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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/10354/inexcusable-unintended-consequences/

Inexcusable Unintended Consequences

July 27, 2009 by

Recently, my wife started a major “some-assembly-required” project at our home. At a stage when the question was becoming whether to finish or take things apart again and return them, the chance to do something she very much wanted to do came up. So she left the rest to me, but apologized that she didn’t mean to dump that extra work on me. That is, the adverse consequences for me were just an unintended byproduct of her choice.

After magnanimously accepting my wife’s apology, my next thought was that while her imposition on me was unintended, it was not unpredictable. It was a completely predictable consequence of her choice. That the intent she had in mind did not include imposing costs on me left unchanged the fact that it did so.

That recognition, in turn, got me started asking questions about the law of unintended consequences when it comes to government policy, my favorite version of which is “every government ‘solution’ has unintended adverse consequences, and that fact always comes as a surprise.” FULL ARTICLE

{ 18 comments }

Barry Loberfeld July 27, 2009 at 8:41 am

FROM HERE:

Do liberals resemble Chait’s portrait of them? Consider the nature of economic debate to date. Free-market economists still explain why, for example, the minimum wage won’t help the poor, and “practical effects” liberals still respond that we need the minimum wage because the poor need help. So, does the hope that it helps the poor prove that it helps the poor? Does it prove at least that liberals are good people? (It is beyond the pale to speculate whether liberals are limiting their benevolence to the special interests of Big Labor.) Can liberals “be convinced [such] programs [have] failed to achieve their intended goals”? In his Everything for Sale (which contains just such an it-helps-the-poor-because-the-poor-need-help advocacy of the minimum wage, including a total failure to address any of the arguments against it), Robert Kuttner seems to regard the law of unintended consequences not as a sober reality, but as a self-evident absurdity, which he mocks as the “Perversity Thesis”: Claim a law will do something and “conservative” contrarians reflexively assert it will do the opposite. (Kuttner and kind might care to ponder the late-2007 AP reports that the “shortage of National Health Service dentists” in the U.K., which began when “[m]any dentists abandoned Britain’s publicly funded health care system after reforms backfired in April 2006,” has left a “growing number of Britons without access to affordable care.” The reforms, e.g., a guaranteed income for dentists, were an “effort to increase patients’ access.” Even more thought-provoking is “Health Status, Health Care and Inequality: Canada vs. the U.S.” from the National Bureau of Economic Research.)

So now the question about “bigger government” liberals becomes: Is there no “deeper belief” — the immorality of a “common good” that’s only the “sum of selfish individual goods” (Kuttnerese for any values pursued by free individuals) and the superior ethic of a “collective good” (ditto for anything imposed by majoritarian state coercion); uniformity of wealth/poverty; punishment for the sins of “materialism” and “greed”; or the above implied — buttressing their position?

Larry N. Martin July 27, 2009 at 11:51 am

But Gary, you don’t mention if you finished the wife’s project! ;-)

Larry N. Martin July 27, 2009 at 11:51 am

But Gary, you don’t mention if you finished the wife’s project! ;-)

Charles Hanes July 27, 2009 at 12:25 pm

The first comment seems to have nothing to do with this article.

Please suggest to this commenter that the purpose of the article comments is not to try to draw traffic to another website, and that doing so is a misuse of this privilege.

Barry Loberfeld July 27, 2009 at 12:45 pm

“The first comment seems to have nothing to do with this article.”

Indeed? Both deal with the concept of “unintended consequences.”

“Please suggest to this commenter that the purpose of the article comments is not to try to draw traffic to another website, and that doing so is a misuse of this privilege.”

Linking is a “misuse”?

Walt D. July 27, 2009 at 12:52 pm

“every government ‘solution’ has unintended adverse consequences, and that fact always comes as a surprise.”
Gary, this depends. For instance, although the Fed dropping interest rates to artificially low levels created a NASDAQ bubble, a housing bubble, (and the next bubble)as an unintended consequence may have surprised the Fed, it did not surprise Jeff Tucker, Lew Rockwell, Robert Blumen or anybody who follows the articles on this site, which predicted the ‘unintended consequences’ way in advance.
In fact the government typically follows a compulsive repetition pattern. “If the stimulus failed, then we need a second stimulus, third stimulus ad infinitum.
ObamaCare includes tax rate increases for “the rich”. However, there is nothing in the plan about how they are going to pay for this. It will, no doubt, come as a surprise when increased tax rates produce decreases in tax revenue. It has not yet dawned on them that tax rate increases are an expense, and not a revenue.

Greg Ransom July 27, 2009 at 2:03 pm

Your wife too, eh?

We’re not suppose to say these things out loud Gary …

Greg Ransom July 27, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Your wife too, eh?

We’re not suppose to say these things out loud Gary …

Charles Hanes July 27, 2009 at 3:00 pm

“Indeed? Both deal with the concept of “unintended consequences.”"

This proposed relationship between the article and the comment seems tenuous to me.

“Linking is a “misuse”?”

Linking information on another web site is not a misuse in general. But, in this case the commenter is posting previous written information as a complete comment to this item.

What I am looking for when I follow the comments link is _specific_ commentary on this article. As a part of that commentary, inclusion of a link to other relevant content is appropriate.

In this case, this material was not what I was looking for.

I stand by my original characterization — this commenter appears to be simply trying to exploit the popularity of this web site to draw traffic to his own.

Barry Loberfeld July 27, 2009 at 3:45 pm

“This proposed relationship between the article and the comment seems tenuous to me.”

Each person can judge for himself.

“[T]his commenter appears to be simply trying to exploit the popularity of this web site to draw traffic to his own.”

Exploitation! As if people are “drawn” against their will…

Charles Hanes July 27, 2009 at 5:31 pm

“Each person can judge for himself.”

Indeed, and I have done so.

“Exploitation! As if people are “drawn” against their will…”

A strange choice of words. It is not an issue of will. Any acting human can make their own choices. The better informed they are, the better choices they will make, that is all. That is what this web site is all about.

greg w July 27, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Weird — it seems like we married the same woman.

Gernot Hassenpflug July 28, 2009 at 12:26 am

Very nice article, great exposition of the law of unintended consequences in government and how it interferes with the free market—especially the concluding statement is brilliant.

Reading through the comments, the article goes perfectly with the “Does the Fed need an Exit Strategy?” article.

Curt Howland July 28, 2009 at 6:55 am

I expect that this kind of thing is covered under the concept of “negligence”.

The politicians calling for yet another stimulus are, at best, negligent and incompetent.

Mushindo July 28, 2009 at 9:41 am

Nice article.

I have much sympathy for sincere benign intent combined with genuine ignorance – which generates unintended, and unforeseen, consequences.

Wilful ignorance is however another matter, because there is no excuse for unintended, but still foreseen, consequences. If they are indeed foreseen, they cannot by definition be unintended.

Criminal law tends to confuse the issue further: much is made in law of intent as the ultimate test of a criminal act, and if intent to do wrong is not found, whatever the consequences of the act, the absence of malign intent is regarded as a mitigating factor, sometimes leading to complete exoneration. Still , the law is not all bad – even in the absence of malign intent, culpability and restoration of losses borne by third parties who suffered as a result of the act remain the responsibility of he who ‘meant well’.

But somehow, notwithstanding the dictum that all should be equal before the law, those holding office are wholly exempt from personally bearing the consequences of their policy decisions in all but the most extreme milosevichian cases. No, we tend to erect statues in their honour instead. ( which, incidentally, makes me wonder whether the apparently coincidental similarity between the words ‘statute’ and ‘statue’ is really an etymological accident. The same goes for the first four letters of ‘analyst’ too, but I digress…….).

George July 28, 2009 at 10:55 am

Trust has two parts:

- ability / competence
- acting in others best interest

Poor outcomes don’t care which caused them…

Why do we trust politicians?

Mase Molina August 3, 2009 at 12:17 am

Great stuff. I was thinking about this a few months back cus someone said something that made me wanna say “Unintended consequences are unintended by the people proposing an action, but they’re not necessarily unpredictable consequences”…couldn’t get a word in edgewise though cus they were talkin to someone else and I didnt’ wanna interrupt, lol.

Again, great article.

Marc Sheffner April 2, 2010 at 3:31 am

The first time I came across the idea of “unintended consequences” in politics was in Herbert Spencer’s brilliant 1884 book “The Man Against the State”. The chapter “The Sins of Legislators” I particularly recommend.

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