Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Nothing New Under The Sun: Daoism and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Economists love the Law of Unintended Consequences, illustrating how ambitious politicians can often make her constituents worse off in her appeal to enhance their lives.  In my textbook, I use the example of air pollution in Mexico City, where a law requiring each car to remain idle one day each week resulted in more older cars being driven, which resulted in worse air pollution.

I had only encountered this law in economics, yet I recently discovered there is nothing new under the sun that economists can offer.  Between the 6th and 4th centuries B.C., Chinese philosophy of governance consisted largely of two camps: Confucianism and Daoism.  We have all heard of Confucius, but Daoism?  

Basically, Daoism asserts that our understanding of the world is limited, that everything that happens, happens for a reason, and when we attempt to employ our limited knowledge to control the world we often destroy institutions and activities that serve a valid purpose, and in the process, become ineffective leaders.  That is, in essence, the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Dr. Kenneth J. Hammond
From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History
Lecture 5: Confucianism and Daoism
The Teaching Company

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