The Law of Unintended Consequences

Sometimes the Cure is As Bad as, if not Worse than, the problem that the cure was supposed to fix. Examples:

– there are numerous instances of introduced animals and plants that became invasive because they had no natural enemies in their new environment – mongoose in Hawaii; burmese python, gypsy moth and kudzu in America; cane toad and european rabbit in Australia; nile perch in East Africa

– decades of forest fire prevention in Canada, the United States, Australia and other countries eventually resulted in a build up of tons of dried, dead wood. This flammable tinder, which at one time was burned off regularly by smaller forest fires, were the gateway to larger and more severe fires.

– the damage to the nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant caused the Japanese government to shut down nearly every nuclear power facility in the country. The country moved to mobilize its coal plants and to build more – which increased emissions and caused subsequent damage to the environment.

– the collateral damage from Covid-19 lock downs, school closings, gathering and employment restrictions, delay in medical care and other interventions is already immense. It includes increases in:
– mental health and substance abuse problems
– hunger and food insecurity world wide
– extreme poverty world wide
– unemployment
– numbers of children who may drop out of school permanently due to economic conditions
– poor health outcomes due to lack of timely diagnosis of cancer and other severe diseases
–  mortality rates for patients who were unable to get diagnosis or treatment
– crime and domestic abuse
– business shutdowns, some temporary, others permanently
– the number of people who are not unable to pay the rent, are food insecure and cannot pay for medical care

Why do people (and governments) keep making decisions without considering collateral damage?
– they don’t think beyond the immediate threat – they should think about whether there is a greater but slower, long-term risk.
– they don’t consider compounding effects. Their immediate answer might be very expensive, but they don’t consider how that expense might escalate over time.
– they feel they must do something, rather than asking “If I do nothing, will this eventually get better?”
– they don’t take into consideration what could go wrong with the decision they made in haste. What if it does the opposite from what they intended?
– they don’t think about whether they can undo  their decision if it goes horribly wrong.

It’s useful if you have a theory to think through the worst possible consequences of its application, right? It’s a good antidote to ideological possession. It’s like, well, just for a minute, imagine that your theory could go spectacularly wrong. What would that look like?
– Jordan Peterson –

…nothing worthwhile in the long history of our species has ever been accomplished by those whose who were unwilling to assume some degree of risk. (And perhaps, a not so gentle reminder to our elected officials, that the rules and regulations they would have us follow are a lot more persuasive when they follow them too.) I’m not arguing that guidelines and regulations aren’t effective and necessary – I’m just saying that extreme measures often come with a long list of unintended consequences, and these lockdowns are no exception.”
Mike Rowe

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