Unintended Consequences of Governmental Action


I am neither an anarchist nor a libertarian as I do believe that the government has an important role in our society. But it is often seen that governments do not always function efficiently and sadly, only such cases of ineptness come to light. That said, I would still recommend minimum government control especially to tackle market failures. The decision of a few imposed on many has never worked but unfortunately, it continues to happen everyday. There are plenty of underlying cultural factors that lead to unintended consequences of otherwise well-intentioned or rather politically feasible policies.

In a thought-provoking article, Robert A.Wicks, an Unix administrator in Atlanta succinctly lays down arguments to the weakening consequences for African Americans due to government welfare in the United States [via]:

Black men used to be sold up the river. This was a process in which the patriarch of a family would be sold from one plantation to another, breaking up families. Many slave owners had as much respect for the integrity of a black family as a cattle rancher would for the integrity of a bovine family. Single motherhood had always, therefore, been more socially acceptable among blacks. This was an absolute necessity, obviously, and not some indication of some mass failure of black people’s character. After the end of that wretched practice, many women didn’t remarry, as they had no way to tell if their husband was dead or not. This is one reason black women have always had such an obvious role in black economic development. Many black women have always had to work.

Somethings that we routinely consider as morally unacceptable or causing poverty have subtle historical undertones that still have lingering effects. Unfortunately we have either never thought about this or have paid scant regard to this undeniable effect. Similarly, democracy may not yet be the perfect solution for the Middle East and the Bush Administration trying to impose ‘our’ idea of a perfect governing system may be basically faulty. Food for thought, eh?

Wicks goes on then to tackle the ongoing war on drugs and offers radical solutions to tackle the problem at its root:

Ownership of streets and roads would do more to solve the problem of street crime than just about anything else. Drug dealing usually heavily involves the streets. Dealers perform transactions on the streets, crack fiends hang out on the streets. What if the streets were privatized? How many of you would allow a drug dealer to make sales in your living room? How about allow crack heads to hang out in the kitchen? Then why would you allow them to do the same on your street? Well, the problem is that the streets are not owned by those who live along them. They are owned by government, and government is usually an absentee landlord.

Seems okay in principle but I find it difficult to implement. But to Hicks’ credit, he tries offering some implementable solutions like creating a neighborhood ‘company’ or involving NGOs to micro-manage streets. Basically his arguments are rooted in the principle of property rights and the legal right of an individual to keep away unwelcome elements from it. This also has serious implications for neighborhood revitalization by trying to entrust the residents with the responsibility of changing it themselves, which is not an uncommon strategy at all.

Hicks concludes with a strong statement against the government which I think in principle he is against the government imposing its will on the people:

For me, one of the most troubling aspects of government is how government is always the exception. How many moral codes permit stealing? Yet government taxes are somehow different. How many moral codes permit the killing of children? Yet, government wars are somehow different. How many moral codes permit someone to storm a person’s house in the middle of the night for something they are doing in the privacy of their own homes? Yet government is somehow different. It is always the exception. I often wonder how many ostensibly religious people aren’t simply idol worshipers in the most literal sense, considering how many exceptions they allow government. If there are exceptions that you are willing to allow for in the case for freedom here and there, what exceptions will be allowed in the future?

Read the whole thing even if you disagree with most of it. Definitely an thought-provoking read and it is time well-spent.


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