A ship sinks, and a few dozen survivors manage to make it to shore on a deserted island. One of them, by the name of Jones, is a mechanic, and by pure happenstance is carrying his tools when he gets on the life raft.

The Island is relatively resource rich, although conditions are difficult, and the survivors manage to eke out an existence for themselves requiring approximately 40 hours a week of labour from each of them. Naturally they manage this. Jones’ tools are of great help in achieving this standard of living.

Then one evening around the fire Jones announces that he will no longer be working- instead he expects the labour of others to be used, in part, to feed and shelter him. He reasons that since the tools belong to him, his contribution is providing capital. He expects the others to not use the tools unless they pay him with the necessities of life. Naturally, the others are not impressed.

Should the contribution of Jones’ tools be regarded as a contribution by Jones?

Is Jones’ decision reasonable?

If his decision is not reasonable would the others be justified in seizing his tools and expecting him to work for a living like everyone else?

If so, is this situation relevantly analogous to our society?


  1. In answer to your third question (“If so, is this situation relevantly analogous to our society?”) it seems to me that in your scenario you are eliciting an intuition regarding a sub-Dunbar group in an emergency. I think that economic intuitions regarding situations like that don’t usually apply very well to super-Dunbar polities that aren’t in literal emergencies. Or, to put it another way, might a person’s intuition change if (in contrast to the scenario you posit): Jones purchased his tools with the proceeds of his own labor, deliberately carried them around with him so as to be prepared for any eventuality, and offered to rent them to any of his fellow castaways (who were numerous and not in serious material want) in return for a fraction of their increased productivity?


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