A question of Justice and Equity regarding a flute

Imagine three children, Robert, Carl, and Samuel arguing about a flute. Robert made the flute, and therefore naturally says it's his. Poor Carl, unlike Robert and Samuel, doesn't have any other toys to play with. Samuel also claims the flute because he is the only one who is actually able to play it.

Who should get the flute, and why?

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Because Robert used natural resources which belonged equally to Carl and Samuel to make his flute, he is obliged to repay an equitable portion to Carl and Samuel.

I disagree with the planted assumption here.  But even if it's true that the raw materials belonged 1/3 to each of them, Robert's labor and skill are of considerable value--they turned wood that would otherwise be useless into something useful.  So Robert owns it almost entirely.

Sure.  That's why I used the word equitable.

In the scaled-up scenario the community representatives would determine what's equitable, and if they were perceived to be unfair in their assessment, they would be voted out.  Unless, of course, they gave natural resources away for free or at a steep discount to those who contributed to their political campaigns, which is pretty much where the U.S. is today.

So Robert should be taxed for using a renewable resource? What if the wood was harvested on his own property, would it make a difference? And what entitles Carl and Samuel to a part of Robert's own work, to which they have not contributed anything?

Yes, if they were in the public domain, but not as much if they weren't renewable.

Think of the manufacturing plants that use public water sources, to the point where there's not enough left for the population to drink.  Shouldn't the manufacturer have to pay something to make up for the natural resources they use?

I live in Houston where the public has given up clean air to be the Energy Capital of the World.  Don't you believe the energy companies owe the public something for using our natural resource?  Of course they do.

So if someone puts up a windmill, they should be taxed?

Possession is nine-tenths of the law.

Or Carl is religious and claims his rights using Manifest Destiny to steal the flute and kill Robert.  Carl is then interviewed on Fox News where he claims it was 'all in God's Plan' and subsequently receives millions of dollars for his defense fund from other religious people.

This is how it would really work.

This question is a no brainer.  Robert owns the flute, unless he stole the raw materials from someone, say he went onto Alice's land and cut down a tree of hers without permission.

Now Robert probably made it with the intent of selling or trading it to someone who would find it more useful than he does--otherwise why would he have bothered?  (It's called division of labor)  It's entirely possible he made it just so he could listen to Samuel play it.  It's possible, I suppose, that he just liked the idea of having a flute to show off.  But it's his until he trades or gives it away; he is entitled to dispose of the product of his labor.

So, in your opinion, should social goods be provided on the basis of purchasing power, not on ability or need?

Define 'social goods' first.


A fairly decent explanation. Essentially it is any type of "product" which is shared between the members of a society. It includes everything from forests to lighthouses to education to democracy, and in this case it is symbolized by a flute.


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