Unintended Consequences

Dr. Malcolm Cross

One of the most useful, and most widely ignored, warnings thoughtful conservatives offer today is the warning against the unintended consequences of certain public policies:  Policymakers may, with the best intentions, seek to implement policies without considering the potential harm their policies may well cause.  It’s a warning all too often ignored by policymakers in both parties.  Consider:

As noted in previous columns, several states have passed, or are considering, draconian legislation to prohibit abortion in almost all cases, including instances where women and children have been raped.  The apparent purpose is to provoke the Supreme Court into overturning Roe v. Wade.  But one unintended consequence may be to reduce support for the pro-life movement.  For example, in recent political history, anti-abortion extremists running as Republicans in normally red states have lost bids for the U. S. Senate, thereby inflating the Senate Democratic membership.  Evidently their views repelled even many otherwise pro-life supporters, who oppose abortion following consensual sex, yet see the justice in making abortion available when women and girls were obviously forced to become pregnant against their will.

Another  consequence perhaps unforeseen by the promoters of anti-abortion legislation has been the growing movement among Hollywood liberals to cease production of movies and television shows in Georgia and other states with these anti-abortion laws.  Hollywood liberals, for all their prattle about social justice, normally like producing their shows in states where the minimum wage is lower, labor is cheaper, and work rules are less stringent.  To withdraw from and boycott the South will cost thousands of jobs, creating more unemployment and thereby punishing those who can least afford the loss of jobs and incomes (so much for social justice).  Little wonder that Stacey Abrams, the Democrats’ 2018 nominee for Governor of Georgia, whose frequently talked about as a possible running mate for Joe Biden, and is one of the brightest and rising stars in the Democratic Party today is assembling a movement to stop the boycotts, notwithstanding her own pro-choice orientation.

And the Hollywood liberal themselves may have to suffer the consequences of their boycott.  They may have to face higher production costs, or move their production operations to overseas sites, possibly in countries where abortion is even more limited, thereby exposing themselves to extreme hypocrisy on social justice issues (Disney filmed its recent live-action version of Aladdin in Jordan, where abortion is even more prohibited than it will be in Georgia). 

Another example:  Protective tariffs, the favorite weapon in President Trump’s economic warfare arsenal.  A major story last week was his threat to raise tariffs on Mexican imports to the United States, thereby raising their prices and discouraging their purchase by American consumers, should Mexico fail to promise to help limit illegal immigration more than it’s been doing.  News stories over the weekend indicate (as of this writing) that Mexico will try to work harder with the United States to reduce illegal immigration, thereby staving off punitive tariffs—for the time being.  

This is good news for both Mexico and the United States, because of the unintended, and perpetually misunderstood, impact of tariffs.  Tariffs are in essence sales taxes which must be paid by those who purchase the imports on which tariffs were placed.  Tariffs therefore increase the cost of imports, and discourage the purchase of imports or American-made products which include foreign materials.  For example, American cars are frequently assembled with parts made in Mexico; a tariff on Mexican parts would increase the cost of American cars and thereby discourage their purchase.  Not only the Mexican economy, but the American automobile industry, would be hurt.  Worse yet, a depressed Mexican economy would encourage more illegal immigration from south of the border.  

We’ve currently dodged a bullet with Mexico’s acquiescence to President Trump’s demands; the next time we may not be so lucky.  The imposition of tariffs by the United States on foreign countries could not only increase prices for American consumers, but also trigger retaliation from the countries on whose imports the tariffs are being placed.  They could reduce the importation of American goods, thereby inflicting additional harm on American businesses.

All policies have costs and benefits.  Sometimes the worst costs are the consequences which nobody thinks through before policy implementation.  More thought from both Democrats and Republicans would be welcomed, especially in this presidential campaign season wherein we will be flooded by numerous policy proposals from hundreds of candidates running for office at all levels of government.  After all, whether the implementation of a particular policy will achieve the goals for which it was designed, it will almost inevitably achieve outcomes nobody thought through, at least according to conservatives.


Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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