Policy makers often refer to the potential of unintended consequences when debating new legislation or regulation. Politicians from all political parties seem to realise that whatever you do something will then happen that is unexpected.
If we start to think about policy through the prism of the unintended, then our recent political history makes a lot more sense. Someone comes up with a brilliant solution to a problem, a majority back it, it is enacted and a little later a new problem pops up because of the solution to the first problem. A new solution then needs to be developed to deal with this unintended consequence.
There are different ways to respond to this.
Governments could try and gather together the best brains in order to ensure that every possible outcome is worked out. Arguably, this approach is already being done and yet we still seem to be unable to avoid problems coming from solutions.
Another option is to accept that this is simply part of political life. There will always be unintended consequences so one might as well be stoical about it and just find a new solution.
One of the issues is that policy changes can impact on a lot of people. If that impact is negative it will take a lot of resource to solve the problem. Not only that, but ethically one might ask what right do policy makers have to affect people’s lives in this way?
There is another path to take. If you step back and let people work out the solutions by relying on the wisdom of the crowd, you are likely to arrive at solutions that everyone thinks are workable. This is because ways of doing things emerge through co-operation and experimentation. Another way to describe this is spontaneous order.
The other advantage is that when lots of people try different things and one experiment has negative effects it is not going to impact on everyone, just the ones who are engaged with that particular solution.
The great thing about this approach is that policy makers don’t need to rush off and come up with a framework that enables this activity. We already have one: the free market. And where we think the market isn’t appropriate we can always disperse power to people.