the Long of it ........

unintended consequences and other musings

Unintended Consequences, Stories

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I collect examples of STORIES of unintended consequences like normal people collect stamps or trains.  I have tried to present them in an easy to read format without telling a very long story; I encourage you to read further on any specific vignette if you are interested in learning more.  Note, while unintended consequences are usually negative, some are positive and a very few are mentioned below.

Now up to 69 Stories!  

Page Contents

Airlines Provide Free Overhead baggage Space but not enough                                                

Action/Intention:                            Airlines have shifted to a policy of charging for baggage held in the bottom of the plane but giving you free space in the cabin with you.

Unintended Consequence:            The result has been a crush of on-board baggage.  The dirty secret is that there is only about room for 125 bags in a 737 that can carry 185 passengers, so the promise is empty for many. Stewards simply check the excess baggage and workers take the suitcases down the stairs and put them in the baggage hold – slowing gate push-backs.   Another consequence is that many travelers are paying additional early-boarding fees so that they can guarantee luggage space (a positive consequence for the Airlines).  Further complicating the issue is various different rules for size of carry on baggage allowed in different countries/airlines.  The Airlines are stuck because their revenues have risen dramatically with all of the additional fees.  Airlines have tried getting behind an effort to lower the carry-on luggage size by 20% and labelling it as ‘CABIN READY’ but it is not making progress.  Recently, Delta is testing a service where attendants actually load the carry-on baggage before boarding starts.


Fast Tax Returns Loved by Criminals                                                

Action/Intention:                            The IRS has sped up the steps to process tax returns and send the tax refund quickly, pleasing many taxpayers who look forward to this ‘extra’ cash early every year.

Unintended Consequence:            Criminals have taken advantage of this fast process by submitting fake returns for real taxpayers before they can submit their actual return.  IRS then processes fake return and sends a check/deposit to the criminal.  Many people have submitted various proposals to limit this exposure including having taxpayers register a bank and not allowing changes to this without verification.  One WSJ idea required IRS to hold all returns until April 15 and then look for duplicates before processing rebates.


Mandatory Health Insurance leaves 35 Million Uninsured                                                

Action/Intention:                           The ACA (Affordable Care Act) was passed to insure that every American was insured, estimates ranged from 30 – 60 million uninsured.

Unintended Consequence:            Estimates are that 16-17 million uninsured people gained insurance as a result of the ACA.  Additional sign-up rates for private coverage are slowing and will not reduce the uninsured number much in the future.  Many uninsured are using cash to purchase medical care and find the fine for not having mandatory insurance easy to defend; about 695$/year for a single person per year.  About 45% of the uninsured are people who choose to remain uninsured by choice.  The whole premise of the ACA was that everyone would use it, thus lowering risk across a broad pool – this is not proving true.  Watch for government and medical institutions to take further actions to force coverage…and of course I will watch the unintended consequences.


giant nail  


Russia’s Success, Giant Nails                                               

Action/Intention:                            Socialist Russia with it’s central planning required use of goals to measure productivity of factories, farms, etc. to prove it (Communism) was succeeding.

Unintended Consequence:            Central Planners typically used weight or quantity to measure factory output and instituted harsh penalties if targets were not met.  This resulted in many examples of products that were either too small or too heavy; examples included:

  1. Either nails so small nobody could use or very large nails like railroad spikes.
  2. Desk lamp that were very heavy, filled with lead.
  3. Tractors who had extra weight added.
  4. Factories would not produce spare parts because production only counted finished product – so repair was only possible by stealing parts from production machines.

The translation on the cartoon above roughly is:  Worker:  Who Needs this Nail?, Manager; It does not matter – our purpose is to make the plan.


No Roof top Solar Panels but I will Pay for Yours                                                

Action/Intention:                            To encourage renewable sources of power, power companies are forced to buy power from rooftop solar panels of homeowners at retail rates.

Unintended Consequence:            The cost of purchasing this power is 2X-3X what it would cost to buy from large solar plants.  Installation is much more expensive in the small rooftop plants but tax incentives give back these costs as a tax credit.  The real problem is that power companies fund the fixed-costs of power generation from a portion of the utility bills – people who install solar panels buy less electricity and thus pay for less of the fixed-costs.   This results in an expense transfer between owners of solar panels (who generally are better off financially) and non-owners.   Federal subsidies for solar are now running 5B$ a year, with about half going to rooftop solar systems.  It is much more efficient if that money were used to build large-scale solar plants.


Punishment Continues After Prison                                               

Action/Intention:                            Many Federal, State and Local laws are enacted to further prevent any wrongdoing by those persons who have been sent to prison for crimes.  In addition, some companies use background checks to head off any legal actions against it if former criminals commit crimes again while employed for the company.

Unintended Consequence:            Using Ohio as an example, a felon who has successfully completed his sentence (read punishment) still faces over 500 consequences buried in multiple laws after he/she is released.  These include being unable to vote, teach preschool, foster a child, operate a racetrack, cut hair, sit on a jury, provide hospice care, protect game, deal livestock, broker real estate and obtain a license to repair air conditioning systems.  The ABA (American Bar Association) ran a four year study and catalogued all of the Federal and State sanctions against felons; they compiled a list of 46,000!   About 60% of these affected employment.  While each law seemed good, the consequences added up, one by one as well meaning legislatures added them.   The result is higher unemployment among felons and this results in higher crime rates – just what the 46,000 laws were supposed to prevent……


soap pods 2Laundry Pods are Candy                                                

Action/Intention:                            Laundry Soap manufacturers developed an entirely new method of packaging concentrated Washing Machine soap into handy throw in containers.  This market is now 12% of the total market and represents $873M per year.

Unintended Consequence:            Children and even a few seniors with dementia are finding this irresistible and eating the packages causing death and serious injuries.  At least 7 people have died and U.S. poison centers are reporting 30 calls a day over ingesting these packets by children.  It also appears that the concentration itself is causing additional problems because previous ingestion of normal detergent has not caused this level of issues.  Reasons for the attraction to children are the similarity to baby chew toys and being packaged in a container that looks like a candy bowl.


Get Married or Lose your Benefits                                               

Action/Intention:                            Many employers gave ‘married’ insurance benefits to gay couples in a committed relationship because marriage was not legal in their state.

Unintended Consequence:            With the Supreme court deciding on the legality of same-sex marriages and many states now legalizing it, employers have backed out of the previous benefit and informed employees that they must now get married to receive benefits.   This has an unintended consequence of ‘outing’ the couple since marriage records are public.  Many states do not have discrimination laws for gays so they may not have protection.   While Gay couples have wished for the right to marry for years, the consequences may be a bitter victory in some areas.


An Abandoned Mining Pit Attacks Cancer                                                 

Action/Intention:                            Near Butte, Montana sits an abandoned open-pit copper mine that dates from the 1950’s. When the one-mile long pit was closed in 1982, the water pumps that kept it dry were turned off.

Unintended Consequence:            With  the pumps turned off the pit started to fill, fed by nearby aquifers.  It is now about 150′ from reaching the same level as the communities groundwater.  The pit is now filled with extremely acidic water from all of the chemicals and heavy metals that leach from the spent mine.

  • Tourists actually pay a small amount to view the pit.
  • A Flock of Geese landed on the water in 1995 and 342 died as a result of the poisoned water.
  • New species developed in the mine with very unique characteristics to survive. Scientists (Andrea A. Stierle, and Donald B. Stierle) have extracted the sludge and isolated organisms which show selective success against specific types of cancer.
  • Some of the organisms show ability to ingest metals – they may be used to clean the water eventually.


The most Difficult Part of Growing Marijuana Legally Is…….                                                        

Action/Intention:                             Legalization of marijuana in Colorado required all Marijuana to be grown indoors in locations not close to neighborhoods.

Unintended Consequence:              This requirement has driven up prices of most warehouse space in the metro area.   Kitchens to prepare the edible marijuana products plus mandatory testing facilities are also adding to the real estate squeeze.



In this photo provided by the Oswego Police, was taken after a fatal crash in Oswego, Ill. on April 6, 2009. Oswego police Detective Rob Sherwood said the wind had blown the snow over the red light, causing a driver run the light and hit the vehicle of 34-year-old Lisa Richter, who was making a left turn. She was killed. (AP Photo/Oswego Police)

LED Traffic Lights Causing Accidents

Action/Intention:                            Many cities have switched to LED bulbs in their traffic lights because they use 90% less energy than the old incandescent variety and last far longer.

Unintended Consequence:            Cities around the country that have installed the new traffic lights are discovering a dangerous consequence: The bulbs don’t burn hot enough to melt snow and can become crusted over in a storm—a problem blamed for dozens of accidents and at least one death.


Free Email provides Costly Spam                                                        

Action/Intention:                             The invention of Email created a very efficient, cheap communication method for billions of people.

Unintended Consequence:              Since it was cheap (read free), Spammers developed methods to quickly mail millions of email addresses with various advertisements.  While most of us deleted these quickly, they just needed a small percentage to reply to make it worthwhile.  This then created an entire industry of products to catch and delete spam emails.


Students Opting out of Standardized Testing are Lowering Scores

Action/Intention:                              Many parents/students do not agree with purpose and use of standardized testing to measure schools achievement towards improvement.  As a result, schools have granted the right for students to ‘opt-out’ of testing.

Unintended Consequence:              Minneapolis South High School has shown a 25% drop in Math scores for 11th graders this last year (2014).  Opt-outs tend to be primarily white, middle-class students who are typically among the better learners.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

Action/Intention:                              The Alternative Minimum Tax passed in 1969 after a political campaign against a mere 115 millionaires who had paid no income tax in 1967.  These rich people typically have many more deductions than ordinary taxpayers.

Unintended Consequence:              The AMT now applies to millions of middle-class Americans each year.  The primary reason is, in contrast to the ordinary income tax, the AMT is not adjusted for inflation.


catfishIs it a Catfish?                                                        

Action/Intention:                             In an effort to protect the health of consumers and protect a domestic industry — you can decide which was the primary motive — U.S. catfish farmers recently lobbied for a law they thought would cut down on competition from foreign imports. They also believed foreign importers were using antibiotics and other substances banned in this country.

Unintended Consequence:              What catfish farmers really got was a convoluted system whereby catfish that traditionally was inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (it is catfish “farming”) would now be inspected by the Food and Drug Administration (it is food). FDA inspections are more stringent; therefore, what it inspects would be safer, and its requirements more costly, which would drive foreign catfish off the market.

Unless, of course, the foreign catfish really isn’t catfish.

In 2002, U.S. farmers were successful in getting a law passed that prohibited Vietnamese exporters (the United States’ biggest competition) from labeling their catfish species (pangasius) as catfish. Then the law of unintended consequences raised it’s ugly ever-present head.

Now there are two agencies — the USDA and the FDA — inspecting seafood. The FDA inspects catfish. The USDA inspects the rest. Also, if the imported catfish is not catfish, as the law seems to suggest, then the only catfish being held to stricter standards will be domestic catfish, which, according to the law, really is catfish. So, American catfish farmers will not get the protection they wanted.


Legal Marijuana but illegal Guns                                                        

Action/Intention:                             In an open letter to all licensed firearms dealers, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) unilaterally decided that any person who is prescribed marijuana for medical purposes is prohibited from possessing a firearm.

Unintended Consequence:             
With the stroke of a pen, the U.S. Justice Department has just subjected hundreds of thousands of Americans to a lifetime gun ban. That means over 300,000 people in the states that allow medical marijuana suddenly cannot buy or possess a gun. Oh, and for the many who already own firearms, watch out. They are now felons and could be subject to lengthy prison terms of up to ten years.

After all, this is the same Justice Department that, in 2009, basically advised federal prosecutors to turn a blind eye to medical marijuana use. The Justice Department makes it perfectly clear in the letter what it expects from gun dealers and gun purchasers, even though the Department and ATF obviously consider themselves above the law—both at the federal and state levels. According to the agency:

“Any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her State has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medical purposes, is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance, and is prohibited by Federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”
Notice that persons need not be regular users of the prescribed drug; just the mere possession of a prescription card from a doctor is sufficient to trigger the gun ban. Firearms dealers are further instructed by the ATF: “If you are aware that the potential transferee is in possession of a card authorizing the possession and use of marijuana under State law, then you have ‘reasonable cause to believe’ that the person is an unlawful user of a controlled substance.”


leveesLevees Make Flooding Worse Somewhere else               

Action/Intention:                             Consider the levee – lots of dirt piled at least six feet high and eight feet wide or more. The top of the level is flat.

Unintended Consequence:             It turns out that flat, high surface is a great place to walk or ride bikes or watch birds.

Birders love levees because the sight lines are so great. Winter birds come to hang out in the waters impounded by levees. Birders use levees as their own elevated viewing platform, at least six feet above the water.  One of the few positive unintended consequences stories I have collected.

However, an unintended consequence of the levees was that natural silt deposits from the Mississippi River were unable to replenish the delta, causing the coastal wetlands of Louisiana to wash away and the city of New Orleans to sink even deeper.


Leave your Genealogy buried unless you are Batman

Action/Intention:                              Courtesy of the Wiki Leaks which gave us some secret Sony emails:  PBS ran a program called ‘Finding your Roots’ which dug into famous people’s past and reported on their findings.  Sounds interesting and non-threatening, right?

Unintended Consequence:              Ben Affleck (movie star known for Batman role) happened to be one famous person they worked with and they discovered that his family had once been slave owners.  Ben immediately asked the show not to run this story and PBS acquiesced (This later came out in the Sony mail leaks).  Of course they DID include the story that his mother marched for civil rights in the 60’s.  Be aware of the unintended consequences when you let people dig into your life and prepare to accept the truth wherever it may take you.  Or be Batman…….


Alcohol Warning Labels may have Boomerang effects

Action/Intention:                              Legislators require warning labels on alcohol packaging to deter potential abuse of the product.

Unintended Consequence:              Social psychologists have observed a behavior called psychological reactance where warning labels actually ‘arouse’ use instead of understanding the perceived threat.


Emergency Visits actually increase under Affordable Car Act

Action/Intention:                              The ACA was passed using multiple factors that promised to reduce the expensive healthcare Americans were receiving.  One of the oft-mentioned ones was the high cost of people visiting ER’s (Emergency Rooms) for normal medical issues that were best and less expensively handled by a primary care Doctor.  It was reasoned that people used the ER because they did not have health insurance and ER’s could not turn away sick patients who lacked ability to pay.

Unintended Consequence:              Multiple surveys after passage/implementation has shown that ER visits have actually gone up.  Latest WSJ poll of ER Doctors show that 75% show slight to large increases in ER visits.   Reasons listed include:

  1. Lack of enough Primary Care Doctors.
  2. Many Doctors have stopped taking Medicare patients.
  3. Primary care doctors make you wait a few weeks for an appointment and are not open at night after work – ER is open 24Hrs/day.  Often, low income people have trouble taking time off work.
  4. People who were used to the ER know where it is and are familiar with going there – they also don’t have regular Doctors.
  5. No financial incentive/penalty to move away from the ER.


Black Farmers unable to grow Medical Marijuana

Action/Intention:                              The Compassionate Medical Cannabis act of 2014 allowed some nurseries to grow low-THC pot and distribute to patients suffering from specific diseases.

Unintended Consequence:              The law was written with stipulations that farmers must have a license to cultivate over 40,000 plants and have operated as a nursery in Florida for at least 30 years continuously.  This effectively shut-out all Black farmers as they are not that large or have owned a nursery for that many years.


Bicycle Helmet Laws causing Weight Gain?

Action/Intention:      Over 20 States now offer some form of a helmet law requiring all children (usually under 16) riding bicycles to wear a protective helmet to prevent head injuries. Recent studies have shown that juvenile fatalities due to bicycle accidents have been reduced 19% since enacting helmet laws. Conventional wisdom is that kids are dutifully obeying the law with results even supporting that helmet use increased by over 30% after the law took effect.

Unintended Consequence:  A closer look at (all) of the data was done by Stehr and Carpenter; they discovered that after helmet laws were enacted, there was a corresponding 5% drop in kids riding bicycles. Reasons for this are unclear but may be due to helmet cost, the social attitudes (helmets are un-cool) and the heat/sweat they can cause. Regardless, we have lost some of the health and other benefits of riding bicycles by children while fulfilling the original intent of the law.


tesla$42,000 Tax Credit for a $109,000 Tesla Electric Auto?

Action/Intention:      Many states are trying to build financial and usage advantages for all types of energy efficient vehicles; examples include tax credits, tax deductions, use of car pool lanes/parking, reduced insurance surcharges, sales tax exemption, reduced registration fees and parking garage discounts. Many experts have reviewed the ROI (Return on Investment) of hybrid and electric vehicles and determined that they are not a good financial decision as of yet. To overcome this, state/local/federal governments have rushed in without thinking it through and added programs to encourage the purchase of these vehicles.

Unintended Consequences:            Colorado created a credit in 2000 to provide incentives to purchase hybrid vehicles – no one thought this through and accounted for high-end hybrids that would soon hit the market and get the equivalent credit. Since the credits were based on a comparable gas-burning vehicle, the Tesla ($109,000) was compared to a Lotus Elise, which resulted in a $42,000 Tax Credit. The Lexus LSS 600h ended up with a $20,000 tax credit. While the state fixed this in 2010, the Tesla still gets over $13,500 in tax credits.


Energy Efficient Vehicles Not Paying Fair Share of Road Use Taxes

Action/Intention:      Road use tax has always used gasoline purchases to base road use taxes off of – seems fair, the more gas you use, the more miles you are driving, thus the more road use taxes.

Unintended Consequence:  As use of energy efficient vehicles has increased and state coffers have decreased, state officials have observed that these vehicles pay reduced or no (electric vehicles) road use tax. Multiple states are now looking into remedying this but of course, this will discourage use of these vehicles so others are fighting the changes. Look out for even more unintended consequences as they try to determine how many miles the vehicle was driven each year to base road use tax on.


Requirement for increased driver’s license restrictions for 16 year olds drives higher death rate for 18 year olds

Action/Intention:      Most states have implemented various kinds of graduated driver’s license restrictions – mandating areas such as supervised driving and limits on nighttime driving. It appears to be working as states that mandated restrictions had 26% fewer fatalities (among 16 year olds) than states without restrictions.

Unintended Consequence:  Because of the increased requirements, it appears that many teens are simply waiting until they are 18 years old to apply for their license; most states have no restrictions/training required at that age. As a result, states that have applied the restrictions for 16 year olds have seen a 12% increase in fatalities among 18 year olds due to fatal accidents.


Killing Coyotes results in more Coyotes

Action/Intention:                             Humans have tried for more than 100 years to reduce or eradicate the coyote population to protect livestock and small pets.

Unintended Consequence:              Large-scale efforts including bounties to shoot, trap and poison Coyotes has failed to lower their population.   Research has shown that when people try to aggressively control the coyote population, the Coyotes simply increase their reproductive rate by having larger litters and breeding earlier.


Passenger Bill of Rights Results in Longer Delays

Action/Intention:      Airlines were keeping planes/passengers on the tarmac for hours in order to keep their place in a crowded takeoff queue. This resulted in overheated cabins, full toilets and frustrated travelers.  Bills passed to create the Passenger Bill of Rights and stop this tarmac waiting procedure with hefty fines if ignored.

Unintended Consequences:            Actually caused increases in delays as planes get out of takeoff lines to return to gate to avoid 5M$ fines They then need to get back in line, at the rear of course, causing delays to get even longer.  


Public Crime Data

Action/Intention:      Crime maps of local areas were made public to help people protect themselves better.

Unintended Consequence:  Maps were quickly used by prospective home buyers and renters – as a result home owners reduced reporting crimes for fear of lowering home values. In addition, Megan’s Law in the US forced reporting of actual addresses of known sex offenders; this has lowered adjacent property values by as much as 12%.


Auto Bailout Kills Lawsuits/Recalls                                                 

Action/Intention:                             Auto bailout included allowing the companies to separate bad parts (read lawsuits, recalls, etc) into separate company.

Unintended Consequence:              People legitimately owed medical and vehicle repair expenses are left out.


Gun Control Simply Moves Purchases Elsewhere

Action/Intention:      Federal Gun control to prevent criminals, etc. from purchasing firearms only enforced purchases at gun stores.

Unintended Consequence:  Buyers simply moved to the used market (especially gun shows) to purchase firearms with even less control and less federal checks.


ACA (Affordable Care Act) Defines Minimum Level of Insurance

Action/Intention:      ACA defined the minimum level of insurance that providers could offer and outlawed high deductible insurance that was popular with many low-wage workers.

Unintended Consequence:  Low wage employers at take out restaurants and similar companies had to stop offering high deductible insurance but could not afford the Obamacare specified minimum thus leaving workers with NO insurance whatsoever. Companies have started asking/receiving waivers from this policy.


Rent Control punished those it was intended to help                                               

Action/Intention:                             Rent control instituted to stop landlords from raising rent to get rid of low income renters.

Unintended Consequence:              Only the connected now can get property, landlords are also now motivated to let property decline so that renters will leave and they can then raise rent.


Fed lowers interest rate to spur business                        

Action/Intention:                             Lower interest rate by the Federal Reserve Board spurs business to invest in capital, spurring increased manufacturing, construction, etc.

Unintended Consequence:              Retirees live off of life savings at very safe investment portfolios highly influenced by the basic interest rate; investments are now yielding 1-2% so retirees having to dip into their principal earlier and deeper than planned.  Some also keep large sums of cash in their home due to very poor interest rates thus creating safety issues.


Obamacare requires businesses to report payments                                                

Action/Intention:                             To pay for Obamacare, federal government workers found a way to increase taxes collected by locating revenue that has been typically underreported.  They enacted provisions that required small business owners to report any payments to any one company that  exceeded 1,000$ per year to the federal government.

Unintended Consequence:              The paper work required to meet this policy was very onerous on small businesses.  Business owners were starting to figure out how to spread work so that the amount for any one supplier did not exceed 1,000$. Meanwhile, Congress reversed this policy.


Pay Freeze resulted in employer paid insurance

Action/Intention:                             During WWII companies were forbidden by the US federal govt from offering pay increases, since there was a labor shortage due to the large number of able-bodied men being diverted to the war effort.

Unintended Consequence:              Companies needed to attract workers but were forbidden from offering higher wages – as a result, they started offering employer paid healthcare as an alternative to attract potential employees. This then created multiple unintended consequences:

  • isolating the recipients of healthcare from seeing the real cost.
  • tying the ability to be insured to having a job that offers insurance.
  • People began to think of Medical care as free;  Doctors and Hospitals then began raising rates.


Japan Self-Constraint cause economic problems        

Action/Intention:                             Japan Tsunami causes country-wide voluntary self-constraint by the citizens.

Unintended Consequence:              People cut energy use since Tsunami closed an electrical plant but also cut consumer purchases.  This adversely affected the Japanese economy; consumer spending is 60% of the Japanese economy.


Unemployment on Debit cards – less benefits                  

Action/Intention:      Officials in many states have moved from paper checks to debit cards to pay for unemployment, child support and other benefits.

Unintended Consequence:              Multiple fees (ATM usage, non-activity, etc.) can reduce the benefit amount. Early on, an Indiana card costs 50 cents each time the recipient checked their balance and only received one free withdrawal per week; additional withdrawals cost 1.25 each.  Most states have now resolved this with the debit card companies.

A secondary consequence was that the government could now see where card holders were drawing money out;  examples included strip shows, casinos, and locations out of town.


Dad, This Toilet does not Flush!                                                       

Action/Intention:                             Building centers (Home Depot, Lowes, Menards, etc) started displaying full bathroom/kitchens, allowing customers to see what an entire room remodel would look like.

Unintended Consequence:              Children did not understand that these were display only and ‘used’ the facilities. Stores now bolt the toilet lid down or display them at an angle on a shelf – too high to use.


Thanks for Taking your Girlfriend!                           

Action/Intention:                             Airline offered high mileage flyers a free flight for two ….

Unintended Consequence:              Airline followed up on trip with letter to the home address thanking the customer and hoping that they had a great time with their spouse/significant other…. Customers who took girlfriends instead of their spouse faced the dire and unintended consequences when they returned home that night….


Obama wins Gun Salesperson of the Year                            

Action/Intention:                             President Obama was elected and brought with him an anti-gun message but failed to pass any substantial anti-gun legislation.

Unintended Consequence:              This is a case where fear alone can cause unintended consequences – many US citizens believed that the Obama presidency would implement new anti-gun measures and ammo or certain types of weapons would be limited in some manner. Because of this fear, people actually bought more ammo and guns following his election.


Air Bags may Hurt and Cost you                                             

Action/Intention:                             Air Bags on all vehicles mandated to save lives….

Unintended Consequence:              Did not work on children, eventually resulted in cut-off switch being added to front passenger seat, did you remember to turn it back on for your next passenger?

Caused injuries never experienced in seat beat only equipped vehicles.

Expensive to repair, increased costs of low-impact accidents.


Alert Fatigue, Jets and Hospitals                                              

Action/Intention:                             Safety designers build multiple alarms, lights and buzzers into instruments warning the operators that a dangerous situation is at hand. To make matters worse, some of these alarms are overly sensitive.

Unintended Consequence 1:                       F4 Phantom Jet Fighters experienced a phenomenon known as ‘Alert Fatigue’ when too many alarm signals were going off – the brain actually begins ignoring some.

Unintended Consequence 2:                       Hospitals put multiple warning devices on critically ill patients to track blood pressure, temperature, etc.   Too many legitimate occurrences can interfere with these sensors and set the alarm(s) off, including the patient simply roiling over in bed. After a while, much less attention is paid to these alarms.


Jessica’s Law                                                 

Action/Intention:                             Sexual predator’s laws; Iowa barred sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools or day care centers

Unintended Consequence:              Sex offenders were unable to find housing, became homeless, failed to register and just disappeared. Alternatively, they moved to rural areas where they had little success in finding housing and overwhelmed small law enforcement departments. If offenders are unable to find housing, they are unlikely to remain “manageable,” and if they have unstable living situations, they are more likely to re-offend. We are all safer, (though more uncomfortable) when we know where registered sex offenders live. Initial proponents of such a measure have now, after experiencing the impact of its implementation, changed their minds about its usefulness.


kudzuHarmless Ground Cover                                                    

Action/Intention:                            In the late 1800s, Kudzu was thought to be a savior crop. Animals would eat it, so it could be planted as forage, and at the same time its strong roots held the soil and prevented crop erosion. The large leaves, pretty flowers and ease of growth appealed to gardeners as well, and by the late 1930s many towns had a Kudzu Club to encourage propagation of the Japanese wonder plant.

Unintended Consequence:              The vine found the climate in the southern U.S. to be most hospitable, and when left to grow unattended it would extend a foot or more per day. Jokes abounded about having to close the windows at night to keep the kudzu out. By the 1970s it had became the Scourge of the South, engulfing trees, houses and power lines. But somebody though it was a good idea at the time.


Terrorists Cause Crash                                                

Action/Intention:                             Terrorists hijacking planes was addressed by airlines locking cabin door.  Only pilots inside the cockpit could unlock the door.

Unintended Consequence:              Locked door led to crash of a GermanWings flight – the co-pilot locked the door after the pilot left for a bathroom break and then proceeded to purposefully crash the plane killing all aboard.


pyrexPyrex Quality Hurts Drug Trade                                                

Action/Intention:                            Pyrex is valued by cooks for its sturdiness in the kitchen, particularly its ability to withstand rapid, dramatic temperature changes that typically shatter normal glassware. It turns out that people making crack cocaine valued this quality too. The process of cooking powder cocaine into hardened crack is intense, and involves a container of water undergoing a rapid temperature change. For years, Pyrex measuring cups, manufactured by Corning, were a key component of the underground crack industry.

Unintended Consequence:            Corning sold Pyrex in 1998 to World Kitchen, which altered the makeup of the Pyrex material, making it less resistant to temperature changes and more prone to shattering. This had a substantial impact on crack production:  An entire underground industry was forced to switch from measuring cups purchased at Walmart to test tubes and beakers stolen from labs.


Farming Rats                                                

Action/Intention:                            Vietnam had an issue with rats – they started a program that paid a bounty to people for each rat pelt handed in.

Unintended Consequence:            People quickly learned that farming rats led to more income.

How many Dinosaur Bones do you Want?                                                

Action/Intention:                            Paleontologists hunting dinosaur fossils in China paid locals for every bone they found.

Unintended Consequence:            They stopped the practice after discovering that the locals would break the bone into smaller pieces to gain additional payments.

windowA Tax on Windows                                                

Action/Intention:                            English Parliament adopted a property tax that was based on the number of windows the bulding had.

Unintended Consequence:            Landlords bricked up many windows to lower their tax liabilities, resulting in the poor getting even poorer light and ventilation in their tenements.


When is an AR-15 not an Assault Rifle?

Action/Intention:                             New York state, in response to a shooting incident in Connecticut, enacted a ban on assault type weapons. They defined a list of ten attributes that determined which rifles qualified as an assault rifle.

Unintended Consequence:              Manufacturers simply took the same basic rifle and either modified or removed the ten banned items from the gun. So we now have a ‘New York State Compliant Assault rifle’.   Some of the items removed were the bayonet mount, flash suppressor and the pistol grip.  Still the same rifle…….

Why Can’t I Sell You My Kidney?                                                        

Action/Intention:                             It is illegal to buy/sell human organs in most industrialized countries in the world.  The reasons are difficult to understand but mainly revolve around moral rejection of anyone making a profit from others in trouble.  Also, it is often said that the poor people would be taken advantage of since they most often would be the ones to sell their Kidney/etc. to gain needed income.

Unintended Consequence:                  Black markets have sprung up all over the world to provide the much needed Kidneys due to almost 80,000 Americans waiting for a Kidney donor.  Typically, only the wealthy can afford these black market organs.  When free markets are kept from functioning, shortages are the consequence. And when shortages are acute, black markets fill the need.

As an added hit to the people needing organ donors – fatal auto and motorcycle accidents have been dramatically reduced in recent years causing a shortage of desirable ‘young’ organs.  Many kidney patients on Dialysis jokingly refer to a helmet-less motorcycle rider as a future ‘donor’.


Cash for Cars a Clunker                                                         

Action/Intention:                             A Government stimulus program, Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), under the Obama administration that intended to ‘stimulate’ the economy by encouraging owners of older, less fuel efficient cars to trade them in on a new model.   Owners traded in some 700,000 cars for rebates of 3500- 4500$ under this program.  Cars traded in had to be crushed and the engine or drivetrain parts were not allowed to be reused.   Cars purchased had to have a specific mpg impovement over current auto.

Unintended Consequence:              Although CARS was very popular, how successful it was is open to debate:

  • The cost to the taxpayers was $3B
  • The primary beneficiaries were middle to high income earners who had the ability and credit scores to buy a new car.
  • Low income earners actually suffered since they are primarily buyers of used cars – the mandatory crushing destroyed lots of cars that would have provided good transportation for these people.
  • Used Car prices ballooned for awhile as 700,000 used cars were taken of the market.
  • The gov’t computer program to approve of the rebates was clunky, complex and not built to handle the extreme load this program generated.  Many dealers were spending hours entering a single transaction.
  • While the projected savings of 12,000 barrels/day sounded good, actual reduction was .13% since the US uses 9 million barrels/day.
  • Purchasers were primarily people who were planning to purchase a car in the next few years who simply moved up their purchase to take advantage of the stimulus.   This resulted in a bubble of car purchases and a year following where car sales slumped.
  • Purchasers bought tiny, low margin cars – surveys showed that many of these people bought a car that cost $4,000-6,000 less than they normally would have purchased.  Car companies suffered under lower margins and lower income.
  • Eight of the top ten cars purchased were Japanese or Korean – Asia benefitted greatly.
  • Charities received less cars since they were required to be destroyed.
  • Short supply on the new cars led to increased prices.
  • Owners of new cars (for some reason) drive more miles thus undoing any potential increase in mpg ratings.


To Maximize Pollution, require Car Owners to Restrict Driving to Every Other Day                        

Action/Intention:                            Both Columbia and Brazil devised a system that used the last digit of your license plate to determine which days you were allowed to drive your car – this was intended to reduce the number of cars and thus the pollution.

Unintended Consequence:            Many people who could afford cars, simply bought another older car (with the right license plate number) to use on alternating days – pollution went up by driving these older cars.


Your Pocket Knife May be Illegal                                               

Action/Intention:                            States and localities enacted tough anti switchblade knife laws in the 50’s to counteract the fear of the gangs who preferred these weapons.

Unintended Consequence:            These laws did not keep up with technical advances in knifes that created various forms of assisted opening knives that were a bit different from switchblades (push button, spring assist knife).  This confusion has led to increased arrests in certain cities who have focused on this law.  NYC is one area where the ‘stop and frisk’ law permitted them to remove 10’s of thousands of weapons from people on the street – turns out that 80% of these weapons were pocket knives that many law-abiding citizens carry all over the US.  The laws had non-sensical issues with them; in Baltimore for instance since there is no restriction on length – a 2.5 inch spring assisted knife would be illegal where a folding blade knife with a 12 inch blade would be OK!   and…..most homicides with knives are committed with a kitchen knife by people in a domestic quarrel – no laws against these dangerous instruments though….


Endangered Specie Act, the Kirtland Warbler Bird                                               

Action/Intention:                            The Kirtland Warbler bird was not doing well in Mio,Michigan and the Forest Service took action to try and protect/improve the number of the species.   Years of preventing forest fires and logging had reduced the preferred nesting of the birds; trees that were only 5-10ft tall.

Unintended Consequence:            The first issue with the birds declining number was the Brown-headed Cowbirds who were taking over the Kirtland Warbler nests – a program of culling (killing) these birds helped stop the decline.  A second step that had been successful in tests was a prescribed burn of the Jack-Pine forests.   Unfortunately, this fire got out of control and burned several houses and killed a young forest service employee.   A positive consequence has been the tourist dollars that come with birders who come to see a very rare bird.


Killing Cartel Bosses Creates More and Deadlier Cartels                                                

Action/Intention:                            President Peña Nieto of Mexico took a different tack against the Cartels when he took office.  Instead of targeting the cartels with government troops, he decided to go after 122 criminal bosses.  The result was considered widely successful, over 93 of the targeted cartel leaders have been either jailed or killed by the effort.

Unintended Consequence:            The result of the targeted action was to splinter the larger cartels into smaller and more dangerous ones.  The New Generation Cartel came to power after government forces killed/captured many of the Sinaloa’s cartel leaders- this gang has paramilitary training and has even shot down a government helicopter with a rocket-powered grenade.


Guaranteed Insurability for Children Reduces Options                                                

Action/Intention:                            The ACA act guaranteed coverage for children, even of they had pre-existing conditions.

Unintended Consequence:            Many insurance companies, fearing that parents would buy children only policies right as their child got sick, stopped offering these policies.  This resulted in parents being required to buy insurance on themselves first and then adding their children to the policy.   Overll result was that in some cases, mote children were uninsured.

Law to Reign in Big Banks Catches Low-end Home Buyers                                                

Action/Intention:                            Dodd-Frank Legislation enacted to enact sweeping changes to the financial services industry following the crisis for 2007-2010.

Unintended Consequence:            The legislation killed various forms of specialized loans that resulted in many buyers of manufactured housing unable to finance them.   While many proponents of the law touted its punishment against the ‘fat cats’ of Wall Street, the low income earners were also affected.

Racial Preferences Discriminate Against Asians                                                

Action/Intention:                            Asians have typically supported efforts by black and hispanics to implement racial preferences in college admissions policies.

Unintended Consequence:            In 1995, California made it illegal for universities to have racial preferences for college admissions.  At this time, Asians accounted for 37% of freshman; within ten years of the law changing, the percentage had climbed to 47%.  It would appear that racial preferences actually held back Asian enrollment.

Oil Embargo Creates Decades Long Oil Export Ban                                                

Action/Intention:                            After the Arab oil embargo (1981), the US took actions enacting price controls and a ban on exporting crude oil – exporting refined oil as gasoline was still permitted.

Unintended Consequence:            While the US is now more independent on foreign oil (only 27% imported in 2014) than anytime in it’s history, the embargo on oil exports still lives on.

Legalizing Marijuana in US Leads to More Dangerous Drugs Coming Across the Borders     

Action/Intention:                            A few states in the US has now legalized marijuana and many more are taking a softer stance on charging anyone for personal use.   This was partially sold as reducing crime in the border states by taking away the lucrative drug business away from the cartels.

Unintended Consequence:            Border officials now say that they have seen a marked increase in Heroin and Meth coming across the borders – the cartels still have to make money and will change product mix to achieve it – in this case, much more dangerous drugs.

Taxing Through Traffic Tickets                                                

Action/Intention:                            Budget cuts in California as a result of Recession.

Unintended Consequence:            Due to loss of revenue, local courts have increased ticket fee’s to cover the budget shortfall.   A speeding ticket that was $103 twenty years ago has risen to $490 – if the person fails to pay, the ticket can jump to $800.  In an effort to collect payments, courts have suspended drivers licenses of 4.8 million drivers since 2006.  This in turn causes escalating debt and loss of jobs (due to loss of license) to pay the debt.  This action also proportionally affects the lower income population.

This is a good example of the multiple unintended consequences that can happen in a single action;  raising ticket prices creates large debt that is difficult to pay off – then the courts take licenses away in an effort to get unpaid debts paid – this then causes loss of jobs which guarantees the debt cannot be paid.  Legislation is now being considered to create a one-time amnesty – where will the unintended consequences stop?

Pop-Up Hotels                                               

Action/Intention:                            Vacation Rentals of single family homes surge with online services like AirNB, VRBO and HomeAway which offer short term rentals.  The percentage of adults staying in private accommodations has doubled since 2010.

Unintended Consequence:            Neighborhoods are having to deal with extra traffic, noise, drunken parties and more as a result.  Cities are looking at different methods to try and get control over this consequence.  Most property owners also do not collect lodging tax which is required.

Patient is Healthy When Medicare Reimbursement Determines                                               

Action/Intention:                            The US Government built a new Medicare payment scheme (2005) for long-term hospital stays that had hospitals receiving smaller payouts for shorter stays.  After a time threshold, the payment jumps considerably to cover the full treatment of a long term stay.

Unintended Consequence:            A few different studies has already shown that hospitals were timing patient discharges for the time immediately after the payment jumps to the larger value.  Long term hospitals discharged 25% of its patients during the three days after the threshold date – this was five times as many patients that were discharged three days before the threshold. It would appear that the more money that the hospital earns directly affects the health of the patient.


Extreme Tax Makeover                                                

Action/Intention:                            A popular television reality show called Extreme Makeover: Home Edition takes a poor or disabled persons home and upgrades it, usually with all new construction and appliances, sometimes even adding a free car.

Unintended Consequence:            Many families have cried with a gift of their new house and kept crying as the tax man cometh.  It is instructive that the program provides each family with a tax attorney assigned to them.   One $285K value Makeover was valued at $1.5M after completion.  Tax bills for another Makeover went from $2700 to $6000 per year – many families cannot absorb this.

The show gets around the $50,000 appliance and furniture gifts by leasing the property for fourteen days – a loophole in the tax code allows property owners not to pay tax on leaseholder improvements.  But capital improvements and property tax are not to be avoided.  All capital improvements are taxed at future sale of property and tax assessments could hike the annual tax bill with a few years.


Where Do The Truckers Park?                                                

Action/Intention:                            The US Federal Government instituted new rules in 2013 that reduced the number of hours a truck driver could drive from 82 hours to 70 hours/week.  They also mandated a certain number of hours sleep that must be taken at night.  This was all done to save 19 lives and 560 injuries per year caused by drowsy drivers.

Unintended Consequence:            The consequences were quick to view as rest areas, exit ramps and truck stops were full of parking trucks – in fact there was not enough spots and unsafe locations were utilized resulting in crimes committed against the drivers.  Also, the limit on night driving pushed more truck traffic to the daytime where congestion was already an issue.  Also, the increase in idling hours might anger some in the ‘green’ movement.


Hurricane Katrina Improved Local Schools                                                 

Action/Intention:                            In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans School Board was incapable of handling the crisis and rebuilding the schools which were among the worst in the nation.  The state (Louisiana) used a little known law that allowed them to takeover schools in certain conditions and started letting independent organizations submit charter plans.

Unintended Consequence:          Currently, 90% of New Orleans children now go to independent charter schools – it is the largest percentage in the nation! Most measurements of schools in NO has vastly improved with parents having many more choices than before.

Drivers License Required for Golf Carts                                                

Action/Intention:                           A Hong Kong’s golf course had an accident which involved a maintenance worker driving a vehicle without a drivers license.

Unintended Consequence:          Hong Kong’s golf courses now require a drivers license to rent a cart which are almost mandatory on its 8 mile rugged and steep cart paths. Causing issues on an island with only 30% of people having cars.

Police Body Camera’s Driving Prosecution Costs Up                                               

Action/Intention:                            Body Cameras are required to be worn by officers in an effort to lower the amount of conflicts that arise when making law enforcement actions.

Unintended Consequence:            Prosecution must now review all applicable tapes of police actions to review for inappropriate/illegal actions on behalf of the law officers before presenting the case for prosecution.  This has added an hour to the review time that previously only took 30 minutes for an average drunk driving case.  Multiply this by hundreds of similar cases and the workload is significant.

European Union Tax Rules Affects Small Business’s                                                

Action/Intention:                            The EU introduced a new rule in 2015  that required businesses to calculate VAT taxes on digitally delivered goods based on the location of the customer, not the business.

Unintended Consequence:            The result has been that all small businesses must have new, expensive software to calculate the correct location of a customer and determine which of over 80 VAT rates apply.  They then must print the invoice in a specific language, currency and format.  Thousands of businesses have since got out of this business and many more are ignoring the rules until required too.  Some are resorting to sell under third party deal;ers who handle the headaches but charge a 30% overhead, reducing profit of the affected businesses. It is also resulting in lots of member countries taking actions against these businesses for supposedly failing to collect the proper tax.

UC Template                                                

Action/Intention:                            P

Unintended Consequence:            C


UC Template                                                

Action/Intention:                            P

Unintended Consequence:            C


UC Template                                                

Action/Intention:                            P

Unintended Consequence:            C

Future Study Areas (Do you have any to contribute?):

Pension funding

FOIA law versus number of Requests

Marijuana candy – eatable products

Banking for marijuana businesses

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