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The Law of Unintended Consequences

Let us accustom ourselves, then, to avoid judging of things by what is seen only, but to judge of them by that which is not seen.  Frederic Bastiat

For those on the left, only quick answers will do.  The left panders to the worst inclinations of human nature and seeks to avoid that which requires effort and discipline, like the grooming of character, adherence to a moral code, development of patience and hard work, etc.  Instead. the answer is one enormous get rich quick scheme.  Anything goes.  And when the consequences of a profligate lifestyle become manifest, the answer is – we must pass a law against those consequences!

When attention-seekers shoot a Congresswoman in Tucson, slaughter a bunch of theater-goers, attack a group of innocent school children, or murder the daughter of a police officer in the name of social justice, the answer is to ban guns that look scary, outlaw large magazines, and call into question the wisdom of the Second Amendment to the Constitution.  Never mind than none of the laws being proposed would have  prevented any of the aforementioned tragedies.  But it’s easier to pass a law, be seen as “doing something,” than to acknowledge the underlying sickness of a society that has thrown self-discipline and morality to the wind.  It is a society which has been systematically indoctrinated to devalue human life and one in which character and self-discipline no longer count.  It  becomes a society that breeds and tolerates such cretins in its midst.   This is an unpleasant reality that the left cannot and will not acknowledge, for it is a reality of their own making.  It permeates our culture and is inculcated in our youth in the very schools they attend and example set by parents too busy, too focused on the material, to counteract the cultural poison imbued by their children.  And we’re surprised by a Columbine or a Sandy Hook.

But the purpose of this article is not to point out the hypocrisy, the intellectual laziness, or the ignorance of those who seek to give more power to the government for the alleged purpose of making us safer.  No, the purpose of this post is to show how the left’s agenda frequently accomplishes the exact opposite of what they purport to intend.

If the intent of all of this moral indignation about gun ownership and the need to restrict it, was to reduce the amount of guns in the hands of private citizens, it, like so many other liberal ideas, has failed miserably.

Not only have guns sales been on a steady increase, but the same is also true for ammunition and even the components and equipment used to reload.  Why should this be the case?

There are several take aways from this fact.

  1. Many people’s perception of the economy and the overall state of the country is not terribly positive.  Mike Krieger of Liberty Blitz summed this up:

      I have maintained for quite some time that the only true “consumer confidence” statistic one should look at is that of gun sales.  The bottom line is people do not hoard guns when they are confident about the future of the country, and gun sales have never been better.

  2. There are a lot of people very attached to their Second Amendment rights who are not interested in what the government has planned in terms of new gun laws.
  3. When you tell people they cannot do a thing, or improperly suggest that they are criminal for doing it, they will revolt and do the very thing that you seek to minimize.
  4. Liberal attempts to force solutions often result in unintended consequences.

It is this last point that we will focus on here.  Anti-gun laws are not the only example of this liberal propensity to failure.  Thomas Sowell has an interesting article in the Fall 2012 issue of the Claremont Review of Books entitled The Perversity of Diversity.  Sowell begins by explaining,

Anyone who follows public policy issues can easily think of policies that help one group at the expense of some other group.  What is rarer, however, is a policy that on net balance harms all groups concerned, even if in very different ways.  Affirmative action policies in the academic world can claim that rare distinction.

MismatchSowell’s piece is actually a review of a book called Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help: And Why Universities Won’t Admit It.  This premise was first posited way back in 1968 by Yale Professor Clyde Summers.

Professor Summers explained that admitting black students to top-tier institutions, when they had academic qualifications that were at a level that fit second-tier institutions meant that the second-tier institutions now had a reduced pool of suitable black applicants and would have to dip into the pool of black students whose qualifications fit the third-tier — and so on down the line.

What Summers predicted back in 1968 has now been proven by empirical data and this is the focus of Mismatch.  The authors show an impressive assortment of evidence to support Summers’ contention.  For example,

Black students admitted to George Mason University Law School with lower academic qualifications than the other students there had “roughly a 30% chance” of graduating and passing the bar exam on the first attempt, according toe Sander and Taylor [the authors of Mismatch].  But “students at the historically black Howard University Law School, only a few miles away had academic indices very similar to blacks at GMU Law but had a graduation-and-first-time-bar-passage rate of about 57 percent, nearly twice as high.”

It’s worth pointing out that passing the bar exam is passing the bar exam, regardless of the individual’s color.  So the caliber and quality of education received is not in doubt here.  Sowell sums up the finding,

In short, black and other minority students seem to learn better at institutions where the other students are similar in academic qualifications.

Sowell’s conclusion:

An unequivocal legal ban on the use of race in college admissions seems to me a necessary, though not a sufficient, step toward putting an end to this educationally and socially pernicious practice. To say that race can be just “one factor” in college admissions decisions is to made a judicious compromise in rhetoric while keeping the floodgates wide open in reality. From my own research for my book Affirmative Action Around the World (2004), I know that attempted restrictions on group preferences in other countries that leave the decision-makers wiggle room to factor in subjective considerations virtually guarantee that those subjective considerations will be used to offset objective differences in qualifications, in order to end up with the group numbers desired.

If and when there is an outright ban on using race in college and university admissions decisions, the next step should be a return to the once common practice of forbidding the submission of photographs or other things that permit racial identification. Some examination papers, as well as articles submitted to academic journals, are already being judged without any identifying information, in order to get unbiased decisions. There is no reason why the same practice cannot be followed with applications for college or university admissions. Affirmative action has already turned too many minority students with the potential for success into induced failures, because they were mismatched, quite aside from the racial polarization and academic corruption spawned by these programs.

Good luck with that. College administrators, politicians and even the Supreme Court, in taking on the mantel of social engineers, cannot be swayed by fact or reality.  To accept such a conclusion would call into doubt all of their supposed wisdom.

In Sowell’s words,

It was precisely by trying to be judicious social engineers and statesmanlike legislators that Supreme Court Justices have left affirmative action a bleeding sore on the body politic that will not heal, but which only produced polarizing bitterness on all sides.

It is this self-same phenomenon which is polarizing the public on the topic of gun control.

But that won’t stop the social engineers. In a recent article in the WSJ, James Bovard outlines a new extended interpretation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Now, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in a recent 20,000 word document of regulatory “guidance,” business are directed to hire more felons and other ex-offenders.   Businesses may now be sued for practically any hiring practice that adversely affects minorities.

In 1989, the agency sued Carolina Freight Carrier Corp. of Hollywood, Fla., for refusing to hire as a truck driver a Hispanic man who had multiple arrests and had served 18 months in prison for larceny. The EEOC argued that the only legitimate qualification for the job was the ability to operate a tractor trailer.

U.S. District Judge Jose Alejandro Gonzalez Jr., in ruling against the agency, said: “EEOC’s position that minorities should be held to lower standards is an insult to millions of honest Hispanics. Obviously a rule refusing honest employment to convicted applicants is going to have a disparate impact upon thieves.”

The EEOC ignored that judicial thrashing and pressed on. Last April, the agency unveiled its “Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions,” declaring that “criminal record exclusions have a disparate impact based on race and national origin.”

Though blacks make up only 13% of the U.S. population, more blacks were arrested nationwide for robbery, murder and manslaughter in 2009 than whites, according to the FBI. The imprisonment rate for black men “was nearly 7 times higher than White men and almost 3 times higher than Hispanic men,” notes the EEOC. These statistical disparities inspired the EEOC to rewrite the corporate hiring handbook to level the playing field between “protected groups” and the rest of the workforce.

The article goes on to document the insanity being imposed by the EEOC, including a suit it brought against G4S Secure Solutions “after the company refused to hire a twice-convicted Pennsylvania thief as a security guard.”

G4S provides guards for nuclear power plants, chemical plants, government buildings and other sensitive sites, and it is prohibited by state law from hiring people with felony convictions as security officers. But, as G4S counsel Julie Payne testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights this past December, the EEOC insists “that state and local laws are pre-empted by Title VII” and is pressuring the company “to defend the use of background checks in every hiring decision we have made over a period of decades.”

What’s next, should we hire the Muslim Brotherhood to guard our embassies, oh wait, we already did that.

Bastiat nailed it when he described these self-anointed elites:

To these intellectuals and writers, the relationship between persons and the legislator appears to be the same as the relationship between the clay and the potter.

(I don’t know about you, but I don’t much like being clay.)

But it’s even worse than that.  The EEOC and their ilk aren’t even elected. The all knowing guardians of the public weal are not to be dissuaded by common sense.  Bovard explains,

The EEOC is confident that its guidance will boost minority hiring, but studies published in the University of Chicago Legal Forum and the Journal of Law and Economics have found that businesses are much less likely to hire minority applicants when background checks are banned. As the majority of black and Hispanic job applicants have clean legal records, the new EEOC mandate may harm the very groups it purports to help.

Naturally, the EEOC will have no liability for any workplace trouble that results from its new hiring policy. But Americans can treat ex-offenders humanely without giving them legal advantages over similar individuals without criminal records. The EEOC’s new regulatory regime is likely to chill hiring across the board and decrease opportunities for minority applicants.

The law of unintended consequences, in action.


1 Joel { 02.19.13 at 6:57 am }

Wow!! Good stuff, to be sure.

The money line…

“But it’s easier to pass a law, be seen as “doing something,” than to acknowledge the underlying sickness of a society that has thrown self-discipline and morality to the wind.”


2 Jim at Asylum Watch { 02.19.13 at 8:01 am }

The equality of results will be achieved when society is reduced to its lowest common denominator.


Martin Reply:

Well said. I think we are racing to the bottom.


3 LD Jackson { 02.20.13 at 7:57 pm }

The law of unintended consequences is a law that will almost always sneak up and bite you hard, when you least expect it. Trouble is, I am afraid what we call unintended consequences from the actions of the liberals are not so unintended.


Martin Reply:

That is what scares me. One must draw one of two conclusions: Either they are that stupid, or they actually know what the results of their actions will lead to.

Neither is a particularly comforting conclusion.


4 Curtice Mang { 02.21.13 at 8:05 am }

Allow me to quote from my book:

It is more important to be earnest, to care, to “do something.” A typical liberal solution goes something like this:

a. A perceived problem is identified;
b. Pass legislation addressing the perceived problem;
c. New legislation either doesn’t solve perceived problem or creates new, unintended problem(s);
d. Repeat b & c.


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