Even if you weigh the value of these issues differently than I do (and many will), all responsible adults should accept responsibility for their own actions (and policies). Thus they need to accept responsibility for all negative consequences as well as positive ones: under the old adage, "you break it, you bought it!" And that means they need to honestly dissect all the potential failures in advance and honestly listen to all criticisms in advance, or be irresponsible douchebags that hurt people for sake of their own egos. Remember, if you created the actions, you’re responsible for the benefit AND THE HARM that comes from them. And the more you failed to use your brains, and think/listen in advance (or avoid corrective action during the execution), then the more responsibility you bear for negative outcomes.
|Unintended Consequences||We can fix X by just doing Y, it's simple, just throw money at it. What could go wrong? The left always has the best of intentions, and ignores what the road to hell is paved with.||Historically there are more failures of big-government than successes, and every action has a reaction. Progressives look for all the good that one of their things might do, without considering any of the bad or how people might adapt. Otherwise, the wouldn't be progressive but thoughtful conservatives.|
This is nothing new.
- This dates back at least to John Locke warning of the unintended consequences of interest rate regulation to Members of Parliament in 1691.
- It was also popular with Adam Smith in his, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments”
- And the American sociologist Robert K. Merton, repopularized the term in his 1936 paper, "The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action”.
- Even Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect” (another way of saying, “shut up and think it through”).
The rules come in many flavors:
- Blowback, Intelligence agencies use their own jargon for unintended consequences called "blowback", where doing one thing, results in another, which may be worse that the original problem. 
- Cobra Effect, after the disastrous outcome in Colonial India. There were too many poisonous snakes, so the Brits offered a bounty on them. So people started breeding them for bounty. The government cancelled the bounty, and the cobras were set free: increasing the total population. 
- Campbell's law, "The more any social indicator is used for decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor".
- Goodhart's law, "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."
- Lucas critique, was a brilliant proof showing why Keynesianism always fails. Because, 'any change in policy will systematically alter the structure of econometric models that the decision was based on' -- thus the models are always wrong. 
In engineering and project management there’s something called a pre-mortem: a post-mortem done in advance. Where you say, “this project was a disaster, now what went wrong and how do we fix it?” Then you prophylactically fix the problems, or design them out, before you've done anything else. It doesn't stop the completely unexpected, but it does reduces the count, builds contingencies, and lets more voices be heard up-front (which gets more buy-in). You can’t do this with people who want to deny that things go wrong, so it (and accountability) have fallen out of vogue with the rise of progressivism and millennials, but hopefully it'll make a comeback.
Historically, we used to celebrate the wise old cynics, that would shoot holes in our well intentioned but bad ideas, and save us from ourselves. The wise know it’s much less costly and harmful to strangle a bad idea in its infancy, than to let the mothra hatch and burn down Tokyo. But hope and change flips common sense on it's head: and leftism preys on the starry eye'd optimistic youth, over craggily wizened experience... and most leftist political promises are met with the wide eye'd enthusiasm that complete ignorance about past mistakes brings. But who are you going to believe? The experienced cynics with historical perspective, or Generation Twitter: those that don't have an attention span beyond 140 characters? Only if you care about people (and not hurting them), will you listen to former and try to think through the consequences before causing them.
Here are a few examples: Unintended Consequences : 18 items
- Gun control shows that 30,000+ gun control laws have only resulted in more violence and gun crime. The areas with the strictest (and lowest gun ownerships), have the worst crime/murder problems. The areas with the loosest laws, have the least. And the stricter places got worse after the laws were passed. It's self defeating, but you can't teach the zealots of anti-gun religion any facts that contradict their dogma.
- Helmet, seatbelt, and airbag laws, all are known to have increased death and injury. Some of this is due to risk compensation (Peltzman effect), so people feel safer wearing a helmet and do dumber/riskier things', other drives see the helmet and make assumptions on safety and competence, so drive closer to them, or just that the helmet impedes vision/hearing and that increases accidents.
- Raising taxes (beyond certain unknown thresholds) causes more hoarding of money and many to hide money (off shore, in their mattress, etc.) and can de-stimulate the economy and often result in LESS money going to those very programs than if things had been left alone
And so on.
The point is not that all these programs (solutions) are wrong or bad, though many did more harm than good. The point is that all these well meaning programs had huge long term costs associated with them as well. Those that consider this in advance and are reluctant to approve of "do something", to prove that they're rational human beings, with a working brain and skeptical thinking capabilities: they want to explore and consider all the ways it can fail, and fix those in advance (to prevent undue harm).
The rest are irresponsible knee-jerk emotional types, that either don't have reasoning capacity, or are letting their emotions (ego) run the house. They want to help so much, and be so optimistic on any result of their great ideas, that they won't consider the alternatives. And then when you show the harm done, their egos are so vested in their ideas, that they feel like attacking the implementation is attacking them. Thus, ad hominem's and taking it personally, are a given. (You attacked them first, in their little ego-driven world).
The first thing we need to teach these progressives is that you don't change people by passing laws or making rules. They are usually counter-productive. Doing nothing means you're not responsible for the deaths/injuries that happen because of other people taking risks: but doing something (changing things) means you are not liable for the new outcome. If the rate stayed the same in the former case, you're not responsible for any lives lost or consequences. But doing something and making things worse, means you're liable for those increased deaths. Thus caution is warranted. Of course this paragraph starts with a false premise that progressives are still teachable: if they were capable of learning, they would already have some prudence and caution (and life gave them many opportunities to learn that). So by nature of their political philosophy, they've already proven their growth capacity.
So while I understand the naivete in youth, it just saddens me when older (and should be wiser) people are still enthusiastic advocates for progressive everything, and can’t think it through. Or as I say, “what’s the worst that can happen?” But I've learned that it doesn't matter. Those that want to ignore the risks of their actions don't appreciate the help and advice of those wiser and more cautious than they are. And thus articles like this, can only serve as confirmation bias for the people who have already learned the lessons life has offered them. And the rest, resent efforts at sharing wisdom. Thus the wise cynics are dying out, or giving in to the futility of slowing our devolution into anything but an idiocracy.
Written: 1998.09.05 • Edited: 2010.05.20, 2016.02.05, 2019.07.01