Vox Day has often insisted that to the extent an organization’s attention is diverted away from its primary purpose toward goals of social justice, it is prevented from serving that original purpose.
The same dynamic is at work in us. Multi-tasking is inefficient, because it is confusing. It prevents good performance on any one thing. Focus on one thing at a time, and do it well. You will work faster and more efficiently, and your output will be better.
The same dynamic is at work even in our instruments. E.g., low flow showerheads don’t work as showerheads; low flow toilets don’t flush very well. Mandating low flow plumbing is a way to ration water use that doesn’t work, because it ruins the plumbing qua plumbing, so that people must use it more than they would if it worked properly to accomplish the proper ends of plumbing.
That low flow showers don’t work qua showers indicates that the dynamic we have here noticed has a physical basis. And indeed, we find it operating in any physical system. Dam a river, and the river will do its damnedest to destroy or circumvent the obstruction. When you dam the river, you confuse its end of rolling to the sea via the least path by introducing your own artificial ends of generating power, controlling the flow, storing water, etc. Nature will work relentlessly to defeat the ends you have introduced to confuse the hydrological system.
It’s a general phenomenon.
What does this tell us? It tells us that we should interfere with things as little as possible.
Make your acts about only one thing, and let all the other concerns fall away. If you don’t, you’ll soon be burdened with a very expensive and inefficient Rube Goldberg contraption that doesn’t do anything quite right. But if you take care of the one thing properly and well, then you will find that other things fall into place behind it, and generate unanticipated knock on benefits as ancillary functions return to normal and the system settles back into its proper order.
For example, if your objective is to generate state revenue, don’t begin your policy design process with any other objective in view – e.g., reducing income inequality, or helping the environment. Instead, focus only on figuring out what method of collecting revenue will generate the most, while imposing the least cost and deformity on the system that generates the revenues. Once that’s done, then turn and attend to your other objectives, and deal with them precisely, one by one.
If you’ve designed the revenue generation policy properly, you are then likely to find that it will have ameliorated some other, apparently unrelated problems. There can be virtuous unintended consequences, but they generally attend only virtuous policies.
To take another example, low flow toilets were mandated to reduce water consumption, which had been goosed ab initio by enormous public subsidies to water, which reduced prices per gallon. If water prices had been allowed to reflect the true costs of water from the get go, consumption would always have been better controlled – and so would settlement in arid regions like the American Southwest and California.
In general, if you have to maintain an artificial stimulus such as a regulation or a subsidy in order to get the effect you want – out of yourself, your property, your enterprise, or your society – it’s a pretty good indication that the artificial stimulus is compensating for an obscure systemic defect of some sort, that remains uncorrected. NB that the systemic defect in question might lie in your expectations of the system. You might be expecting other from nature than she wants to supply. You might be expecting more than you ought.
In any case, the artificial stimulus is not likely to work for long, because the natural systems it is trying to correct (or, as when we expect from reality what it is not fitted to generate for us, to “correct”) are going to amplify their outputs in response to its presence, thus compensating its effects and frustrating its ends. Such is habituation; such is homeostasis. To get the same artificial effect your policy had at first intended, you’ll have to up the dosage. It’s a vicious cycle, that as it explodes consumes more and more of overall system resources, while performing worse and worse.
Viz., the cost/benefit of medical care or college education in the United States. Viz., anarcho-tyranny, and PC. Viz., the money supply under central bank mandates to maintain full employment. Viz., the bureaucratic state and the surveillance state. These are all positive feedback circuits, addictions that, under their own terms, are bound to increase their activity without limit, and generate more and more perverse effects throughout the system that call out for compensatory interventions of their own, until the machinery overheats and breaks down.
The only way to resolve such viciousness economically is to repair the fundamental systemic defect that lies at the root of the problem your policy solutions intend to fix. And this is ever mostly a matter of ceasing to do what you have been doing. Rip away the many layers of misguided policy fixes, and let things work as they would. Let natural homeostasis return as much of the system as possible to the native balance it ever seeks to restore. Then, and only then, consider whether tweaks to the fundamental system might be salutary.
Usually they are not. This is why traditions generally make sense, and reforms of traditions are so often ruinous.