The Reason Foundation released a new video, titled Great Moments in Unintended Consequences. The storyline features three examples of government policy which sounded like great ideas when they were proposed, but ended up going horribly wrong.

  1. Dumping old tires, which were piling up in landfills, off the cost of Florida seemed like a good idea in 1972. The tires were expected to create an artificial reef for marine life, but instead ended up destroying the natural coral nearby, rolling and bouncing uncontrollably on the ocean floor, in addition to releasing toxins into the water.
  2. Corn ethanol subsidies were touted as green fuel of the future, being cheaper and cleaner than oil, and renewable (!), helping America reduce its dependence on foreign oil. The unintended consequences of subsidizing and mandating the use of ethanol are soil erosion, widespread deforestation, rising food and gas prices, increased water consumption, higher greenhouse gas emissions, and a $7 billion price tag for taxpayers.
  3. The Obamacare mandate requiring health insurance companies that offer child-only policies to accept all children, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions, has led insurance companies to completely stop offering child-only policies. The adverse incentives created by this well-intentioned legislation would have caused many parents to hold-off on paying for health insurance until its needed. This would have raised premiums through the roof by creating a vicious cycle of more and more customer drop-outs, until the program would have gone bankrupt. 

The law of unintended consequences describes the tendency of government action, which seeks to solve a perceived problem, to create more harmful effects than it sought to avoid in the first place. 

People, in general, often fail to predict and account for the unintended consequences of their decisions. Within the realm of individual decision-making, mistakes serve as valuable lessons to reverse course and the harm is contained within a smaller, limited space. Within the political realm, the resulting harm from poorly thought-through policy decisions is much greater, because of the scope of centralized decision-making and the inertia (reluctance to change) that affects political processes. 

Limited, Constitutional government, bound by the rule of law, which protects citizens from foreign and domestic threats, and otherwise leaves them free to pursue their own happiness, is the best solution to avoiding the widespread unintended consequences government policy decisions create. If only our representatives understood this, too!