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The economic law of unintended consequences should serve as a cautionary note for anyone wishing to enact lofty, far-reaching social legislation. The intended purpose of such legislation is typically laudable: It is often to protect disadvantaged groups unable to fend for themselves against potential exploiters. But such legislation backfires by ignoring its unintended consequences. No legislative initiative in the realm of economic and social relationships can advance the position of a protected class unless it also imposes costs on the groups with which it does business. Stressing the intended consequences ignores the countermeasures to which other groups will resort to minimize the impact of the legislation. In the end, by shrinking the economic pie, both sides are left worse off.
This proposition is particularly relevant in labor contracting, where the language of exploitation is never far from the lips of today’s most aggressive reformers. Exhibit A is the fighting words of Lorena Gonzalez, a progressive Democratic assemblywoman from the San Diego area who, in September 2019, led the successful drive for the passage of Assembly Bill 5 (AB5). That legislation is now reshaping the California economy for the worse by forcing the reclassification of many independent contractors as employees.