July 14, 2005

Nozick on Intellectuals and Capitalism

Below, is a short summary of a Robert Nozick essay entitled “Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?”.

Nozick defines an intellectual as not “all people of intelligence or of a certain level of education, but those who, in their vocation, deal with ideas as expressed in words, shaping the word flow others receive. These wordsmiths include poets, novelists, literary critics, newspaper and magazine journalists, and many professors.”

Nozick cites the school system as the cause of their distain for market systems. A school rewards students on the basis of academic achievement and effort exerted. The distribution of awards is thus deemed ‘just’. Rewards may come in the form of attention from teachers or perhaps formal grades. Outside of schools, economic rewards (income, wealth) are determined by how well one meets the demands of others, or how ‘valuable’ one is to society. In typical free market systems, the highest rewards often accrue to those deemed average intellectually.

The intellectual working in academia observes such groups and bemoans the failure of the market to reward him/her adequately. After all, isn’t an intellect more valuable than the ability to run fast? Or even the ability to sing well? Markets fail to reward the intellectual in the same way rewards were awarded in school. Lamenting the lack of economic reward and social status in the real world, the intellectual develops a distrust of market systems, favouring centralised control: a system which gives highest reward to people of ‘real value’.

The full essay can be found here.

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