One of the undeniable facts of history is that sometimes the most logical actions on the part of individuals and governments have unintended consequences.
Recent headlines in the newspapers of the country highlight major changes that will affect our society. A 2010 Supreme Court decision allowed corporations to put as much money into elections as they desire. A more recent decision legalized gay marriage all across the country.
Growing and using Marijuana has become legal in many places in the country. Women are preparing to fight on the front lines along side of men in future wars. Transgender issues have been in the news with new laws having passed in North Carolina and Mississippi. All of these actions are major and leave us wondering whether or not there will be major unintended consequences down the line.
The best predictor of the future is still our history. Thus, we should learn from what has occurred from actions in the past, even those taken with the best of intentions.
In the 1920s the prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages was an effort to prevent the negative effects of alcoholism on our citizens. It may have succeeded to a point but it also facilitated the development of organized crime in our country. To refresh your memory of that time in our history dial up the movies, “The Godfather” and “Good Fellows,” for late night viewing. President Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs had the best of intentions but it also gave rise to the creation of the drug cartels which we continue to battle every day.
Bringing the troops home from Viet Nam in the early 1970s was a campaign promise of President Nixon. Bringing them home from Afghanistan and Iraq four decades later was a campaign promise of President Barack Obama. Both were actions favored by the American people. Withdrawal from Viet Nam triggered a major human tragedy in loss of life when the Communists took over that country. The more recent withdrawal of troops from the mid-east has given us ISIS and the development of a greater and more violent form of terrorism.
The automobile is a great boon to society and to our economy but gasoline fumes pollute the environment. Smokestacks were a good idea to take industrial pollution away from populated areas but we have learned that they contribute to acid rain that has had a detrimental effect on our green areas such as The Great Smoky Mountains. Industries that have shaped our prosperity pollute our waterways. Atomic power, which provides us with 17 percent of our electricity, gives us the unintended consequence of nuclear waste storage and radiation that can devastate any area where it isn’t strictly controlled.
In short, there are few actions that cannot generate unintended consequences. The list of those consequences experienced as a result of our lifestyle, our economy, and actions taken by our government are legion. The one inescapable fact is that whatever actions our government decides to take and whatever actions we decide to take personally, the possibility of unintended consequences must to be taken into consideration. Planning for the unintended aspects of our actions has been a much under-utilized part of the planning process in our history. Surely we could do better.
— Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. You will find Hopkins’ latest book, “Journey to Gettysburg,” on Amazon.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.