This post is a continuation of the long and rich conversation generated by my previous post. Some of the comments below reiterate, perhaps less artfully, some of the points already made.
I agree with Rawls’s defenders that by asserting that “society owns talents“ he does not, and could not, mean that the state can force persons at gunpoint to use their talents in ways not chosen by them.
What he and his followers mean, of course, is that the state can permissibly tax people’s income regardless of how the income was generated (work, inheritance, lottery). In response to Nozick’s objection that in most cases persons have earned the income because others have voluntarily paid for what they had to offer, Rawlsians say that “what they had to offer” is determined by morally arbitrary accidents of fortune. Some writers (Murphy and Nagel, for example) say that, for this reason, people do not own (morally) anything and the state can therefore freely redistribute their holdings. For all these writers, the arbitrariness of talents grounds the state’s power to appropriate income. Because talents are arbitrary, a mere circumstance, allowing “distributive shares” to be influenced by them is unfair. The only reason to allow the talented to keep some of their earnings is instrumental: to preserve the incentives to produce. Breaking ranks with Locke and Kant, Rawlsians recognize no moral reasons to allow people to keep their earnings, thus undermining the importance that they would otherwise assign to the pursuit of personal projects.
My objection (following Nozick and many others) is to this move. If the claim that talents are morally arbitrary is false (for reasons abundantly given; see now, in addition to the well-known pages in Anarchy, E. Spector), then it cannot do the work in the theory that Rawlsians want it to do. It cannot ground the power of the state to reach people’s wallets, since it cannot ground a duty on the part of the talented to compensate others.
This is not to say that there are no other arguments for redistributive taxation. For myself, I would say, very roughly, something like the following: people should keep what they earn, except for taxes needed (1) to finance genuine public goods (that is, those that cannot be produced privately); and (2) to establish a safety net for those who have fallen below a certain level of income. The justification of taxation in (2) does not rest on the false premise that the talented owe compensation to the less talented because of the arbitrariness of their gifts. Rather, it rests on considerations of humanity. But of course, all this is just conclusory. The argument will have to wait.
 “Talent” here is a shorthand for “ability to produce things others demand.”