Saving Endangered Species

Have you ever had an idea that you thought was good, but turned out bad? It happens to everyone. Sometimes when we make a plan, we can’t predict what all the consequences will be. These unseen effects are known by economists as “unintended consequences.”

Don Boudreaux examines a major piece of legislation – the Endangered Species Act – and argues that we should judge it based on its results, not its intentions. The intention of the law is to preserve endangered species, a seemingly noble cause. As it turns out, the law severely restricts what property owners can do with land inhabited by endangered species. This in turn reduces the value of that land. As a result, the act gives landowners good reasons to quietly kill protected species they encounter on their land. This phenomenon is known as “shoot, shovel, and shut up.”

Giving landowners the incentive to kill animals clearly wasn’t the goal of the Endangered Species Act. It is an unintended, unforeseen consequence. Boudreaux encourages us to judge a policy not by its stated goals, but by its actual effects.