A perennial leftist issue is the supposedly unjustifiable distribution of income in the US. It is always a problem — make that a problem with deep social implications — that some people earn more than others. At least people like Paul Krugman say it’s a problem. Perhaps it’s more of an opportunity to capitalize politically on the envy of some voters and the guilt of others.

Anyway, Russ Roberts takes on Krugman here.

As the late Robert Nozick pointed out in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, there are two ways of looking at the question of distributive justice. Leftists adopt an end-state approach, declaring that the distribution of wealth in society is unjust if the top earners have more than some percentage of the wealth. Nozick, however, rejected that view. Instead, he maintained that you need to ask how the distribution of wealth came to be. If each person’s earnings derive from a series of actions that are themselves peaceful, then there is no problem of distributive justice. If, however, the actions of some have been unjust (stealing, for example), then the distribution of wealth is unjust and the corrective actions must involve those individuals.

Tiger Woods has a stupendously high income. Every dollar of it, however, comes about through peaceful transactions, none of which can be assailed on grounds of injustice. Should any of his wealth be confiscated by the Krugmanites of the world so that they can say they have done something to narrow the “income gap” in society? I think not.

The trouble here is that leftists tend to look at society in grand abstractions rather than looking at individual actions.