Saturday, July 16, 2016

Congress needs to study the Law of Unintended Consequnces

There is an old saying I first heard when I was very young and it goes like this: "When you are up to your ass in alligators, it's hard to remember that your original intention was to drain the swamp". That saying expresses the Law of Unintended Consequences very well -and our Congress breaks that law on a painfully frequent basis.

I was reading a short piece in the Military Buzz Newsletter that is a very good example. A while back the Federal Government was running out of money and was under huge pressure to cut Federal spending. To accomplish this they took an axe and cut from where ever they could (and where they could get enough bipartisan support). That included cutting $600 billion dollars from the Defense Budget. As soon as that cut went into effect, the Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in. In this case the Air Force did not have enough money to perform a planned (and already partially implemented) upgrade to a critical computer system -and that sent 500 government workers to the unemployment lines. Net result: An effort to control spending and improve the economy resulted in wasting millions of dollars already spent on the computer upgrade, degrading our National Defense and increasing the unemployment problem by 500 skilled workers.

Congress just does not seem to be able to think problems through before passing legislation. All they appear to be concerned with is looking like they are doing something about problems -and getting political points along the way.

And it is not just this Congress that is guilty of this. This is a problem that goes way back. A really perfect example is Prohibition in the 1920s. Originally enacted to suppress the alcohol trade, it drove many small-time alcohol suppliers out of business and consolidated the hold of large-scale organized crime over the illegal alcohol industry. Since alcohol was still popular, criminal organizations producing alcohol were well funded and hence also increased their other activities. A similar example is the War on Drugs, intended to suppress the illegal drug trade, it has instead consolidated the profitability of drug cartels.

The CIA has a special term for this: "blowback"  and it describes the unintended, undesirable consequences of covert operations, for example: covert funding of the Afghan Mujahideen to fight the Soviets. That wound up contributing to the rise of Al-Qaeda, arming insurgents and terrorists with shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons (made in the good old US of A) and teaching them how to use them (which they now do against us).

What is my point in all of this? Well, just this, the people we elect to serve as Senators and Representatives, despite whatever else you may say about them, are not stupid. They should be smart enough to recognize this problem and start taking the time to think their solutions through before passing them.

When they propose legislation that involves spending, they send the proposals to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to see how much the proposal is projected to cost or save (mostly cost). That is a surprisingly smart move. Why not take it to the next logical step and have all legislation looked at by a non-partisan office to check to see just what consequences can be expected. That way they can anticipate unintended problems and either change the legislation or address the problem before it happens. Is that really so difficult? Is that really too much work and too much to ask from people we pay 6 figures a year too to look after the National Interests? 

Yeah, I know, I'm dreaming again.... Oh well, maybe they can start selling alligator shoes and belts to reduce the deficit....

Today's Reflection:

What’s the difference between a businessman and a warm dog? The businessman wears a suit, the dog just pants.

Live Long and Prosper...

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