Part 24 of my review of Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” (which I am reblogging below) covers the next-to-last subsection of Chapter 4 of ASU (pp. 78-84). There, Nozick expounds on the problem of reciprocal risks and offers a tentative solution. The problem is that, if we forbid X, where X is a poor man, from engaging in a risk-producing activity because he is unable to pay compensation when someone is injured, this prohibition imposes a harm on X because we are restricting his freedom of action, but at the same time, if we allow X to engage in risky activities, this permissive stance imposes a harm on X’s potential victims, since the victims will receive little or no compensation … So, what is to be done? For his part, Nozick offers an original way out of this reciprocal dilemma: X must be forbidden from engaging in risk-producing activities, but X must receive compensation in exchange for this restriction on X’s liberty, or in Nozick’s words (p. 81), “those who forbid in order to gain increased security for themselves must compensate the person forbidden for the disadvantage they place him under.”
As an aside, doesn’t Nozick’s analysis of reciprocal risks sound familiar? Specifically, if we are going to forbid people from leaving their homes to stop the spread of the Wuhan lab-leak virus, aren’t those people owed some form of compensation for this restriction of their liberty?
In our previous post, we saw Nozick’s “limited compensation rule” for risk-producing activities: in a state of nature, such activities should be allowed, but compensation must be paid if the risk materializes and a third party is injured by the risky activity. But what about the poor man problem? What if the person engaged in the risky activity is so poor that he is unable to pay compensation? Should he be prohibited from engaging in the risky activity in the first place? Nozick will address these questions in the next to last subsection of Chapter 4 (pp. 78-84).
To begin with, Nozick recognizes the reciprocal nature of the poor man problem. Simply put, if we forbid a poor man from engaging in a risk-producing activity because he is unable to pay compensation when someone is injured, this prohibition imposes a harm on the poor man because we are…
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