Government, Bloggers & Unintended Consequences

31 Jul

It is my contention that the “perceived” crack down on bloggers by the Government is going to result in some significant unintended consequences. I have posted in Mindacergas an article : Raja Petra, Malaysia Today, Bloggers, Sedition & Tipping Points which deals with unintended consequences.

Another example of Unintended Consequences is probably the NEP, but I will leave that for further study at another time.

History is littered with examples of unintended consequences and management, many a time have been caught completely blindsided by it. Which is why a thought process called the Hierarchy of Objectives is helpful in ferreting out these unintended consequences. Wikipedia gives a good analysis on the subject and I have just cut and pasted it here:


The Law of Unintended Consequences

The Law of Unintended Consequences has a feeble linguistic claim on the term “law“. It is hardly a scientific law; even Murphy’s law and natural law claim specific outcomes with some certainty. But this term persists as a solemn warning against certain disorder, that almost all human actions have at least one unintended consequence: “There shall be some unexpected result.” In other words, each cause has more than one effect, and will include unforeseen effects. Less of a law or rule itself, it is more a call to rulers and law makers to beware.


The idea dates to the Scottish Enlightenment and consequentialism, or judging by results. In the twentieth century, sociologist Robert K. Merton once again popularized the concept, sometimes referred to as the Law of Unforeseen Consequences. Merton (1936) spoke of the “unanticipated consequences” of “purposive social action”, emphasizing that his term “purposive action… [is exclusively] concerned with ‘conduct’ as distinct from ‘behavior.’ That is, with action that involves motives and consequently a choice between various alternatives” (p.895).


Possible causes of unintended consequences include the world’s inherent complexity (parts of a system responding to changes in the environment), perverse incentives, human stupidity, self-deception or other cognitive or emotional biases.

Robert K. Merton listed five causes of unanticipated consequences[1]:

  1. Ignorance (It is impossible to anticipate everything, thereby leading to incomplete analysis)
  2. Error (Incorrect analysis of the problem, or following habits that worked in the past but may not apply to the current situation)
  3. Immediate interest, which may override long-term interests
  4. Basic values may require or prohibit certain actions, even if the long-term result might be unfavorable (these long-term consequences may eventually cause changes in basic values)
  5. Self-defeating prophecy (Fear of some consequence drives people to find solutions before the problem occurs, thus the non-occurrence of the problem is unanticipated)

Merton is also said to have stated that “no blanket statement categorically affirming or denying the practical feasibility of all social planning is warranted.”


Of course, unintended consequences are common in everyday life, but many impact the greater society.

Examples of Unexpected Benefits:

  • The medieval policy of setting up large hunting reserves for the nobility has preserved green space, often as parks, throughout England and other places in Europe.
  • The wartime practice of sinking ships in shallow waters has created some artificial coral reefs.
  • Controversial research carried out by John J. Donohue and Steven Levitt and published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics suggests that legalized abortion in the United States has accounted for as much as 50% of the drop in national crime rates. As evidence, Donohue and Levitt cite the fact that states that legalized abortion before Roe v. Wade saw correspondingly earlier drops in crime, and that states where abortion is common saw greater drops in crime than states where abortion is rare. Most convincingly, they found that “in high abortion states, only arrests of those born after abortion legalization fall relative to low abortion states.”
  • Also controversially, it has been suggested that legalized abortion has led to fewer so-called ‘crack babies‘—children born with a drug dependency due to their mothers’ drug use while pregnant. The availability of legal abortion makes it more likely that a drug-addicted mother will abort a fetus rendered unhealthy by her drug use, even if this is not a primary reason for her choice to abort. (Note: the theory that fetuses exposed to crack cocaine would become people prone to violence, crime or addiction has been proven false. Crack babies perform as well as their age cohorts and show no additional tendency to violence, crime or addiction[citation needed]. However, babies with Fetal alcohol syndrome often show mental delays and secondary disabilities such as a tendency to mental health problems, school problems, trouble with the law, and chemical abuse.[2])
  • In medicine, most drugs have unintended consequences associated with their use, which are known as ‘side effects‘. Many are harmful and are more precisely called ‘adverse effects‘. However, some are beneficial—for instance, aspirin, a pain reliever, can also thin the blood and help to prevent heart attacks. The existence of beneficial side effects also leads to off label use—prescription or use of a drug for a non-intended purpose.

Examples of Perverse Results:

  • The Streisand Effect occurs when an attempt to censor or remove a certain piece of information (such as photograph, file or website) instead causes the information in question to become widely known and distributed in a very short time. The fact that a piece of information is being restricted assigns to it a previously nonexistent value in the eyes of the public.
  • The introduction of rabbits into Australia for sport led to an explosive growth in the rabbit population; rabbits became a major feral pest in Australia.
  • Some economists believe that minimum wage laws increase the unemployment rate among low wage workers.[3]
  • The stiffening of penalties for driving while intoxicated in the United States in the 1980s led, at first, to an increase in hit and run accidents, most of which were believed to have been drunken drivers trying to escape the law (Later, penalties for leaving the scene of an accident when driving while intoxicated were stiffened, as well).
  • Driven by concern for the increasing number of cyclists’ head injuries, the State of Victoria (Australia) legislated to make safety helmets mandatory for all bicycle riders in 1990. Whilst the expected significant reduction in the absolute number of head injuries was certainly observed, there was also a concomitant, entirely unexpected reduction in the number of juvenile cyclists. Research by Vulcan et al. found that the reduction in the number of juvenile cyclists was entirely due to the fact that wearing a bicycle helmet was not considered to be fashionable or “cool”.[citation needed]
  • Prohibition“, in the 1920s U.S., originally enacted to suppress the alcohol trade, drove many small-time alcohol suppliers out of business and consolidated the hold of large-scale organized crime over the illegal alcohol industry. When Prohibition was repealed, the brewing industry was then concentrated in a few major brewers, which were able to ride it out. Sixty years later, the “War on Drugs,” intended to suppress the illegal drug trade, likewise drove many small-time drug dealers out of business and consolidated the hold of organized drug cartels over the illegal drug industry. Additionally, it has led to the existence of street drugs of unknown strength and contamination; at least some drug-related (and particularly opiate-related) deaths are caused by accidental overdosing on drugs that a dealer neglected to dilute to the usual extent.
  • Attempts by governments to reduce rent by introducing rent control has led to the unintended consequence of housing shortages and reduction in housing quality, increased difficulty for less desirable renters to obtain or retain housing and even to the creation of slums—areas where rental property is allowed to run down until it becomes uninhabitable.
  • Controversially, it has been argued that stronger gun control has caused places such as Washington DC and New Jersey to experience unexpected increases in crime. One possible reason is that the enactment of gun control laws leave citizens vulnerable to criminals who do not respect the prohibitions on gun ownership, thereby making crime a much safer occupation. Conversely, places such as Switzerland and Vermont are cited as examples of places where weapons are common (and, importantly, equally distributed), yet the crime rates are extraordinarily low.
  • Another controversial position alleges that humanitarian aid to Third World nations increases rather than decreases third-world poverty. The logic behind this is that aid increases government power, destroys economic incentives, promotes unprofitable enterprises, and subsidizes misguided policies. [1]
  • The locking of aircraft cockpit doors to prevent disasters through acts of terrorism resulted in Helios Airways Flight 522 crashing due to the pilots’ loss of oxygen and the stewards’ inability to control the craft.
  • The United States’ invasion of Iraq, intended to bring US influence into the area, increased the strength of nominal adversaries such as Iran, e.g., by eliminating the government of an oft-warring neighbor, and increasing hostility towards US presence in the area.



Posted by on July 31, 2007 in Business, General


2 responses to “Government, Bloggers & Unintended Consequences

  1. Silhoute

    July 31, 2007 at 7:58 am

    Mr. Ashraf,
    Beside the NEP the use of Bahasa Malaysia as a medium of learning in Malaysia is another example of unintended consequences. After 50 yrs of independence they have come to realise that the command of English is essential in order to advance in this modern world. The late Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman was against the idea but he would dare to go against the flow of the tide lest he will be branded as unpatriotic. His stand on the issue was ‘Jangan perabih Bahasa inggeriss’ (Dont finish off English).
    TDM wanted to change things too but all he could do was a half measure with certain subjects be taught in English which broughtmore problem than solution.
    Now we have an UMNO Division in Perak asking the government to revert to English as a medium of instruction which is the sensible thing to do.
    So after 50 years, we will be celebrating or 50th year of independence being neither here nor there.

  2. Mr Bojangles

    July 31, 2007 at 11:52 am

    Increasing tax rates will result in a point when revenue will actually start to decline instead of increase indefinitely. Governments intending to (over)fill their coffers might do well to remember that above a certain average rate of tax, total tax revenue will fall – mainly due to evasion and disincentives to work.
    This Laffer curve concept named after American economist Arthur B Laffer, has a long history. Ibn Khaldun, a 14th century Muslim philosopher, wrote in his work The Muqaddimah: “It should be known that at the beginning of the dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty, taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments”. More eloquent language, but the description-and the economics-is the same.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: