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For a movement that prides itself on nuance, the Left is remarkably — if unsurprisingly — uninterested in questions of cost, externality, and unintended consequences. Once they’ve identified something as a good, the only remaining issue is marshaling the will to see it through; the details will sort themselves out.
The Right, however, generally accepts that life is complicated. Ideas have consequences, we’re apt to say, often with the strong subtext that they’re probably not all those we intended. As such, we’re more likely to resist the urge to fuss with (seemingly) imperfect things, lest we discover afterwards that they were far more beneficial than we understood or appreciated.
But this can cut the other way too. In the current issue of National Review, our own — how I love saying that — Kevin Williamson brings up an interesting example of this sort of reverse–Chesterton fence in his report on the effects of Colorado’s marijuana legalization:
[But how do we] resolve the realities, which are that Colorado wants legal weed while Nebraska and Oklahoma do not, and that the presence of black markets in prohibition states ensures the presence of black markets and gray markets in legalization states?… While one can sympathize with the desire of people in the prohibition states to keep drugs out of their communities, it is more difficult to sympathize with their desire to avoid paying the freight for their decisions — especially when their prohibition imposes costs on legalization states just as legalization states impose costs on them.
That is, it’s not just Colorado’s (relatively) new idea of legalization that has unintended consequences but also the (relatively) old idea of prohibition in the neighboring states; i.e., just as Nebraska and Oklahoma can blame Colorado for the increase in smuggling (and the attendant costs) caused by its legalization, Colorado can blame Nebraska and Oklahoma for creating conditions that make smuggling and other lawlessness attractive.
Now there’s a lot of distance between making this sort of observation and concluding that national drug legalization is good and/or moral policy; I’m not making that case here, at least now. But when we consider unforeseen consequences, we should give thought not only to those that might be caused by new action, but to those caused by old ones.