The Law of Unintended Consequences

Did you ever do something, only to discover there were side ramifications you hadn’t considered? Today’s collection of news chum (prompted by some podcasts I listened to yesterday), examine a number of those cases:

  • Sex Trafficking and Prostitution. A month or so a new law called FOSTA-SESTA made a change in the safe harbor provision in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This was the provision that protects a website from being liable for what a user posts. Based on the change, sites like Backpage shut down, and Craigslist closed its personals section. The law was intended to stop sex trafficking of underage girls. But a recent episode of Reply All showed how it could have deadly consequences for sex workers. Essentially, those sites moved workers off the street and allowed them to vet their clients, saving lives. With the sites gone, the dangers has come back, and women are dying. A really interesting listen.
  • Opioid Addiction. Another podcast I listened to yesterday explored the unintended consequences related to opioid addiction. Basically, a few flawed studies led doctors to believe that opioids were non-addictive, and this combined with new industry standards to ask people about pain and to treat it led to overprescription of these drugs, which led to dependence. But then again, Heroin was created to have something less addictive than Morphene. Now opioids is an “epidemic”, and the unintended side effect of those with real pain, who don’t overuse opioids, often now have to live with more pain. Note that they have a second part on kicking the habit. There may be a similar problem with anti-depression meds.
  • Gas Prices and Electric Cars. A little thing like price can have such an impact on things. For example, gas prices go down briefly and cars get more efficient fuel wise. The government changes laws requiring a lower average MPG for an automaker’s lineup. As a result, people more people buy more SUVs and Trucks. The automakers don’t have to keep the higher MPG cars in their lineup to satisfy the government, so they gravitate to the higher profit SUVs and trucks. The unintended result: more and more American car makes abandon the passenger car and sedan marketplace. For example, Ford just announced its withdrawal from that marking, reducing the number of its cars to 2.  Chevy is doing something similar, dropping the Sonic, and Dodge previously did the same. A market is being ceded to the Europeans and Asian automakers — and what will happen when fuel prices go back up and people want higher MPG cars? Where will they turn? They might go electric, but then there’s another unintended consequence: people are buying so many hybrids and electrics that the toll lanes that allowed them for free are getting crowded. As a result, Metro is now thinking of charging tolls for electrics in the toll lanes.
  • Grading on a Curve. What happens to a class when you announce you are grading on a curve, where the highest grade will get an “A”, and everyone else lower? The class might band together and refuse to take the exam, so that everyone has the highest score – 0. That’s exactly what happened at a computer science class in at Johns Hopkins. All the students boycotted the exam.
  • Finding Gold. Where is there more gold? In the recycle bin, or in a gold mine? If you said “recycle bin”, you were right. There’s tons of gold — and other precious metals — in electronics. But it takes work to get those electronics to a recycler, so they sit in a garage (broken), or go to a landfill. This makes it more expensive to get the metals for electronics, and creates pollution. By making something harder, electronic retailers hurt themselves. But then again, don’t try to refurbish and repair them either — do that, and add a free to download operating system, and Microsoft might sue you.
  • Changing Alphabets. Kazakistan is changing its alphabet again, and that could have quite a few unintended consequences. The linked article explores the economic aspects of the change, and the unintended consequences for private business. But think further, about the impact on search engines and user names and all that rot. Quite complicated.
  • Streaming Music. The music industry had a problem. No one was buying albums and CDs anymore, and that was hurting record labels. How to save the music industry? Streaming? You only get a fraction of a penny for a play. How can that make up for an album? Well, it turns out streaming is saving the music industry. People may lease their music, but all that streaming adds up: You pay each time you listen to a favorite son, and when it is on a playlist, that’s $$$$$$.  What is an unintended consequence? Well, you don’t have your music when you want it. Labels can pull back their music whenever they want to, as in the pre-VCR days of TV. You go someplace you can’t stream, and you can’t listen.
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