If the following hypothetical makes little sense at first, read on and see if it makes a point.
Skin cancer is a public health concern. One person dies of melanoma every 54 minutes. An estimated 87,110 new cases of invasive melanoma were diagnosed in the U.S. in 2017.
Politician “LB” sponsors a bill that will mandate windows in all commercial properties be replaced with a specific type of glass containing an SPF coating. The Bill was dubbed the “LB Cancer Prevention Act”, as she, herself is a cancer survivor, though the type of cancer she had was hereditary and the glass replacement would have done nothing to stop it. “If it prevents one unnecessary case of skin cancer” she proclaimed, “it’s worth it!”
The bill receives strong support from the other politicians (after all, who could be “for” cancer?) and passes unanimously. The State immediately solicits bids from glass companies to replace the windows in all government buildings.
Three years later, things didn’t exactly go as planned and the new law created several unintended consequences. As it turned out, the glass replacement wound up costing taxpayers and property owners millions of dollars, taking away already scarce resources from other capital improvements the State desperately needed. The glass itself wound up being difficult to source and install, so engineers had to spend valuable time figuring out how to implement the installation at the expense of focusing on other safety measures.
Worst of all, studies concluded that after three years, the glass hadn’t generated any demonstrable reduction in the rate of skin cancer, but, conversely, there was an increase in instances of skin cancer among construction workers in the state caused by the additional sun exposure during the installation.
Digging deeper, it turned out that LB’s dad, “RB” was a lobbyist for the “Florida Association of Glaciers” – the leading trade association for the glass manufacturing industry. He also lobbied for “EGO Group” a for-profit entity that provided construction services, including glass installation, to government entities. The manufacturing company that won the bid to supply the replacement glass on all government buildings was owned by LB and RB. It was one of the highest compensated vendors in the State. Not only was RB a significant contributor to the other legislator’s campaigns, but his clients were too.
Despite the apparent lack of any meaningful benefit gained from the law and the blatant conflict of interest of those promoting it, the law not only remained in effect, but each subsequent year LB sponsored legislation to expand on it – for example, extending the requirement to residential properties, eliminating exemptions for older buildings, etc. Regardless of the complications, challenges and lack of any empirical evidence demonstrating there was any benefit, so long as it meant more money to the players and politicians, it was allowed to persist.
Now imagine these were not panes of glass, but human beings. Or does the example need to be glass in order for you to completely see-through what’s going on?
This hypothetical is a work of fiction. Names of people organizations, places and incidents are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.