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.


  1. Anonymous

    "intentions are not results." I think that is one of the big differences between left-liberals and libertarians (though not always the case).

  2. Dusty Aud

    Agreed.  Too often the arguments made by left-liberals assume results match intentions.  

  3. Matt Wavle

    It’s statist logic to only judge a program by its intentions and not by the results.  IF programs had to show specific results on a yearly basis, or be shut down, we’d have a lot less wasteful programs.

  4. kskousen

    Wow! Makes so much sense!

  5. Raquel Rivera

    My Bureaucratic Politics Prefessor mentions this all the time! "intentions are not results!" Such an amazing statement! 

  6. Jonathan Day

    I became a libertarian from Milton Friedman… "Intentions and results are NOT the same"

  7. Kenny Legge

    This seems to be the case with most major political decrees. The intentions never meet the result because our leaders do not seem to analyze these intentions based on the incentives.

  8. juliansfree

    I am curious about how and whether government regulation encourages poaching.

  9. kevinbuttrum

    Good video

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