Laws have unintended consequences

by Joseph Debro

ACORN-by-Khalil-Bendib-092609, Laws have unintended consequences, World News & Views The law of unintended consequence works in our favor some of the time. A few weeks ago the Congress of the United States fell all over itself trying to sanction ACORN. As you remember, ACORN is a community-based organization that helps the poor throughout the country. It also registers voters.

The reason for the sanction was that some members of the organization were accused of giving some illegal advice. It turns out that such a company specific sanction is unconstitutional. This law must apply to any government contractor, not just ACORN.

Neither ACORN nor any of its members have been found guilty of any crime. Nor have they been indicted for any crime. The rush to judgment was made by politicians who hated the work that ACORN does and by those without the courage to stand by their friends. The House vote on this sanction was 372 members in favor. Most of these members are lawyers. They were too panicked to realize that what they were doing was unconstitutional. They were too foolish to think that such a law would hurt their friends.

On the other hand, Blackwater, Halliburton and a number of Republican contractors who work in Iraq have had members of their staffs indicted for murder and other crimes. One corporation has been cited for negligent homicide 33 times. Congress has not acted to debar them from government contracts. The sanction intended for ACORN, if enacted into law, would apply to them as well.

The Congress did not expect to trap their friends in this situation. They were only trying to get ACORN. ACORN was a symbol. It is an organization with its roots in the community of the poor.

This natural law of unintended consequences worked in the case of the Black Panther Party formation. For those who do not remember the newspaper headlines that describe the appearance of a group of young Black men at the state capitol armed with rifles, this is how the Black Panthers were announced to the world.

When they announced themselves by legally appearing in the Assembly with rifles, the country got scared. Young Black men with guns were a scary thought for White people. In Oakland, the city from which the Panthers came, white homeowners panicked. Real estate prices plunged. White flight took on a new meaning.

The Black Panther Party had no interest in real estate prices. However, the Black Panther Party’s formation made some people from the poor community wealthy. Many of those homes are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The laws that authorized trillions of dollars to bail out banks and provide a stimulus for the country’s ailing economy also provide some unexpected benefits for the elderly in our communities. Reverse mortgages work for poor people when the interest charged is less than the rate of inflation. Now, because the country must print money to pay for its excesses, inflation will run rampant. The reverse mortgages will become a gold mine for seniors and for their heirs.

Joseph Debro is president of the Visitacion Valley Community Development Corp., co-founder of the National Association of Minority Contractors, a general engineering contractor and a bio-chemical engineer. He can be reached at