Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Reverse Chesterton Fence

 

640px-WesttownFor 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 reverseChesterton 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.

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  1. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The progressive appeal to nuance is, and always has been, a tactic for persuading right-leaning rational moderates who hold conservative values but at the same time subscribe to enlightenment values of skepticism and self-examination.

    The progressive appeal to nuance is therefore not a promise to consider the right-leaning moderate’s rational point-of-view, but rather a challenge to the right-leaning moderate to dispel any whiff of hypocrisy by forcing them to prove their own rationality.

    “You say you are rational, therefore you must admit that you might be wrong, therefore you must vote Democrat.”

    • #1
    • June 15, 2015, at 9:48 AM PDT
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  2. Barkha Herman Inactive

    The one thing I learnt when I first immigrated to the U.S. is that words are often hijacked and used as if they do not mean what the originally intended to. E.g. liberalism.

    15767532

    • #2
    • June 15, 2015, at 9:55 AM PDT
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  3. J Climacus Member

    But the point of Chesterton’s fence relates to actively changing the state of affairs and anticipating the consequences. Sure the prohibition in Oklahoma imposes costs on Colorado – that is something Colorado should have anticipated before changing the state of affairs. It’s not incumbent on Oklahoma to try to anticipate all the ways it’s neighbors might change their affairs, such a task being impossible to complete anyway since it is unbounded. Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado had a modus vivendi between them based on mutual prohibition laws. Colorado upset that equilibrium through legalization, and Oklahoma and Nebraska are perfectly right to complain that however much Colorado might like to party, it wasn’t a very neighborly thing to do.

    • #3
    • June 15, 2015, at 10:00 AM PDT
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  4. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Well, so much for federalism.

    • #4
    • June 15, 2015, at 10:05 AM PDT
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  5. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Barkha Herman:The one thing I learnt when I first immigrated to the U.S. is that words are often hijacked and used as if they do not mean what the originally intended to. E.g. liberalism.

    This happens in all languages and cultures. The differences are in how quickly it happens and who gets to decide the “correct” current meaning.

    Languages like English differ from other languages in that there is no official government body tasked with ruling on the “correct” definitions for words, as there are in places like France. That does not, at all, mean that French words do not change. Instead, French words change according to their utility to the State of France.

    English words change according to their common usage, not according to the diktats of a government body. However, some institutions in the English-speaking world still have more power and influence than others, such as Institutionalized Education, the Entertainment Industry, and the Supreme Court of the United States.

    As such, “meaning” in English is (perhaps too) heavily influenced by these institutions, but it does not follow that only a word’s original definition can be valid.

    • #5
    • June 15, 2015, at 10:06 AM PDT
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  6. Profile Photo Member

    I’m not sure that the Left is unaware of these things. When it comes to anything environmental, we have to study any proposed change until the changes are economically infeasible.

    • #6
    • June 15, 2015, at 10:13 AM PDT
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  7. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: 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;

    In fact, the oldest idea is non-criminalization, considering that marijuana wasn’t fully criminalized until about three years after the prohibition of alcohol had been repealed.

    In the 19th Century, the recreational use of drugs was perfectly legal in most of the Western World. The 19th Century is generally considered a very conservative era, culturally-speaking.

    • #7
    • June 15, 2015, at 10:14 AM PDT
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  8. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    J Climacus:But the point of Chesterton’s fence relates to actively changing the state of affairs and anticipating the consequences. Sure the prohibition in Oklahoma imposes costs on Colorado – that is something Colorado should have anticipated before changing the state of affairs. It’s not incumbent on Oklahoma to try to anticipate all the ways it’s neighbors might change their affairs, such a task being impossible to complete anyway since it is unbounded. Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado had a modus vivendi between them based on mutual prohibition laws. Colorado upset that equilibrium through legalization, and Oklahoma and Nebraska are perfectly right to complain that however much Colorado might like to party, it wasn’t a very neighborly thing to do.

    Complaining about the neighbours is a time-honoured tradition. It’s why we have fences, knowing that no fence can ever be impregnable.

    In this case, Colorado is akin to the neighbour who makes their own wine in the backyard and attracts wasps to the cul-de-sac. Feel free to complain, but don’t think you have the right to force your neighbour to stop making wine.

    • #8
    • June 15, 2015, at 10:18 AM PDT
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  9. Larry3435 Member

    Thank you, Professor Coase.

    • #9
    • June 15, 2015, at 10:28 AM PDT
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  10. J Climacus Member

    Complaining about the neighbours is a time-honoured tradition. It’s why we have fences, knowing that no fence can ever be impregnable.

    In this case, Colorado is akin to the neighbour who makes their own wine in the backyard and attracts wasps to the cul-de-sac. Feel free to complain, but don’t think you have the right to force your neighbour to stop making wine.

    That would be true, if it were a neighborhood in which everyone had long agreed to not make wine because it attracts wasps, and had made their arrangements based on that. Suppose I moved into the neighborhood because I heard there was a common agreement not to make wine and attract wasps, and I have a kid allergic to wasps. When my neighbor starts making wine, my legitimate complaint is that they are going back on a long-standing common agreement on which we had developed a common life together. And even if I agree that recourse to force would not be legitimate, my case that my neighbor isn’t a good neighbor still stands.

    • #10
    • June 15, 2015, at 10:30 AM PDT
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  11. Mike H Coolidge

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: 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…

    Methinks this is more of an olive branch rather than a true statement. Maybe not intended that way, but intentions aren’t everything, no? ;)

    • #11
    • June 15, 2015, at 10:35 AM PDT
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  12. Manny Member

    I’m of the other perspective: national illegalization. Some things should not be left at a local level.

    • #12
    • June 15, 2015, at 10:39 AM PDT
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  13. Mike H Coolidge

    Manny:I’m of the other perspective: national illegalization. Some things should not be left at a local level.

    It’s good for people to be clear about their opinions of such things.

    • #13
    • June 15, 2015, at 10:51 AM PDT
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  14. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    J Climacus:

    In this case, Colorado is akin to the neighbour who makes their own wine in the backyard and attracts wasps to the cul-de-sac. Feel free to complain, but don’t think you have the right to force your neighbour to stop making wine.

    That would be true, if it were a neighborhood in which everyone had long agreed to not make wine because it attracts wasps, and had made their arrangements based on that. Suppose I moved into the neighborhood because I heard there was a common agreement not to make wine and attract wasps, and I have a kid allergic to wasps. When my neighbor starts making wine, my legitimate complaint is that they are going back on a long-standing common agreement on which we had developed a common life together. And even if I agree that recourse to force would not be legitimate, my case that my neighbor isn’t a good neighbor still stands.

    In this analogy, the neighbourhood is the United States and the houses are the states.

    The Constitution of the United States allows each state to make its own internal rules, and allows the federal level to regulate commerce between the states.

    As such, this “neighbourhood” could never ban backyard wine-making. It could only try to regulate the movement of wasps across fence-lines.

    Don’t move into this neighbourhood simply because you like your neighbour’s yard.

    • #14
    • June 15, 2015, at 11:02 AM PDT
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  15. Manny Member

    Misthiocracy

    J Climacus:But the point of Chesterton’s fence relates to actively changing the state of affairs and anticipating the consequences. Sure the prohibition in Oklahoma imposes costs on Colorado – that is something Colorado should have anticipated before changing the state of affairs. It’s not incumbent on Oklahoma to try to anticipate all the ways it’s neighbors might change their affairs, such a task being impossible to complete anyway since it is unbounded. Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado had a modus vivendi between them based on mutual prohibition laws. Colorado upset that equilibrium through legalization, and Oklahoma and Nebraska are perfectly right to complain that however much Colorado might like to party, it wasn’t a very neighborly thing to do.

    Complaining about the neighbours is a time-honoured tradition. It’s why we have fences, knowing that no fence can ever be impregnable.

    In this case, Colorado is akin to the neighbour who makes their own wine in the backyard and attracts wasps to the cul-de-sac. Feel free to complain, but don’t think you have the right to force your neighbour to stop making wine.

    You mean laws can’t be passed to prevent what you can and cannot do on your property? If that is the case there are a heck of a lot such laws.

    • #15
    • June 15, 2015, at 11:07 AM PDT
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  16. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Manny:I’m of the other perspective: national illegalization. Some things should not be left at a local level.

    The US Supreme Court tends to agree with you.

    I, on the other hand, think this view is contrary to the US Constitution except in those few areas where the Constitution makes an explicit exception.

    • #16
    • June 15, 2015, at 11:08 AM PDT
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  17. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Manny:

    In this case, Colorado is akin to the neighbour who makes their own wine in the backyard and attracts wasps to the cul-de-sac. Feel free to complain, but don’t think you have the right to force your neighbour to stop making wine.

    You mean laws can’t be passed to prevent what you can and cannot do on your property? If that is the case there are a heck of a lot such laws.

    You seem to be missing the point of the analogy. This “neighbourhood” is the United States, as governed by the US Constitution. The federal government is not supposed to be able to tell states how to govern themselves, and neighbouring states certainly aren’t supposed to be able to tell other states how to govern themselves.

    • #17
    • June 15, 2015, at 11:11 AM PDT
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  18. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Barkha Herman:The one thing I learnt when I first immigrated to the U.S. is that words are often hijacked and used as if they do not mean what the originally intended to. E.g. liberalism.

    15767532

    Good one, but Inigo’s actual quote was “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    • #18
    • June 15, 2015, at 11:16 AM PDT
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  19. Manny Member

    Misthiocracy

    Manny:

    In this case, Colorado is akin to the neighbour who makes their own wine in the backyard and attracts wasps to the cul-de-sac. Feel free to complain, but don’t think you have the right to force your neighbour to stop making wine.

    You mean laws can’t be passed to prevent what you can and cannot do on your property? If that is the case there are a heck of a lot such laws.

    You seem to be missing the point of the analogy. This “neighbourhood” is the United States, as governed by the US Constitution. The federal government is not supposed to be able to tell states how to govern themselves, and neighbouring states certainly aren’t supposed to be able to tell other states how to govern themselves.

    I was just commenting on the analogy of wine making and attracting wasps. Local goverments pass all sorts of local prohibitions. If enough people complained about wasps from wine making, laws can be passed to stop the wine making. It’s not a good analogy.

    • #19
    • June 15, 2015, at 11:26 AM PDT
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  20. Mike H Coolidge

    Manny:

    :

    In this case, Colorado is akin to the neighbour who makes their own wine in the backyard and attracts wasps to the cul-de-sac. Feel free to complain, but don’t think you have the right to force your neighbour to stop making wine.

    You mean laws can’t be passed to prevent what you can and cannot do on your property? If that is the case there are a heck of a lot such laws.

    You seem to be missing the point of the analogy. This “neighbourhood” is the United States, as governed by the US Constitution. The federal government is not supposed to be able to tell states how to govern themselves, and neighbouring states certainly aren’t supposed to be able to tell other states how to govern themselves.

    I was just commenting on the analogy of wine making and attracting wasps. Local goverments pass all sorts of local prohibitions. If enough people complained about wasps from wine making, laws can be passed to stop the wine making. It’s not a good analogy.

    The problem with the analogy and all analogies like this is there is a certain level where everyone agrees. If your winemaking created such a horde of wasps that it blackened the sky, it would seem immoral for you to insist on keeping your backyard wine making. The burden on others at some point becomes sufficient to warrant some kind of sanction. On the other hand, if your neighbors just think wine and winemaking is bad, it would be immoral for them to sanction it even if it brought a couple extra wasps to the neighborhood.

    You might say they would still be allowed to make such a law against their neighbors, and you would be correct, but allowed isn’t the same thing as moral.

    • #20
    • June 15, 2015, at 11:32 AM PDT
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  21. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Misthiocracy:

    Complaining about the neighbours is a time-honoured tradition. It’s why we have fences, knowing that no fence can ever be impregnable.

    In this case, Colorado is akin to the neighbour who makes their own wine in the backyard and attracts wasps to the cul-de-sac. Feel free to complain, but don’t think you have the right to force your neighbour to stop making wine.

    Under our law, you do have some right to force your neighbor to stop doing something on his property, if it effects your property. The common law doctrine, going back to jolly ol’ England, is called nuisance. It is generally a reasonableness test. The doctrine deals with the very real problem called externalities in economics. It is typically formulated as prohibiting “noxious or harmful” uses of land. An example is a dairy farm setting up next door to a residential neighborhood.

    The wasp example would be a close case, depending on the circumstances including how unusual is the use of land as a vineyard (in the area), and how severe is the wasp problem.

    In a 1992 case called Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, SCOTUS ruled that the common law of nuisance provides a legal background in a regulatory Takings Clause case — meaning that if a use of land was prohibited by common law nuisance principles, prohibition of such a use by regulation is not a “taking.”

    • #21
    • June 15, 2015, at 11:33 AM PDT
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  22. Bob Wainwright Member

    Coloradans weren’t thinking of consequences when they legalized marijuana. They were just trying to show off how progressive and libertarian they are. A child could have realized that questions such as the right of employers to fire pot smokers should have been addressed up front. But now it takes a state Supreme court decision to decide that they can.

    • #22
    • June 15, 2015, at 12:04 PM PDT
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  23. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thought question: if the subject were hand gun ownership, and not the consumption of marijuana, how many of us would tell Oklahoma and Nebraska to pound sand?

    • #23
    • June 15, 2015, at 12:18 PM PDT
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  24. Profile Photo Member

    Misthiocracy:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: 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;

    In fact, the oldest idea is non-criminalization, considering that marijuana wasn’t fully criminalized until about three years after the prohibition of alcohol had been repealed.

    In the 19th Century, the recreational use of drugs was perfectly legal in most of the Western World. The 19th Century is generally considered a very conservative era, culturally-speaking.

    Yes, and it was also an era in which one could buy dynamite largely unregulated.

    • #24
    • June 15, 2015, at 12:49 PM PDT
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  25. Profile Photo Member

    Spin:Thought question: if the subject were hand gun ownership, and not the consumption of marijuana, how many of us would tell Oklahoma and Nebraska to pound sand?

    This Colorado resident fails to see why he should take seriously the legal rantings of an elected AG from Oklahoma City who is, essentially, in the back pocket of Devon Energy.

    http://stateimpact.npr.org/oklahoma/2014/12/09/oklahoma-ag-scott-pruitt-says-alliance-with-energy-industry-wasnt-secret/

    So yeah, OK and NE can suck up like the rest of CO’s neighbors allegedly do.

    And BTW, Nebraska has the same initiative process Colorado does. If NE’s voters can vote in a minimum wage increase by nearly 18 percentage points, they can pass a pro-pot initiative.

    • #25
    • June 15, 2015, at 12:52 PM PDT
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  26. Manny Member

    Mike H

    Manny:

    I was just commenting on the analogy of wine making and attracting wasps. Local goverments pass all sorts of local prohibitions. If enough people complained about wasps from wine making, laws can be passed to stop the wine making. It’s not a good analogy.

    The problem with the analogy and all analogies like this is there is a certain level where everyone agrees. If your winemaking created such a horde of wasps that it blackened the sky, it would seem immoral for you to insist on keeping your backyard wine making. The burden on others at some point becomes sufficient to warrant some kind of sanction. On the other hand, if your neighbors just think wine and winemaking is bad, it would be immoral for them to sanction it even if it brought a couple extra wasps to the neighborhood.

    You might say they would still be allowed to make such a law against their neighbors, and you would be correct, but allowed isn’t the same thing as moral.

    Yeah I agree with that. It depends on what the electorate convinces legislative representatives to do. One person complaining about wasps isn’t going to effect anything, but if enough people do, especially if enough people that can sway an election, then legislation will occur.

    It strikes me that Libertarians seem to think that no law can be constitutionally passed. Laws can be passed on a federal, state, or local level. And they have.

    • #26
    • June 15, 2015, at 12:53 PM PDT
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  27. Manny Member

    Spin

    Thought question: if the subject were hand gun ownership, and not the consumption of marijuana, how many of us would tell Oklahoma and Nebraska to pound sand?

    Not a good example. The Bill of Rights specifically lists the right to gun ownership as an absolute freedom. There is no such right listed to use drugs.

    • #27
    • June 15, 2015, at 12:56 PM PDT
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  28. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Manny: It strikes me that Libertarians seem to think that no law can be constitutionally passed. Laws can be passed on a federal, state, or local level. And they have.

    ?

    • #28
    • June 15, 2015, at 12:59 PM PDT
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  29. philo Member

    Arizona Patriot: Good one, but Inigo’s actual quote was “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    Thank you for that. Somewhere along the line that has been misquoted and I now see the wrong version more than I see the correct one. In the greater sense it might not matter but, for me, the exact wording makes is not only funny but a much more effective jab.

    • #29
    • June 15, 2015, at 1:09 PM PDT
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  30. Pelayo Inactive

    I don’t accept the premise that the black and gray markets in legalization states like Colorado are purely the result of prohibition in states like Nebraska. Those markets would exist as long as buying illegal weed is cheaper than buying legal weed. People buy black market cigarettes in NYC purely because they are cheaper. They are legal everywhere so it is not a matter of legalization versus prohibition.

    • #30
    • June 15, 2015, at 1:31 PM PDT
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