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Redistributive Taxation, Self-Ownership and the Fruit of Labour

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Libertarians such as Nozick have argued that any redistributive tax scheme intended to achieve and maintain an egalitarian distributive pattern will violate self-ownership. Furthermore, since self-ownership is a central component of the idea of freedom, instituting an egalitarian distribution makes a society less rather than more free. All this turns on the claim, accepted by both libertarians and their critics, that a redistributive tax will violate self-ownership because it must expropriate the fruit of a person’s labour. I show here that there is no reason to accept this claim. The libertarian argument works only if the fruit of one’s labour must be understood to include everything that a person produces through his labour. But there is an alternative reading of the fruit of labour which identifies it with that subset of the total product of one’s labour which is due to his choices rather than luck. I argue that this reading is plausible, that there is nothing in the concept of self-ownership which disallows it, and that if it is adopted, a redistributive tax need not automatically expropriate the fruit of one’s labour. Consequently there is no necessary inconsistency between redistributive taxation and self-ownership, and so egalitarians can endorse the latter idea.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, TN 37044, USA

Publication date: 1997-08-01

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