Unintended Consequences


People will always do what are in their own best interests.  Free market capitalism has been successful largely because it takes advantage of this fact of human nature to serve the needs of others through the profit motive.  However, when this is done artificially through government edict, history is replete with government policies creating disastrous outcomes.  For example, colonial Delhi, India wanted to eradicate cobras in the city, so they offered a bounty to people to hunt the cobras, which worked at first, but then people started breeding cobras to continue receiving the bounty after the wild cobras were gone.  The government then removed the bounty, and people set their cobras free, resulting in an even larger cobra problem.  This is called the Cobra Effect.  There are myriad examples of the unintended consequences of government policies, from seat belt and airbag laws making it more dangerous for pedestrians, to payday lending laws driving up interest rates, to anti-price gouging laws preventing goods from being available during a disaster, to three-strikes laws increasing criminals shooting police officers, to electrician licensing requirements resulting in increased electrical injuries, to the drug war increasing the scope and severity of violent crime, to the rise of Osama bin Laden - largely funded by the CIA to fight the Soviets, to prohibition which destroyed small businesses and created powerful organized crime mobs which rose up to meet the demand for alcohol, to the federal government poisoning alcohol which led to the deaths of over 10,000 people, to gun buyback programs which result in people upgrading their firearms, to import tariffs costing tens of thousands of American jobs, to Mexico City banning certain cars once a week to reduce pollution resulting in owners buying cheaper higher polluting cars which actually increased pollution, to the TSA killing far more people than died in 9/11 by creating security delays that push more people to drive rather than fly resulting in additional fatalities equivalent to four Boeing 737's crashing every year.  The list is endless.  The takeaway is summed up in the quote by economist Friederich Hayek who said "The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design."  Some people have learned the lesson that government intervention is often disastrous, but others petition government for even more policies.

Americans are unquestionably very divided - often not necessarily with regard to our shared goals, but in how those goals are accomplished.  It often turns out that the position that you take on issues depends frequently on the depth of your understanding of the issue in question and an understanding of the historic unintended consequences of government policies.  There are many things that Americans agree on regardless of political perspective.  We all want to keep our families and children safe.  We all want clean water, clean air, and a comfortable climate.  We all want to be treated fairly and without regard to our race or other factors we can't control.  We all want good education and healthcare for our families.  We all want efficient government.  Let's talk about those issues and how each side believes they should be accomplished and we might begin to understand more about what divides us and how we each think.

Let's start with one of the most fundamental, yet divisive issues.  We all want to keep our families and children safe.  Those on the left cannot understand why those on the right refuse to agree to extensive regulation and restrictions on firearms, and they think that those on the right must therefore value their firearms more than the safety of their children.  If you only examine the issue from the surface, and ignore historic context, then you might share that view.  Those on the right, of course, share the same goals and value the protection of their children above all else, but they are looking at the issue in the context of the reality of human behavior and in a historical context, which teaches us that it's not that simple.  Those on the right understand that guns are just a tool - a tool than can be easily made in a garage and which are easily available on the black market, just like drugs.  They also understand that criminals, by definition, will not abide by the law and will not obtain their firearms through legal means.  Even if firearms could magically disappear, which they can't, there are far more lethal means that criminals can use to create mass destruction.  Even today, firearms are not the best choice for causing mayhem.  Blunt objects are used more frequently than all rifles to kill people including the imaginary category "assault weapons."  Since criminals can always obtain weapons, what are we to do?  Those on the right understand that it is not financially feasible, or desired, to have such extensive police presence as to protect everyone, and they know that, according to American case law, police are not responsible for protecting the public.  When police eventually arrive on the scene, the damage is already done - whether the evil is done with a firearm or bomb or knife or other means.  The reality is that we are individually responsible for protecting our families.  Those on the right realize that we can't always be with our family members, nor can police, so the most logical option is to ensure that there are other good people with firearms present in as many places as possible to intervene and protect the innocent should evil occur.  That is the impetus behind arming trained teachers and administrators who volunteer to protect their students.  Those on the right also understand the historic danger of an all-powerful central government, and that the reason the United States exists in the first place is because King George attempted to seize firearms from the American colonies at Lexington and Concord.  Those on the right understand that in the last century alone, over a quarter of a billion people were murdered by their own governments (aka democide), which is twice the number who died in all wars in that century.  Thus, the danger of an all powerful government arising that murders its political enemies is a very real one, and it happens frequently in history.  Those on the right understand that in every case where democide has been successful, the government has first registered and then confiscated firearms from the law abiding people, so they can mount no physical resistance to a homicidal government.  This is precisely why the founders created the Second Amendment.  Those on the right also understand that everywhere law abiding citizens have been restricted from owning firearms, violent crime has risen since criminals no longer fear law abiding citizens.  It is illogical to restrict the firearms of law abiding citizens while leaving criminals unaffected.  If the issue is pressed too far toward confiscation (aka a mandatory buyback), a war would likely result, just as it did with the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord.  Over a hundred million Americans own up to five hundred million firearms, easily creating the largest armed force in the history of the world.  All American military and law enforcement personnel total less than 3.5 million and a substantial percentage have sworn to uphold their Constitutional oath and side with the people in such a situation.  You can quickly see how unworkable confiscation is in America.  This is just one of many unintended, but predictable, consequences that could occur with regard to this very divisive issue if we aren't careful.  When this additional context is considered, we can see that the left and the right are looking at the issue from very different angles and this is a powder keg best left alone.  

We all want clean water, clean air, and a comfortable climate.  We can all agree that human activity is sometimes responsible for polluting water and air.  Most will agree that humans should be good stewards of Earth's natural resources and thus are responsible for ensuring that our water and air remain as clean as possible.  However, the existence of humans, and indeed of all life on Earth, has an impact on our environment.  All living creatures pollute to one degree or another, in one way or another, just by existing.  Humans have developed complex sewage, water treatment, and air filtration systems to maintain this balance as best as possible.  Even with those systems in place, and arguably much cleaner water and air today- on average- than even a few decades ago, many on the left believe that human activity is increasing the Earth's temperature, and some believe this is an urgent global crisis that requires extensive government intervention.  This is known as global warming, or climate change.  In the 1970s, there were grave concerns from the scientific community about global cooling being an existential threat to the planet, but today the concern is warming.  Many on the right are not convinced that the Earth's climate is changing significantly, as the scientific data seems to disagree on this matter, depending on what measurement system is used, and on who does the research.  Without question, the climate changes constantly and has been since the beginning of recorded time.  The Earth has been far hotter and far colder than it is today.  While many on the right believe the climate is changing, they are not convinced that humans are causing it and that drastic intervention is not called for.  Some on the left are even proposing taxes on meats to reduce CO2 emissions.  What could go wrong?  Proposed intervention would undoubtedly cost billions or perhaps trillions of dollars, destroy many industries, cost millions of jobs, and thus have a substantial negative impact on humans and so this remains a contentious issue.

We all want to be treated fairly and without regard to our race or other factors we can't control.  Many on the left claim that racism is widespread in America today.  To most on the right, the evidence supporting that assertion is simply lacking.  While racists exist in all races, it's certainly not a part of mainstream American life.  I am not President Trump's biggest fan by any means, but I have not seen any evidence that he is a racist, despite loud declarations from those on the left that he is.  It's these pronouncements from the left that make it glaringly obvious that what the left calls racism are merely policy disagreements that they want to try to frame as divisive racial issues.  For example, President Trump has cracked down on illegal immigration, which many on the left misinterpret as racist policies, but immigration law is blind to race.  Those who enter the country illegally are, by definition, criminals.  It does not matter what race they are.  President Trump has a long history of supporting and promoting minorities and women in his private and business interests.  The Republican party was founded to free the slaves and create a society where all men are indeed created equal, with equal rights under the law.  There have been assertions that law enforcement in general is racist, with regard to police shootings and encounters, but a National Academy of Sciences study found that "We find no evidence of anti-Black or anti-Hispanic disparities across shootings, and White officers are not more likely to shoot minority civilians than non-White officers."  It turns out that gun control, that we discussed earlier, has its roots in post-civil war America when it was used by democrats in the south to try to keep blacks disarmed.  Fortunately, the fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution overrides those policies.

We all want good education and healthcare for our families.  Many on the left seem to believe that because some on the right don't support teachers unions, public schools, or universal healthcare that they therefore oppose supporting good education and healthcare for all citizens.  Many on the right would argue that it is precisely the high level of government involvement in education and healthcare that created the situation we have now.  Public schools are very expensive to operate per pupil and create poor performing students on average.  Private and charter schools typically operate at far less per pupil and have better outcomes.  Many on the right support school choice, often in the form of vouchers, so that parents can shop around and choose the school that best meets their child's needs, like we do with every other industry.  Likewise, Healthcare costs are astronomical primarily as a result of burdensome government regulation, a complex government mandated billing system, a lack of free market options and lack of price transparency due to government restrictions on interstate insurance and government policies which created employer-provided health insurance.  Removing the web of regulations and creating a free market health system driven by competition, as is the case in nearly every other industry, would solve all of these issues and dramatically reduce healthcare costs for everyone, especially helping the poor.  When you separate the consumer from the associated cost, the free market is no longer applicable, and that is what happens in public education and healthcare.  No education or treatment is too expensive, because the consumer is not paying for it directly, but only through taxes and insurance, but everyone is collectively paying higher prices because of those malformed economic decisions.  What if we had grocery insurance like we do health insurance and you paid a flat rate every month for groceries no matter what you bought, what kind of groceries and how many would you buy?

We all want efficient government. Those on the left frequently look to government to solve problems and provide services.  Those on the right, however, look to individuals and the free market to provide those solutions and services.  Government, it is said, is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force.  Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.  The reason that the founders wrote such limits on government power, particularly the federal government, into the Constitution, was to prevent a concentration of power and prevent a situation where the government could overpower and coerce the people against their will.  Remember that government has a monopoly on force - no private business or individual can legally force you to do business with them, or send armed agents to force you to comply with their edicts or lock you up, but government can.  It is for this reason that the federal government, in particular, was limited to the duties listed in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution.  States and the people retain all other powers, and  local governments derive their power from the states.  While local government is often the most responsive to the people, it's also the most likely to be co-opted by the mob to infringe upon the rights of the minority.  That is the reason that the bill of rights exists, and now applies to state and local governments as well as the federal government.  Government at all levels, being a monopoly funded through taxes, is far less responsive to the needs of it's customers than a private enterprise, and need not operate efficiently.  A private business cannot sustain itself if it fails to serve it's customers well and operates beyond it's income for very long, whereas government has no such limitations.

One of the reasons that America is so divided comes down to the likely unintended consequences of policy positions.  It seems that many on the left may have noble intentions, but they simply do not understand the unintended consequences of their policies.  They might have the best motivations, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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