Presents: Great Moments in Unintended Consequences

One point that I often try to make when debating policy with friends and family is that virtually all policies have unintended consequences. How could anyone be opposed to such idealistic acts of legislation such as the War on Poverty, Social Security, Medicare, hate crimes legislation, affirmative action, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Civil Rights Act (CRA), or No Child Left Behind (NCLB) ? Those who supported these acts of government (and many continue to do so) had the best of intentions. I think it’s also fair to say, however; that each have resulted in negative consequences unforeseen by the proponents of these measures. Those who opposed (and continue to do so) these acts, for the most part did not oppose these acts because they like poverty, hate old people, are racist, against people with disabilities, want to see species go extinct or want to “leave children behind” but understand that government action more often than not makes these problems worse.

The video below features three examples of the unintended consequences of Osborne Reef, Corn Ethanol Subsidies, and one section of ObamaCare that requires health insurers to cover children with preexisting conditions. These are all fine examples but the producers of this video could have picked just about any three acts of government complete with similar absurd, destructive results.

  • Chris M

    Good Video.

    Two thoughts.

    One, I’ve learned the hard way that the good intentions of a decision or action do NOT in any way nullify the bad consequences that result from it.

    Two, as was originally stated, there are many many pieces of legislation throughout the history of the US that have had bad consequences. But this unfortunate scenario is inherent in just about every type of gov’t legislation (or any human decision for that matter) regardless of the type or time period of that gov’t. So while all legislation is not equal and there have certainly been ones better at anticipating future consequences, I do not always necessarily hold those unintended (bad) consequences against the gov’t for this reason. I’d bet even the smartest, brightest brains of our time with unlimited resources stil could not fully anticipate consequences of an action – we’re only human! However, what I do hold against the gov’t is the fact that legislation is typically sold to the public without any sense of humility, caution, or realization that this may not go according to plan, nor are they required to meet quotas, benchmarks, or other requirements that demand the best performance in the ways that private enterprises or individuals can and do. There can always be amendments and further patchwork legislation that can address these shortcomings (furthering the cycle).

    The larger the scope of a piece of legislation is, the more unintended consequences there are likely to be. Obamacare and the recent financial reform bill are about as large as they come, and I’d bet in just 5 yrs time, we will already see the massive shortcomings and unintended consequences of them.