“What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”

by Walter Olson on October 4, 2012


From Reason.tv, and new to us, at least, if not exactly new, with vignettes on reef reconstruction, ethanol subsidies, and child health insurance (via Hodak Value). And from Mark Perry, “Some Great Examples of Unintended Consequences from Wikipedia’s Listing for ‘Perverse Incentives.'” An example, from an economics text by James Gwartney and Richard Stroup:

In the former Soviet Union, managers and employees of glass plants were at one time rewarded according to the tons of sheet glass produced. Not surprisingly, most plants produced sheet glass so thick that one could hardly see through it. The rules were changed so that the managers were rewarded according to the square meters of glass produced. The results were predictable. Under the new rules, Soviet firms produced glass so thin that it was easily broken.

Don’t miss the rat-farming and dinosaur-bone examples, either.

{ 3 comments }

1 Anonymous Nicholas 10.04.12 at 9:09 am

Every now and then something doesn’t go according to plan. Therefore, we should never try to fix problems. I, for one, am totally convinced! Thank you for the education.

2 John Burgess 10.04.12 at 11:26 am

@Anonymous Nicholas: The problem is not trying to fix problems. Rather, it is that if legislators took a bit of time to think about what they were actually writing into law, they would be able to see that the legislation was flawed. Unintended consequences are a result of carelessness — or simply a lack of concern — on the part of those making the rules.

Far too many laws and regulations are the result of legislators wanting to be seen to be ‘Doing Something[TM]‘ in reaction to a small, localized problem. They address a specific problem with no thought to how they may be making a general problem worse.

3 Robert Smith 10.07.12 at 6:27 pm

Thousand pound nails as well, for exactly the same reason. The plant manager got the Order of Lenin.

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