Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Unintended Consequences Matter Too

Incentives matter, and unintended consequences matter too. Here's an excellent essay by Steven Horwitz on the subject. The following passage is particularly interesting (HT De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum):

The neglect of unintended consequences and the focus on motives lead us to celebrate the lives and mourn the deaths of politicians, although they may have caused undesirable unintended consequences, while inventors and businesspeople who benefit humanity while pursuing their own ends go unnoticed. As my matrix on the previous page suggests, we simply don’t have a moral category for people who unintentionally benefit others in pursuit of their self-interest. And we also highly overvalue intentions as a measure of moral worth, leading to praise for those whose “hearts were in the right place” even as they have caused incalculable damage to prosperity and freedom.

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