Sorry, Kid, But You’re Not Allowed in Here [Unintended Consequences]

A while back I noted a recent law that was going to place a huge burden on thrift stores, consignment stores, and sellers of specialty toys. In the comments, Kassie happily noted that some sort of sanity had returned and that, while everyone has to comply with the law, not everyone has to certify that all of their products have been tested, a small but important step in the right direction.

Now a friend has alerted me that the American Library Association believes that the law as written requires them to either remove all books for children under 12 or remove all children under 12. Got that? Either get rid of the books or don’t allow the kids in. To the library.

The article also notes that schools may be up next. I can see the headline now:

Kids Banned From Schools For Their Own Safety

And don’t forget the key point: the people who actually drafted this regulation didn’t see this coming.

I feel safer already.

New Law Says Goodbye to Old Toys [Unintended Consequences]

This one could probably be listed in both Unintended Consequences and Religion of the State because it demonstrates the unintended, but easily foreseeable, results of the State attempting, yet again, to be God.

From an article in Sunday’s Strib:

Federal legislation passed in response to recalls of millions of toys over the past two years could have the unintended consequence of imposing unaffordable costs on the independent, cottage-industry toymakers Marshall buys from. Already struggling through a punishing recession, those toymakers may be hard-pressed to manage the new costs.

Story in a nutshell: A few children die from ingesting toys made of lead. Government moves quickly to address the problem by passing a law that places a tremendous financial burden on toymakers and sellers. Unintended Result: Small toymakers will be unable to stay afloat. What’s more, used toy stores and consignment shops will be in a world of hurt because they won’t be able to get all of their products tested. Finding used toys and clothing for children at affordable prices just got a lot harder.

Here’s a quotation from the champion of the new law, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D, MN):

Klobuchar said she would work with the companies through the agency and, if necessary, through Congress. But, she noted, “We had a child die from swallowing a charm that was made 99 percent of lead. The laws could not stay as they were.”

This, again, is the State attempting to control things with god-like power. “Henceforth, by decree of the U.S. Government, bad things shall not happen. Ever.”

Now, lest anyone think that I am making light of a significant tragedy (the death of a child), let me just say this: my mockery of the State’s approach to solving this problem stems from a concern for the genuine welfare of real people. The State, with one swoop of the pen, may have just ruined the livelihoods of numerous small-business owners (you know, the kind with children), and made it far more difficult for lower-income folks (who shop at second-hand stores) to get affordable clothing and toys for their kids. All so that politicians can look like they’re doing something important.

When you have a hammer, every problem is a nail. When you’re a legislator, every solution is a new law. But we live in fallen world, and no matter how many laws Senator Klobuchar manages to pass, bad things will still happen. Children will continue to put all kinds of things in their mouths. No federal fiat will change that (though I can imagine that Senator Klobuchar might try). But in order to recognize the limitations of State power, we must first repent of our misplaced faith in the Nanny-State and place all of our hope in the One who possesses all authority in heaven and on earth.

Techno-klessia: Video Announcements Part 1 [Unintended Consequences]

As I noted in the category intro, the whole point of this topic is to talk about unintended consequences. I underscore the point again because I know myself fairly well, and I don’t think I’m that different from everyone else. And when I inadvertently cause something bad to happen, my initial response is, “But I didn’t mean to,” as though my grand intentions made everything okay. Certainly, things would be worse if I had done the bad thing intentionally. But often the consequences are what they are, regardless of intent. And the first step to making sure that it doesn’t happen again is to recognize what went wrong the first time.

So with that as prologue, let me raise my hand and ask a question about something that is growing more and more popular in many churches around the country: Video Announcements. While it may not seem like a big deal, I’ve begun to wonder if the effect of video announcements on churches may be bigger than we think. In this post, I’ll simply clarify what I’m talking about and give four reasons a church might give for employing them (feel free to give additional reasons in the comments).

All churches, but particularly larger ones, struggle with how to communicate key information to their congregations. Most churches give some kind of announcements during the Sunday morning services, either at the beginning or at the end. Obviously, as the church gets larger, the number of announcements multiplies, and more and more time is consumed during the service. The problem is exacerbated if you have a long-winded or meandering announcer.

To address this problem, some churches record their announcements ahead of time and show them on a big screen on Sundays. Here are some possible reasons for doing this:

1. Consistency – If you have multiple services, video announcements ensure that each service receives the same information.

2. Brevity – By recording ahead of time, announcements can be focused and to the point, allowing churches to pack more announcements in while not taking too much time from the service.

3. Memorability – Recording ahead of time allows for the creative juices to flow. Announcements cease to be a boring list and can become a very memorable and entertaining part of the service.

4. Culture – We live in a visual culture. People are used to getting their information from a video screen (television or computer). Thus, video announcements simply accommodate to what people are used to. It’s just another way of meeting people where they are.

In a future post, I’ll respond to some of the pitfalls that accompany the use of video to make announcements. And, as always, I’d love for this to be a dialogue. So feel free to comment.

Well, That Backfired [Unintended Consequences]

George Will has a short piece on the consequences of a Supreme Court decision “intended” to strengthen the 1964 Civil Rights act. What the decision (and subsequent actions of Congress) actually did was to make it more difficult for those without college diplomas to get certain jobs. Thus, a legal action designed to help minorities ends up harming them (and other Americans for whom a college education simply isn’t feasible). Here’s how the article ends:

Griggs and its consequences are timely reminders of the Law of Unintended Consequences, which is increasingly pertinent as America’s regulatory state becomes increasingly determined to fine-tune our complex society. That law holds that the consequences of government actions often are different than, and even contrary to, the intended consequences.

Soon the Obama administration will arrive, bristling like a very progressive porcupine with sharp plans — plans for restoring economic health by “demand management,” for altering the distribution of income by using tax changes and supporting more muscular labor unions, for cooling the planet by such measures as burning more food as fuel, and for many additional improvements. At least, those will be the administration’s intended consequences.

(HT: Bench Memos)

And since we’re on the subject of economics, this post at RedState helpfully contrasts two very different ways of approaching economics. One views economies as big machines, technical challenges to be tweaked and modified (like a computer). The other acknowledges the moral dimension of all human existence, particularly the depravity and (at times) irrationality of man. Failure to view economics rightly is one of the chief reasons for all those bad unintended consequences out there.

Problems Aren’t Solved By Simply Rearranging the Furniture [Unintended Consequences]

I should have mentioned this in the category intro, but I won’t be limiting myself to discussions of the unintended consequences of church issues. I’ll also be reflecting on unintended consequences in other areas. For starters, here’s an article from the Atlantic on rising crime rates in American cities. Articles like this fascinate me, partly for their educational value, and partly for the surprise of secular people at the consequences of their attempts at social engineering.

In a nutshell, for the past 15 years or so, city housing departments around the country have been demolishing government-funded housing projects that were filled with poverty and crime in order to revitalize the city. The hope was that the residents of these projects would move into low-poverty neighborhoods and be lifted out of poverty once they saw the opportunities available to them. While some lives were certainly improved, the main result seems to have been to distribute criminal activity throughout the suburbs of major cities, making crime-stopping very difficult for the police. What’s more, solutions are hard to come by, especially when even identifying the problem is fraught with peril.

Lately, though, a new and unexpected pattern has emerged, taking criminologists by surprise. While crime rates in large cities stayed flat, homicide rates in many midsize cities (with populations of between 500,000 and 1 million) began increasing, sometimes by as much as 20 percent a year. In 2006, the Police Executive Research Forum, a national police group surveying cities from coast to coast, concluded in a report called “A Gathering Storm” that this might represent “the front end … of an epidemic of violence not seen for years.” The leaders of the group, which is made up of police chiefs and sheriffs, theorized about what might be spurring the latest crime wave: the spread of gangs, the masses of offenders coming out of prison, methamphetamines. But mostly they puzzled over the bleak new landscape. According to FBI data, America’s most dangerous spots are now places where Martin Scorsese would never think of staging a shoot-out—Florence, South Carolina; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; Reading, Pennsylvania; Orlando, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee.

Memphis has always been associated with some amount of violence. But why has Elvis’s hometown turned into America’s new South Bronx? Barnes thinks he knows one big part of the answer, as does the city’s chief of police. A handful of local criminologists and social scientists think they can explain it, too. But it’s a dismal answer, one that city leaders have made clear they don’t want to hear. It’s an answer that offers up racial stereotypes to fearful whites in a city trying to move beyond racial tensions. Ultimately, it reaches beyond crime and implicates one of the most ambitious antipoverty programs of recent decades.

So the solution to one problem has unintentionally created numerous more. And the new ones can’t even be addressed because that would require implicating the former “solution” as a cause of the new problems. It seems to me that Christians should be giving deep thought to these sorts of problems. The world, steeped as it is in its own rebellion, has no ultimate solutions to these kinds of problems. All they can do is rearrange the furniture while the room is on fire.

Category Intros: Unintended Consequences

In order to avoid certain misunderstandings, it will be helpful to reflect about terms before diving into this particular topic. The word “unintended” above is important (and intentional). It’s meant to communicate that the issues about to be addressed are done inadvertently and without malice. I plan to raise what I consider to be important questions—and criticisms—about certain practices, particularly within the church, and anytime that you do such a thing, you risk unnecessarily dividing the body. Hopefully, this short word about definitions will keep things in the proper light.

Such a disclaimer is necessary because modern Christians, like most people in history, understand all criticisms of practice to be accusations against character. In other words, all criticism involves the impugning of wrong motives. And because the Christians engaged in such practices are often well-meaning, the questioner/critic is immediately dismissed as a trouble-maker.

Thus, I wish to make it clear from the outset that I know good and well that many of the Christians engaged in the issues to follow are well-intentioned, well-meaning, and overall “good folks.”

And this surely counts for something. The motive of the heart matters to God. But it is not all that matters. There is a saying—I think it’s from the book of Leviticus—about a certain road paved with good intentions. Needless to say, the people who built that road had no idea where they were going to end up. But end up there they did. And this is because God, while putting a premium on motive and intent, doesn’t only look at motive intent. The consequences matter as well.

A simple parable will illustrate this at once. Imagine a young child, sick at home with a fever. The doctor is called to the house. (This story obviously takes place back when such visits were common). After examining the child, he reaches into his bag for the necessary medicine and inadvertently pulls out the painkillers for ol’ Mrs. Jones hip replacement, which, while perfectly fine for dulling the senses of a 68 year-old, are toxic to little boys. Failing to notice his mistake, the good doctor proceeds to administer the medication. I won’t finish the story (though I will say that it has a happy ending), but I would like to point out that the doctor’s good intentions to make the child well are quite beside the point. He is giving him the wrong medicine with potentially disastrous effects. He is making a mistake and he is responsible precisely because he should’ve been paying attention.

In this parable, I am the novice apprentice of our good doctor, raising questions about the funny bottle he pulled out of the bag. I know that he means well and that he’s trying to help. If I thought he was malicious, I wouldn’t be asking the questions; I’d just knock him down and call the police. But I do have questions and concerns and I hope that such questions and concerns will be met with humble wrestlings rather than cavalier dismissals. So as we begin to wrestle with complicated questions about church practice, believe me when I say that I’m not fundamentally addressing motives and intent. There is a time and place for that and, if we’re lucky, we may get there. But in the meantime let us try to deal with consequences, both real and potential, however unintended they may be.