Belmont Club

Unintended consequences

The Daily Mail describes how “a series of violent fridge explosions is believed to have been caused by leaks of ‘environmentally-friendly’ coolant.” The replacement for environmental unfriendly CFCs can apparently leak out of the cooling system and build up in the refrigerator, causing a dangerous concentration of explosive gases to accumulate.

The problem appears to result from a widespread switch to ‘Greenfreeze’ technology over the past 15 years and the use of isobutane and propane hydrocarbon gases as refrigerants.

The saying that the ‘road to hell is paved with good intentions’ has probably been inspired by the result of unintended consequences, in which the cure is often worse than the disease. Wikipedia lists some of the most famous examples:

* The Streisand Effect occurs when an attempt to censor or remove a certain piece of information (such as a photograph, document, etc.) instead causes the information to become widely known and distributed. The fact that a piece of information is being restricted assigns to it a previously nonexistent value in the eyes of the public.

* The introduction of rabbits into Australia for sport led to an explosive growth in the rabbit population; rabbits have become a major feral pest in Australia. The same has occurred in New Zealand.

* Along the same lines, kudzu has become a major problem in the South Eastern United States since its introduction as a way of preventing erosion in earthworks. Kudzu has displaced native plants, and has effectively taken over significant portions of land.

* The stiffening of penalties for driving while intoxicated in the United States in the 1980s led, at first, to an increase in hit and run accidents, most of which were believed to have been drunken drivers trying to escape the law. Legislators later stiffened penalties for leaving the scene of an accident.

* In 1990, the State of Victoria (Australia) made safety helmets mandatory for all bicycle riders. Together with a reduction in the absolute number of head injuries, there was also an unexpected reduction in the number of juvenile cyclists. Research by Vulcan et al. found that the reduction in juvenile cyclists was because the youths considered wearing a bicycle helmet unfashionable.

* Prohibition in the 1920s U.S., originally enacted to suppress the alcohol trade, drove many small-time alcohol suppliers out of business and consolidated the hold of large-scale organized crime over the illegal alcohol industry. Since alcohol was still popular, criminal organizations producing alcohol were well funded and hence also increased their other activities. The War on Drugs, intended to suppress the illegal drug trade, has likewise consolidated the hold of organized drug cartels over the illegal drug industry.

* In CIA jargon, “blowback” describes the unintended, undesirable consequences of covert operations, for example: covert funding of the Afghan Mujahideen, which led to the rise of Al-Qaeda.

* Father Mathew’s temperance campaign in 19th-century Ireland – in which thousands of people vowed never to drink alcohol again – led to the consumption of ether, a much more dangerous intoxicant, by those unwilling to break their pledge.

* Rent control in many major cities was intended to make housing more accessible for lower income tenants. Instead, as with most price ceilings, it creates a housing shortage, making housing less easy to obtain. It sometimes results in illegal bribing of the landord, i.e. key money.

* Gun control laws sometimes increase crime because law-abiding citizens are no longer able to defend themselves from criminals who obtain their guns illegally anyway. This encourages criminals because they do not have to worry about their victims fighting back. It also increases the amount of non-gun-related crime as other criminals switch from guns to knives or other weapons.

One of the most fascinating examples of the law of unintended consequences is Professor John Jackson’s theory that political correctness has driven racism into deep hiding places where it will live forever, completely beyond the ability of anyone to get at it. Politically correct speech eventually becomes so debased that nobody believes it.  Ultimately a state is reached where everyone mouths the words but thinks in a language of his own. All connection between public fact and actual truth becomes severed. In the days of the Soviet Union the newspapers would announce progress year by year until finally the whole system collapsed. By the end the only thing you could positively believe in a Party newspaper was the date on the masthead. Everything else you had to infer by inversion.

By converting the public square into a place where lies are mandatorily exchanged (“end of life care”, “hope and change”) on penalty of persecution, the public square eventually becomes a freak show with only a curiosity value. Ironically “political correctness” taken to its limit, will not result in a world of ‘peace and harmony’ so much as one of secret and furtive suspicion. A totally politically correct world will be one completely dominated by conspiracy theories. So back to our sustainable refrigerators — er, exploding fridges.

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