5 Laws That Made Sense on Paper (And Disasters in Reality)

The most difficult thing about running a country is that it's full of people. The entire history of government involves somebody coming up with a plan that sounds great on paper, only to be hilariously thwarted by human nature within minutes of it passing (see: Prohibition). The world is full of these stories, and they prove time and again that it's really hard to get human beings to do something they just don't want to do. That's why ...

#5. Gun Buyback Programs Result in More Guns

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Gun buyback programs are a kind of soft gun control policy in which everybody wins -- you offer cash to people to give up their firearms, but without actually forcing them to do so. The guns are then destroyed by the state, and are thus off the streets forever. Dudes like their guns, but they probably love cash even more, so, for a small fee, you can prevent tragedy down the road.

And even if only a small fraction of gun owners hand their firearms in for cash, that's still fewer guns in circulation, which can only be a good thing, right?

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"Shit. I guess I do want to get high more than I want to shoot a mother-fucker."

The Backfire:

A study shows that, long term, these programs result in more guns. How?

Well, imagine you see a product advertised on late night television that looks awesome, but that you're not sure you want or need. For example, some new combination lawnmower and treadmill that we'll call a lawnmill (patent pending). But, you remember that you don't actually have a lawn, and that 100 percent of treadmills wind up getting turned into expensive coat racks, so you resist the urge to grab the phone.

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"Don't look at them, honey. Just keep walking. They'll only spend your exercise on crack."

Now imagine that the government has made a promise that they will pay cash money for any unwanted lawnmill (no, wait -- treadmower!) you have, no questions asked. Suddenly there's less financial risk in ordering -- if it turns out you don't want it, you know you have a waiting buyer.

The same thing applies to guns. Those who aren't sure if they actually need one are more inclined to buy one if they know they can cash it back in if they change their mind. Or say they have a small, shitty gun and are thinking about upgrading. Hey, just sell the shitty one to the government, earn a tidy profit, and put that cash toward the purchase of a brand new, much more lethal weapon!

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Squirrel hunting just got fucking awesome.

The thing is, it's not like there's no historical precedent for this type of thing. And in fact, the historical example is much, much more insane ...

#4. Put a Bounty on Snakes, You Get More Snakes

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What's worse than a termite infestation? A cobra infestation. And what's worse than a cobra infestation? Nothing. Nothing is worse than a cobra infestation.

So, back in the days of British-controlled India, the British governor of Delhi was understandably upset when he faced this exact problem. In between his screams of terror, the governor offered a bounty on cobra skins, opting to crowdsource the extermination via what he probably assumed were top-notch snake-charming skills. Sure enough, the local populace cashed in on the bounty, slaughtering snakes wherever they found them.

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Please tell us that wasn't in your pants. It was in your pants, wasn't it?

Problem solved! Right?

The Backfire:

As rich as the British Empire was, and as keen as it was to see an end to cobras, it made the fatal error of setting the bounty too high. Specifically, the reward for each dead snake was significantly higher than the cost of breeding and raising a snake.

Yeah. You know where this is headed.

"Um ... ma'am ... these aren't the eggs I ordered."

Instead of going out and hunting cobras like they were supposed to, people stayed at home and set up cobra farms, producing thousands more cobras to eventually slaughter and sell their corpses to the government for profit.

Of course, the governor, noticing he was still thigh-deep in cobras, eventually caught on to this racket and called the bounty off. Unfortunately, that meant everyone in Delhi was now stuck with thousands of useless, costly cobras. Shrugging at the capriciousness of the cobra-skin market, the cobra farmers returned to their day jobs, releasing their unprofitable snake populations into the city, resulting in a much worse infestation.

Not to be outdone by the British, the French recreated this sordid tale, substituting Hanoi for Delhi and rats for cobras. At first their bounty on rat tails resulted in an epidemic of tailless, pissed-off rats, but eventually the siren call of having "rat farmer" on your resume proved impossible to resist.

"OK, now get my flute. I need to march them into town."

Of course, we'd never make the same mistake today. Oh wait, scratch that, let's wait and see how the Utah coyote bounty program pans out. Maybe you should lock your doors.

#3. Mexican Anti-Pollution Policy Increases Pollution

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Although it looks like the climactic battle scene in a post-apocalyptic thriller, this is what Mexico City looks like from the air, thanks to 460,000 vehicles belching smog daily into the atmosphere:

Via Geographyblog.eu
It's what they call a "farty sunset."

To deal with this problem, in 1989 the city enacted a policy called Hoy No Circula ("You Don't Drive Today"), which simply banned a certain percentage of the city's cars from driving each day. The way they did it was by license plate number -- if yours ended in a 5 or a 6, then you weren't allowed to drive your car on a Monday, so you would have to carpool, take a cab, or bike your ass to work. The next day, you could drive, but somebody else would have to walk, etc.

The hope was that by taking tens of thousands of cars off the road every day, they would start to see an improvement in pollution levels and a greater appreciation for public transportation. Foolproof!

Toby Burrows/Digital Vision/Getty Images
"Life sure is grand here in Fakeopolis, where everything works out the way it never does."

The Backfire:

First of all, apparently underestimating the lengths people will go to in order to not do as they're told, Hoy No Circula only restricted car use between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., leaving drivers with a cool seven hours with which to make up for the day's lost pollution. Air pollution levels increased during the off hours, showing that people would rather work a 17-hour day than take the bus.

But those who wanted a more convenient way to get around the law simply bought a second car. The policy applied to cars, not people, and thus didn't restrict anyone from driving a different car with different plates on those "off" days. Not only did this increase the number of cars in Mexico City, but people usually opted to buy really cheap, shitty, hyper-polluting used cars as their backup, so they were polluting more on their off days than when they were allowed to drive their regular car.

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On the upside, though ... wait, there was no upside.

But what about those who did the right thing and left the car at home? They screwed up as well. See, most of them opted to call a cab on days they weren't allowed to drive. It just so happens that Mexican cabs are mostly Volkswagen Beetles, which are so heavy on pollution that they stopped selling them in the United States back when the original Star Wars movies came out. So an increase in taxi use translated to a total increase in pollution.

Did Mexico learn its lesson from all this? Hell no -- seeing that the policy had no effect, they expanded Hoy No Circula from weekdays only to Saturday as well.

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