Saturday, January 19, 2008

Law of unintended consequences

The Freakonomics guys write (with comments on their blog):
So does this mean that every law designed to help endangered animals, poor people and the disabled is bound to fail? Of course not. But with a government that is regularly begged for relief — these days, from mortgage woes, health-care costs and tax burdens — and with every presidential hopeful making daily promises to address these woes, it might be worth encouraging the winning candidate to think twice (or even 8 or 10 times) before rushing off to do good. Because if there is any law more powerful than the ones constructed in a place like Washington, it is the law of unintended consequences.
That is true, but there ought to be a better name for this law. The first example was how the Americans With Disabilities Act [ADA] sometimes causes discrimination against disabled folks. I'd be willing to bet that when Congress debated the ADA, there were people who openly and loudly explained that it would cause exactly the sort of problems that are described in the article. There were probably even amendments offered to mitigate these consequences. It appears to me that Congress really did intend those bad consequences.

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