Michael Otsuka, Libertarianism without inequality, Oxford University Press, 2003, 158 pages, hb, 0 19 924395 6, £25.
Review by Karl Widerquist
to the dust jacket, "Michael Otsuka sets out to vindicate
left-libertarianism, a political philosophy which combines stringent
rights of control over one's own mind, body, and life with egalitarian
rights of ownership of the world." In so doing, he creates a political
philosophy more true to the ideal of self-ownership than libertarian
philosophers such as Robert Nozick, and more true to the idea of
society as a voluntary association than liberal egalitarian
philosophers such as John Rawls. Otsuka reconsiders self-ownership and
the "Lockean proviso" on which much of Nozick's argument against the
redistribution of property rests. He presents his work as a revision of
Locke, but one that is true to the voluntary spirit of Locke's treatise.
defines "robust self-ownership" as "in addition to having the
libertarian right itself, one also has rights over enough worldly
resources to ensure that one will not be forced by necessity to come to
the assistance of others in a manner involving the sacrifice of one's
life, limb, or labour". Nozick does not consider robust self-ownership
and seems willing to sacrifice it to preserve nominal self-ownership
and unrestricted rights of property ownership. He, therefore, ends up
with a world in which people are much less free than Otsuka's society.
Locke, like many other philosophers, begins with the recognition that all people have equal claim to the land and resources of the world, and argues that individuals can appropriate portions of it as long as they leave "enough and as good" for everyone else. If one interprets this to mean that others are no worse off than they would be in a primitive state of nature, the proviso allows great inequalities to result from the appropriation of land. But Otsuka defines an "egalitarian proviso" to mean that one can only appropriate resources if they leave others with the ability to acquire an equally advantageous share. Such a rule might allow inequalities, but none that follow from control of resources outside of one's own mind and body.
basing his theory of government on the principles of robust libertarian
self-ownership and the egalitarian Lockean proviso, Otsuka seeks to
create a society in which all people give their actual consent to the
political society in which they live, not the weak tacit consent
offered by Locke nor the hypothetical consent offered by Rawls. Otsuka
goes on to apply his theory to issues such as the right to punish and
intergenerational equity. However, the distributive implications of
these two principles will be of most interest to readers of the
Citizen's Income Newsletter.