Giving Nozick a taste of his own medicine

Nozick valiantly tries (alas, without success) to solve the stubborn problems of blackmail and criminal threats in the last subsection of Chapter 4 (pp. 84-87) of Anarchy, State, and Utopia. How? By drawing a distinction between positive-sum, value-producing “productive exchanges” (in which both parties are made better off by the exchange) and negative-sum, value-destroying “non-productive exchanges” (in which only one of the parties is made better off by the exchange). Although this familiar game-theoretic distinction is intuitively appealing, it is not of much help in the case of blackmail. After all, just because a victim of blackmail may feel betrayed and exploited by a blackmailer’s threat to reveal the victim’s secrets, the victim does, in fact, receive something of value if he pays the blackmailer: the latter’s silence. Worse yet, Nozick neglects the reciprocal nature of the blackmail problem: if the blackmail victim had not engaged in disgraceful conduct in the first place (i.e. conduct that the victim now wants to keep secret), the blackmailer would have been unable to make a credible blackmail threat!

To show how vacuous Nozick’s analysis of blackmail is, consider this excerpt from page 86 of ASU in which Nozick tries to draw a distinction between productive protection services and non-productive racketeering services: “Protective services are productive and benefit their recipient whereas the ‘protection racket’ is not productive. Being sold the racketeers’ mere abstention from harming you makes your situation no better than if they had nothing to do with you at all.” (As an aside, we need to focus on this racketeer example because, if you have been following our extended review of ASU on this blog, you will have noticed that, unlike Nozick, we have been using the terms “mutual protection association” and “private protection racket” interchangeably!) Once again (to our chagrin), Nozick neglects the reciprocal nature of racketeering. After all, why treat the risk of a shake down by a racketeer any differently than any other risk of harm in Nozick’s Lockean state of nature? If the racketeer victim wants to avoid paying the racketeer, the victim should move to another village, far away from the racketeer, or better yet, should have joined a protection society to reduce this risk from occurring in the first place!

To sum up our review of Chapters 1 through 4 of ASU, we are still waiting for Nozick to tell us what rights individuals actually have in the state of nature (aside from the “right” of joining a protection society or protection racket) and how such rights will be enforced when they collide. We will proceed to Chapter 5 of ASU next week, after Christmas and Boxing Day.

Image result for protection rackets

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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