The law of unintended consequences Part II

Today I found another article highlighting the law of unintended consequences.

Macadamia nuts

A Korean Air Lines executive’s tantrum over bagged nuts in a first-class cabin is drawing enough attention to give Hawaii’s macadamia nut industry a boost.

Cho Hyun-ah, an airline vice president of cabin service and daughter of the company’s chairman, ordered a flight attendant off a Dec. 5 flight from New York City after she was served macadamia nuts in a bag instead of on a plate.

The incident dubbed “nut rage” imploded her career, embarrassed her family and led to an unexpected boom in sales of macadamias in South Korea.

Some producers told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that’s also helping Hawaii’s $38 million macadamia nut industry, which accounts for more than 700 farms and eight processing plants.

“Any type of publicity is good for the industry,” Hawaii Macadamia Nut Association President John Cross said. “Macadamia nuts are not well-known outside of Hawaii and the West Coast. If they were as well-known in the Central and Eastern U.S., there wouldn’t be enough nuts to supply demand.”…

..“If anything should be served on a silver tray, it should be macadamia nuts,” Richard Schnitzler, president of Hamakua Macadamia Nut Co., said with a laugh, referring to the inflight outburst. “It’s a high-quality nut. It’s understandable how that can happen.”

…Macadamias are now a household name in South Korea, and with curiosity about their taste piqued, sales are booming.

-One News

Below are a few more examples of the law of unintended consequences in action:

My favorite is the story of when old fashioned, energy inefficient traffic signals that were hung in the middle of intersections in the Northeast were replaced with energy efficient LED lights, it caused a rash of traffic accidents at the beginning of winter, but not for the reason you would think. It seems the old, energy inefficient incandescent bulbs, since they had the secondary effect of giving off infrared light (heat), were defrosting the traffic signals during the winter months. When winter hit, the LED lights, that only give off light in the visible spectrum, became so frosted over that the weight of the frost and ice caused them to come crashing to the ground in the middle of the

When San Francisco banned giving away toys with happy meals that exceeded a certain percentage of fat, McDonald’s responded by offering the toys with purchase of a happy meal and a 10 cent contribution to charity. They also stopped selling the toys without happy meal purchase, meaning you now have to buy the meal to get the toy.



Use-it-or-lose it budget policies ostensibly lead to more efficient distribution of company resources. In reality, it’s not uncommon for managers to blow year end budgets on frivolous purchases so that they don’t lose it next year.

Password policies which require people to use mixed case, special characters, numbers, not vary old passwords, etc. Passwords that follow these rules are theoretically more secure. But because people can’t remember them, they write them down or store them in a text file – both of which are less secure than letting the user pick a password he can remember.




Mao Ze Dong and his Chinese Communist Party have proven themselves masters of this particular law on occasion, with several policies that started out with good intentions only to spiral out of control. Here are a few:
1. The “Four Pests” Campaign During the Great Leap Forward Mao introduced a new hygiene initiative that targeted rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows. The latter were considered a pest because they fed on grain, which the farmers obviously sowed in their fields. Mao thought this was a waste and was causing yields to be reduced. He thereby ordered that all sparrows be culled. Doing so however meant that there were no birds to eat the locusts that fed on the crop as it grew. Nobody had noticed that the sparrows found them a delicacy too. By the time the CCP realised its mistake it was too late. Locust swarms had taken over the country, devouring entire crop fields as they went, resulting in mass starvation. Epic fail.

2. Backyard Furnaces Mao insisted that steel production be increased so as to catch up with the industrialized world. Nice idea, except that in order to meet his high steel production targets ordinary people were roped in and made to melt down every scrap of metal that could be found in small furnaces. Targets were met but most of it was worthless metal, and it left people without pots and pans in which to cook, not that that mattered because they had nothing to eat anyway. Having diverted so many millions of farmers from their fields for his steel drive, crop production dropped drastically and further added to the already desperate food shortages. They’d also cut down trees and used the wood from people’s houses to fuel the furnaces, resulting in an increase in homelessness. Epic fail.

3. One-Child Policy China’s one-child, family-planning policy may have seemed like a good idea, but it’s led to all manner of social problems since. The population was booming and resources in short supply, so a policy that could curb the birth rate was proposed. Although it was never, as is often erroneously believed, applied to everyone, it’s been widely-implemented enough to have prevented an estimated 400 million births (this is the uppermost estimate). So, it would seem to be a success, wouldn’t it? Well, it is if you disregard the fact that, owing to a cultural preference for boys, it’s led to a rise in female infanticide, dangerous backstreet abortions (and government forced abortions) and child abduction. In turn this has caused a gender imbalance of roughly 120 men for every 100 women. That’s a lot of guys who are never going to get married or find girlfriends. There’s also the phenomenon of the “Little Emperors” as Chinese kids get spoiled and don’t learn to stand on their own two feet, which can’t be good for their development, and that one child has to provide financial support for two elderly parents alone whereas previously the burden would have been shared among the siblings. Moderate

The 1973 US Endangered Species Act imposed heavy land use restrictions on property where endangered species inhabited. These restrictions devalued the property which incentivized land owners to kill the endangered species found on their property in order to mask the appearance of their inhabitence. This practice was often referred to as “shoot, shovel, and shut up.”



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