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The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice Hardcover – April 11, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0195150162 ISBN-10: 0195150163

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (April 11, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195150163
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195150162
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 0.8 x 5.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,203,958 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The thoughts in this book deserve examination, especially the views of Nagel and Murphy on the self-interest each taxpayer reasonably has in the social justice purchased by hard-earned money....[They] offer ideas that would improve the national debate."--David Cay Johnston,New York Times Book Review

Their research is impressive, their reasoning precise.... should be on every public economics reading list."--Journal of Economic Issues

About the Author

Liam Murphy teaches law and philosophy at New York University. He is the author of Moral Demands in Nonideal Theory. Thomas Nagel teaches law and philosophy at New York University. He is the author of Moral Questions, Equality and Partiality, and The Last Word.

Customer Reviews

2.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 31 people found the following review helpful By S. McCarthy on March 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
Nagel and Murphy have missed an important point in not recognizing that although property rights are conventional, Nozick gives a very convinving ontology of property rights that is compatible with the Lockean tradition. In other words, though property rights as they exist are conventional, they arise from the state of nature in a manner such that government enforcement is not an inherent quality of them. Hence, in arguing that individuals do not wholly own the fruits of their labor due to the fact that the possession of such fruits is enabled by government enforcement of property rights, Nagel and Murphy are clearly missing why Nozick comes to hold the entitlement view of property.

With all of this said, this is a pretty good book overall. It is one thing to disagree with the authors and their argument, it's another to outrightly discredit each of them as individuals. Previous reviewers that oversimplify what Murphy and Nagel are doing here seemingly either do not understand the complexities of these issues, or do not have the intellectual honesty and/or curiosity to consider something that is prima facie opposed to their opinion. To question the academic credibility of the authors is simply ignorant, as both are highly reputable and regarded, and to assert that the authors "seem unaware of the Lockean tradition" is dubious, since Locke is clearly mentioned and farily represented in the book.
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37 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Russell W. Kessler on August 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The main thrust of Murphy & Nagel's claim is that pre-tax income cannot be a moral base for the measurement of the fairness of taxation. Their claim is that the ultimate social justice of the entire economic system is the only proper end, of which taxation is a part, thus taxation and the equity thereof cannot be measured in a vaccum, rather only against the resulting end.
It would seem however that Murphy & Nagel make their claim too strong in that they claim that pre-tax income (and vertical equity) cannot be utilized as even a factor in the measurement. Unfortunately for their theory, pre-tax income is a fact of the market economy and the positive law surrounding such economy. Thus, if we are to ignore everyone's pre-tax income, the only possible result is that all after-tax income must come out equal. To claim any other result must come through the application of a judgment as to vertical equity.
It would seem that their claim would be far more sound if it were limited to saying that vertical equity may only be utilized as a means to achievement of the end of social justice. Murphy & Nagel, however, want to make their claim stronger so as to be able to discount the tax equity argument entirely. Ultimately such an argument must fail due to the reality of pre-tax income, but it is still a very interesting and well written book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Publius on November 19, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found Murphy and Nagel’s discussion of libertarian views on taxes fascinating. It has become common practice for anti-government policymakers to define any form of tax increases or government economic action as tampering with the “natural” order of things. But what I found the most fascinating about the authors’ criticism of libertarianism is the ideology’s implication that market is a natural arrangement that exists independent of government. But I agreed with the authors’ explanation that what makes our market exist as a place for the exchange of goods and services is a government and legal system that protects private property and maintains an elaborate system of defining the terms of relationship among the market actors. In addition, what the authors do not directly mention are all the other benefits derived from government that significantly contribute to wealth creation, such as roads, energy resources and fundamental infrastructure in telecommunications and transportation. What many seem to take for granted is that such a system costs money, and taxes are critical to satisfying that requirement. In other words, while ardent libertarians would argue that any form of government tax or regulation would move us away from some purist notion of a free market, such a market cannot exist outside of a system of laws that would define it and a government that would maintain it.

As both an economist and an attorney, I found this book quite compelling and enlightening. I highly recommend it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Michel on September 21, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"A self made man is just not admitting where he got all the parts"

This quote by John Kenneth Galbraith is one of the most succinct and important in regards to the myth of the heroic producer who made every dime of his money entirely on his own, and owes nothing to the society that made his wealth possible.

Do not listen to the reviews that claim the book argues that all that we produce "belongs to the government," along with a parade of other strawmen arguments trotted out by those dissatisfied by its thesis. It does not claim that. It does not make that argument. It's claim is that we do own the fruits of our labor to the extent that we contributed to the creation and production of that production - but that, to some degree, we own back into the society that created the infrastructure that allowed that production to be possible.
The book is the most informative I have encountered in regards to articulating the importance of a system of public goods for meeting the needs of society as a whole. In reality, without some method of collective enforcement of the rights we hold so dear, you wouldn't' have the privilege of arguing on the internet from the comfort of your own own. It is the greatest book I have seen pointing out the flawed and unrealistic religion that is Libertarianism.

This book points out why the alleviation of poverty helps everyone. Why you benefit in a world where the poor are taken care of. Why social goods created by collectively pooled resources allow us all to enjoy more wealth. Why courts, laws, patents, and enforcement make it possible to produce to begin with. Why education is the wellspring of all the progress we hold so dear from the onset.
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