Unintended Consequences

I love the Law of Unintended Consequences, not only does it provide near daily fodder for me to write about in the absence of other news items but it always serves to remind me how complicated our world is.

Just this weekend I was pondering this while driving on a road that I frequently transit. A few years ago the powers that be decided to install speed bumps on this nice stretch of country road, no doubt at the behest of residents who complained about drivers fracturing the speed laws on occasion.

Through a period of trial-and-error I discovered that if driving 39 mph (yes, 39 is optimal) on this road the attenuation of the vehicle suspension is such that one barely feels the speed bump, it’s basically like running over a small pothole. This is mildly interesting but unintended consequence I wish to share is a result of the opposite, drivers slowing to well below the speed limit to observe the speed bump.

My son noticed a snake on the side of the road so we stopped and I could not help but listen to the frequent accelerate-decelerate cycle of cars driving by, and if one lived on this stretch of road it would not take much to realize that the tradeoff for cars observing the speed bumps was now noise while other drivers, such as myself, would drive considerably faster to minimize the annoyance factor of the speed bumps… so in the end the residents gained nothing from the speed bumps but two additional complaints to give voice to. Unintended consequences.

Another item that I caught today which I filed under the same theme is this one about the unintended consequence of the drive to get people to stop smoking, researchers are suggesting it is a factor contributing to the rise in obesity. Whether or not this is qualified and peer reviewed research, I do not know but it seems reasonable on it’s face when looking at the probability for obesity in smokers versus the non-smoker population, and then the overall rise in obesity.

I wouldn’t suggest that we turn back the clock on cigarettes because that would be a Hobson’s choice but if held to be accurate this research presents a juicy policy dilemma for government regulators who have taken it upon themselves to invest their regulatory powers in our lifestyle choices. Unintended consequences…. what’s your favorite story?