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ONE STEP BEYOND NOZICK'S MINIMAL STATE: THE ROLE OF FORCED EXCHANGES IN POLITICAL THEORY

  • Richard A. Epstein (a1)
Abstract

In Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick seeks to demonstrate that principles of justice in acquisition and transfer can be applied to justify the minimal state, and no state greater than the minimal state. That approach fails to acknowledge the critical role that forced exchanges play in overcoming a range of public goods and coordination problems. These ends are accomplished by taking property for which the owner is compensated in cash or in kind in an amount that leaves him better off (by his own lights) than before the transaction. Forced exchanges use coercion to form the state, but the just compensation requirement guards against redistribution state imposed redistribution for collateral purposes. Once these forced exchanges are allowed to form a state, then they may be used thereafter to justify the powers of taxation and eminent domain used to support infrastructure (roads, sewers, public utilities) that neither the minimal state nor private markets can supply.

In Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick seeks to demonstrate that principles of justice in acquisition and transfer can be applied to justify the minimal state, and no state greater than the minimal state. That approach fails to acknowledge the critical role that forced exchanges play in overcoming a range of public goods and coordination problems. These ends are accomplished by taking property for which the owner is compensated in cash or in kind in an amount that leaves him better off (by his own lights) than before the transaction. Forced exchanges use coercion to form the state, but the just compensation requirement guards against redistribution state imposed redistribution for collateral purposes. Once these forced exchanges are allowed to form a state, then they may be used thereafter to justify the powers of taxation and eminent domain used to support infrastructure (roads, sewers, public utilities) that neither the minimal state nor private markets can supply.

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I have benefited from comments at the workshop at the Social Sciences Division of the California Institute of Technology. My thanks to Justin Herring and Eric Murphy, The University of Chicago Law School, for their usual capable research assistance.
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Social Philosophy and Policy
  • ISSN: 0265-0525
  • EISSN: 1471-6437
  • URL: /core/journals/social-philosophy-and-policy
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