I am a great fan of reading (and sometimes writing) detective stories. And the first question that always comes up when a body appears is Cui Bono? Who benefits by this man’s death?
I find it’s good practice to ask that regarding social issues as well.
For instance, take the issue of marijuana. I have heard many things from both sides of the argument whether it should or should not be legalized, and I don’t personally know what the truth is in regards to whether it is in fact dangerous or not. But I notice that there seems to be very little attention given to the question of, “Who, exactly, benefits from legalizing and promoting something that leaves people stupid, pliable, and pacified?”
Whatever else you may say of the drug, that doesn’t sound like something that would actually promote the wellbeing of a society, or of most individuals. Especially considering that we live under a representative form of government, where people are expected to make a sober and judicious choice of candidates every few years; does marijuana use seem like it would render someone more or less able to do that?
I am not here (primarily) advancing an argument against marijuana: I am only making the point that the question of, “who benefits from this state of affairs?” seems important here.
Now, the thing is, this question applies whether a person is telling the truth or not. The wife may not, in fact, have killed her husband, but that doesn’t affect the question of whether she benefits from his death: either she gets something from it or she does not. There may be very good reasons, for instance, to legalize marijuana, and someone may advance the position in all good faith. The question remains of what the concrete, objective results will be, simply as a matter of fact, and who will benefit from them.
Let’s take another example: climate change. Again, I’m not in a position to say, of my own knowledge, whether human activity is or is not having a significant effect on the Earth’s climate, or whether that effect is overall positive or negative, or whether there is anything we can or ought to do about it (funny how questions of positive consequences, or whether the benefits might ultimately outweigh the drawbacks never seem to come up, but I digress). But I can ask, “If people pushing climate legislations get everything they want, what will be the result, and who will benefit? Yes, yes, according to them we’ll all have the privilege of not being cooked alive or whatever the claim is now, but what will the new state of affairs look like?”
The answer seems to be, “a lot of power to certain people to reshape human society the way they wish, along with a lot of money to other people for research and advocacy.”
As you can see, even lacking specialized knowledge in these two areas, the answer to who benefits is enough to alarm me. Even if the advocates of these positions are telling the truth, or think they are, well, we still get a highly undesirable situation as a result; a situation that benefits a particular type of person over everyone else: namely the unscrupulous, the power hungry, and ideologically driven.
Again, this applies whether or not the present advocates are sincere or honest or even correct: once a hypothetical ‘anti-Climate Change’ apparatus is in place, for instance, then nothing prevents an unscrupulous and power hungry individual from using it for his own ends, even if the original architects constructed it in good faith. Power doesn’t necessarily corrupt, but it does attract the corruptible.
But let’s turn this in the other direction: who benefits from curbing illegal immigration, for instance? Well, low-paid American workers benefit, if they don’t have to compete with unskilled laborers who accept payment under the table. Legal immigrants, if the stigma of suspicion is lessened, their neighborhoods aren’t crowded with people who have no interest in assimilating or following the law, or, again, if they don’t have to compete with illegals for low-skilled jobs. People along the border benefit from not facing so many criminal gangs or pockets of people who have no interest in assimilating, or worrying about running into someone on the road with no license or insurance and a strong motivation to avoid the law. But I can’t see that anyone gains in political power, or wealth, or any other corrupting influence.
The only counterpoint seems to be that illegals themselves don’t benefit, which is debatable, given the dangers and violence involved in trying to cross the borders illegally, but we’ll allow it.
But if so, then the only selfish or unscrupulous possible motive for curbing illegal immigration is sheer malice toward illegals. Not coincidentally, this is the motivation most often ascribed to those who support such efforts by those who oppose them. That, or sheer ignorance plus opportunism, which presupposes that the above listed benefits are invalid. That’s a question of objective fact (either the above mentioned states of affairs exist or they do not), which is beyond the scope of this essay.
On the other hand, certain political groups gain a lot of political capital and reliable voter blocks from illegal immigration. Corporations and certain individuals gain cheap labor. The selfish and unscrupulous benefits all seem to fall on one side of the equation.
That isn’t to say those are, in fact, the motivations of everyone or even most people who support illegal immigration, nor that their arguments in favor of it are therefore invalid. But it is something to note, because what it does mean (and this is key) is that even if their arguments were invalid and known to be so, they would still have an interest in making them.
Again, this is not meant to be a piece on illegal immigration. You may or may not agree with my assessment of it. The point is only to illustrate the principle, which is this; whatever people say their motives are, look at what the actual content of their policies are and ask who benefits from that state of affairs.
Anyone can claim to be speaking for the poor and downtrodden, and to declare that such-and-such a law will help them. It’s the easiest thing in the world to spin whatever you like, whether it’s the abolition of private property or the extermination of undesirables as being done for necessary and humane reasons, out of concern for the downtrodden and the weak.
But the truth is that a person’s subjective motives, let alone his stated goals, are far less relevant in this regard than the concrete laws and policies that he wants put into place. The important question is, “what, objectively, will be done and who will benefit from it and how?” not, “who does this person say he intends to benefit?”
I find they are only rarely the same people.