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Comment: "Welcome to the law of unintended consequences"


Monday 30 September 2019

Comment: "Welcome to the law of unintended consequences"

Not everything always goes to plan, even with "groups of well-paid politicians, civil servants and consultants being on the case."

The message comes from the secretive business guru known only as 'The Fool' in his latest column for Connect Magazine...

"One of the benefits of approaching one’s dotage is the accumulated experience of having had to live, for a not-inconsiderable period of time, with the outcomes of one’s actions. My fingers tend to get stuck into the proverbial fan less often nowadays, because I have a pretty good idea of the trip to the proverbial A&E which is likely to follow.

The supposed strength of decisions made by a group or committee, as opposed to an individual, is that the accumulated knowledge and experience of many people should help to foresee most possible outcomes of those decisions.

the Fool September 2019

Pictured: ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft a-gley’ wrote Robert Burns.

This is why, for example, we view a parliamentary democracy as a better way of running a country than a one-man dictatorship (and, ultimately, why people in Venezuela end up with no toilet roll, and having to eat their pets, and we don’t). Different people have different experiences and views, and their involvement in the decision making process should, in theory, stop any nasty unforeseen outcomes in the future. 

As Robert Burns first observed however, ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft a-gley’, which, for the non-Burns speakers amongst us, roughly translates as, ‘Welcome to the law of unintended consequences.’ I think.

When these unintended consequences of our actions occur in our personal lives, we tend to shrug, and make the best of whatever transpires. When however we allow groups or committees to make decisions on our behalf, and things go awry, we tend to be a little less forgiving, especially if those groups are supposed to be experts in what they do.


Pictured: "How could the shambles of spending northwards of £40million... have happened?"

The exasperation induced by the fiasco over the site of Jersey’s new hospital is a prime example of what people feel when things don’t turn out as planned, despite groups of well-paid politicians, civil servants and consultants being on the case.

How could the shambles of spending northwards of £40 million, and having nothing but a load of ripped up plans to show for it, have happened when so many people with the supposed best interests of the island at heart have been involved in the process? Or maybe that’s just a case of getting cause and effect the wrong way around?

One can of course feel sympathy sometimes when things happen that weren’t in the script. The cancellation of the Jersey Film Festival’s outdoor cinema because of health and safety concerns over the number of attendees had elements of drama, farce, and police action all rolled into one.

Quite a production by all accounts, but one can’t help but feel sympathy for the organisers, who can’t have foreseen being victims of their own success.


Pictured: Jersey Film Festival was canceled this summer over policing concerns.

There are also times when likely outcomes get ignored by those suggesting a course of action, often in the name of achieving some other aim than that being proposed.

Regular calls to increase the tax burden on wealthy residents might, from one perspective, play well to a certain political constituency, but ignores the possible financial impact to the island of kissing goodbye to a minimum income tax take of £145K per year for anyone who leaves, or does not come, because of the proposal’s perpetual re-emergence. And lest we forget, doing all that good stuff takes money.

On the subject of dirty cash, there are occasionally unintended outcomes that just happen to have a fortuitous ending, either for those involved, or the wider public. 


Pictured: According to the government, the total saving on [teacher] salaries during the strike action was £312,697.

Of course, it depends on your perspective, but the recent announcement by the States that they had saved £300k by not having to pay striking teachers is one such multifaceted example.

On the one hand, with the education budget swelled by an unexpected windfall, the taxpayer has saved money on not rewarding employees for services they haven’t provided. Secondly, at least one of the unions has used their own funds to pay the errant educators, depleting at least their financial ability to cause further chaos.

But perhaps the sweetest irony, at least for those who had their lives inconvenienced by the teachers’ actions, is that the funding for unions comes from the teachers' own subscriptions.

This must lead some to question why it was only taxpayers, and certain union officials, who saw an immediate financial benefit from their actions, and with that loss of earnings, what actual pay rise they had received for the year?"  

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author, and not of Bailiwick Express. Read the Fool and more analysis in Connect Magazine by clicking here.

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