The Law of Unintended Consequences

January 24, 2008 1:35 PM

Economist Alex Tabarrok writes, for the Marginal Revolution blog, to describe just what the law of unintended consequences entails:

"The law of unintended consequences is what happens when a simple system tries to regulate a complex system.   The political system is simple, it operates with limited information (rational ignorance), short time horizons, low feedback, and poor and misaligned incentives.  Society in contrast is a complex, evolving, high-feedback, incentive-driven system.  When a simple system tries to regulate a complex system you often get unintended consequences."

There are plenty of examples in his post - and throughout the British public services.  Understanding the law of unintended consequences is central to understanding why so many policies fail.  Our politicians need to understand it and, as Tabarrok suggests, be humble.

Economist Alex Tabarrok writes, for the Marginal Revolution blog, to describe just what the law of unintended consequences entails:

"The law of unintended consequences is what happens when a simple system tries to regulate a complex system.   The political system is simple, it operates with limited information (rational ignorance), short time horizons, low feedback, and poor and misaligned incentives.  Society in contrast is a complex, evolving, high-feedback, incentive-driven system.  When a simple system tries to regulate a complex system you often get unintended consequences."

There are plenty of examples in his post - and throughout the British public services.  Understanding the law of unintended consequences is central to understanding why so many policies fail.  Our politicians need to understand it and, as Tabarrok suggests, be humble.

Latest Blogs:

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Taxing holidays doesn't fly

12:01 AM 14, Aug 2017 Duncan Simpson

How to end the housing crisis

10:48 AM 11, Aug 2017 Rory Meakin

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Could the end be in sight for stamp duty?

2:23 PM 09, Aug 2017 Jan Zeber

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Stamp Duty Land Tax - What is it?

12:29 PM 09, Aug 2017 Rory Meakin

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Action on Sugar leave a bad taste in the mouth

11:15 AM 08, Aug 2017 Ben Ramanauskas

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

It's not more money that the NHS needs...

10:00 AM 04, Aug 2017 Ben Ramanauskas