Nozick begins Chapter 8 by addressing the issue of income inequality and by pointing out an embarrassing gap in the scholarly and popular literature on this subject. According to Nozick, scholars who defend equality as a desirable normative goal are committing a version of the ipse dixit fallacy. They are simply asserting without argument their conclusion.
Consider the example of medical care. It is often argued that everyone should have a right to medical care. But as Nozick correctly notes, the same thing could be said about food, housing, sex, or any other basic need! And as a matter of logic, if people have a right to x (where x is one or more of the aforementioned basic needs), then someone must have an obligation to provide x! Thus (p. 234), when the layers of this normative argument of medical care for all or food for all or housing for all or whatever for all are peeled away, “what we arrive at is the claim that society (that is, each of us acting together in some organized fashion) should make provision for the important needs of all of its members.” So, what’s wrong with this argument? The problem is this: it commits the manna-from-heaven fallacy: it assumes the existence of a sufficiently large economic pie that is worth dividing but ignores the all-important question of incentives for production.
In short, although it took Nozick an entire chapter to respond to Rawls’s theory of justice, Nozick is able to dispatch the argument for income equality in just a few sentences. Moreover, Nozick’s critique of equality also extends to the more limited normative ideal of equality of opportunity. We will explore Nozick’s counter-intuitive but powerful critique of equal opportunity in our next blog post.