Sunday, December 11, 2005

1881 Unintended Consequences, pt. 2

I ’ve been thinking a lot about unintended consequences after reading about polio epidemics following on the heels of the improved sanitation provided by flush toilets and toilet paper. Most recently, we’ve seen some unintended consequences in connection with Hurricane Katrina from personal and government generosity.

An outpouring of generosity for the gulf coast victims resulted in a corresponding shortage for local charities and foundations in our closer-to-home neighborhoods. I watched the Charity Newsie guys collecting on the streets yesterday, wondering if they were freezing their buns off and getting less.

Jobs are going begging in the hurricane areas as people wait until the FEMA money runs out before looking for work. Businesses can’t reopen with out workers, and residents won’t return home if there is no economy to support the rebuilding efforts.

Mega churches are drawing huge crowds, but destabilizing and blighting older neighborhoods as churches move further out for more land. (Sort of the WalMartization of religion.)

More insulation and tighter buildings in response to higher fuel costs has resulted in more allergies and respiratory problems.

Improved highways, better gas mileage and safer cars resulted in business loss and decay to small town and rural businesses as people drive to distant shopping malls or larger towns.

Improved air conditioning and cheap energy have created building growth in formerly uninhabitable areas, like coastal areas (recently hit by hurricanes), deserts, bringing damage to environment and loss of life in storms.

Health concerns and animal products and the popularity of vegetarianism have created a greater demand for fruit and vegetables resulting in more food poisoning from crops contaminated by animal runoff and greater use of herbicides and pesticides.

Harvesting of rare plants for medical research and homeopathic medicines are contributing to the destruction of rain forests.

The invention of canned milk many years ago made it convenient for women not to breast feed resulting in lowered immunity in infants and toddlers and more women entering the work force. This continues to this day in poor countries where it is watered down.

Summer breaks were created in the school calendar because child labor was needed on the farm in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but schools still let out for the summer months resulting in significant loss of learning even though we outlawed child labor years ago.

Introduction of the potato to Ireland so improved nutrition among the poor that there was a huge increase in the population. Then the blight of that monocrop resulted in the starvation, malnutrition and emigration of millions.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was published and good intentioned protests caused American companies stop producing DDT. This resulted in the deaths of millions in third world countries from malaria and huge loss of GNP in malarial countries. "The Malaria epidemic is like loading up seven Boeing 747 airliners each day, then deliberately crashing them into Mt. Kilimanjaro." Dr. Wenceslaus Kilama

In 1996, manufacturers introduced 3,434 new “low-fat” or “nonfat” food products. In 2003, 700 “low-carb” or “no-carb” products hit the market and in 2004, 3,431 such products followed. This has resulted in more obese Americans, apparently from the unintended consequence of people consuming more calories in the search for satiation and flavor.

Green architecture--glazed windows, efficient lighting, reflective roofs, below grade buildings encourage larger homes being built further out due to their efficient use of energy resulting in no savings at all to the consumer and more urban sprawl.

The closing of energy consuming, polluting factories resulted in jobs going overseas to less restrictive areas and the deterioration of workers‘ life style.

Wind farms (aka tax farms or cuisinarts of the air) produce low emissions and cleaner air but very expensive kilowatts and result in the deaths of many birds and the rise of rodent populations. Or as they say, “How many dead birds equal a dead fish equal an oil spill?” They may also produce climate changes locally.

Modern refrigeration changed our diet and made us safer from food poisoning, but contributed to the growth of cities, the rise of large distant feed lots for cattle, the importation of off-season foods and the deterioration of the environment.

Modern air conditioning changed our driving, employment and entertainment. Outdoor landscaping for shade and front porches no longer were essential for comfort changing how we interact with our neighbors.

Bird feeders cause migrating birds to share diseases, change eating habits of local birds causing them to not eat insects, and attract rodents, like skunks. Increased insects and rodents may cause the rise of disease or increased use of pesticides.

Strong recycling codes and laws in the cities have resulted in trash being dumped in the rural areas because you can’t burn it or bury it.

Successful and cheap waste management systems of the early and mid-20th century using landfills and incinerators resulted in a throw away mentality for generations. American households throw out 467.2 pounds per year - not including what goes down the garbage disposal or into compost piles. Annual cost of food waste is more than $43 billion per year, broken down roughly as follows: meat - $14 billion; grains - $10 billion; fruit - $9.6 billion; and vegetables - $9.1 billion. (Biocycle, May 2005)

The Passion of the Christ the movie that earned $370 million at the domestic box office and drew in religious people who had for years complained about movies, did not bring people into the churches nor change what Hollywood offered once they found out what the people liked.

There’s much more--entire articles and books have been written on this topic. These are just the ones that came to my mind. Here’s an article on unintended consequences from the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. You can also google this topic--unintended consequences + [whatever law, event or movement you think of]. Or just try inserting the word "google" after that plus sign.

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rcc_kukur said...

This is one is a nice post! Perhaps wars should have been mentioned too! All wars have unintended consequences and long-term side effects. As the unseen and the unintended unveils - the original cause of that war (if any) is lost!

Norma said...

In the last 30 years, malaria has killed more than all the wars for any reason. If it is your mother, son, daughter or friend, dead is dead.