Forced labor or social labor? Nozick’s critique of taxation of wages

Nozick continues his devastating critique of so many theories of distributive justice on pp. 167-174 of ASU. He is on a major roll now, and his arguments are compelling. Here is just a small sample of some of Nozick’s most powerful points:

  • Families pose a problem for most theories of justice, especially those theories based on patterns or end-states. Why? Because (p. 167) “… within a family [may] occur transfers that upset the favored distributional pattern.”
  • Social-wide patterns of distribution are unstable (p. 168): “The likelihood is small that any actual freely-arrived-at set of holdings fits a given pattern; and the likelihood is nil that it will continue to fit the pattern as people exchange and give.”
  • Taxation of wages is worse than theft; such taxation is a form of forced labor. After all, if the government can’t force you to give up x hours of your time per week to help the needy, then why does the government have the right to take the equivalent of x hours of your weekly paycheck to produce the same result? (See pp. 169-172 for a full exposition of Nozick’s simple and intuitive argument against taxation.)

The forced labor analogy is especially poignant, for like the Wilt Chamberlain Argument, Nozick’s critique of taxation of wages appears (to us) to be irrefutable. Forced labor is usually defined as being forced to work for little or no pay, but what do you call it when you are paid in full for your work, but a third party is allowed to take (or “withhold”) some fraction of your wages? Also, why does Nozick limit his devastating critique of taxation to wage taxes? Doesn’t it apply to all forms of taxation? If so, what is the moral basis upon which any tax can be justified? And if no moral justification of taxation is possible, then how are essential public goods like courts, cops, and the common law to be financed?

Image result for gulag poster
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