Identification and desert (continued)I turn, finally, to desert. Some writers conflate here two different notions: that of fair reward for effort; and that of an entitlement to what one produces or 'creates', be it the value or the thing itself.44 I keep the two notions distinct. Each figures significantly in Locke's discussion of property in the Second Treatise. Much is made there of the taking of 'pains', of 'toil', 'sweat' and 'honest industry'; as also of the 'improvement' labour effects in things, its enormous value-enhancing powers.45 In Nozick, by comparison, desert is but a shadow. This is not surprising, for desert can become the basis of a liberty-threatening distributional 'pattern', such as he disparages. That desert might weigh at the point of original acquisition would raise the (for him) uncomfortable question of why it should not also weigh at other points: such as at the inheritance of vast fortunes; or at the receipt of a wretched wage for long, painstaking work.46 Yet, 'desert' does cast a shadow in Nozick, in a prized foursome with 'earning, producing, entitlement'.47
On the suspicion that this is what the argument from labour to exclusive property covertly depends on, I now explore the moral force desert carries in its different versions. I start with value, and a short story. The latter is about a performance rather than a physical product, but nothing turns on that. The story is entitled 'Wilt who?'
It concerns a once famous basketball player fallen on hard times. He conceives the plan of making a come-back and collecting, as he used to, a modest sum from each spectator - over and above the regular ticket price and just for himself. With difficulty, he finds a team to host the enterprise, and a game is arranged. Nobody shows. Basketball is thought of little in this place and Wilt (as is his name) not at all. His friends get to work, publicizing his plight and his skills. For the next games, all well-attended, Wilt, chastened, seeks no bonus. But after turning in some brilliant performances, he tries again. A sum is added to the price of each ticket. The spectators, now flocking in, and apprised of the scheme, are happy to pay the extra if Wilt plays. And being of generous disposition, they are happy, too, for some of it to go towards helping him through his difficulties. But for the rest, they think his regular share of the gate a decent return for his game. The balance of Wilt's putative bonus they insist - and claim the right to insist - should be spent on improving the spectating facilities.
Wilt's idea is that he is entitled to the fruits of his labour. The value of his performance, which draws the fans, depends on him. But these same fans, somewhat taken with this value-creation theory of desert, say the value of his performance depends on them. It was worth nothing before they became interested in it. Value, they say, is not an objective property of his performance. It has value because they value it.48 They will use the extra gate money towards better facilities. Wilt fumes. 'You just sit and watch. I exert myself every game to show you something worth watching. Every day I work out. I practise.' 'Hmmm... but that,' someone reflects, 'is a different argument; (most of) the other players also do their best.' Eventually, Wilt and his fans agree that the value-creation notion of desert is no good. It is a variant of the view that people have exclusive rights to whatever they have had a part in causing to be as it is.
Now, it may be suggested that it is not the value of Wilt's performance that is the point, it is the performance itself - or, mutatis mutandis, the physical product he makes. This is the fruit of his labour: it is, indisputably, its result, and he should get the benefit. But without further argument here, we still lack a reason why something's being the result of a person's labour matters morally. Is this the view, again, that one has exclusive rights over what one has caused to be as it is - altered? If so, it will be proper for me to own the beach, as I have removed a pebble from it. Why does it matter that something is the result of someone's actions? One could say, 'It just does', cleaving to the principle regardless. One could; but that is not cogent, and proponents of the principle clearly feel it is cogent. Or one could suggest that what matters is the effort labour involves: the product is due reward for effort. But this is, once more, 'a different argument'.
It lands us in quite another world of entitlements. The whole sculpture may be fair reward for the efforts of our sculptor; but the whole beach is not fair reward for mine. In general, the criterion will not yield the normatively solid link between person and object that the criterion's supporters aver. Further, it has large redistributive consequences where - as happens - some people expend their efforts transforming materials already claimed by other people, while these others, whatever else they earn and however else they do so, receive a return just from their (de facto) title to the said materials.
We are left, in the end, merely with the power of metaphor and association. It is testimony to their power just how often such devices crop up, to convey some veritable unity of substance between the person and the altered thing. Think of 'fruits'. They can be simply 'results', 'effects'. But fruits also grow upon the plant. From critics as from sponsors of the view which has been the subject of this series, in exposition only or in commendation of it, those literary devices talk: of 'fruits of his body and capacities'; of 'noncontractual title to the fruits of others' labour, hence to the labour embodied in [the] objects, and thus by extension to the persons whose labour that is' (my emphases); of 'seizing the results of someone's labour' - as through taxation - being like 'seizing hours' from them, and like becoming a 'part-owner' of them; of 'steal[ing] the vegetables' someone has raised being equivalent to treating this person 'like a slave'.49 But: there is no bit of the person in the thing. If someone is wronged, as they may be, by not getting (part of) what results from their labour, this can only be shown by establishing why they are entitled to get it. Nothing is established by the use of metaphors and contiguities which themselves just presuppose that entitlement, through virtual identification of person and thing.
People are wronged when their efforts are overlooked, discounted, ill-rewarded; as they are wronged when their vital needs are overlooked, discounted, not met. Why this is so is another, bigger story. It has something to do with the principle of moral equality: of giving persons equal consideration as agents. Efforts and needs are a kind of burden and to let them go unrewarded or unmet fits ill with the commitment to giving equal consideration to their 'bearers'. So does it fit ill with that commitment, if the basic rights and freedoms of people are taken lightly. Proponents of labour-mixing and the like assert that such rights and freedoms are taken lightly in egalitarian viewpoints such as that just adumbrated. But the assertion depends on persuasively establishing the moral tie between self-owning persons and what they have transformed or 'mixed' their labour with - and this has never yet been done.
 See Becker, pp. 34-6, 47, 50-53; David Miller, pp. 6-7; and Waldron, pp. 202-5.
 Two Treatises, II, (respectively) secs. 30, 34, 37, 42, 43; and 32-5, 40-43.
 See David Miller, pp. 7, 9, 11.
 Nozick, pp. 154-5. Puzzling also are the references to desert in Steiner, 'Justice and Entitlement', p. 152; and 'The Natural Right to the Means of Production', Philosophical Quarterly, 27 (1977), pp. 44-5.
 Cf. James Sadowsky, 'Private Property and Collective Ownership', in Blumenfeld, p. 89; and G. A. Cohen, 'The Labour Theory of Value and the Concept of Exploitation', in his History, Labour, and Freedom (Oxford: OUP, 1988), pp. 229-30, 237. For a view that one has the right to the value created or added by one's labour, see Baruch Brody, 'Redistribution Without Egalitarianism', Social Philosophy & Policy, 1 (1983), pp. 74-5, 78-9. And cf. Nozick, p. 161 - I am aware that his story is not about value.
 In turn: G.A. Cohen, 'Self-Ownership, Communism and Equality', Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume LXIV (1990), p. 25; Steiner, 'Slavery etc.', pp. 249-50; Nozick, p. 172; and John Exdell, 'Distributive Justice: Nozick on Property Rights', Ethics, 87 (1977), p. 144. Cf. G.A. Cohen, 'Self-Ownership, World Ownership and Equality: Part II', in Ellen Frankel Paul et al., Marxism and Liberalism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), pp. 90, 95-6.
(This post concludes the series.)