Wars… elections… laws… words. We think we’re doing the right thing. But too often the result is not at all what was intended. Here are a few examples:
- China’s one-child policy: The intention was to control the booming population. And it did that. But since most families wanted that one child to be a son, it has caused a gender crisis. According to the Chinese government, by the year 2020, men of marrying age will outnumber women by at least 30 million.
- CEO salaries: Yes, many of us complain that they are way too high–which they are. So some years ago the SEC stepped in and required that CEO salaries be made public. But instead of shaming CEOs, it showed them that others were getting more, so they demanded more, too. The result? Between 1976 and 1993, CEO salaries leapt from 36 times to 131 times the average worker’s pay!
- Prohibition: The 18th amendment to the US constitution was well-intended. Surely less drinking of alcohol would benefit the country. In 1918, when the law was passed, New York had 5,820 legal bars. By the time it was repealed in December 1933, there were over 100,000 speakeasies.
- Texting while driving: We all know the price we pay on the road for this. There ought to be a law! You would think so, but when such a law was first enforced, auto accidents actually increased. Why? Because rather than stopping their texting, too many people simply moved their phones from the steering wheel to their laps so the police couldn’t so easily see what they were doing. Which meant their eyes were off the road for longer periods of time.
- No more DDT: DDT dangerous to humans? Obvious solution: ban it. When that happened, it had limited impact on people’s health. But it greatly crippled the fight against malaria. Which mean millions of deaths to people–especially children–in developing countries.
The lesson to be learned? Be careful what you wish for. Or vote for. It will likely have unintended consequences. And some of those may well be catastrophic.
“It is much easier at all times to prevent an evil than to rectify mistakes.”