Unintended Consequences: They’re Worse Than You Think

If we are blinded to the wrong patterns, millions die. This is what happens with communism: try it and you get famine and tyranny. Unfortunately the idea sounds so nice that people keep trying – with predictable results. My lesson here is not “Communism is bad” but a more general one: There are ideas out there that sound good yet fail horribly when acted on – and we don’t always know which they are. Communism is the perfect example of a convincing bad idea that we know is bad. Often we don’t.

Most flawed ideas don’t have such obvious failure modes. For example, I think decline in Christianity has enabled the undermining of marriage that contributes to divorce and single parenthood – both of which are bad for children and society. The evidence is far less clear so it’s easy enough to disagree. That’s the point: we eventually get wise to obvious failures but subtle ones can linger for a long time.

We don’t know – can’t know – the full implications of our choices. Sometimes it’s just plain unpredictable: luck or accident. Other times it just seems so: it’s easy to assume that we had the right idea but got unlucky. Just ask the people who think real communism has never been tried. It’s up to us to pay attention and hold our ideas responsible. Look at the results, even if you don’t like them. Better yet, learn from the past.

This is where tradition comes in.

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