The Problem in Perspective

  • Sam D. Sieber
Part of the Environment, Development, and Public Policy Public Policy and Social Services book series (EDPP)


One of the most remarkable and sorely lamented patterns of human affairs is also one of the most obscure in origin: the culmination of action in effects directly contrary to those that were intended. Nor can this pattern be attributed to mere want of circumspection, default of planning, or suicidal impulse. For it appears that few institutions, programs, or leaders are immune to the vexatious experience of worsening the condition that they set out so nobly to alleviate. History past and present abounds in examples, and a nearly universal fascination with the topic is manifested by an array of technical and popular terms—counterproductivity, negative results, backlash, boomerang effect, perverse incentive, Pyrrhic victory, Promethean fallacy, two-edged sword, and going to sea in a sieve—as well as by a host of trenchant aphorisms reminding us that man’s good intentions are paving stones on the road to hell, the cure is worse than the illness, the solution is the problem, the enemy is us, or, as Hamlet was maliciously aware, the engineer is not secure from being hoist with his own petard.


Negative Side Effect Unanticipated Consequence Purposive Action Regressive Effect Terminal Goal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sam D. Sieber

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