By Buddy McDonald
Simply stated “unintended consequences” is a term used to describe results from actions which were not intended/foreseen by the persons that caused the original action.
This a serious problem in governments which are run from the national level down effecting many aspects of the lives of its citizens. Seeing this, our Constitution limited the powers of the national government, provided for citizens’ and states’ rights, stating “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”. You might not have heard of this because most media and many educators view the Federal government as supreme authority in all matters. Federal employees take the same position. The Civil War resulted in much more Federal control. The Federal Supreme Court also has expanded Federal power by interpretation of the Constitution.
Federal authorities control state and local government today through grants which they give to state and local governments. They say “Washington will give you money you want by grant but you must follow conditions we set out or no money.” This arrangement is wide spread in education, law enforcement and highway matters. Federal rules and mandates are how Feds obtain control over activities which normally they would have no control over. Mississippi receives $2.02 from the Feds for each $1.00 sent to Washington and our 2007 budget was composed of $8.4 billion from state-source funds, and $5.9 billion from federal funds. Over 40% of Mississippi’s budget that year came from the Federals, and of that over half came from taxpayers in other states.
What has this to do with “unintended consequences” you may ask? Well the problem is that Federal regulations and programs are formed at the Federal level often without state and local input by Federal appointees not elected but appointed sometimes based political philosophy only. They generally do not have extensive knowledge of the conditions in the states, people, local governments and cultures. What may work well in one state or local government may not work at all in other places. Therefore there are numerous and constant “unintended consequences” resulting from these “one size fit all” Federal programs. The programs mean well but result in “unintended consequences”.
The best example is the “Great Society” Programs of President Lyndon Johnson. Massive projects were paid to end poverty. Welfare payments and public housing projects were launched and Detroit was a focal point for the program, a showplace. Richard Ebling noted in a speech delivered at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of New York in 2011:
“And here …were a series of unintended consequences. These included the weakening and break-up of groups and families due to inter-generational dependency on government programs; the emergence of an “entitlement mentality” that taxpayer funded transfers from the government were as legitimate as a source of income as earning a living from a private-sector job; the entrapment of those on welfare in isolated, poorly-managed, and increasingly crime-infested public housing projects; and the deteriorating of educational standards in public schools, especially in inner city areas of the country.”
Read recent news articles about Detroit, which just filed for bankruptcy. Look at photos of Detroit which appears to have been ground zero in a war…it was, the “Great Society War On Poverty”. The city is an example of unintended consequences of Federal programs. While the damage to property can be calculated, total damage to the people of Detroit, especially poor and minorities can never be calculated. Now we see the “unintended consequences” of Obamacare in money and lost personal control over healthcare. The toll in lives is yet to be determined.
The way to avoid nationwide “unintended consequences” is to let states and local governments experiment with programs to the extent they feel are needed and appropriate. The ones that work can be adopted by other states but the entire nation is not harmed by the “unintended consequences” of a federal program mandated by the Federal government.