Friday, December 28, 2007

Otsuka's Theory of Appropriation

I just opened Michael Otsuka's Libertarianism without Inequality, and came across the idea that "...across a fairly wide range of individuals who differ in their capacity (productive or otherwise) to derive welfare from resources, it will be possible in principle to distribute initially unowned worldly resources so as to achieve equality of opportunity for welfare in a manner which is compatible with each person's possession of an uninfringed libertarian right of self-ownership that is robust rather than merely formal" (11). Now, not having read Otsuka's book, and not actually knowing whether or not he's going to try to argue that such a distribution would be desirable, I just want to point out something I find interesting about this idea.

It seems to me that there are not many ways of distributing of resources that are worse than doing so with the goal of having equal resource-derived welfare for all. Imagine that there are three people, Larry, Moe, and Curly, among whom we must distribute some resource, say acorns. In our example, let's say there are 9 acorns. And let's also say that Larry would really get a whole lot of pleasure out of having acorns, Moe would get a medium amount, and Curly wouldn't get very much pleasure at all.

It should be obvious that if we wanted to make Curly as happy as Moe, it would take more acorns, and the same would be true about making Moe as happy as Larry. Perhaps it would take 3 acorns to make Moe as happy as Larry would be with 1 acorn, and perhaps it would take 5 acorns to make Curly as happy as Moe would be with 3. Since that adds up to 9, it seems like Otsuka's principle would have Larry getting 1 acorn, Moe getting 3 acorns, and Curly getting 5 acorns.

But is it just me, or does that distribution suck? Why would we want to give Curly 5 acorns when he clearly doesn't value acorns very much? I mean, maybe I could see giving him 3 acorns, because he has just as much a right to them as anyone else. But when has "Oh I don't like those that much, so I should get more" ever worked as an argument? I can't wait to see what Otsuka says about this.

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