Does the law of unintended consequences rule the land?
Recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court have really stirred up the muck in this country. In response to the court is upholding the key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law and President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Americans’ true colors have reached maximum intensity, and it isn’t pretty. We have declared our prejudices against illegal immigrants and the poor and needy. And now, we find ourselves embroiled in an election season that gives voters an ultimatum — vote for Obama and continue with a bleeding heart socialist, or for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and get a conservative cutthroat businessman. At this point, it seems that either way, the American public will lose.
Over the last several months, millions of Americans have been holding their breath and crossing their fingers that the U.S. Supreme Court justices would see it their way, and some Americans experienced victory. For the others, defeat has only inflamed their passion to get Obama out of the White House and get back to the traditional ways of living and thinking. But to say that where we have been is better than where we are headed is nonsense.
Though the Arizona immigration law seems black and white — if you are in this country illegally, you are arrested, penalized and deported — it has created unintended consequences. It’s no secret that illegal immigrants have been blamed for taking away jobs from Americans. But the reality of the situation is that the agricultural industry of states that have adopted Arizona’s law has lost hundreds of millions of dollars due to labor shortages and unpicked crops. Furthermore, to make up for the loss of workers in the field, prisoners are now doing the work. Apparently, one “criminal” is better than another. The status quo may have been imperfect before, but surely this isn’t any better.
As for the Affordable Care Act, the simple fact is that if mostly everyone pays into the pot, instead of just a percentage, that will help control medical costs because hospitals won’t have to pass the cost of charity work along to insured patients and insurance companies. According to a government study done in 2011, uninsured Americans rack up as much as $49 billion in unpaid medical bills a year. While in the long run, it will cost uninsured families thousands of dollars every year, either as penalties or for new plans — though how enforceable it is, is still in question — to continue with no plan at all to insure most Americans are going in the wrong direction. For those who decry the law and insist that government should interfere less, it seems that rising medical costs have nothing to do with the fact that too many can’t afford medical insurance and their medical bills.
In the scheme of things, short-sighted laws can lead to unintended consequences both for good and for bad. The immigration law was rationalized as a crackdown on criminal activities by illegal immigrants but is now resulting in labor shortages on farms and in more expensive produce. The Affordable Care Act serves as a way for American taxpayers to eliminate the excessive costs of emergency room treatment for the uninsured and instead provide health care at a reasonable cost. Even Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner concedes there are important provisions that need to be continued. Yet the fear mongering about what may come and desire to repeal the law seems premature. It’s just too soon to tell. The law of unintended consequences is hard to avoid and the evidence is clear that any well-intended law can have problematic side effects. Perhaps those dissatisfied with the Supreme Court should be careful what they wish for.