John Roemer challenges the morality of an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production. Unless you start with a certain amount of wealth in such a society, he argues, you are only “free to lose.”
Attacking the usefulness of such central Marxist economic concepts as the labor theory of value and surplus value, Roemer reconstructs Marxist economic philosophy from the concepts of exploitation and class, showing that exploitation can be derived from a system of property relations alone.
He then asks whether exploitation is immoral in the sense of one person taking advantage of another. To explore this question, he looks at the causes of the unequal distribution of wealth, including robbery and plunder, willingness to take risks, differential rates of time preference, luck, and entrepreneurship. He further examines the evolution of property systems—slave, feudal, capitalist, socialist—from the perspective of the theory of historical materialism, and ends by analyzing the properties of a social system in which ownership of productive assets in the external world is public, while ownership of internal productive assets—skills and talents—is private.
A fertile blend of innovative economic and philosophical analysis, the book addresses crucial questions of political philosophy and normative economics in terms understandable by readers with a minimal knowledge of economics.