Archives for unintended consequences



Consuming More Energy in the Pursuit of Saving Energy

Next week, we’ll be putting out a Freakonomics Radio podcast called “The Cobra Effect.” Without spilling the details now, I’ll tell you that it’s about unintended consequences, the kind of stuff that happens when clever-seeming incentives are let loose on an even cleverer public.

With that in mind, I was intrigued by the following e-mail from a reader named Eugene Kim:

My locality in Virginia has mandated biennial emissions inspections for automobiles before registrations can be renewed on those years. Since mine is expiring at the end of this month and it’s been two years since my last emissions test, I took my car to the service station this morning. They don’t seem to actually measure any emissions; they merely check the OBD computer for stored readings.

Here’s where it gets stupid. I don’t drive a lot. I take the train to work so I only drive on weekends, if that. (If you’re wondering why I even have a car, I bought it when I lived in the Midwest and needed it, but moved to the East Coast shortly thereafter and was upside-down on my loan. Plus I feel strangely vulnerable without a car.) Anyway, my car is idle a lot while the battery charge depletes slowly. And apparently, if it drops to a certain point the computer loses all those readings. I didn’t think it had gotten that low since the car hasn’t had any problems starting.

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More Collateral Damage From the 9/11 Attacks

In SuperFreakonomics, we catalogued some of the collateral costs of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, including roughly 1,000 extra traffic deaths in the U.S. in the three months after 9/11, the result of so many people driving instead of flying:

Such trickle-down effects are nearly endless. Thousands of foreign-born university students and professors were kept out of the United States because of new visa restrictions after the September 11 attacks. At least 140 U.S. corporations exploited the ensuing stock market decline by illegally backdating stock options. In New York City, so many police resources were shifted to terrorism that other areas — the Cold Case Squad, for one, as well as anti-Mafia units — were neglected. A similar pattern was repeated on the national level. Money and manpower that otherwise would have been spent chasing financial scoundrels were instead diverted to chasing terrorists— perhaps contributing to, or at least exacerbating, the recent financial meltdown.

The Wall Street Journal now reports on a most unlikely unintended consequence of the attacks and the ensuing hunt for Osama bin Laden: Read More »



When Young People Need the Elevator

An e-mail from Brazil:

My name is Mauricio Castro, I have a social communications degree and teach interface design and multimedia systems.

I have a story I’d like to share with you guys.

I live in a nice neighborhood in the city of Vitória, Brazil. Being close to the beach, the city code forbids tall buildings in order to maintain sunlight in the sand all time. The maximum floor number is three.

So it’s only natural that most buildings here don’t have elevators. Even some new ones are presented only with stairs, especially those built for the younger customers.

So I went to the health clinic the other day and the nurse was telling me about the rising numbers of youngsters suffering from strokes. There are lots of explanations for these numbers rising, but mostly lifestyle and drug abuse.

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The Annals of Taxation

I’m lecturing at the University of Essex and going from office to office chatting with people about their research. This is hard physical labor — I repeatedly go down one or two flights of stairs in this rabbit warren, walk down a hall, up the stairs in the adjoining building, then back down another hall. What a waste — why? Read More »



Green Noise

Reusable grocery bags may be unsanitary but at least they’re quiet. The same cannot be said for Frito Lay’s new environmentally friendly SunChips bag. The bag is so noisy that the company, after lots of consumer backlash (including Facebook campaigns), is ditching the effort. Read More »



The Downside of Reusable Grocery Bags

You know those reusable cloth bags that environmentally-conscious shoppers proudly tote to the grocery store? It turns out they may be making you sick. Read More »



Does Driver's Ed. Lead to More Car Crashes?

The conclusion couldn’t be any starker: “Indiana lawmakers say the state’s driver education program isn’t working, citing a fractured system administered by three separate agencies and statistics that put the program’s usefulness in doubt.” Read More »



More Unintended Trash Consequences

A family in Sharon Township, Ohio (where residents are charged for their trash), left behind a big mess when they moved out of their home. Read More »