The fields of research and public policy offer many ethical dilemmas that participants are forced to reconcile with in order to thrive and contribute positively. As a student pursuing a career in academia and public policy, it is important that I begin to wrestle with these complex and nuanced issues now so that I am better prepared in the future. Perhaps the most obvious ethical dilemma I will face involves the ethical medium I will use to interpret what I believe to be best for the individuals of a society; that is, some (typically liberal in nature) believe that the policy must be good for the majority, others (typically conservative in nature) believe that the policy must do good for the majority. As Noam Chomsky said, “There's a tremendous gap between public opinion and public policy.”
In the middle of this gap is where this issue comes to bear. A perfect, recent example for this is the Affordable Care Act which is currently under fire from the recently implemented Republican Congress. On the left side, Democrats are scrambling to save the ACA so that a significant portion of the 20 million people who gained insurance will not lose it. On the right side, the Republicans are seeking to repeal most of this act due to skyrocketing premiums and for the sake of the millions of people who were kicked off of their previous insurance plans (and can now no longer afford insurance). Each side wants to do what they think is best.
While the ACA has gotten insurance for the uninsurable, the greater question is whether or not healthcare is a right (an entitlement) and whether or not government should be providing it. As a libertarian, I’m in favor of a full repeal of the ACA (and about 90 percent of the government, for that matter). I do not have bad intentions with this belief, and I do not believe that most Republicans or Democrats have bad intentions in their respective beliefs. How does one find a middle ground that stands purely on principle and not on subjective experience, and is that even realistic or ideal for government?
This is where my profession stands. I want to pursue a career at a think tank and in academia, studying what is true and theorizing on how to apply this truth in a way that works for everybody. Public policy affects every person in this country (and many abroad) and how said policy is applied can radically shift the effects of that policy. There are governmental actions that help everybody at the expense of the few. There are governmental actions that restrict everyone equally. There are governmental actions that apply to everyone in what can be considered a positive manner.
As a libertarian, I have embraced Kant’s categorical imperative for quite some time; that is to say, we must treat others in such a way that it could become universal law. (I should clarify that I interpret this and apply this strictly in the realm of politics and government). I do not believe that government is meant to adjust law and policy for the nuances of a changing society because I believe that a government should have such few policies and use such broad language that it can apply to everyone (and I mean literally everyone) at any time equally. Individual liberty cannot and should not be abandoned for the sake of the “majority” because liberty begins with every individual. It is because of this idea that I reject the teleological approach to ethics within politics. Our society is losing sight of what it means to be people of principle.
*Header photo courtesy of The Futures Agency.