The Road to Hell is Paved

road to hell

This is a good article explaining a basic economic concept without once mentioning the word economics…from the WSJ:

ObamaCare and the Good Intentions Paving Co.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that the great plans of politicians tend not to work out as promised.

By Joseph Epstein

I opened my mail recently to discover that my already expensive supplemental health-insurance policy—for which I pay nearly $12,000 a year—has gone up roughly another thousand dollars. “Ah,” I thought, “the Good Intentions Paving Co. has come to my door at last.”

I first heard the phrase “Good Intentions Paving Co.” from the lips of Saul Bellow, though I cannot recall to what exactly he applied it. I don’t know that Bellow invented the term, but since his death in 2005 I have taken it up and found nearly endless uses for it. The phrase derives of course from the proverb holding that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

ObamaCare is a nearly perfect example of the Good Intentions Paving Co. at work. A president and the leadership of his party decide that it would be a fine thing to bring universal health insurance to the nation—what a sweet notion, really—except when they enact the law it turns out to bring in its trail confusion, anxiety, probable loss of employment, added personal and public expense, and aggravation all round.

One might think the board of directors of the Good Intentions Paving Co. are all liberals, but they are not. One of the firm’s most impressive undertakings was hatched in the Oval Office among George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Why not, they decided, knock off a wretched tyrant and bring democracy to a Middle Eastern country and thereby stabilize the region—all in one bold action? Tens of thousands of violent deaths and many billions of dollars later, with car bombs regularly exploding in downtown Baghdad, and with Sunni and Shiite hatred not in the least abated, the Good Intentions Paving Co. deserves to take another bow.

The Good Intentions Paving Co. has a highly efficient public-relations department, which is especially good at giving its projects promising titles. Consider affirmative action. The firm’s executives who put that intention into play thought that by lowering college-admission standards for members of minorities, injustices would be redressed and the climb to equality secured. How could the Good Intentions executives have known that colleges would in turn lower their academic standards?

Now the American university, at least on the humanities and social-sciences side, is mired in the deepening mediocrity brought on by the establishment of departments for African-American studies, women’s studies, “queer theory”—everything but a Department of Homelessness.

Leave a child behind? Perish the thought. Or so the folks in charge of education at the Good Intentions Paving Co. must have concluded when they instituted their No Child Left Behind program. The program would entail constant testing, would hold the feet of teachers to the fire of palpable achievement, would bring everyone through the primary-grades educational system up to the mark. How bad could that be?

Yet again, though, good intentions went askew. The children were educated chiefly to take tests, some school superintendents cheated in reporting their schools’ test scores, the teachers unions went ballistic over what they felt were the impossible demands made upon their members. The plan of the Good Intentions Paving Co. once more didn’t quite pan out.

The company’s activities are not restricted to America. Its first big project in the past century was the Russian Revolution. The Good Intentions Paving Co.’s prospectus promised freedom for all, economic equality that would allow each citizen fulfillment of his needs, the permanent shutting down of class conflict with the rise of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Didn’t, you will have noticed, quite work out. Instead, the Russian people endured an unrelieved seven-decade nightmare under a series of repressive, mass-murdering Communist regimes. None of this, though, caused the stock of the Good Intentions Paving Co. to lose a point.

Only because it encourages—one might even say incites—feelings of virtue in those who are swept up by its projects does the Good Intentions Paving Co. stay in business. Meaning well, after all, ought to count for something. Unfortunately, when it comes to public policy, good intentions are only slightly better than bad intentions, and not always even that. The reason is that the Good Intentions Paving Co. has never been greatly interested in side effects, in the collateral damage that good intentions so often bring with them. Nor has the firm’s record been notable for taking into account human nature, with its obstinate refusal to obey the dreams of politicians, however alluring they may seem.

The Good Intentions Paving Co. is unlikely ever to be put completely out of business, but one must do what one can to slow its progress. A good place to start may be when making a New Year’s resolution for 2014, vow to resist the firm’s newest projects and policies, however warm and fuzzy they might appear. For instance, President Obama seems to have his heart set on raising the minimum wage. Sounds nice. Surely a step in the right direction. The boys at the Good Intentions Paving Co. are behind it all the way, which is reason enough to believe that it will affect hiring practices in the most deleterious way and cause who knows what other damage.


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