Rules Have Unintended Consequences

Steven Greenhut

Greenhut writes for American Spectator, Reason and the Orange County Register.


Crossposted at CalWatchDog

People assume that if the government passes a new law that the actual effect of the law is what the legislators intended. But free-market economists understand that intent has nothing to do with effect. I like the example of the $1 million tax on poodles. If Congress were foolish enough to pass such a thing, it would probably yield next to nothing in taxes as people shifted their dog preferences or bought their poodles on the black market.

A good example comes in today’s Los Angeles Times, which reports, "A nationwide analysis shows that while the number of fatal crashes among 16- and 17-year-old drivers has fallen, deadly accidents among 18-to-19-year-olds have risen by an almost equal amount."

These are well-intentioned laws. We all want to protect the lives of drivers, especially young, inexperienced ones. So legislatures have pushed up driving ages, but safety hasn’t generally increased. Risks are high for new drivers, whether they are 16 or 18. Sometimes the older a person is when they start driving, the tougher it can be to learn how to drive. Of course, I’m not advocating for allowing 8 year olds to drive. But the point is that the result of laws are not often what is expected, even with regard to seemingly unobjectionable ones.

Studies often find, for instance, that drivers tend to find a natural speed limit that is not dependent on the posted speed limit. Individuals tend to govern themselves. Norms tend to be more effective than laws. Laws should be written more to stop miscreants than to socialize individuals into the behaviors preferred by legislators. Americans, and Californians in particular, have lost the idea that government should be limited. Rather, voters have embraced the notion that the main goal is political power, which can be used to mold and improve our fellow human beings, or at least punish those who behave in a manner we don’t like.

Share this article: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Comment on this article


Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.