Normblog, the weblog of Norman Geras, is one of my favourite blogs. He has recently written a series of ten blog posts on the subject “Fruits of Labour.”
I wish to pick up one point that Norm has made in his tenth post in the series: his example that he calls “Wilt who?” It is quite clear that Norm has loosely based his example on Robert Nozick’s famous Wilt Chamberlain example which Nozick used for a difference purpose to that of Norm. Both Nozick and Norm have a very talented basketball player, Wilt, who is a draw to the game. Spectators are happy to pay extra if Wilt plays. In Norm’s example there is a dispute between Wilt and the fans as to who is entitled to the money from the additional gate receipts. Norm has Wilt believing he is entitled to the additional money, but the fans are of a different opinion: they think that perhaps some of the additional money can go to Wilt, because in Norm’s case, Wilt is having difficulties, but the balance should be used on improving spectator facilities. This dispute does not come up in Nozick’s example for a key reason: Nozick have the fans drop 25 cents of the admission price into a separate box that has Wilt’s name marked on it. The implication is clear: the 25 cents is to go directly to Wilt and not to the club. Nozick is explicit:
Each of these persons chose to give twenty-five cents of their money to Chamberlain. They could have spent it on going to the movies, or on candy bars, or on copies of Dissent magazine, or of Monthly Review. But they all, at least one million of them, converged on giving it to Wilt Chamberlain in exchange for watching him play basketball.
One wonders if Norm would agree whether Wilt would be entitled to the 25 cents from each fan for each game if his own example were in line that of Nozick’s.
A further point that is explicit in Nozick’s example is that Wilt is a free agent. Nozick is also explicit that “Wilt Chamberlain is greatly in demand by basketball teams.” This means that if Wilt does not get the 25 cents from each fan for each game, he would be free to find another club to take him on at his terms. Norman Geras does not really deal with this matter in his dispute between the fans that turn up to Wilt’s games and Wilt himself. The fans, in Norm’s example, can argue as much as they want that Wilt’s value “depends on them” but what would Norm have them say if Wilt turns round and says “If that is how you feel, I will leave the club and go and play for a different team.” Would Norm, or the fans in his example, restrict other basketball clubs from offering Wilt a contract on terms that both the club and Wilt could agree?
I now wish to use my own example, but to make a point similar to that Nozick made with his Wilt Chamberlain example: that liberty upsets patterns.
Consider two families that live next door each other: the Adams family and the Brown family. The Adams family comprises Mr and Mrs Adams, and two children aged ten and eight. The Brown family contains Mr and Mrs Brown and two children of identical ages to that of their neighbours. Mr Adams and Mr Brown work in the same factory in an identical job earning an identical salary. Likewise Mrs Adams and Mrs Brown both work part time in identical jobs earning identical salaries. At a given point in time, the value of the assets of the Adams family matches that of the Brown family to the last penny. The egalitarians can look at these two families and smile at the equality that exists.
Now consider the lifestyle differences. Mr and Mrs Adams both smoke whereas Mr and Mrs Brown do not. Mr and Mrs Adams and their children spend their weekends lazing at home watching television, whereas the Brown family spend quite a lot of time cultivating a vegetable patch in their garden, the produce of which they consume thus reducing their weekly grocery bill. Finally, the Adams family have a weekly night out to a cinema or a pizza restaurant, whereas on that night of the week, the Brown family bond with each other via playing Scrabble or a card game together. The net difference is that Adams family spend on average £150 a week more than the Brown family. After a few weeks, the Brown family have accumulated enough money from saving to purchase an iPad for their children to share. The Adams family do not have one. The two Brown children are continually arguing as to which one of them can use the iPad and their parents, fed up with the constant arguing, a few weeks later purchase a further iPad so both children can have their own.
The point Nozick would have made with this example is that nobody has done anything wrong; it is not unjust that the Brown family now has two iPads whereas the Adams family has none. The egalitarians, on the contrary, might wish to interfere. They could claim that it is unjust that Brown family has two iPads whereas the Adams family has none and insist that the Brown family give an iPad to the Adams family. Nozick’s point is that if you set up to create an egalitarian society or any other society whereby there is a “pattern” of the distribution of assets for justice, there has to be “continuous interference with people’s lives.”
I now wish to go a stage further and discuss the consequences of such interference. Imagine, in my example above, the Brown family continually have to give things to the Adams family to keep the planned distributional pattern. After a while one might expect that they get tired of it. On Saturday afternoons while the Browns are toiling away at their vegetable patch, they can look over their garden fence and see through a window to the Adams family’s sitting room where the family are all lazing around watching television. Mr Adams has even cracked jokes to Mr Brown telling him to pay particular attention to the output from the vegetable patch as his family will be entitled to the benefits of half of it. The Browns might begin to feel that because they only get the benefit of half of their savings from not spending money like the Adams family and they only get to benefit from half their labour in their vegetable patch, that they will simply not bother continuing their more frugal lifestyle.
While Mr and Mrs Brown do not take up smoking, they decide to go out with their family once a week to a decent restaurant and a further night to the cinema and also to jack in the vegetable patch so they can sit at home at weekends and watch television like the Adams family. By changing their lifestyle to spend as much money per week as their neighbours, they now do not have to make any regular transfers to their neighbours. By having some of the benefits of the fruits of their labour – the vegetables they grow in their garden – taken away from them, they lack the motive to grow the vegetables. In other words, they lack the motive to work at weekends. If this is replicated on a bigger scale around the country, it seems to me that it is the road to economic ruin.
 The link to the tenth in the series is
This post provides the links to the earlier nine posts.
 Norman Geras admits in footnote 48 that his own example is used for a different purpose to Nozick.
Robert Nozick, Anarchy State, And Utopia, (Basic Books, 1974), p.161.
 Ibid., p.161.
 Ibid., p.163.