My belief that sports writing is the best form of journalism is bolstered by Ed Smith. He describes how the ideas that had improved the England team in recent years "were taken to counterproductive extremes" with the result that good players "become bad versions of their old selves."
What he's describing here is a fascinating mechanism - the idea of revenge effects. This is when a good policy has unanticipated adverse long-run effects that leave us worse off than before. They are a specific and grievous subset of the trivial law of unintended consequences.
There's a distinction between revenge effects and ordinary competition. It's common in sport and business for a good idea to be emulated by others, with the result that the advantage it gave its first adopter is competed away; this is the story of Moneyball. But it's rare in such case for the the first adopter to regret his innovation - which is what happens with revenge effects.
So, how common are such effects? David Swenson has compiled a great list. I'd highlight some others.
One is the overconfidence effect. Success can embolden us to take more risks, which can cause us to lose money. This can afflict individual investors, but also whole companies. For example, RBS's successful takeover of Nat West encouraged Fred Goodwin to take over ABN Amro, with catastrophic effects.
A variant of this is Minsky's financial instability hypothesis.This says that a period of economic stability will encourage people to take on more risk, which ultimately causes a financial crisis.
Another type of revenge effect is the efficiency wage hypothesis. This says that wage cuts will reduce productivity and increase staff turnover, more than offsetting the firm's benefit of lower wage costs.
Another mechanism through which revenge effects can work is long-run cultural change. Right-wingers who claim the welfare state has created a "dependency culture", left-wingers who complain that neoliberalism has created selfish individualism or anti-managerialists who claim that hierarchy demotivates workers are all telling stories of revenge effects.
Now, if take the idea of revenge effects to an extreme, we might end up with a John Gray-style scepticism about the very possibility of progress. This goes too far. Instead, I say all this to make two other points.
One is that the mere existence of revenge effects reminds us not only that our powers of foresight are very limited, but also that this lack can have nasty effects.
Secondly, there's an Elsterian point here. The social sciences are an inventory of mechanisms. A revenge effect is one such mechanism. The question - as for all social science is - when, where and how does such a mechanism operate? This can often only be answered with hindight. But then, nobody seriously thinks the social sciences are about forecasting, do they?