Unintended Consequences and Intended Non-Consequences

The idea that government policies have unintended consequences has become a fixture of political argument, indeed a cliché. One can hardly get through a day's newspaper editorials without encountering it with respect to something in the news--the TARP bailouts, the North Korea bailouts, executive pay caps, local issues such as the drinking age and the driving age. "Unintended Consequences" is the title of many recent books--by Deepak Lal on the role of culture and politics in economic performance, by Peter Galbraith on the Iraq War, others on housing policy, drug policy, military history, technological change, a novel about gun control, even a Spider Man comic book. If you go to the blogosphere you will find almost a genuine google of postings based on the idea.

The phenomenon is a curious one if you take the term literally. Virtually every action of any consequence, private as well as public, has some consequences that were not part of the purpose of the action. If you attend a lecture at the American Enterprise Institute you may make an important contact but miss an important phone call or email. The human drama is replete with best laid plans going awry. Looking at things through the other end of the telescope, virtually every event has innumerable but-for causes, all the way to that Kansas tornado whose path is affected (according to chaos theory) by the flapping of a butterfly's wings in China. The manipulation of but-for causation is a staple of time-travel science fiction. Why should it be interesting and important that a government policy had consequences that were not intended?

Click here to view the full text as an Adobe Acrobat PDF.

Christopher DeMuth is the D. C. Searle Senior Fellow at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Christopher
DeMuth
  • Christopher DeMuth was president of AEI from December 1986 through December 2008. Previously, he was administrator for information and regulatory affairs in the Office of Management and Budget and executive director of the Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief in the Reagan administration; taught economics, law, and regulatory policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; practiced regulatory, antitrust, and general corporate law; and worked on urban and environmental policy in the Nixon White House.

     

  • Phone: 2028625895
    Email: cdemuth@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Keriann Hopkins
    Phone: 2028625897
    Email: keriann.hopkins@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image Getting it right: US national security policy and al Qaeda since 2011
image Net neutrality rundown: What the NPRM means for you
image The Schuette decision
image Snatching failure from victory in Afghanistan
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Event Registration is Closed
Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.