It’s been a recurring theme in my posts – unintended consequences. People make decisions with the best of intentions, but then sometimes, things don’t turn out like they planned. Here are links to the previous stories I’ve written about this:
- The minimum wage has been a hot button issue, but who would have thought putting one in place would lead to an increase in property crime.
- I’ve written about a possible downside to peace – the destruction of rainforests.
- I’ve also written about the unintended consequences of a drop in the crime rate – the closing of prisons in small towns that rely on the prison for jobs and the economic benefits associated with people in a small town having a job.
- I also wrote about the unintended consequences of winning – it can elicit future unethical behavior.
- One post looked at what is known as the Charity Paradox. While most people would assume that charitable giving is a good thing, the enormous amount of such giving to many developing countries such as Haiti has created harmful distortions in the local economy because when what would otherwise be traded or produced by Haitians is given away, it drives entrepreneurs out of business.
- Finally, one of my earliest posts looked at the disconnect between using incentives to reward certain behaviors, and what behavior may actually result.
Well, this past week I read about two more, and they both had to do with the coronavirus. While the impacts below aren’t the direct result of human decision making, they do highlight that while we may focus on the good part of something, like improved air quality, that improved air quality could have negative consequences somewhere else.
The first story deals with the record-setting cyclone that hit India and Bangladesh last week. Some people are suggesting that the pandemic may be partially to blame. Lockdowns around the world have reduced the amount of pollution in the air. The reduced pollutants led to fewer aerosols in the atmosphere, which re known to mitigate somewhat the effects of such storms. However, with fewer pollutants in the air, the storm was able to strengthen into the record setting cyclone it became.
The other story was in today’s Wall Street Journal which also relates to another odd consequence of the lockdown. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of ethanol, which by federal mandate is mixed into gasoline to help it burn more cleanly. But fewer people are driving because of the Covid-19 lockdowns, and demand for gasoline has plunged, prompting ethanol plants to shut down. That has put pressure on the source for roughly 40% of all industrial carbon dioxide produced nationwide—a key ingredient for soft drinks and beers. The end result: consumers might end up paying more for their beer and soft drinks because the cost of the bubbles in the drinks is going up.
There have been many stories written over the past several weeks about the environmental benefits of COVID-19, and many places around the world are reporting much-improved air quality levels because of less driving and traveling.
Who would have thought that such improvements could have led to the unintended consequences noted here?