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Unintended Consequences
Author: BobR    Date: 06/24/2011 12:28:17

The Law of Unintended Consequences:
"...[the purposeful] actions of people — and especially of government — always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended."
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics


It's happened to all of us. We do something to accomplish a task, and something else happens that throws us for a loop. How did we not plan for that? How did we not anticipate that? Part of the science and art of Engineering is designing with a "what if?" mentality. Even trying to anticipate doesn't always work.

In politics, war, and economics, hubris is the usual catalyst for unintended consequences. People in power assume they know what they're doing, and barrel ahead at full speed without seriously anticipating a "plan B". The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan was a result of arming the locals when the Soviets invaded. The Bush administration was a prime example of not thinking about the possible side-effects in all of its actions.

There are plenty of examples from current events. In anticipation of (and/or a reaction to) oil prices and global warming / climate change, scientists have sought alternatives to petroleum for powering cars. One early option was ethanol, which is traditionally made from corn. Unfortunately, there is a finite amount of corn, based on what farmers plant. This has caused a surge in the price of corn, which has hit us in the wallet. It has also hit food processing companies in the wallet. An unintended consequence is that Kellog's Corn Pops (a favorite cereal from my childhood) may disappear forever. Yes, there may be other factors as well (such as slipping sales), but that combined with a thinning profit margin spells doom for my golden sweet crunchy memories.

For the Republicans, there is the problem of framing their rhetoric with absolutes. They apparently thought that drawing a line in the sand would earn them respect and cause the Democrats to buckle. The latter assessment may still happen, but they have nonetheless painted themselves into a corner.

They have demanded that taxes be cut, not raised, and demanded that "entitlements" be cut. The groundswell of support they anticipated has not happened. In fact, it's been quite the opposite. This has forced the Republicans into ever increasing acts of quixotic political desperation, such as Cantor walking out of budget talks. Sure their hard-core supporters might cheer them, but not the general public. It's not well-known yet (but it will be) that the walk-out was planned weeks in advance. Ultimately, Cantor's action has left Speaker Boehner high and dry, which may actually be his intended consequence (if he is eyeing the Speaker's chair for himself). What it does, though, is weaken the Republicans' aura of a unified front, one of the few things they had working in their favor. The appearance of in-fighting will actually likely embolden the Democrats.

The cracks in the armor of Republican lockstep is showing in the reactions to Tea Party candidates. Originally, the Republicans embraced the loony extreme factions as a means to win more elections. What they failed to anticipate was that the extremism was not an act. While that extremism may be embraced in party circles, the public is rejecting it. The buyer's remorse from the 2010 elections will result in Republican losses in 2012. This has forced some Republican lawmakers to publicly distance themselves from the genie they unleashed from the bottle. This will also hurt them as the Tea Party members feel the cold shoulder of shunning, and lash out in return.

One final bit of double-reverse unintended consequences comes via Jon Stewart and FAUX News. When Stewart was on Chris Wallace's show, he stated that Fox News viewers are the “most consistently misinformed” in “every poll”. It was that last bit of his statement - "every poll" - that he failed to anticipate would bite him. Politifact checked polls and publicly castigated Stewart by showing that FAUX News viewers were actually about average - when it came to polls about political facts that no one disputes. What Politifact didn't anticipate was that Stewart was NOT going to apologize, and instead provided a long laundry list of misinformation spewed by FAUX News.

Here's something to anticipate: if you're going to nit-pick, expect the nits to pick back.

44 comments (Latest Comment: 06/24/2011 22:30:56 by Mondobubba)
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