In about 1983, when I was a first-time general manager of a radio station in Oklahoma City, I decided to do something nice for the employees. I decided that we didn’t really need to make a profit on the drink machine. All we needed was to cover our costs. So in a grand magnanimous act, I lowered the prices on soft drinks from 30 cents to just 15 cents, the nearest nickel above my cost of 12 cents a drink.
My intentions were good. My goals were to do something nice for the employees and, for my own benefit, earn a little of their goodwill.
As is often the case with good intentions, the trouble started almost immediately.
Soon after lowering the price I came to work to find the drink machine substantially sold out. The mainline drinks, such as Coke, Dr Pepper and Sprite were completely gone, leaving only the lesser drinks like orange and grape still available.
I shrugged, got someone to re-stock the machine, and got on with my day.
The next morning, the machine was empty again.
A radio station is a 24-hour a day operation. That means things are going to happen when you can’t be there. Thus the drink machine was, for a brief time, a mystery.
What we eventually discovered was that the cleaning people were emptying the machine at night at our discounted price and then either consuming the drinks or re-selling them at a profit.
I immediately realized that if my pricing policy stood, I would be doing nothing every day except stocking the vending machine for someone else’s benefit. So I took the price back up.
“Not fair!” howled the same employees that had only recently been willingly paying 30 cents a drink. “It’s not our fault that the cleaning people are jerks. Don’t’ take it out on us.”
“How about if I just have the drink machine hauled out of here?” I offered.
“Grumble, grumble, grumble,” from the employees.
So much for my goal of banking some goodwill.
The episode taught me a lot. I learned that good intentions can get you in trouble. I learned that good intentions count for nothing in the face of bad results. And I learned that once you give someone something, it’s hard to take it back.
I may be too generous in saying that the proposals and policies of the Obama administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress are born from good intentions. I know that many of you see in the current administration true malign intent. Let’s don’t go there for now. Work with me, for the purpose of this discussion, on the premise that their intentions are, indeed, good.
You’re still left with the fact that good intentions in the end don’t matter. You will be judged by the results. History is instructive.
If you expand federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children beyond the program’s original mission of helping widows to instead include virtually any single mother wanting to apply, you bear responsibility for the resulting explosion in illegitimate birth.
If you impose court-ordered busing on school districts in the name of helping minority student achievement but instead destroy hundreds of hitherto good local school systems, your intentions are of no value.
If, as currently, you extend unemployment benefits to 99 weeks, you bear responsibility for the fact that many recipients of the benefits will elect to postpone looking for work until those benefits are exhausted.
If, as President Obama proposed Thursday, you drop the hammer on the investment banks of Wall Street to the point that the capital formation that now takes place there moves to Fleet Street in London, or some other more sympathetic jurisdiction, you will bear the responsibility for the resulting loss of national wealth.
Being the children of the 60s that we are we have extensive experience with grand liberal programs born of good intentions. That experience is, by and large, disastrous.
If we are to grow and prosper and provide the opportunity for our children that was provided for us, good intentions alone will avail us nothing.
We must again embrace thrift, hard work, personal responsibility and ethics born of morality.
In other words, the core principles that made America the light of the world.