When I last wrote about crime in D.C a man was murdered while watching a soccer game right next to my kids' elementary school. This was back in July. Since then, the murders increased even more in August and decreased to (still high!) 2022 levels in September. Then a congressman got carjacked in front of his apartment building and the news media were all over it.
I mentioned in passing how you can trace a direct line from bad decisions to even worse consequences. While there has been movement to correct some of the more egregious mistakes, I haven’t seen even a suggestion of a mea — or sua — culpa from a council member. Until now!
When the stakes are lower, such as lets say public transit fare evasion, there is more space for assigning responsibility. The press release announcing the new legislation and the history behind the reversal is as good of an example of unintended (but not unforeseen) consequences and externalities as I’ve seen. You could, of course, trace the same well-intentioned path from calls for justice to murders on the soccer field, but that would of course not be so politically palatable.
All of this has reminded me of medical reversals and the unfortunately-titled (but good!) book about ending it. This is why it is unfortunate: medical reversal is when something that is standard medical practice despite lacking evidence of benefit goes out of fashion once data, usually from a randomized controlled trial, show it doesn’t work. Now, ending reversal could mean two things: that you keep doing the thing despite the new evidence, or that you never start doing the thing to begin with. The authors meant the latter, where my common-sense interpretation is the former. People do dumb stuff. We should promote their reversal. Now, “legislative reversal” and “legal reversal” are terms already reserved for when an appeals court overturns a lower court’s decision, so what should we call “medical reversal” for written law? There are plenty of examples: from customs enshrined in old legislation than is then abolished (like traditional medicine disappearing with evidence showing it doesn’t work) to seemingly progressive legislation which is in reality a fountain of unintended consequences becoming quickly reversed.
Whatever the name, the consequences are at least more definitive than with medical reversals, which are rarely full — people still insert intra-aortic balloon pumps and perform kypholasties, I hear — and outside of a full FDA withdrawal of approval never have as clear of a demarcation line as written law. And we shoud strive to promote it, not end it.