The Law of Unintended Consequences

Authorities quickly discovered that a number of the nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant– one of the biggest in the world– had been severely harmed. The Law of Unintended Consequences is a nebulous term applied to circumstances where intended repairs to a problem just serve to trigger more extreme problems. After five years of extreme drug laws, the War on Drugs hasnt even made a damage in the supply of illegal drugs around the world. You call up your ex and you inform them that youre sorry and you want they could get along and they invite you over to their location at like midnight and youre thinking to yourself, you know, its no huge offer, we used to hang out at midnight all the time, and then 6 days later when youre still at their home shouting at each other about who left the toaster oven on and why cant you ever listen to me and I thought you enjoyed me and youre so oversexed that you cant walk straight and you cant inform if you enjoy or hate this individual with every metabolic calorie of your being and youre questioning what the fuck am I doing here, how did I get here, I thought I broke up with you like 4 times?
Eventually, the Law of Unintended Consequences is just another term for acknowledging our unavoidable blindspots in decision-making.

We are prejudiced towards handling what we see as instant hazards, instead of dealing with greater however slower, long-lasting risks.
We are biased towards focusing our attention on something that is easily-imagined and tangible or pictured, instead of what is extremely abstract (think the risk of a terrorist attack, which is extremely low versus the risk of disease, which is greater than you may think).
We are biased towards events that are extremely remarkable rather than events that require big amounts of sensible thinking. For example, youre much more most likely to die in a vehicle accident than a plane crash. However an airplane crash is frightening and so dramatic that it triggers far more stress and anxiety for people.
Its counterproductive and difficult to think 2 or three moves ahead in the chess game. We just see actually frightening TV shows that make it sound like nuclear fallout will trigger babies to be born with 3 heads or something.
Repercussions often have intensifying impacts. That financial investment compounds over time, to the point where a decade later on, the United States had actually invested upwards of $1 trillion dollars most likely to only conserve a couple of hundred lives.19 Indeed, terrorism is most likely the poster kid for policies that are in no method proportional to the hazard.20 And this does not even take into account second-order results, such as stricter travel laws, less immigrant visas, lower registration in universities, less air travel, and so on 21.

But wait, it gets even worse. Authorities quickly found that a number of the atomic power plants at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant– one of the largest in the world– had been seriously damaged. Huge quantities of radioactive material were dripping out into the surrounding locations, including into the Pacific Ocean. In the period of a single afternoon, a destructive act of nature had actually turned into a man-made headache, the similarity which hadnt been seen considering that the occasions of the Chernobyl atomic power plant mishap in 1986.
Approximately that point, nuclear power had played a crucial function in Japans infrastructure because the 1970s, when the Fukushima power plant was first commissioned. However the events of that day in 2011 were so jarring, so traumatic, so genuine for the Japanese individuals that their federal government quickly accepted close down nearly every nuclear power center in the country.
The occasions were awful. The action was swift. Then our story takes an odd turn …
The Law of Unintended Consequences
The public demand to stop nuclear power within Japan was overwhelming. The Japanese government rapidly assured to terminate all 34 of its nuclear reactor and one by one, began shutting them down. By 2013, the country was devoid of nuclear power.
However this produced another problem: how to create the power to change the shut down plants? Nuclear power had as soon as offered more than 20% of the countrys electrical energy. Where would they get the energy?
The most profitable service was to rely on nonrenewable fuel sources. The country transferred to activate its coal plants and develop more. This interruption in power supply led to an increase in cost of electrical energy throughout the country, causing shortages in the chillier cold weather, specifically in the far north. And, as we all understand, fossil fuels bring a bunch of awful ecological adverse effects in addition to them– they develop smog, ruin communities, and harm individualss health.
And this is where the story gets strange. Because, exceptionally, research studies have considering that identified that the closing of the nuclear power plants in Japan has really triggered more deaths than the Fukushima accident itself.2.
Call it a case of the cure being worse than the toxin.
If you dig into economic literature, researchers have understood this for a long time: shutting down nuclear power plants after catastrophes– which are couple of and far between– leads to more problems than it solves. The increased pollution from fossil fuels results in lower birth weights,3 millions of deadly respiratory diseases,4 abnormal brain advancement,5 and not to point out, huge damage to the environment and climate change.6 And the disturbance in electrical power markets caused lots of people to go without heating during the following winter season, resulting in a number of elderly people passing away due to exposure to cooler temperatures.
To their credit, the Japanese government has actually since done an about-face– because 2018 they have actually started re-activating their nuclear reactors. Their goal is to have them completely online once again (and updated) by 2030.7.
These “Cure is Worse than the Poison” issues are all over if you pay attention. Some social scientists loosely refer to these scenarios as, “The Law of Unintended Consequences.” The Law of Unintended Consequences is an ambiguous term applied to circumstances where intended repairs to a problem just serve to trigger more extreme problems. Its never ever been defined officially. However here, let me take a stab at it:.
The Law of Unintended Consequences occurs when an impulsive psychological decision is made that unintentionally creates more problems than it solves..
I will get into how the Law of Unintended Consequences takes place at the individual level. Its examples are most visible (and well-known) at the state and government level.
Exhibition A: in 1905, the United States Forest Service was established in order to prevent large-scale wildfires that had torched much of Montana and Idaho that year. The Forest Service set up strict laws versus burns throughout the western United States and developed a facilities to immediately put out wildfires as quickly as they began. Damage brought on by wildfires dropped considerably … for a while.
They became far worse. Within a couple of decades, the fires were cataclysmic, larger and more serious than anyone thought possible.
The problem, it turned out, is that a forest is an extremely intricate system. After strenuously preventing wildfires for years, the Forest Service had actually just prevented tons of dried, dead wood from being burned off, triggering a build-up in easily combustible tinder.
Or take the infamous “War on Drugs.” After 5 years of drastic drug laws, the War on Drugs hasnt even made a damage in the supply of controlled substances all over the world. Rather the reverse: illegal narcotics are more numerous today than ever prior to.9,10.
By instituting strict prohibitions, weve pressed the drug markets underground where they can not be taxed, controlled or kept an eye on. As an outcome, the War on Drugs paradoxically caused drugs to become less expensive and much easier for people to purchase.11.
Drug cartels have actually grown to such a size that they now dominate and scare entire nations,12 corrupting corporations and governments.13 And whats more, research shows that the stricter we make the drug laws, the more earnings the cartels seem to make.14.
The examples go on and on. More streamlined asbestos laws most likely increase the quantity of asbestos-related lawsuits.15 Stricter border controls can really increase illegal migration.16 Liability laws developed to punish oil companies for oil spills have most likely just increased the possibility of oil spills.17.
Do we make similar errors? Do we frequently take the treatment thats worse than the toxin?
Well … yes. Yes, we do.
You and Your Unintended Consequences.
You ever been driving home in thick traffic and get so annoyed that youre like, “You know what? Fuck this, Im taking the back roads.” And after that you shut off the freeway and continue to get lost 6 different times and it takes twice as long to get home than it would have if you just drew it up and remained in the traffic congestion?
Or you ever have that big purchase youve always dreamed about– maybe its a good automobile, or a big house or a lovely piece of land. And you fantasize and dream and save, and remain house on Fridays and cheat on your taxes for years up until you can lastly pay for a down payment for your Big Ass Dream Thing. And after that the day comes and you “purchase” it– but what I truly mean by “buy” is that you have these huge interest payments to a bank from now up until the sun supernovas and it ends up that Big Ass Dream Thing is kind of a headache and you dont utilize it nearly as much as you thought you would and your pals certainly dont appear to give a shit. Here you are handing over like 2/3 of your income every month to some Big Bank, who you are slowly becoming convinced is the incarnation of all evil and injustice in the universe.
Or you ever believe someone is truly irritating, however instead of just informing them to fuck off, you keep being nice to them because you feel bad and dont wish to be mean and you like to consider yourself as a great, patient individual? And before you understand it, this individual is inviting themselves over to your home and drinking your wine and introducing themselves to your buddies and being a completely self-centered twat and feeding off your social life like a parasite to the point where you just wish to fumigate your whole apartment or condo complex with everyone in it, killing everyone you understand and yourself like the cockroaches you all are?
Or you ever been definitely miserable in a job, but you were so complacent and emotionally dependent on its income and social validation and incorrect sense of significance that you just kept working and working and working, informing yourself “one more year,” then “one more year,” then “just one more year” up until quite quickly your psychological health has gone to shit and you become distressed and insomniatic and hypoglycemic and exceptionally depressed on philosophical vectors previously unimagined18 and youre on so lots of tablets and now you truly require that fucking job to keep your health insurance coverage and steady stream of pill-prescription supply– and I imply, lets be genuine, thank god for this task you hate? Otherwise you wouldnt have access to the medicine to deal with all the illness the job provided you.
Or you ever go through a dreadful break up but dislike the truth that you and your ex dont speak– I suggest, you had such an excellent time together, isnt it worth putting in a little effort to simply be good friends? Do not you 2 are worthy of at least that much? You call up your ex and you tell them that youre sorry and you wish they could get along and they invite you over to their place at like midnight and youre believing to yourself, you know, its no huge offer, we used to hang out at midnight all the time, and then 6 days later when youre still at their home yelling at each other about who left the toaster oven on and why cant you ever listen to me and I thought you loved me and youre so oversexed that you cant walk straight and you cant tell if you dislike this individual or enjoy with every metabolic calorie of your being and youre questioning what the fuck am I doing here, how did I get here, I believed I broke up with you like 4 times?
Any of those things ever take place to you?
( Yeah, me neither.).
The Paradox of Playing It “Safe”.
Our worst decisions never ever feel like horrible decisions. Our worst choices always feel like great decisions in the moment. Thats why we make them.
This experience of “the treatment being worse than the poison” often happens since we are solving short-term, extremely emotional problems without considering the long-lasting, second-order impacts.
You return to see your ex to solve that dreadful pang of guilt in the short-term, only to subject yourself to the much higher long-term danger of emotional turbulence. Similar to Japan closed down its atomic power plants to stop the short-term outrage and horror over the Fukushima catastrophe, without thinking about the long-lasting impacts of inviting higher amounts of contamination into the country.
Since our brains are biased filtering makers, we do this. Were wired to experience the world in a manipulated way, which indicates our understandings rarely– if ever– reflect truth.
We struggle with the Law of Unintended Consequences for a couple of reasons:.

It was the 4th largest earthquake ever taped. With just eight minutes of warning, waves swept as far as ten kilometers inland, eliminating thousands and destroying whole towns within minutes. Authorities approximates put the total death toll for the whole catastrophe at over 15,000 people.

When something is frightening, immediate, and concrete– like a nuclear reactor catastrophe– our biases kick in and hinder our capability to evaluate the circumstance properly. Analyzing long-term, second-order repercussions is taxing. And when were extremely emotional about a subject, we struggle to use up the effort to believe through the consequences to the end. We dont have time for a benefits and drawbacks list, that nuclear radiation is coming for us!
Its in this way that securing ourselves from what terrifies us the most in the minute can typically make us vulnerable to much worse, less-noticeable problems far in the future.
How to Avoid the Law of Unintended Consequences.
While we can never ever 100% safeguard ourselves versus the Law of Unintended Consequences and the cognitive biases that trigger it, there are some standard methods you can apply to your decision-making to help you not fall victim to being such a dumb, dumb human:.
A lot of our bad decisions are merely a function of impatience. Not reconnecting with an ex is a more psychological example. Not tossing non-violent drug transgressors in prison during some of the most essential years of their lives is probably a more practical social example.
We frequently overstate just how much we can manage in a scenario. We undervalue the value of simply waiting and sitting. It wont win you any appeal contests, however typically the best (and most difficult) choice in a life is to simply do absolutely nothing.
When assessing our own ideas, we tend to be really good at seeing the advantages and horrible at seeing the dangers. Theyre our ideas.
Its difficult to poke holes in what feels right to you. Its beneficial to make a practice out of asking yourself, “Whats the worst case situation here? Take the probability you wrote for the worst-case circumstance and quadruple it.
Everyone appeared to think this was a terrific idea. John Locke believed this was a horrible concept. He argued that placing a limitation on interest rates would then simply force banks to find sneaky, less-regulated methods to provide money, primarily to abundant people.
Individuals believed Locke was crazy. The law passed. Poor people got hosed.
One thing we often do not consider is the revocability of our choices. If you purchase an automobile you dont like, you can constantly resell it and make a substantial quantity of your money back. In spite of this truth, theres a large population of people in the world who appear to spend more time believing about the purchase of a cars and truck than they do having a child.
Some choices are simple to reverse. Some are impossible or incredibly challenging to undo. We typically do not invest adequate time thinking about the latter and typically spend method too much time worrying about the former.
A great guideline: if a decision is not irreversible, its better to move too fast. If a choice is long-term, its much better to move too slow.
The mix of concerns # 1 and # 4 is why a lot of governmental policies wind up being inadequate. There is massive public pressure to do something in the face of a problem, even though the proper action is to do little or absolutely nothing. As a result, federal governments embrace heavy-handed policies, broaden the administration, make a huge publicity blitz about all the “great things” the political leaders are doing for their people. The issue is that numerous of these policies are extremely challenging to reverse. This is why governments tend to end up being puffed up and less efficient as time goes on.
In our individual lives, we tend to suffer more from concerns # 2 or # 3. We are bad at thinking about the flaws in our own strategies, at questioning our own psychological impulses and recognizing circumstances that can backfire extremely, causing the exact issue that were trying to reduce. Remaining in the job we dislike makes us time-poor although we may be economically wealthy. Trying to fix a damaged relationship can make it even worse, not much better– in truth, it might be that desire to “fix” everything that broke it in the very first place!
When we purchased our very first home, my other half and I struck our own Law of Unintended Consequences last year. We attempted to get our remodellings and furnishing done rapidly and cheaply. Our desire to do things quickly and cheaply meant that we fucked method more things up, which ended up costing us far more and took far longer than it wouldve if we simply did it right the very first time.
Eventually, the Law of Unintended Consequences is simply another term for acknowledging our unavoidable blindspots in decision-making. We dont understand what we do not understand. And as much as we consciously try to expand our areas of attention and understanding, we will inevitably give in to failures of insight and care.
For as long as were able to believe and breathe, we will continue to be incorrect, in some shape or form. Yet, thats never ever a reason to not attempt and be a bit much better.