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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Unanticipated Consequences

Well-intentioned public policies can have unanticipated consequences.  Here are some examples.

Efforts to promote nutritious meals in school can backfire if they taste bad and students throw them away.  The New York Times reports:
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which required public schools to follow new nutritional guidelines this academic year to receive extra federal lunch aid, has created a nationwide version of the age-old parental challenge: persuading children to eat what is good for them.
“Before, there was no taste and no flavor,” said Malik Barrows, a senior at Automotive High School in Brooklyn, who likes fruit but said his classmates threw away their mandatory helpings on the cafeteria floor. “Now there’s no taste, no flavor and it’s healthy, which makes it taste even worse.”
Students organized lunch strikes in a suburb of Pittsburgh, where in late August the hashtag “brownbagginit” was trending on Twitter, and outside Milwaukee, where the Mukwonago High School principal, Shawn McNulty, said participation in the lunch program had fallen 70 percent.
“There is a reduction in nacho chips, there is a reduction in garlic bread, but there’s actually an increase in fruits and vegetables,” Mr. McNulty said. “That’s a tough sell for kids, and I would be grumbling, too, if I was 17 years old.”
Making it easier to vote by mail may increase well as uncounted ballots and fraud.  Also in The New York Times:
Election experts say the challenges created by mailed ballots could well affect outcomes this fall and beyond. If the contests next month are close enough to be within what election lawyers call the margin of litigation, the grounds on which they will be fought will not be hanging chads but ballots cast away from the voting booth.
In 2008, 18 percent of the votes in the nine states likely to decide this year’s presidential election were cast by mail. That number will almost certainly rise this year, and voters in two-thirds of the states have already begun casting absentee ballots. In four Western states, voting by mail is the exclusive or dominant way to cast a ballot.
The trend will probably result in more uncounted votes, and it increases the potential for fraud. While fraud in voting by mail is far less common than innocent errors, it is vastly more prevalent than the in-person voting fraud that has attracted far more attention, election administrators say.
In Florida, absentee-ballot scandals seem to arrive like clockwork around election time. Before this year’s primary, for example, a woman in Hialeah was charged with forging an elderly voter’s signature, a felony, and possessing 31 completed absentee ballots, 29 more than allowed under a local law.
California's recycling program is also spawning fraud, as the Los Angeles Times reports:

Just over 8.5 billion recyclable cans were sold in California last year. The number redeemed for a nickel under California's recycling law: 8.3 billion.
That's a return rate of nearly 100%.
That kind of success isn't just impressive, it's unbelievable. But the recycling rate for certain plastic containers was even higher: 104%.
California's generous recycling redemption program has led to rampant fraud. Crafty entrepreneurs are driving semi-trailers full of cans from Nevada or Arizona, which don't have deposit laws, across the border and transforming their cargo into truckfuls of nickels. In addition, recyclers inside the state are claiming redemptions for the same containers several times over, or for containers that never existed.
The illicit trade is draining the state's $1.1-billion recycling fund. Government officials recently estimated the fraud at $40 million a year, and an industry expert said it could exceed $200 million. It's one reason the strapped fund paid out $100 million more in expenses last year than it took in from deposits and other sources.
The "truckful of nickels" maneuver should have been predictable:  in 1996,it was the subject of a Seinfeld episode.