The Unforeseen Outcomes: A Collection of Great Moments in Unintended Consequences (Vol. 14)

Great moments in unintended consequences—when something that sounds like a great idea goes horribly wrong. Watch the whole series.

Part One: Pros and Coins

The Year: 2008

The Problem: People aren’t switching to dollar coins, even though they’re heavier!

The Solution: Allow the general public to purchase the coins at face value, directly from the U.S. Mint, and cover the cost of shipping.

Sounds like a great idea, with the best of intentions. What could possibly go wrong?

Turns out, people like free stuff! And some credit cards offer rewards. Consumers realized they could charge thousands of dollars worth of coins and then immediately pay off the balance with those very same coins, earning loads of free airline miles. Eventually, the Mint caught on, changed their rules and blocked suspicious buyers from further purchases, but not before many had jacked up their reward points banking free trips around the world. One frequent flier even is said to have bought $800,000 in coins helping him earn lifetime platinum-elite status on American Airlines. 

Now that’s a coin trick. 

Part Two: Crop Drop

The Year: 2021

The Problem: Sri Lanka’s farms aren’t organic. 

The Solution: An immediate nationwide ban on synthetic fertilizer and pesticides—which coincidently saves Sri Lanka $400 million in annual subsidy costs while they wrestle with a deep fiscal crisis.

Sounds like a great idea, with the best of intentions. What could possibly go wrong?

Turns out synthetic fertilizers and pesticides actually work! Six months after the presidential decree, Sri Lanka’s biggest export, tea, was down 18%. Rice production plunged 20%, forcing the once proudly self-sufficient country to import rice at a cost of $450 million. Due to public backlash, the government was forced to reverse their ban and pay out hundreds of millions to compensate farmers—deepening the country’s economic crisis, and fanning protests that led to the president’s resignation and temporary exile. 

Rice knowing ya!

Part Three: Wild Mongoose Chase

The Year: 1883 

The Problem: Rats in Hawaii are damaging valuable sugar crops.

The Solution: Control the rodents by introducing a new predatory species: the Small Indian Mongoose.  

Sounds like…let’s be honest we all know where this is going.

It turns out rats are generally nocturnal while the Small Indian Mongoose is active during the day. So the two species rarely met! Luckily for the mongooses, Hawaii is full of appetizing native wildlife including sea turtle eggs and numerous species of endangered birds. With no natural predators, the Mongoose thrived! A hundred years later, they remain a massive problem on many of the islands. 

Great moments in unintended consequences: good intentions, bad results.

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