The perversity thesis maintains that a proposed reform will yield the opposite of its intended effect, "this action will produce, via a chain of unintended consequences, the exact contrary of the objective being proclaimed an pursued." (Page 11, Rhetoric of Reaction
) Its backbone resides in history, and reactionaries
use the perversity thesis to combat proposed legislation and changes. Hirschman's
disclaimer on the perverse effect is that "it is unlikely to exist 'out there' to anything like the extent that it is claimed (by those professing the thesis). The perverse effect is a special and extreme case of the unintended consequence," or failure of foresight. (Page 35-36, Rhetoric of Reaction)
Examples of society desires for change, Everything Backfires:
Social welfare programs will create more, rather than less, poverty.
Capitalism, the idea that some have more and others have less makes people strive for the more, means a very few have most and most have little or none.
(They are up for debate...)
- Attempts to reach for liberty will make society sink into slavery.
- The quest for democracy will produce oligarchy and tyranny.
- Only half the population of the USA even votes...
Democracy, or is it Tyranny?
Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France argued that the French Revolution would end in disaster because it was founded on abstract notions that purported to be rational but in fact ignored the complexities of human nature and society. He questioned the political doctrine founded on abstract notions about "liberty" and the "rights of man," believing that they could easily be used by those in power to justify tyrannical measures. He was right, Napoleon Bonaparte. Schiller wrote in 1793, "The attempt of the French people to install the holy Rights of Man and to conquer political liberty has only brought to light its impotence and unworthiness int his regard; the result has been that not just this unhappy people, but alongside it a considerable part of Europe and a whole century have been thrown back into barbarism and servitude. (Page 13, Rhetoric of Reaction)
It is even more of an ancient observation, that democracy easily degenerates into tyranny, than the French Revolution. Plato argued that democracy was never truly possible, and that because of that it leads to undemocratic ideals. "These will be some of the features of democracy... it will be, in all likelihood, an agreeable, lawless, parti-colored society, dealing with all alike on a footing of equality, whether they be really equal or not." (Plato, The Commonwealth)
The war in Iraq, is a prime example of an unfolding answer, whether or not the Americans invading actually helped the situation or made it worsen.
Economics, to dick or not to dick?
People attempt to tamper with the self-regulating market, and cause the opposite desired affect. "A price stop for bread, it is shown how flour will be diverted to other final uses and how some bread will be sold at black-market prices, so that the average price of bread may go up rather than down as was intended." (Page 27, Rhetoric of Reaction) Welfare inadvertently teaches those who rely upon it that their actions don't have consequences. This can be statistically proven when looking at the numbers of people on Welfare when it was created to the number now. Irresponsible men can father children and leave before they are even born because they know they will be taken care of.
The Welfare program can't possibly give the individual the same personable help that say religion would, obviously the individual gets money from the Welfare system, but from religion perhaps gets instruction and counsel along with monetary items. Charles Murray attacked the Welfare State in the United States in Losing Ground (1984): "We tried to provide more for the poor and produced more poor instead. We tried to remove the barriers to escape from poverty and inadvertently built a trap." (Page 29, Rhetoric of Reaction)
The perversity thesis is both good and bad, and true to an extent
Although the perversity thesis is often looked at as shallow and the easy way out to argue against a reform, it is a valuable tool that should be available for use. Unemployment insurance may induce laziness, the former employee may not intensify his search for a new job. At the same time, maybe the time will mean he finds a better job because he is not rushed to continue a stable, if unsatisfactory, income or job. In conclusion I leave you with a question and an exclamation. Hirschman asks, "Could they be embracing the perverse effect for the express purpose of feeling good about themselves?" Finally, Dr. Stockmann (plays hero) in An Enemy of the People (1882) puts it best in this seemingly questionable ejaculation, "The minority is always right!"