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Henderson on Unintended Consequences of Grounding the Boeing 737 Max

Summary:
The two recent crashes of Boeing 737 Max airplanes with the deaths of all aboard were tragic. It’s understandable that government agencies around the world, with the U.S. Federal Aviation Agency being the last, have grounded all 737 Max airplanes until they know more. Those government actions could actually cause more fatalities than they prevent. The reason is the law of unintended consequences. Any action you take may, in the best circumstances, achieve what you intend. But people’s actions often cause unintended consequences that offset the good effects of the actions. Examples of unintended consequences, especially consequences of partially thought out government policies, are many. In this article, though, I’ll note two, on airline safety and car safety.

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Henderson on Unintended Consequences of Grounding the Boeing 737 Max

The two recent crashes of Boeing 737 Max airplanes with the deaths of all aboard were tragic. It’s understandable that government agencies around the world, with the U.S. Federal Aviation Agency being the last, have grounded all 737 Max airplanes until they know more.

Those government actions could actually cause more fatalities than they prevent.

The reason is the law of unintended consequences. Any action you take may, in the best circumstances, achieve what you intend. But people’s actions often cause unintended consequences that offset the good effects of the actions. Examples of unintended consequences, especially consequences of partially thought out government policies, are many. In this article, though, I’ll note two, on airline safety and car safety.

These are the opening 3 paragraphs of my latest article for Hoover’s on-line magazine Defining Ideas. The article is titled “Turbulence at Boeing.”

If you want to understand my reasoning, read the whole thing.

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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