Tag: unintended consequences

Rush Limbaugh Is Half-Right: Liberals Offer Poorly Thought Out, Emotional Solutions. And So Do Conservatives

Friday afternoon Rush Limbaugh took a call from a conservative teenager who wanted to know how to help his generation “realize what’s happening in our nation.” Rush offered some thoughts, beginning with this:

Liberalism is so easy.  All you have to do is see some suffering and tell everybody that you see it, and that it really bothers you. Right there, you are given great credit for having great compassion, and people will say great things about you.  All you have to do is notice it.  You don’t have to offer a solution.  If you do offer a solution, say, “The government ought to do something,” then they’ll really, really love you. Liberalism’s easy. 

That’s why a lot of people end up going there, is no resistance to it. It doesn’t take any kind of thought because it’s all based in emotion, and thinking is harder than feeling.  Thinking’s an applied process. 

That’s a good point. It is indeed easy to see a problem and say “the government ought to do something.” People don’t make enough money? Raise the minimum wage. Don’t think about what the effects of that might be. Or just increase welfare. And again, don’t think through the long-term effects. IBM is too big? Break it up, even as new competition is about to leave IBM in the dust. Part of the problem here is taking a snapshot view of the world – which at any point will be full of inefficiencies and inequalities— rather than a dynamic view. The world is constantly changing. Economic growth is a process. Things that are first bought only by the rich become cheaper and more available to the middle class and then to everyone. And centralized, compulsory “solutions” to immediate problems may impede growth, improvement, and progress.

But Rush might have mentioned that sometimes “conservatism” is easy, too. All you have to do is see a problem and demand a government program. Some people get in trouble with drugs? Ban ’em. The Middle East is in chaos? Bomb some more countries. Russia is assertive? Stand up to ’em! “It doesn’t take any kind of thought because it’s all based in emotion, and thinking is harder than feeling.  Thinking’s an applied process.” And when you think about it, you might realize that prohibition introduces all sorts of new problems, that the United States can’t control the whole world any more than it can control the American economy, that threatening war with a nuclear-armed Russia might have disastrous consequences.

Yes, thinking is harder than feeling. It’s easy to say, “The government ought to do something.” And both liberals and conservatives default too easily to such easy answers.

Markets Find a Way

Under new rules in the District of Columbia, residents are allowed to possess, smoke, and grow marijuana, but they are not allowed to sell it. So, as Aaron C. Davis writes in the Washington Post, this presents an interesting question: How is the marijuana grown in D.C. supposed to get to people in the city who want to smoke it? And it turns out that in a few short months the enterprising people of Washington have found several opportunities:

A fitness instructor who took up the hobby six months ago has amassed enough pot to make tens of thousands of dollars selling it. Instead, he’s begun giving away a little bit to anyone who pays for a massage. The instructor asked not to be named out of concern that he or his home, where he sometimes serves clients, could become targets for criminals.

T-shirt vendor in Columbia Heights who declined to comment may be working in a similar gray area. College students say the roving stand has become known to include a “gift” of a bag of marijuana inside a purchase for those who tip really well. And recently, dozens of people paid $125 for a class in Northwest Washington to learn about cooking with cannabis from a home grower. Free samples were included.

Andrew Paul House, 27, a recent law school graduate, may be the best early test case for whether home growers can find a way to make money from their extra pot.

House has started a corporation and a sleek Web site to order deliveries of homegrown marijuana to D.C. residents’ doorsteps — “free gifts” in exchange for donations to the company, akin to a coffee mug given to donors by a public radio station.

Who Could Have Seen That Coming?

Several recent news stories report information that was hardly surprising to anyone who has studied economics or read Cato at Liberty. We talk a lot about unintended or unanticipated consequences around here, but in these cases the consequences were anticipated and even predicted by a lot of people.

First, consider this front-page story from the Washington Post on Monday:

The [fast-food] industry could be ready for another jolt as a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour nears in the District and as other campaigns to boost wages gain traction around the country. About 30 percent of the restaurant industry’s costs come from salaries, so burger-flipping robots — or at least super-fast ovens that expedite the process — become that much more cost-competitive if the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is doubled….

Many chains are already at work looking for ingenious ways to take humans out of the picture, threatening workers in an industry that employs 2.4 million wait staffers, nearly 3 million cooks and food preparers and many of the nation’s 3.3 million cashiers….

The labor-saving technology that has so far been rolled out most extensively — kiosk and ­tablet-based ordering — could be used to replace cashiers and the part of the wait staff’s job that involves taking orders and bringing checks. 

Who could have predicted that? Well, Cato vice president Jim Dorn in his 2014 testimony to the Maryland legislature. Or Bill Gates around the same time.

Then there’s this all-too-typical AP story out of California:

Life under Prohibition

Washington, D.C., has the highest percentage of marijuana smokers in the nation, reports the Washington Post. “More than 11 percent of Washingtonians older than 26 reported smoking marijuana in the past year – the highest percentage of any state in the nation, according to a 2007 survey by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.”

Is that a problem? Well, back around 1990 a satirical revue described the city government as “the nation’s first work-free drug zone.” But the people described in the Post article seem to work pretty hard, as scientists, businessmen, and so on.

One problem is inadvertently described by D.C. Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham:

“People don’t feel marijuana is dangerous, but it is, because of the way it is sold,” he said. “We frequently recover weapons when serving search warrants associated with the sale of marijuana.”

Exactly. Because marijuana is illegal, it’s not sold by kindly old liquor store owners. It’s distributed by people who are by definition criminal and who tend to engage in criminal behavior to protect their markets.

Its illegal distribution also accounts for another phenomenon that the Post notes:

Teenagers in parts of the city said they can buy pot more easily than beer or cigarettes.

Legal products, for sale to adults only, are harder for teenagers to obtain than a product that is illegal for everyone. Maybe it’s time to rethink the success of drug prohibition.

Wednesday Links

  • If the health care overhaul bill were a medical product it would have to come with a warning label, which could read something like this: Warning: This product will increase your health insurance premiums, make your children poorer and won’t make you healthier. That’s not all. There’s more.
  • Unintended Consequences: Could government efforts to redesign cities to make them more pedestrian friendly, concentrate jobs in selected areas, and increase mass transit actually raise C02 emission levels?