The ADA and The Biggest Mistake

Over at EconLog, Scott Sumner has an excellent post on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.  An excerpt:

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) forcefully articulates this contemporary view of disability: “Physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society… The Nation’s proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for such individuals.”

As documented in Figures 6a and 6b, the employment rate of males in their forties and fifties with a self-reported disability fell from 28 percent in 1988 to 16 percent in 2008 (approximately a 40 percent decline). The employment rate of comparably aged males without a disability held roughly constant at 87 to 88 percent. For females in this same age range with disabilities, the employment rate declined slightly (from 18 to 15 percent) while the employment rate of their counterparts without a disability rose from 66 to 76 percent.

It’s difficult to think of a piece of legislation that failed more abysmally than the ADA.

My thoughts exactly, Scott.  One of the biggest mistakes politicians, pundits, priests, and laymen make is judging a policy based upon its intent rather than its result.  The intent of the ADA was to create more opportunities for the disabled.  In fact, the opposite happened.  And, despite this being an all too predictable outcome, the bill was passed.  Now, after nearly 30 years, we have the data.  I strongly suspect were anyone to suggest repealing this Act, there would be an outcry against them and accusations of harming the disabled, despite the fact the evidence points in the other direction.

We see this with many things, most noticeably in minimum wage.  Many economists oppose minimum wage not because we hate the poor but because we see the costs and see the outcome (plus have a good amount of evidence to back it up).  But very few discussions outside of economic faculty rooms or blogs focus on this, but rather focus on the minimum wage’s intentions.  And, despite evidence pointing in the other way, the discussion remains on its intentions and not results (Don’t believe me?  I’d love to see Bernie Sanders to Hilary Clinton agree with minimum-wage supporter and economist Arindrajit Dube that minimum wage is a poor poverty relief tool, but I got $100 that says that never happens).

The hardest thing in changing the culture of ideas is overcoming this issue.  Overcoming people’s priors is insanely difficult, which is why the job of the economist is full-time.  Getting the repeal of failed legislation is very difficult as you are often combating visions of how things are supposed to be, rather than how they are.

3 thoughts on “The ADA and The Biggest Mistake

  1. “Physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society…”

    That’s correct, but disabilities may limit a person’s ABILITY to fully participate. Creating a positive right for those with disabilities places others in their service – hardly a desirable result.

    I see our buddy B. Cole has managed to introduce a comment about the VA on Scott’s post at EconLog.


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