March 9, 2013

"All well stated Professor, but your initial instincts are also correct."

Said William, in the comments to my post about closing the White House to tourists.

My response: "Yes, but sometimes it happens that you decide to do something for the wrong reason and it happens to be a good decision for other reasons."

Can you think of some good examples?

I was going to say that my observation is related to but different from the idea of unintended consequences. But it seems to be the first of the 3 types of unintended consequences:
A positive, unexpected benefit (usually referred to as luck, serendipity or a windfall).

A negative, unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy (e.g., while irrigation schemes provide people with water for agriculture, they can increase waterborne diseases that have devastating health effects, such as schistosomiasis).

A perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended (when an intended solution makes a problem worse)

21 comments:

cubanbob said...

You don't need to go running around inside a building where people have to work.


Work? Are you serious? The have been so busy hanging with celebrities while on the permanent campaign they actually haven't gotten to work yet. Maybe they might actually submit a budget? It's only been four years.

Scratch that. God help us if they really went to work.

traditionalguy said...

Staying aware enough to self criticize is all important to capture these serendipitous moments.

The Government, with the exception of the military at war, rarely sees such moments.

betamax3000 said...

Re: A negative, unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy.

Policy: "I love different points of view and even edgy modes of expression."

Unexpected detriment: People who listen to Those Who Whisper in the Walls feel at home. Possibly.

bpm4532 said...

Yes. Now that baseball season approaches: Stepping up the the plate, digging-in your cleats in the batters box, closing your eyes, swinging wildly at the ball, and hitting a home run.

It is unlikely that a repeat effort will produce the same result.

William said...

At the risk of being cynical, much of well intended governmental action has negative unintentional negative consequences. As policies are developed, it is easy to focus on the target policy objective, but very difficult to quantify how the incentives and disincentives will shape non-targeted behavior.

The often cited and well intended social welfare programs have resulted in the reduction of the prevalence of traditional family structures because of the economic incentives built into those programs. By any measure children of families with both parents intact have a better chance at social and economic success. That is not to say children in single parent homes cannot flourish, but there are many unintended problems that go along with those circumstances.

Coupled with the difficulty of ending programs regardless of their efficacy, it is a persuasive argument for limited government.

Chip S. said...

I'm not sure I'd call a re-evaluation of the usefulness of various government activities an "unintended" consequence of the sequester.

People don't usually pay attention to the details of gov spending, so they just argue unpersuasive generalities. But when a highly visible item gets cut, people naturally ask "Why can't something else be cut instead?" Which focuses attention, however briefly, on a wider range of activities.

The sequester, like the prospect of a hanging, concentrates the mind.

Barry Dauphin said...

I guess it depends upon consequences for whom, e.g., stealing a woman's cellphone and posting pictures of oneself smoking weed without realizing it.

Molly said...

"Yes, but sometimes it happens that you decide to do something for the wrong reason and it happens to be a good decision for other reasons."

There must be lots of examples in Constitutional law. I've heard people say this about Roe v. Wade: the decision was correct (or good policy) but the reasoning was awful.

Or how about: Bush invaded Iraq to eliminate weapons of mass destruction; that proved to be a fallacious reason, but the decision was a good one because it brought freedom to Iraq.

Or: Obama raised taxes on the rich to punish his political opponents; that's a horrible reason to adopt a policy, but the policy was a good one.

Hagar said...

White House tours is like prayer at high school football games. I do not know why they do it, but it is very important to those that do, and also to their friends and relatives, and indeed a number of complete strangers.
So, just let that pass; there are more important things that need fixing.

And $74,000/week overtime? And this has been going on like forever? Someone does indeed need to be fired!

edutcher said...

I'll let the assembled multitude decide whether this is serendipitous or otherwise:

AQ finally gets it right, hijacks a plane, and flies it into the White House.

Because of the sequester, no touristas buy the farm.

JAL said...

And why again is it a positive result? Do you honestly think teachers are going to have their 6th graders read the Bill of Rights -- or The Federalist Papers(!!!)
-- in place of going to the White House?

C'mon Professor.

Get real.

myiq2xu said...

In the late 19th Century people in California planted eucalyptus trees around their homes because they thought eucalyptus oil prevented malaria. They were wrong, but it still worked.

Eucalyptus trees suck up a lot of water. If you eliminate standing water around a home you also eliminate mosquito breeding areas.

No mosquitoes - no malaria.

G Joubert said...

No, sorry, not buying. None of it. It begs the question. Government waste is ubiquitous. All agencies. Scrutiny of any would've had good results. So the question remains why this one.

Besides, any humor to be found in this stuff to me is more than tempered by my reaction to the debasement of national symbols, institutions, and traditions this way.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...
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SomeoneHasToSayIt said...


A perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended (when an intended solution makes a problem worse)


This one needs to be split in two.

One where NO ONE expected the negative 'unintentional' consequences, and one where many did, but others went away with it anyway.

As examples of the latter, pretty much any Liberal social 'fix'. The supposed unintentional negative consequences were well and truly predicted by Conservatives, but Liberals rammed ahead anyway.

chickelit said...

The new patent laws going into effect are rich for unintended consequences. Here's a potential one regarding income taxes: link

Surfed said...

Waaaayyyy to much thought process for a lazy Saturday on a sailboat in Florida.

gadfly said...

The dominant unintended consequence in this thread will keep on giving for the next four years.

We are now stuck with the Sequester-in-Chief and he will keep on giving grief for every day he serves.

n.n said...
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n.n said...

Why yes, I can.

No, Maryland This Is NOT Good Enough
Republican Sen. J.B. Jennings introduced a bill that would prohibit schools from suspending students for seemingly harmless childish acts, such as playing games with fingers pointed like guns ...

Good.

"These kids can't comprehend what they are doing or the ramifications of their actions," Jennings

Bad. There are no significant ramifications from playing with your food or toys, other than those manufactured to be exploited for political leverage.

As for the topic of this post, they previously restricted access to the Capitol. Both are the people's houses for a reason. Certainly the privilege can be abused; however, it is dissociation of risk which causes corruption.

Astro said...

The Bush Administration decision to ban certain types of stem cell research forced researchers to develop other methods of obtaining stem cells.