Technically, the term “unintended consequences” refers to never anticipated possible side effects, resulting from any purposeful action of mankind. For the most part, the term is applied to government actions, since the government tends to do big things, and, in general, exhibits the greatest amount of hubris. Many sources cite the example of a highway bypass, intended to relieve traffic congestion, but attracting development and itself becoming congested.
- Legalized abortion led to more, not fewer illegitimate children (presumably because abortion fostered a more permissive environment).
- The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1992 led to less, not more hiring of the disabled (presumably since employers were afraid of its many punitive aspects).
- In its zeal to protect consumers, the FDA makes it so difficult to get drugs approved, that more lives are lost by the delays. However, the agency acknowledges this, and as a double unintended consequence, eased up on the requirements on certain drugs, only to have them withdrawn after a year or so, since they WERE harmful.
- Social Security, supposedly created to protect those of retirement age, imposes a tax burden on everyone, leaving less money for savings and investment. Worse, because of its overblown promises, often discourages people from saving for their retirement.
No doubt, there are those who will argue that these consequences really were unintended, and no bad will entered into any of the policies that spawned them. However, assuming that is true, what excuse do they proffer for lack of foresight?
Even though many in the lunatic fringes of the environmental movement are against any means of reducing disease, and thus maintaining or increasing population, few among those calling for the DDT ban are publicly celebrating the deaths of millions in Africa from malaria. Still, if you doubt the bit about loony Greens being in favor of death, consider these quotes…
Jacques-Yves Cousteau, environmentalist and documentary maker: “It’s terrible to have to say this. World population must be stabilized, and to do that we must eliminate 350,000 people per day. This is so horrible to contemplate that we shouldn’t even say it. But the general situation in which we are involved is lamentable.”
John Davis, editor of Earth First! Journal: “I suspect that eradicating smallpox was wrong. It played an important part in balancing ecosystems.”
David Foreman, founder of Earth First!: “Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental.”
David M. Graber, research biologist for the National Park Service: “It is cosmically unlikely that the developed world will choose to end its orgy of fossil-energy consumption, and the Third World its suicidal consumption of landscape. Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.”
Alexander King, founder of the Malthusian Club of Rome: “My own doubts came when DDT was introduced. In Guyana, within two years, it had almost eliminated malaria. So my chief quarrel with DDT, in hindsight, is that it has greatly added to the population problem.”
Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, leader of the World Wildlife Fund: “If I were reincarnated I would wish to be returned to earth as a killer virus to lower human population levels.”
What about unintended consequences from the Civil Rights Act of 1964? In 1965, LBJ signed Executive Order 11246, which provided that employers “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” No problem, except that it led invariably to quotas, and widespread complaints of reverse discrimination.
Heck, the current banking and financial crisis stems in part from efforts to open up lending policies, but they resulted in massive defaults and bank failures. Ironically, the very malefactors in government who created these policies tried to blame it all on “Wall Street greed,” despite the rather obvious point that the entire easy credit driven economic boom was based solely on greed.
By now, you may be asking, “So what?”
Here’s what: While there will always be unforeseen effects of any human action, it has become far too easy to explain them away as being merely unintended consequences. This term is now little more than an all-purpose excuse for lack of foresight and incompetent leadership.