I think it can easily be seen that specific policies can follow this general pattern of reasoning, but let me give you a couple of examples to illustrate this.
“Immigration” policy is always a hot topic in the Western world, because those people we exploit in the colonies somehow have the nerve of knocking at our door to try to get the same sweet deal we got by completely randomly being born in the country of their conquerors. So we rant and rave about “those brown people” and how they come to steal our jobs, how dirty they are, how much they clog the health care system, and so on. It’s a pure racism issue.
But apart from that fact, look at the issue from the perspective of property. We claim that “we,” the paper-wielding inhabitants of a given country (which is actually an arbitrary construct), have the right to dictate who can and cannot enter the country. This can only be true if in some meaningful sense we are claiming the country as property of the government or the people. Of course the government claims property of the territory to begin with, as it claims to be in control of the land and everyone who lives on it, through the laws it enacts, and the taxes it raises, especially real estate taxes. Because it claims this property, it claims to have the right to prevent people from coming in, to exclude people, so they can get some land for themselves. But property rights are nonsense, so it is not valid or legitimate for any government to claim that it has the right to exclude people from the land. If you have a commons, then people may legitimately exclude, but the State is not a commons manager, it is a property manager.
The only correct answer to the so-called “immigration” problem is to stop the insane colonialism and let people in other countries be free to flourish where they live, so they don’t have to uproot themselves and beg for the privileges they were deprived of at home. The long-term solution is to enact a world labor-based currency, establish equal wages around the world, bringing about complete economic equality and thus eradicating poverty and scarcity. These are the only sane, rational answers, and that is why they must never, ever be brought up in political discussions.
Another ever-popular topic is that of “victimless crimes.” On what standard do we determine such crimes? Certainly not according to the standard of natural law, or even Common Law (although to be fair, Common Law did admit of some “victimless crimes” when they were an attack on hierarchies such as property rights or heteronomy). It is a direct attack against the individual’s freedom to accuse him of a “crime” which does not involve attacking other people’s freedom. One person growing and using “illegal drugs” does not limit anyone else’s freedom; in fact, it may support other people’s freedom (one only needs to look at all the creative and scientific people who have used marijuana in their endeavours, as well as all those who have reduced their suffering through using marijuana). However much one complains about prostitution being a dangerous activity (as a direct consequence of it being illegal), no one is being victimized by the sexual act.
It is certainly true that people have always persecuted those who commit acts which go against the present-time mores, mainly because they are offended, but I have already proven that there is no such thing as a right not to be offended. And besides, mores change constantly, therefore they are merely preferences and cannot be considered universal principles.
One may argue that some “victimless crimes” do affect other people’s freedom. Suicide, for example, deprives society of an individual’s contribution. But the freedom of the individual to be in control of his own death is an important freedom and directly concerns the dignity of the individual, especially in cases of suffering. I am not a collectivist: I do not believe that the individual’s values must be subservient to those of the whole. Society must be structured such as to support those values, not subvert them. I personally may try to persuade someone to not kill himself, but I wouldn’t stop them from doing it. I don’t think using force against people for “victimless crimes,” with the inherent power and corruption that this adds to any society, is worth it in any case. Or, if you want a less consequentialist argument, trying to prevent the suicide would be an invasion, and it is reasonable to assume that the principle of not invading anyone unless they have invaded upon you should be the default, because it is more fundamental than that of maximizing everyone else’s freedom a priori.
A lot of political and economic issues are argued from the perspective that “access to resources necessarily conflicts with individual freedom,” and that therefore anyone who takes the opposite side is the enemy. In fact, as I pointed out when I talked about natural rights, access to resources is necessary for individual freedom, and vice-versa. Certainly I understand that someone who wants to hold doctors at gunpoint so they’ll treat him for free is impinging on the individual freedom of those doctors. But surely there are other means to ensure access to resources than by using force on people. The economic system of anarcho-communism, for instance, ensures access without using force, by giving everyone equal access to each other’s production without the rationing use of currency. And that’s only one way of doing things.
More importantly, what does it mean to have a right to access? Take the health care example. It is generally agreed that a “private” health care system is unjust because it is too expensive for large segments of the population. This is a formulation of the problem as a right to access. It is also criticized as being too profit-oriented, although that is a flaw shared by “public” systems in many countries also. On the other hand, a “public” health care system defers all costs to a coercive system of taxation and a gigantic hierarchical bureaucracy. It is slightly better from a right to access standpoint, although severely handicapped by long waiting lines which often result in death, and it is worse from the standpoint of individual freedom, in that it gives total control of one’s health care options to the State and strengthens State power as a whole as well as corporate power (as they have no need to provide health care for the workers when the government does it for them). Both options inflate health care prices beyond the stratosphere, because in both cases the consumer of the services does not directly pay for them (with many very unfortunate exceptions) and therefore does not select for lower prices.
The only reason why the debate keeps being framed as an access to resources and individual freedom issue is because of the presence of coercion. Both “public” and “private” system are by nature coercive and aim to strengthen capitalist power structures. All the while, the real issues with capitalist health care- the antiquated guild system for doctors, the high wages, the incompetence of hospitals and courts in dealing with malpractice issues, the costly state-by-state limitations on the supply of insurance, the drug industry and Intellectual Property laws, the State subsidies to agriculture, to name only these few- are blithely ignored because acknowledging them would require us to reject the very premises of our health care systems, which are hierarchy, inequality and coercion. There is absolutely no reason, apart from greed and power, why we can’t have “good and plenty” health care for everyone, whether it’s “private” or “public,” without years-long waiting lines or prices beyond what anyone can afford.
I don’t have any definitive definition of how one could evaluate the right to access, but here is what I think is a good starting point: if a person who makes the least amount of money possible (which in our case would be the minimum wage) can afford a basic version of whatever it is you’re examining without having to give up other basic necessities. In our current society, this is impossible: minimum wage can’t get you shelter, let alone any other necessity, which is why the State had to come up with subsidized housing in order to preserve its lower working class (and still, half of homeless people are employed). Therefore, as far as I can see, there can be no such thing as access to resources under a capitalist system.
Any social, economic or political issue can be examined from the standpoint of the ethical principles I’ve already listed.
Now, I know most people would reject such conceptual analysis because they would say that political issues are complex and require a careful examination of consequences. I am not going to address consequentialism in general, as it is very easily refuted. I do however want to address the pragmatist way of arguing that politicos adopt when we talk about such questions.
They’ll say that this ethical theory is all well and good, but that in reality, people are nasty and need to be controlled. That notions of consent or equality only apply to people who do not have evil intents, and that people with evil intents do not respect consent or equality. That we have to be “realistic” and admit that some power is necessary to keep people in line.
Actually, it’s true that people with evil intents do not respect consent or equality: we know that because they occupy seats of governments, major corporations, and international institutions. Beyond that fact, the belief that people in general have evil intents is absolutely irrelevant to the ethical perspective. Consent and equality would still be logical corollaries for our desire to fulfill our values, even if we were all evil. And if we are all evil, then all the more reason not to permit power to exist within our society, since power is what “evil people” need to impose their will on a whole society. Giving “evil people” the possibility of ruling others is much more destructive ethically than anything these “evil people” might be able to do individually. As individuals, they are Jeffrey Dahmers, sources of much suffering, but limited by their own personal capacities. As rulers, they are Hitlers and Stalins, bringers of virtually unlimited suffering.
If we look at society for what it is, we do observe sociopaths, hardened criminals, exploiters, and so on, but these people are not by far a majority in our society. They are perhaps on the order of 5%. Either way, the ethical deductions do not change, whether that percentage is 1% or 50%.
Just to be clear here, the issue is not protecting innocents, since any system can accomplish this goal. The issue is the kind of structure we deem necessary in order to accomplish that goal, and the kind of society we think it justifies. There are authoritarian political ideologies and egalitarian political ideologies. Each side is potentially able to solve social problems, but the uses of force of authoritarianism represent a very steep price to pay.