Most of our laws are man-made, and this is why we humans have such a massive problem complying with them. The one law that will catch us all is the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Some fantastic examples of this law in action include the introduction of the cane toad into Australia to control cane pests only for the toads to become far bigger pests in their own right. Or the decision by Barbara Streisand to sue pictopia.com for posting a photograph of her home online; before the lawsuit began, only six people had downloaded it of which two were by her lawyers, by time she won her case 420 000 people had downloaded it.
Although there have been some positive cases of this law including sunken ships becoming artificial coral reefs and the sectioning off of huge tracts of land so that the nobility could hunt in peace becoming the green lungs of most European cities, the Law of Unintended Consequences usually carry a heavy penalty.
Where the Law of Unintended Consequences gets nasty has been in the realms of politics, economics and social issues.
It must have seemed like a good idea to the victors of World War One to severely punish Germany and push for maximum war reparations, but all this did was to create greater animosity amongst the German population, especially with one really angry WW1 corporal, and this lead directly to the Second World War with death and destruction on all sides on an industrial scale.
Economics often falls foul of the Law of Unintended Consequences. The global economy still reels from the effects of the sub-prime crisis. This crisis started with the best intentions; the US government insisted that banks should make it easier for poorer people to buy their own homes and the easiest way to do this was to lower interest rates and to loosen up the loan requirements. This lead to some really bad lending practices and a domino effect as people who would never ordinarily qualify for a loan started defaulting. Six years later, we still feel the effects.
You can easily apply the same sub-prime template for the unsecured loan crisis which is gripping South Africa and led directly to the failures of African Bank, Bridge Capital as well as the Marikana massacre. The government thought that they were being very clever by passing the National Credit Act, but hiding inside was the formalising of the heinous practice of micro-lending and garnishee orders. People got in over their heads, banks couldn’t collect money from people who had none left and workers demanded higher salaries because a huge chunk was missing.
It is, however, the effects of the Law of Unintended Consequences on social issues which are usually the most severe. Oddly enough, these are the most difficult to discuss without seeming like an uncaring brute.
When Bob Geldoff saw a BBC documentary about a famine in Ethiopia, he called up his musician friends and Band-Aid and Live-Aid were born. This lead to Ethiopia becoming the 1980s social issue de jeur and millions of dollars of Western aid and food flooded into the rain starved country. In 1984 Ethiopia had a population of less than 35 million people; thirty years later the population is 90 million and the land and economy cannot support them. The next tragedy is inevitable.
South Africa is reaping the effect of our own attempts at social engineering. By passing our BEE and Affirmative Action legislation, the effects are unintended but predictable. Qualified “non-whites” are enticed to join our large companies and the public sector at the expense of experienced whites. These newly unemployed whites have no option but to start their own small businesses using their considerable networks and skill sets.
This led to whites getting richer, which led to politicians getting angrier and passing more social engineering legislation, while skilled blacks become wage slaves at large corporates where they are not trusted to perform because of the perception that they were never employed on merit in the first place. You would have thought that a country like South Africa may have avoided this trap given that our previous attempt at social engineering, apartheid, didn’t work out so well.
Clearly history failed to teach us that social engineering will not work, because soon enough some action, whether well-intentioned or not, will fall foul of the Law of Unintended Consequences and the punishment is usually severe.
In 1996, internet service provider AOL added a profanity filter and this had the unintended consequence of blocking all email addressed to anyone in Scunthorpe in North Lincolnshire, England!