Law of Unintended Consequences

I’m interested in contributing to environmental sustainability and how a positive knock-on effect of action works against the negative of in-action and pessimism. The law of unintended consequences is a fascinating economic law with far reaching implications.

The concept of unintended consequences is one of the building blocks of economics. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” the most famous metaphor in social science, is an example of a positive unintended consequence. Smith maintained that each individual, seeking only his own gain, “is led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention,” that end being the public interest. “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, or the baker, that we expect our dinner,” Smith wrote, “but from regard to their own self interest.”

One Reply to “Law of Unintended Consequences”

  1. Boston’s Big Dig–the most expensive highway project ever completed in the U.S., which gave Boston “a gleaming new highway system that has made zipping beneath Boston and Boston Harbor much easier”–has had a very ironic and unintended consequence: more traffic.

    Big Dig, Boston

    This, of course, is on top of the other unintended consequences of the Big Dig (namely, charges of corruption, fraud, subpar construction, being massively over budget and over schedule, and “a ceiling collapse in the connector tunnel in July 2006 killed a motorist). Read on to find out why a $15 billion project designed to decrease traffic in Boston has had the opposite effect.

    According to the Boston Globe, while the Big Dig succeded in increasing “overall mobility by allowing more people to travel at peak times. . .most travelers who use the tunnels are still spending time in traffic jams – just not in the heart of the city, where bumper-to-bumper was a way of life on the old elevated artery.” In other words, whereas traffic jams were primarily a downtown phenomenon, “the bottlenecks [have been] pushed outward, as more drivers jockey for the limited space on the major commuting routes.”

    Original article on TreeHugger

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