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April 12, 2017

Unintended Consequences-An Amusing Digression

This past weekend, I jumped into a Twitter conversation on the idea of limiting the franchise (restricting the vote to just certain people). Now let me say from the start that the idea of taking away the vote from people that already have it is neither possible (absent imposing a totalitarian system) nor moral, but if one was starting a colony on Mars an argument could be made for it. That was the argument going on. Certainly the Founding Fathers had no problem with the concept, they did limit the franchise, which is where the conversation had started before I joined.

I opined that the qualification the Founders used, landowners (stripping away the racist and sexist 18th century mores that were part of the unamended Constitution and replacing them with a more appropriate 21st century version), would not be a good modern choice.

Me-""Taxpayer" might be a modern equivalent, but the inevitable result of that would be darkly hilarious"

They wanted to know what I meant, understandably, because "taxpayer" is one of the common qualifications offered in limited franchise proposals.

Me-"If only taxpayers could vote, they would inevitably vote for people who promised to eliminate taxes, and thereby disenfranchise themselves".

Some of them thought that that was silly, and too clever by half. I continued:

"Human nature argues that I'm right. It might take a while, but it would happen. And, to continue into the absurd, pols would be incentivized to do it. Eliminating taxes and hence eliminating voters removes the mechanism by which pols could be removed from power".

We had a little more back and forth, but ultimately it was decided that I wasn't too clever by half, I was exactly the right amount of clever.

Look, as I said, the argument I was making was was absurd (Maybe. Lots of absurd things have happened in history). And yes, I was using a bit of reductio ad absurdum to make a point. But the problem of unintended consequences is a much bigger and more pressing one, especially when talking about the government doing something. By definition, you can never anticipate every unintended consequence. These days, however, there is ever and always a push for the government to "do something", without, it seems, even a cursory thought towards, not unintended consequences, but any consequences, even those that a 4 year old could see were inevitable. The only solution is another thing that the Founding Fathers tried to do, and that is to strictly define exactly what it is that the government can and can't do.

We're so far beyond that however*, that we can't even see it from where we are. Guess what? We're choking on unintended consequences. Aye, it's a rum old world, ain't it?

*Funny story. This past weekend I was taking continuing education courses to maintain my professional license. One of the answers to a test question in the section on law was something along the lines of "The Constitution strictly limits what powers are available to the federal government, and it may not act outside of those limited boundaries". It was the right answer (more than that, it was the RIGHT answer), but I chuckled sadly as I selected it. If only it were true!

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posted by WeirdDave at 11:32 AM

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