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What Does Nozick's Minimal State Do?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2008

Gene E. Mumy
Ohio State University


In the first half of the 1970s, two books appeared which have subsequently been regarded as major works in political philosophy: John Rawls's A Theory of Justice (1971), and Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974). Economists have devoted a considerable amount of ink to commentary, pro and con, on A Theory of Justice; and it is getting to be a rare public finance textbook that does not, in its discussion of governmental redistribution, describe the Kantian contract made behind the veil of ignorance. On the other hand, while Nozick has not exactly been ignored, economists have not joined the debate over Anarchy, State, and Utopia with the same gusto. When economists have joined the debate, their concern has been, more often than not, with Nozick's entitlement theory of distributive justice, as is the case with Varian (1975) and Sen (1977). What is largely missing, then, is any economic analysis of the processes that give rise to Nozick's morally legitimate state, which he calls the minimal state, and the characteristics and likely activities of the minimal state within the moral boundaries set by Nozick, his assertions to the contrary notwithstanding.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1987

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