Topic Videos

Law of Unintended Consequences

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 7 Jan 2023

This short video looks at an aspect of government failure, namely that an intervention in the market is likely to have at least one unexpected / unintended consequence perhaps because of a failure to road test or trial a policy initiative.

Law of Unintended Consequences

The law of unintended consequences refers to the idea that actions or decisions can have unforeseen and unintended consequences, often in ways that are not immediately apparent. This can occur because complex systems often have multiple interconnected parts, and a change in one part of the system can have ripple effects that are difficult to predict.

For example, a policy change that is intended to achieve one specific goal may have unintended consequences that affect other parts of the system. These consequences can be either positive or negative, and they may not be directly related to the original goal of the policy.

Some examples of the law of unintended consequences include:

  1. The minimum wage: A policy to increase the minimum wage may be intended to help low-wage workers, but it could also lead to unintended consequences such as businesses reducing their workforce or raising prices to offset the higher labor costs.
  2. Prohibition: The prohibition of alcohol in the United States in the 1920s was intended to reduce crime and social problems, but it had many unintended consequences, including the growth of organized crime and an increase in the consumption of illegal and potentially dangerous alcoholic beverages.
  3. The introduction of non-native species: Introducing non-native species to an ecosystem can have unintended consequences, such as the displacement of native species or the destruction of natural habitats.
  4. Agricultural subsidies: Government subsidies for certain crops can have unintended consequences, such as distorting the market and leading to overproduction of the subsidized crops.

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