Hi Tanay, Thank you for your comment!
    liberty* upsets patterns in Nozick’s view, and of course an idea of an equal market is far from possible, unless social and economic equality of every sense is met. That clarification of ‘what is true equality’, keeping all factors in account could be a piece of research in itself. Wilt Chamberlain’s example is exactly the point. However, if the core of your question is which one is better, well that is the entire philosophical discussion, and I have yet to take sides.


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