The Law of Unintended Consequences is a classic school of thought from modern economics, but it is something that is directly transferrable to many other situations outside of strict economics.

Essentially, unintended consequences are the large outcomes that emerge from the actions made by many individuals.

These outcomes can be good or bad.

Intentions behind policy will not necessarily determine what the results actually are.

Another way to look at this seemingly commonsense, yet rarely followed approach to assessment is that we should only ever evaluate a policy, not on it’s stated goals or objectives, but rather by the incentives it provides its stakeholders.

The last bit of that sentence is the kicker.

…rather by the incentives it provides its stakeholders.

Every action that people take in life is driven by incentives of one type or another.

Be they the most base and intrinsic needs of life from Maslow’s hierarchy such as food, shelter, love, sex, or the higher, more philosophical needs such as morality, self esteem and creativity.  All decisions are driven by incentives that drive each of those needs, what they provide to us once we obtain them.

When we are assessing public policy, the only effective method of assessment is not what was the intention, but rather the actual result.


Like when we assess how Labor changed Australia’s border protection laws with the intention of being more compassionate, only for their short-sighted, politically motivated policy decision to actually result in:

  • Over one thousand people known to have drowned on the high seas, plus many, many more that we have never heard about that have just disappeared
  • Tens of thousands, including children for the first time in 10 years, in mandatory detention around the country
  • Thousands being hurriedly released into the Australian community without adequate checks, exposing the Australian community to
    • Security and safety threats from criminals and terrorists potentially hiding amongst legitimate refugees
    • Diseases that had been previously eradicated through decades of careful immunisation
  • Millions of man hours being pored into managing a system that is almost designed to fail
  • Billions of dollars wasted every year that should be used to look after Australians first before we look after others

Unintended consequences, Labor’s two middle names.