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Poverty And Ethics

Poverty in the United States has long been a social, political, and human rights issue. Few people would say that it is not our moral duty, as social human beings to take care of those less fortunate than ourselves, to the best of our ability. I say “few” because there are some people out there who believe that we have no moral obligation to do anything outside of ourselves. These types of people have what is called a “libertarian” viewpoint. There is really no specific definition of “libertarian”, but it is associates “justice with liberty and…liberty itself with the absence of interference by other persons.” In relation to the matter at hand, specifically poverty in America, libertarians are against taxing the affluent or forcing people to aid the starving and poor.
One of the most influential libertarians of our time is Professor Robert Nozik. His theory of justice begins with the premise that all people have “Lockean rights”, which require that we refrain from interfering with others. Other than this we have no obligation to do anything positive for anyone else, and likewise, they have no obligation towards us. These rights are natural or inalienable because all humans have them and they do not come from any social or political institutions. These rights forbid us from interfering with a person’s liberty even if it would promote some general good, or prevent another’s rights from being violated. Overall, the general idea is that people have the liberty to live a life free from intervention of others, and can lead their life however they so choose. In addition, he says that if a person acquired their fortune or possessions without harming, defrauding, or violating the rights of any others, then it is morally permissible to use those things however one wishes. This includes wasting, willing, or endowing the possessions to someone else. Even though many people are dying from starvation and malnutrition, Nozik’s theory of justice states that one has no obligation to help those people.
The previous premise comes to form Nozik’s “entitlement theory.” Simply put, this theory states that people are entitled to their belongings and may use them as they wish, as long as they have fairly acquired them and have not violated another’s Lockean rights in the process.
His theory is summarized as follows:
1. A person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in acquisition is entitled to that holding.

2. A person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in transfer, from someone else entitled to the holding, is entitled to the holding.

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3. No one is entitled to a holding except by (repeated) applications of 1 and 2.
Relating to poverty, libertarians feel that no matter how the actual distribution of economic holdings may look, if all involved are entitled to the holdings they possess, then the distribution is just. In addition, libertarians would be against government intervention in a society to either improve the social situation or economic situation. They feel that to tweak the economy, so to speak, would involve violating someone’s liberty, and therefore would make it morally unacceptable.
By definition, libertarianism requires that market relations are totally unrestricted. This means that interfering with uncoerced and non-fraudulent transactions or exchanges between consenting adults is strictly forbidden. For example, a libertarian would be against government regulation of wages, since the matter of earnings should be decided between an employer and employee. Likewise, a libertarian would be against providing the poor with welfare, food stamps, and subsidized housing, because such programs are in direct contrast with their beliefs about liberty. Why is this? To them, liberty means being free in terms of the aforementioned theory of rights. All forms of public aid by definition are funded by the taxation of a country’s citizens, regardless of whether an individual wishes to support the programs or not. We, as Americans, essentially have no control over what the government funds with our tax dollars. Those supported by such aid have no right to entitlement, since they have not earned the right to the holdings by any means.
Personally, I find the libertarian’s preference for private charity over public welfare quite disheartening.


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