Taxes and Collective Ownership of the Earth


In Anarchy, State and Utopia, Nozick proposes an interesting argument against taxation, it goes like this:

“Taxation of earnings from labor is on a par with forced labor. Some persons find this claim obviously true: taking the earnings of n hours labor is like taking n hours from the person; it is like forcing the person to work n hours for another’s purpose. Others find the claim absurd. But even these, if they object to forced labor, would oppose forcing unemployed hippies to work for the benefit of the needy. And they would also object to forcing each person to work five extra hours each week for the benefit of the needy…

The man who chooses to work longer to gain an income more than sufficient for his basic needs prefers some extra goods or services to the leisure and activities he could perform during the possible nonworking hours; whereas the man who chooses not to work the extra time prefers the leisure activities to the extra goods or services he could acquire by working more. Given this, if it would be illegitimate for a tax system to seize some of a man’s leisure (forced labor) for the purpose of serving the needy, how can it be legitimate for a tax system to seize some of a man’s goods for that purpose? Why should we treat the man whose happiness requires certain material goods or services differently from the man whose preferences and desires make such goods unnecessary for his happiness? Why should the man who prefers seeing a movie (and who has to earn money for a ticket) be open to the required call to aid the needy, while the person who prefers looking at a sunset (and hence need earn no extra money) is not? Indeed, isn’t it surprising that redistributionists choose to ignore the man whose pleasures are so easily attainable without extra labor, while adding yet another burden to the poor unfortunate who must work for his pleasures? If anything, one would have expected the reverse. Why is the person with the nonmaterial or nonconsumption desire allowed to proceed unimpeded to his most favored feasible alternative, whereas the man whose pleasures or desires involve material things and who must work for extra money (thereby serving whomever considers his activities valuable enough to pay him) is constrained in what he can realize?”

The argument, as is very often the case with Nozick’s arguments, is extremely interesting and works by shedding a different view on taxation - his claim is: we would not force hippies to give hours of work to help the needy, so why should we force those who work to give a certain number of hours from their work total to help the needy. Are we benefiting the lazy here?

This argument is interesting at several different levels. It raises many questions. What is work? What is paid work and how is it different from other types of work that are not necessarily paid? What are taxes and why do we have them? Are taxes just a charitable way to help the needy in our society? Or are there other deeper justifications for taxation?

First, regarding the notion of work. Why do we get paid for doing certain things and not others? Surely it is not because only the things we do and get paid are valued by others. One example is raising children. It is an extremely important activity for society as a whole, yet we don’t get paid for it.

When we are paid for certain types of work, this happens because someone or some company finds that using our labor will allow them to make a profit. The hours we devote to paid labor and the amount we are paid for them are a result of that profit that is being made by the enterprise. If this is so, taxation can be understood not as taking hours from our work and redistributing that to help the needy without our consent, but as taking part of the profit from the enterprise as a whole and redistributing that (of course we may discuss if that profit should be shaved off at the workers’ end rather than the owners or the company’s end, but we can put that aside for now).

If we assume taxes are shaved off the profit of the whole enterprise, is there a fair justification for doing this? The idea that we have a collective ownership of the Earth would justify such a practice (although I think a large part of the Earth should be left out of human ownership and kept separate because of it’s intrinsic value, but we can agree that a certain section of it can be explored by humans in a fair sustainable way).

If we all have a natural share of the part of the Earth that humans can claim, and if an enterprise uses more than it’s natural share, then it makes sense for them to pay the rest of the population in taxes. Ideally, this would be equally divided by everyone, however, we can imagine reasons to redistribute to those who have less since they are probably the ones who are left out when certain others take more than their fair share.

If this makes sense, then Nozick’s argument that we are taxing hours of a person’s life does not stand. We are taxing profits and redistributing by assuming that we all have the right to a common ownership of the Earth. Maybe we shouldn’t be taxing those profits on the workers’ end as much as we do. But we are not simply taxing hours.

What do you think?

p.s. I was inspired to write this entry by this entry on the The Bully Pulpit blog. Great blog to follow!

Orphan Philosophers

The fact that there are many notable orphans is a curious human phenomenon. There is research that indicates that cases of parental loss can lead to a life of crime. Yet, there are also a great many number of notable individuals who have lost a parent at a young age.

There are many examples of famous writers who lost a parent: Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Swift, Edward Gibbon, and Thackeray. In David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell talks about how difficulties can produce greatness, among many others, he tells the story of psychologist Marvin Eisenstadt. In the 60s, he looked at the Encyclopedia Britannica and noted those who had more than one column entry. Then he found out that a quarter had lost a parent before age 10, 34.5% had a parent die by age 15, and 45% had a parent die by the age of 20.

Lucille Iremonger, an historian, identified something similar. Iremonger was researching the history of England from the 19th century to World War II, and she found that 67% percent of the Prime Ministers had lost a parent before the age of 16 (that was twice the rate of parental loss in British upper class at the time). In the United States, twelve presidents have lost or had an absent parent at a young age: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Andre Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

In my Intro to Philosophy class, I always try to give my students a little bit of a background on the philosophers. I talk about their parents, their social status, and how they made a living. I find these little tidbits of information quite interesting. Often when I am researching their lives, there is the recurring theme of the loss of a parent. So I decided to add philosophers to the list of notable orphans. There are probaby more, but this list is quite surprising.



His father, Nicomachus, died when Aristotle was a child, and he was raised by a guardian.



His mother died soon after giving birth to him. He was not expected to survive. Descartes' father, Joachim, was a member of the Parlement of Brittany at Rennes. René lived with his grandmother and with his great-uncle.



His father was an intelligence agent during World War II in Lebanon. He died in an unexplained plane crash when he was 5.



Hegel's mother died of a "bilious fever" when Hegel was thirteen.



His father died when he was two and he was raised by his mother.


Jarvis Thompson

Her mother, Helen Jarvis, died when Judith was six.



His father died when he was 22 and he had to leave the University to help support his family.



His father died when he was six, he was raised by his mother.



His father died from a brain ailment when he was 5.



He was not an orphan. Two of his brothers died after contracting diseases from him (diphtheria and pneumonia).



His mother died of puerperal fever nine days after his birth.



Bertrand Russell's mother died when he was 2 and his father died when he was 4. He was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather, former Prime Minister Earl Russell, died when he was 6.



When Sartre was two years old, his father died of an illness contracted in Indochina



Voltaire’s mother died when he was 7 years old.



I am not sure if these examples are statistically relevant, but if there is evidence in other areas that the losso of a parent may be somewhat relatable to proiminence, there is no reason that philosophers should be different from any other types important figures! Let me know if you have other names to add to the list! Email me at


Felix Brown and Phyllis Epps, “Childhood Bereavement and Subsequent Crime,” The British Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 112, Issue 491, October 1966 , pp. 1043-1048

Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2013

Marvin Eisenstadt, “Parental Loss and Genius,” American Psychologist 33(3):211-23 · April 1978 

Marvin Eisenstadt, Parental Loss and Achievement, International Universities Press, 1989

Ben-Ami Scharfstein, The Philosophers: Their Lives and the Nature of Their Thought, Basil Blackwell, 1980

Matisse, Color and Composition

“If upon a white canvas I set down some sensations of blue, of green, of red, each new stroke diminishes the importance of the preceding ones. Suppose I have to paint an interior: I have before me a cupboard; it gives me a sensation of vivid red, and I put down a red which satisfies me. A relation is established between this red and the white of the canvas. Let me put a green near the red, and make the floor yellow; and again there will be relationships between the green or yellow and the white of the canvas which will satisfy me. But these different tones mutually weaken one another. It is necessary that the various marks I use be balanced so that they do not destroy each other. To do this I must organize my ideas; the relationships between the tones must be such that it will sustain and not destroy them. A new combination of colors will succeed the first and render the totality of my representation. I am forced to transpose until finally my picture may seem completely changed when, after successive modifications, the red has succeeded the green as the dominant color. I cannot copy nature in a servile way; I am forced to interpret nature and submit it to the spirit of the picture. From the relationship I have found in all the tones there must result a living harmony of colors, a harmony analogous to that of a musical composition.” Matisse


Nakashima's Studio

I live very close to the George Nakashima Studio. They open their workshop every Saturday from 1-4. It is always an enlightening experience to visit and to see the kind of dedication to art represented by every aspect of the space, from architecture to furniture and art work. Everything is perfect, all imperfections are perfectly incorporated.


If you have a chance to visit, just go to 1847 AQUETONG RD NEW HOPE, PA 18938.