The consequences of trying to solve a problem

by Chris Markham. 0 Comments

Picture this, if you will. Our country has a very serious problem that transcends geography, age, gender and social class. Ironically, there are some classes of people that aren’t touched by this particular problem, and those same people are among those that push the hardest (and give the most money) to ensuring the problem is solved.

Proponents of solving the idea come up with a program, and give it a catchy title. These people craft the issue’s message in such a way that the vast majority of Americans (who knew there was a problem to begin with) have no choice but to support the resolution of the issue. To not support it paints those opponents as terrible Americans and even worse human beings.

Over the next few years, campaigning for a new law takes place. Political and social critics of the measure are, at best, shouted down; at worst, they are painted as racists, hypocrites and evil. Some aren’t re-elected to their offices, and still others experience damage to their reputations and, sometimes, their businesses and jobs.

Finally, the government, worn down from the cries from supporters (and more than a little worried about their political futures) hastily cobble together a piece of legislation that, if passed, may go a long way to fixing the issue. The bill is thrown together, debated and voted on in record time. No one knows what’s in the bill (most don’t even have a rudimentary understanding of what the document does), but, even so, the president, with much fanfare and whoo haa, signs the bill into law.

When the time comes for implementation, legislators and the general public alike are shocked to see what’s in the fine print. “If I knew the law was going to do THAT, I never would have supported/given money toward/voted for the thing” more than one person is heard exclaiming. The government agencies assigned to put the program in motion find themselves horribly understaffed, and short of money to do everything that is expected.

People begin to feel as though the law, which is nice enough, and needed, and etc., etc., etc., doesn’t really apply to them. It applies to other people – the people with problems, the people that don’t have money, the people who really wanted this law. Legislators, sensing an out, begin to rebel against the measure, threatening to shut the government down, or, better yet, withhold the funding vital to the success of the program.

Businesses begin to see the writing on the wall. As a result of the law, some will be economically crippled; others will cease to exist. Employees are either laid off, or, in the best case scenario, they’re told their hours have to be cut back to part-time. Entire commercial segments of industry are wiped out overnight, and the stock market, which rallied slightly upon the news of the new law, begins a steep decline.

Criminals also take advantage of the law, its loopholes and a public that wants what it cannot have. Murders, violent crimes and mob presence all increase dramatically, and the public begins to wonder if they’ll survive.

The executive branch, intrinsically wed to the measure, begins a battle of the minds and hearts of the population. In some instances, it attempts to allay the fears of the general public by saying that the changes won’t be as broad; that life will go on; that most of the general public won’t even know the new law is in place.

Once it does take over, oh, boy. The government agencies in charge (the ones with not enough people or cash) scramble. It constructs Potemkin villages to ensure the citizenry is reassured that the program is up and running. It tries to soothe fears of further unemployment by dealing in questionable investment strategies. It also begins a subtle, yet effective campaign of fear – if the program doesn’t survive, or one doesn’t do their part, grave danger could befall everyone.

The program limps along for a number of years until the politicians that ensured its passage die out or are replaced. The general public begins to realize that, even though the program and the manufactured need for same wasn’t as dire as originally stated. And even though there is an issue, solving it simply isn’t worth the inherent trade offs. The newly elected officials band together and repeal the program.

Sound scary? It is. By the way, this isn’t about Obamacare – it’s about the Volstead Act – the legislation that made Prohibition the law of the land.


Christopher Markham writes a regular column for

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