When it comes to public policy, good intentions are not enough

When California passed a law in 2018 to start requiring more space for some farm animals, the effort was lauded as necessary.

At the beginning of next year, California will enforce a welfare proposition, which was approved by voters in 2018. The Farm Animal Confinement Proposition requires more space for breeding pigs, egg-laying chickens, and veal calves. 

The idea is that all of those animals should have sufficient space to stretch out their wings, claws, and paws, as Insider’s Hilary Brueck reported. Welfare campaigners have been pushing for the change for years. 

Back in 2018, Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement: “California voters have sent a loud and clear message that they reject cruel cage confinement in the meat and egg industries.”

However, as the implementation period for that law gets closer, it is starting to seem clear that Californians will pay a huge cost once these changes are in place. The regulations are expected to make pig farming more expensive and therefore raise pork prices.

Between now and January, courts or the state could try and intervene. But if they don’t, California is expected to lose almost all of its pork supply and pork producers will likely face higher costs to regain the market, according to AP.

Once the amount of time needed to build new facilities and inseminate sows is factored in, it is unlikely the pork industry will be able to supply California, AP reported.

“We are very concerned about the potential supply impacts and therefore cost increases,” Matt Sutton, the public policy director for the California Restaurant Association, told AP.

Jeannie Kim, a San Francisco restaurant owner, also told AP: “Our number one seller is bacon, eggs and hash browns. It could be devastating for us.”

On top of that, there is very little evidence showing these rules will make life better for animals.

The fallacy of good intentions

California is not the first state to experience something like this. History is brimming with stories about lawmakers who set out with good intentions, but merely managed to make lives harder by enacting laws that have hurt more than helped. This is a phenomenon that is all too common in public policy, even here in Minnesota.

Take, for example, the minimum wage policy. In 2014, Minnesota passed an ordinance to increase the state’s minimum wage gradually every year till 2016 in order to raise incomes for low-income workers. But according to an analysis done by the Center for Research on Wisconsin Economy, the minimum wage hikes in Minnesota led to job losses, especially among young workers and workers in the restaurant industry. Additionally, some of the higher labor costs were passed on to consumers through higher prices.

Numerous other policies have also been found to have adverse track records. Occupational licensing, for instance, hurt consumers through higher prices and deters low-income individuals from entering lucrative professions; tobacco tax hikes hurt low-income smokers who spend the majority of their incomes on consumption; rent control policies restrict the supply of housing and hurt low-income renters. The list goes on.

Lawmakers beware

To be fair, no one is arguing against having good intentions. However, not every policy set out to help people end up actually helping. Some policies make life much worse. And the worst mistake we can make in public policy, as Milton Friedman put it, is to judge policies by their intentions rather than results.

Take, for instance, current efforts that could make it possible for the Minneapolis City Council to enact rent control policies. The only reason this issue has gained traction is that supporters ignore rent control’s disastrous results, instead focusing on the good intentions of the policy –– namely, helping the poor.

However, much like California’s Farm Animal Confinement Proposition, rent control will prove costly for Minneapolis, and even more costly to the low-income renters that will supposedly be helped if these efforts succeed.