The Queen’s blunder

There are few sure bets in this world, but one thing you can usually count on is that when a government sets out to solve a problem, two things will happen:

1- The problem will not be solved, only distorted.

2- New problems will be caused by the “solution” to the original problem.

Examples abound, (Almost any law with the words “comprehensive” and “reform” in the title is a good candidate) but one that I read about recently is a classic. According to author Charles Mann, in his book 1493, England had a problem with a shortage of farmland during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the first. One day, the queen, or more likely some-up-and-coming courtier, noticed thousands of empty acres of water-soaked fens, moors and marshlands all over the place. So the full might and majesty of the crown pushed an effort to drain these areas and populate them with sturdy yeoman farmers. The areas were drained and the farmland was created, but soon they noticed that people were dropping dead from Malaria in far greater numbers than before. The hardest hit were those who had moved to the newly created farmland, where the numbers were alarming.


What was going on with this brilliant plan?

It seems that the boggy areas were mostly tidal,and were regularly flushed out by the surging of the water. When the areas were drained, however, the action created stagnant pools that were ideal mosquito nurseries. The mosquitoes bred in record swarms and spread Malaria to the hapless farmers and beyond. According to one source, many of the original Jamestown settlers came from such areas and carried the disease to America with disastrous results. Much later, when improved ways of reclaiming such lands were developed, the problem was brought under control, but the death toll in the meantime was staggering.

Of course, the neither the queen nor anyone else had any idea of what caused Malaria at the time, but that’s the point. Sweeping massive government fixes NEVER have all the necessary information, so keeping “cures” modest in scale, at least at first, is usually the prudent way to go. It keeps the body count down.

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