The Law of Unintended Consequences
America is currently in the midst of arguably one of the most contentious, polarizing and emotionally charged Presidential election seasons maybe in our history, or at least since Abraham Lincoln vs Stephen Douglas. The contentiousness of this season has been fueled by the emotional hatred for Trump vs the fear that many Americans have about the potential of a socialist transformation of American society. Compound that with the fact that there is a large portion of Americans who passionately believe that anyone who votes for Trump is automatically a racist, proving in their minds at least, that America is a “systemic racist country.” So the question that all believers should be asking in this emotionally charged season should be, what should we as believers in Christ, make of this situation? And how should we view this season from a biblical worldview perspective, particularly at the ballot box?
First of all, it is important to come to grips with the fact that, emotions, personalities, tradition, and our inherent personal biases are powerful motivators that drive human behavior and attitudes. And particularly, when it comes to issues pertaining to religion and politics, the motivating power of emotions, tradition and the love for our favorite personalities tend to factor heavily in most people’s decision making process and worldview. Unfortunately however, because emotions, traditions, and personal biases play such a significant part in the human condition, particularly when it comes to politics and religion, it tends to hinder one’s ability to exercise any form of critical thinking and biblical discernment. In addition, emotion, tradition, personality preferences and personal biases, more often than not, play a huge role in driving support for your preferred political party, various policy initiatives, along with advocacy of our preferred political candidate during election seasons, much more so than reason, discernment or critically thinking through the various specific issues.
This is demonstrated by the fact that, nearly half of voting Americans, without any discernment or critical thinking, are by default, locked into a voting mindset that is primarily motivated by emotion and tradition driven loyalty to their preferred political party, whether it is Democrat, Republican or other. This is further illustrated by the fact that every four years, particularly during Presidential voting season, you can drive around many neighborhoods around the country, and you will see signs advocating for their preferred presidential ticket. And that is not to mention, the plethora of social media posts that are either promoting one candidate, or demonizing the other. And around the country, in various communities and on social media, register to vote campaigns abound.
This year however, because of the compilation of issues that have converged on the country at the same time including, the personal and economic impact of a Covid-19 pandemic, the increasing racial tensions based on a number of highly publicized police shootings of African Americans, the increasing appeal of a socialist transformation of America, and topped off with the hatred that a large portion of Americans have for President Trump, have combined to make this one of the most combative and emotionally charged election seasons ever.
Just this morning for example, I woke up and checked my social media updates, and the very first post that I saw, was a political voting activism post that warned, that we need to “wake up, and make sure that you vote, because this election is a matter of life and death.” Then it ended with the #Biden/Harris. And throughout any given day, you will see dozens of similar social media warnings, memes, cartoons, YouTube videos and trending twitter posts from both sides of the political worldview isle.
However, an argument can be made for the fact that the absolute most critical aspect of any given Presidential election is often completely omitted and ignored from almost all of these political interactions. And that fundamental omission is the fact that, in the majority of these political promotions, whether it is a register to vote campaign, or a promotion of one parties ticket over the others, we are told WHO we should vote for, and WHO we should vote against.
However, what is rarely a part of most of these get out to vote promotional campaigns, is a voter education on specifically WHAT we should be voting for, or specifically WHAT we should be voting against. And WHY we should be voting for or against something or someone. So by simply admonishing people to register and vote because our “lives depend on it,” without a clear voter education of the INDIVIDUAL SPECIFIC ISSUES, and information regarding the inevitable subsequent positive and or negative impact of the numerous specific issues, that in one way or the other, whether directly or indirectly, impact all of us, can turn out to be a somewhat hollow exercise. Because legislative initiatives, whether it is for a given policy or against another, all have consequences that often have an impact long after the initiating Administration is out of office.
In other words, rather than the standard preoccupation with tradition and a personality driven approach to voting, there are specific questions that we should all be asking during every Presidential election such as, what impact has a given legislative or policy proposal or judicial ruling effected people in the past? Where else in the world or in history has an advocated policy initiative been in effect? What impact has that policy had on that particular country? What impact has similar legislation has had on America or other countries historically? What, if any, is the hidden or unspoken motivations for a particular legislative initiative? How specifically would a given policy proposal impact Americans as a whole? What will a socialist America look like, especially for the next generation? And what has been the long term economic consequences of past similar legislative initiatives? Are just a few of the questions that rarely get asked or addressed by most get out to vote advocates.
Specific issues such as, Education, taxation, Judicial appointments, healthcare, regulatory policies, immigration, trade policies, foreign policy, National defense, First and Second Amendment protections, Capitalism vs Socialism, racial issues, abortion, energy policies, the role of the Federal Government, and so on, are all examples of specific issues that every voter needs to be educated on. Because these, plus many other specific issues, all have a major impact, not only on each of us on a individual level, but also, legislation passed, or judicial rulings given, in any given year, and by any given Administration, often have not only immediate effects, but they more often than not, have generational impacts and implications.
Consider for example, the current NBA social justice campaign. The League is promoting the issue of social justice by having Black Lives Matter painted on the court, while many of the players at the same time, have social justice messages on the backs of their jerseys. One evening I was watching a game, and there was one player who had a message on the back of his jersey that especially caught my attention. The message was, “Education reform.” And because the idea of education reform just so happens to be one of my pet issues, that message jumped out at me.
Because, particularly in minority communities, poor education performances has been much more of a “systemic problem” than policy brutality for example. In fact, in a recent column by Economist Walter Williams titled, “The True Plight of Black Americans,” where he points out the poor education statistics of several of the larger cities in America. For example, Williams points out, “Democratic-controlled cities have the poorest-quality public education despite their large, and growing, school budgets. Consider Baltimore. In 2016, in 13 of Baltimore’s 39 high schools, not a single student scored proficient on the state’s math exam. In six other high schools, only 1% tested proficient in math. Only 15% of Baltimore students passed the state’s English test. That same year in Philadelphia, only 19% of eighth-graders scored proficient in math, and 16% were proficient in reading. In Detroit, only 4% of its eighth-graders scored proficient in math, and 7% were proficient in reading. It’s the same story of academic disaster in other cities run by Democrats.” 
So with the alarming negative education performances in communities all over the country, it has been my contention that “education reform” should be on or near the top of all of our our political atavism check lists. Furthermore, unlike when the many people with a secular worldview bring up the issue of reforming education, as believers, we should view the topic through a different lens. In other words, whenever the issue of reforming public education for example, is mentioned, we should be thinking much deeper and more critically into the topic than the average person. Because, when many people think about education reform, they simply conclude that reforming education means collecting more taxes and paying teachers more, or hiring more teachers.
But as believers, we should be thinking more critically about the subject by asking more critical and specific questions such as: Reform how? What will that reform look like? What would be some specifics, or how specifically should public education be reformed? Do we continue by reforming the current education system by allocating more money to the system as traditionally suggested? Why or why not? Do we take the control of public education away from the Federal Government and return it to the States or local communities by adopting a National School Choice Amendment, as many Conservatives have suggested? Again, why or why not? Do we consider some sort of compromised form of a School or parental choice policy? Has there been other education proposals in the past that have failed to make it to Congress for debate, that maybe need to be revisited? Are there models of education success stories around the country that maybe we can glean from? What education reform proposals are advocated by each party or candidate? What are the pros and cons of the various proposals? And what would be the long term consequences of the various proposals? In other words, simply saying education reform might be a good starting point, but to leave it there without asking and getting specific answers to these types of specific critical questions, is actually self defeating.
This level of critical and discerning analysis can be applied to a wide range of issues, that traditionally only get “surface attention” from the media and political candidates. Which means that it is incumbent upon the voter to do our due diligence prior to entering the voting booth. To be more specific, it should be incumbent upon all believers that when it comes to our responsibilities in the arena of exercising our right to vote, that we should learn to detach ourselves from our feelings, emotions, traditions, personalities and our preoccupations with our personal dogmas. Because the harsh reality is that regardless of our worldview and regardless of our personal biases, we are still yet inflicted with the Adamic sin nature. And because of our inherent sin nature, we need to have our minds renewed with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so that we can be led by His Spirit as opposed to being led by our feelings, emotions, traditions and personal biases.
And it is vitally important that as believers that we understand this concept. Because it is a fact that, people who are driven by emotion, tradition and personalities, and their own personal biases, particularly when it comes to politics and voting, rarely allow themselves to critically think through the issues, or ask critical questions such as, “what are the long term consequences” of the given issue or issues, or policy initiative being debated or advocated for. What’s even worse, particularly when it comes to politics and voting, most people whose worldview is driven by emotion and personality preferences, or party loyalties, tend to be completely oblivious to the particulars of the many separate issues that impact us, (like the education reform example that I cited above) or what the long term consequences of the passing of various legislation can have on the economy, on job creating, on education, on religious freedom, on family, and on the next generation in general.
For example, one of the more alarming political trends in America today, is this fascination of and gravitation towards ideas of socialism. And often without realizing it, when many people hear the word “free,” or phrases like, “income inequality” or “universal income,” they tend to allow those well sounding words and phrases to appeal to their Adamic nature and shut down all critical thinking to the point where they never so much as ask themselves basic questions like, how are we going to pay for all of this free stuff? Or, if we penalized all of the job creators (aka, the millionaires and billionaires), then where will the jobs come from? Or, what will be the impact of increasing taxes on the job creators on the overall economy and particularly the employment rate. And if there is a drastic increase in unemployment, then where is the Federal revenue going to come from in order to pay for all of the free stuff? Or, if we allow open borders, then who will those foreign workers going to displace in the unskilled job market? Which demographic or demographics will be the most adversely affected? Or, if you “defund the police,” how will citizens be protected, especially in traditionally high crime areas?
And it has been for these and other reasons, that for years, when it comes to the topic of religion and politics, I have been beating the drums for believers in particular, to first of all, when it comes to political advocacy, that we employ the same principles to politics as we should all be applying to biblical study, which is that we should all strive to, “be a Berean” which is a reference to Acts 17:11 which commends the believers in Berea, calling them “more noble than the believers in Thessalonica, because the searched the scriptures daily to see whether or not the things that Paul was teaching was true or not.”
In other words, the believers in Berea did not simply emotionally except everything that Paul said at face value because he was such a gifted orator. Instead, they took what Paul said, and then went home daily and “searched the scriptures” for themselves, in order to confirm for themselves, whether or not the things that Paul was teaching was true or not true. Which again, was a characteristic that Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, describes as “more noble.”
And it is this “Berean principle,” that should be the model that we also employ when it comes to how we approach our political worldviews. We should never simply take at face value, the words of the particular candidates, or advertisements or even the words of our local political leaders and advocates, without taking the time and effort to become informed voters by investigating the specific issues and their subsequent impact for ourselves.
This “Berean principle,” is actually more critical today than in any previous era, because in America today, especially when it comes to the area of politics, and particularly during this modern, incredibly polarized political environment, emotions are running roughshod over virtually every aspect of our modern political debate, while critical thinking and analysis has become extremely scarce. The concept of actually rewiring your brain (or renewing your minds) by decreasing your emotions and increasing reason and critically thinking though the many political issues, and considering the pros and cons on the long term consequences of the different sides of each issue, seems to be a concept that is anathema to most people who are driven by their emotions, or traditions and loyalties to their preferred political party.
It is for this reason, that I have been promoting the idea that when it comes to areas of biblical interpretation and politics, that we should “take the emotions out of it,” and learn to be Bereans. In other words, when it comes to politics for example, regardless of what you think about America, we have been given an opportunity that very few civilizations in history has had. We live in a “representative republic.” Which means that we have the opportunity to elect our representatives, or those who will supposedly, represent the interests of our local communities, our religious convictions, our families, our States and our Nation. And if those whom we have elected to represent our interests, fail to live up to what we have elected them to do, we have a system in which we can fire them at the ballot box, and hire different representatives.
However, because of the overly partisan and emotion driven nature of many voters, and the unashamed liberally biased nature of the media and pop culture, the idea of removing the emotions from our political engagement and critically thinking through the specific issues on the merits and pros and cons of the individual issues themselves, is a concept that is almost nonexistent.
In other words, rarely do you hear people who are emotion, tradition, or personality driven, ask basic questions such as, what are the long-term effects of any particular policy initiatives? Or, what if any, are the “unintended consequences” of a particular policy worldview? This is particularly disconcerting when you consider the fact that we now have nearly sixty-years of documented data on the the effects and impact of pass legislation and judicial rulings. Legislation and judicial rulings that occurred in the sixties, such as Roe V Wade, the Great Society, and removing prayer from schools, now have a generation worth of impact data that voters today, especially believers, should be understanding and gleaning from.
The Law of Unintended Consequences Defined
Generally speaking, the law of unintended consequences is a frequently-observed phenomenon in which any action has results that are not part of the actor’s purpose. The superfluous consequences may or may not be foreseeable or even immediately observable and they may be beneficial, harmful or neutral in their impact. In the best-case scenario, an action produces both the desired results and unplanned benefits; in the worst-case scenario, however, the desired results fail to materialize and there are negative consequences that make the original problem worse.
More specifically, the law of unintended consequences, is that actions of people and especially of governments, always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it. In the social sciences, unintended consequences (sometimes unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences) are outcomes that are not the ones foreseen or intended by a purposeful action. The term was popularized in the twentieth century by American sociologist Robert K. Merton.
Unintended consequences can be grouped into three types:
- Unexpected benefit: A positive, unexpected benefit (also referred to as luck, serendipity, or a windfall).
- Unexpected drawback: A negative, unexpected detriment occurring in addition to the desired effect of the policy (e.g., while irrigation schemes provide people with water for agriculture, they can increase waterborne diseases that have devastating health effects, such as schistosomiasis).
- Perverse result: A perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended (when an intended solution makes a problem worse). This is sometimes referred to as ‘backfire’.
Particularly in the case of Government legislation or Judicial rulings, these unanticipated or unintended results of various pieces of legislation and Court rulings, have had devastating effects that are still being felt decades and even generations later. In other words, well intentioned legislation, more often than not, acts against the interests of those it is intended to serve. And many of these proceedings have become a part of the American social fabric, right under the noses of the Church.
And with that, as I have alluding to earlier, it is this overly emotion, tradition and personality driven culture, particularly by God’s people, that has led to this complete lack of discernment and critically thinking about the consequences of our political engagement. Furthermore, it is this lack of discernment that has led to arguably the most alarming and under the radar societal and cultural issue of our time, which is the fact that secularism, or the worldviews of the world, has now supplanted the biblical principles and values, as the more impactful and influential force for change in America.
There are many reasons why this has occurred that we can point to. However, regardless of the reason or reasons for this reversal of roles between Christianity being the dominant influencing and impacting force in the culture, to the point where we are now, in which the secular culture is now exuding more influence and impact in the culture than the Church; the result has been that, not only do we have a culture that is burning down all around us, but the minds of an entire generation of young adults have become influenced by a satanic ideologies and worldviews, to the point that they have become completely desensitized to the demonic nature of the worldviews that they have accepted.
Additionally, our general lack of Christian engagement, combined with a complete lack of understanding of the long term impact of the various specific issues that have been a part of our political landscape for decades, has led to legislative and judicial decisions that has had far reaching negative and even a “generational impact” on today’s American culture. And because we have been so either, preoccupied with other issues, such as the Civil Rights movement of the sixties, (which was completely legitimate by the way) or the modern racial issues that has resulted from the killing of African Americans by white police officers, we have not been informed or attentive to a plethora of “other issues” that has had a deleterious impact on our culture today. In other words, there has been a number passed legislation and judicial rulings that was passed into law decades ago, but yet we are feeling the negative effects or the “unintended consequences” today.
The list of examples are endless, but just to give a few, consider the following instances: The U.S. Supreme Court banned school-sponsored prayer in public schools in a 1962 decision, saying that it violated the First Amendment. That was 58 years ago, yet 58 years later, we are seeing the impact that SAYING NO TO GOD has had on the American school systems.
Consider also, that on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 5–4 decision that the Fourteenth Amendment requires all states to grant same-sex marriages and recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states. The results of this ruling, combined with the Courts making God unconstitutional in public schools, has opened up the flood gates for a level of debauchery that 50 years ago, would have been unimaginable.
Or how about President Johnson’s 1964 Great Society Legislation? The Great Society legislation was an ambitious series of policy initiatives, legislation and programs spearheaded by President Lyndon B. Johnson with the main goals of ending poverty, reducing crime, abolishing inequality and improving the environment. In May 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson laid out his agenda for a “Great Society” during a speech at the University of Michigan. With his eye on re-election that year, Johnson set in motion his Great Society, the largest social reform plan in modern history.
Many economists and in the social sciences argue that the “Great Society,” which was also billed as the “war on poverty,” was the worse thing that has ever happened to the African American family structure. In Fact, in the 1988 State of the Union Address, President Ronald Reagan famously said, “We waged a war on poverty and poverty won.” Consider for example, the following brief exert from an article by Walter Williams, Professor of Economics at George Mason University, in an article titled, “The Welfare States Legacy:” The No. 1 problem among blacks is the effects stemming from a very weak family structure. Children from fatherless homes are likelier to drop out of high school, die by suicide, have behavioral disorders, join gangs, commit crimes and end up in prison. They are also likelier to live in poverty-stricken households. But is the weak black family a legacy of slavery? In 1960, just 22 percent of black children were raised in single-parent families. Fifty years later, more than 70 percent of black children were raised in single-parent families. Here’s my question: Was the increase in single-parent black families after 1960 a legacy of slavery, or might it be a legacy of the welfare state ushered in by the War on Poverty?
According to the 1938 Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, that year 11 percent of black children were born to unwed mothers. Today about 75 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers. Is that supposed to be a delayed response to the legacy of slavery? The bottom line is that the black family was stronger the first 100 years after slavery than during what will be the second 100 years. At one time, almost all black families were poor, regardless of whether one or both parents were present. Today roughly 30 percent of blacks are poor. However, two-parent black families are rarely poor. Only 8 percent of black married-couple families live in poverty. Among black families in which both the husband and wife work full time, the poverty rate is under 5 percent. Poverty in black families headed by single women is 37 percent. The undeniable truth is that neither slavery nor Jim Crow nor the harshest racism has decimated the black family the way the welfare state has. 
Many also argue, that the negative impact of the welfare state, resulted from the the “unintended consequence” of the government stepping in and disincentivizing fatherhood, by rewarding mothers who have children out of wedlock with money, food and free housing, while at the same time, penalizing them if they got married. Effectively punishing or disincentivizing the promotion of healthy family units, which is the foundation of any healthy community and society. And particularly hard hit in this breakdown of the traditional family, were African American households who lived in the inner cities.
Then of course, there was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which was a three-country accord negotiated by the governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States that entered into force in January 1994. NAFTA eliminated most tariffs on products traded between the three countries, with a major focus on liberalizing trade in agriculture, textiles, and automobile manufacturing. The deal also sought to protect intellectual property, establish dispute resolution mechanisms, and, through side agreements, implement labor and environmental safeguards.
NAFTA fundamentally reshaped North American economic relations, driving unprecedented integration between the developed economies of Canada and the United States and Mexico’s developing one. In the United States, NAFTA originally enjoyed bipartisan backing; it was negotiated by Republican President George H.W. Bush, passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress, and was implemented under Democratic President Bill Clinton. Regional trade tripled under the agreement, and cross-border investment among the three countries also grew significantly.
How did NAFTA fit into the broader debate over trade policy?
When negotiations for NAFTA began in 1991, the goal for all three countries was the integration of Mexico with the developed, high-wage economies of the United States and Canada. The hope was that freer trade would bring stronger and steadier economic growth to Mexico, by providing new jobs and opportunities for its growing workforce and discouraging illegal migration. For the United States and Canada, Mexico was seen both as a promising market for exports and as a lower-cost investment location that could enhance the competitiveness of U.S. and Canadian companies. NAFTA supporters estimate that some fourteen million U.S. jobs rely on trade with Canada or Mexico, and that the nearly two hundred thousand export-related jobs created annually by the pact pay 15 to 20 percent more on average than the jobs that were lost.
On the other hand, critics of the deal argue that it was to blame for job losses and wage stagnation in the United States, driven by low-wage competition, companies moving production to Mexico to lower costs, and a widening trade deficit. The Center for Economic and Policy Research’s (CEPR) Dean Baker and the Economic Policy Institute’s Robert Scott argue that the surge of imports after NAFTA caused a loss of up to six hundred thousand U.S. jobs over two decades.
Many workers and labor leaders blame trade agreements such as NAFTA for the decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs. The U.S. auto sector lost some 350,000 jobs since 1994—a third of the industry, while Mexican auto sector employment spiked from 120,000 to 550,000 workers.  In addition, there is probably no way to add up the total cost in the impact on the lives of those impacted by the job losses. The divorces, the suicides, drug and alcohol abuse, the impact on families, the mortgage defaults, the closing of secondary businesses like, dry cleaners, the corner pizza shop, the corner restaurants, diners, car dealerships, suppliers, truckers, and so on.
But there is even a more devastating unintended consequence of NAFTA, which was the impact that it had on the exporting of Drugs into the US. The North American Free Trade Agreement boosted trade across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. But it also helped fuel the modern drug trade. NAFTA phased out tariffs across North America, making it easier for freight trucks to cross the border. Between 1994 and 2001, the number of trucks crossing into the U.S. from Mexico nearly doubled to roughly 4.3 million per year. U.S. border officials only inspected about 10 percent of these trucks, leaving a big opening for drug traffickers.
A decade after NAFTA, 90 percent of Colombian cocaine was smuggled through the southwest border. Mexico, which had always been the Walmart of marijuana and heroin, quickly became, as the Wall Street Journal put it, the FedEx of the cocaine business. Economists disagree about NAFTA’s ultimate impact on the North American economy. And the future of the trade pact will be up for debate in 2019 when Congress decides whether to ratify its replacement, the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, or USMCA. But what’s indisputable is NAFTA’s impact on the global drug trade and on the massive wealth and power accumulated by Mexican cartels and kingpins, like Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. 
These are just a small sampling of the unlimited number of examples that I could point to, that has be passed over the years by both of the major political parties, that has had or will have long term consequences that will exist long after the Administration responsible is long out of office. Examples such as, the invasion of Iraq, the economic impact of the Affordable Care Act, Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, and the Supreme Courts controversial gay marriage ruling are just a few of the unlimited number of examples, of legislation and court rulings that have consequences that have extended long after the responsible Administration is long out of office.
Finally, as I have been attempting to point out, there have been many past pieces of legislation and judicial rulings that have had dire unintended consequences that are still being felt generations later. In reality however, the list of examples of the unintended consequences of past legislation and judicial rulings is literally endless. And that does not even include the many modern issues that are being hotly debated and is causing so much societal and cultural angst. And as I mentioned earlier, issues pertaining to education, foreign policy, taxation, energy production, First and Second Amendment rights, regulatory policy, healthcare policies, trade policies, National security issues, and abortion all have a wide array of potential, as well as, actual or historical consequences that are associated with them. And as we have seen, many of these consequences have had generational adverse consequences. Consequences, many of which, could have been avoided or altered, if God’s people were actively engaged, spiritually discerning and critically thinking voters.
Therefore, as good stewards of our right to vote, it should be incumbent upon every believer in Christ, regardless of your past political persuasion, to think and discern outside of your emotions, and apart from your favorite personality or political party, and critically examine the consequences of the vast array of issues, individually or issue by issue by issue. Because at the end of the day, personalities come and go, and every 4 to 8 years, political power among the parties often change hands from Republicans to Democrats and back to Republicans. However, the impact or the consequences of the legislation that they pass or the judicial rulings from the Justices that they appoint, lasts for generations.
- The True Plight of Black Americans, by Walter Williams, The Daily Home, June 10, 2020
- The Welfare States Legacy, by Walter Williams, September 20, 2017, www.creators.com
- How NAFTA Helped Create the Modern Drug Trade, By Joe Tone January 4, 2019, 10:46am.
- NAFTA and the USMCA: Weighing the Impact of North American Trade, Backgrounder by Andrew Chatzky, James McBride, and Mohammed Aly Sergie, Last updated July 1, 2020