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 ...
Gun Buyback Programs Result in More Guns
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?
"Shit. I guess I do want to get high more than I want to shoot a mother-fucker."
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.
"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!
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 ...
Put a Bounty on Snakes, You Get More Snakes
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.
Please tell us that wasn't in your pants. It was in your pants, wasn't it?
Problem solved! Right?
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.
Mexican Anti-Pollution Policy Increases Pollution
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:
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!
"Life sure is grand here in Fakeopolis, where everything works out the way it never does."
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.
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.
Fishing Quotas Are Bad News for Fish
As their collective name suggests, fish are very prone to being fished. When fish fishability meets our love of Friday dinners, the result is that fish run the risk of being fished to extinction for the crime of being delicious.
To avert this threat, the European Union established the total allowable catch section of the Common Fisheries Policy. Or, in everyday language, a fishing quota that slaps penalties on anyone who catches too many or the wrong kind of fish. This is a neat and easy way to ensure that fishing vessels aren't sweeping the sea clean like Mr. Burns.
And it's very simple -- when the boats return with their catch, authorities look at what they came back with and assess their penalties accordingly. Nobody caught with too many illegal fish will be in business for long, damn it!
Enjoy your life in jail, assholes.
The thing is, the checking of the catch has to happen on shore -- the ocean is a big place, and there's no way authorities could go from boat to boat. The fishing vessels didn't have an incentive to stop catching illegal fish; they had an incentive to stop arriving at shore with illegal fish.
So, if the boat caught too many fish, or the wrong kind, the captain could bring the whole haul to shore with his handcuff-ready hands outstretched, or he could just fucking dump the excess fish back into the ocean and return only with the amount that he's allowed by law, whistling innocently. And no, we don't mean throwing the fish back alive -- the process of sorting through a catch is pretty time intensive, so the vast majority of rejected fish are dead and well on the way to rotten.
Which eventually makes it extremely easy for you to find a good spot on the beach!
As a result, in some areas, two-thirds of the total catch is made to walk the plank in the quest for perfect specimens of the right species. In the North Sea alone, 1 million metric tonnes of fish is thrown back each year (for our American readers, that's about 2 nautical hogsheads-on-Tuesday). And all of those rotting fish carcasses pollute the sea enough to kill many of the still-alive fish that somehow avoided being caught in the first place.
Tightening Bankruptcy Laws Screws Absolutely Everyone
Back in 2005, Americans who had racked up more credit card debt than they could handle had an option that many critics saw as a magical get-out-of-debt-free card. By filing for bankruptcy, individuals could declare themselves officially, utterly broke and therefore relieve themselves of any obligation to pay their debts back.
Of course, there were some who cheated the system, spending like hell without giving a fraction of a shit and then declaring bankruptcy as soon as the banks started asking questions. That's why there was an intense lobbying effort by the big banks to pass the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which made it more costly for people to declare bankruptcy and therefore forced all the deadbeats in their solid gold castles to bite the bullet and pay back their creditors.
"This is BULLSHIT!"
It was a big win for the banks, and, as we all know, the economy was smooth sailing after that.
Unfortunately, it turned out that some people filing for bankruptcy had the audacity to actually be bankrupt. Not able to pay the additional costs incurred by the new law, those people just defaulted on all their debts, including their mortgages, which led the banks to foreclose. Effectively, banks started trading lost debts in exchange for a whole bunch of houses, which they then put on the market for sale, because what's a bank going to do with a house? It already has a house. Their house is the bank.
But still, the banks made off like bandits, right? They've got all of these free houses! Hell, this is probably what they wanted all along!
Not a chance in the world that money is staying unfucked.
Not quite. First, remember that the banks have the house because they got stiffed on a huge mortgage that went unpaid, so they needed to unload the house fast to pay themselves back. But when they went to put their seized house up on the market, they suddenly found that, due to the new bankruptcy law, all of the other banks were doing the same thing. So the law had flooded the market, and the banks were stuck with these empty, rotting houses, begging somebody to buy them. Due to an obscure economic phenomenon known as the law of supply and demand, housing prices dropped ... and even more people defaulted on their mortgages.
So Washington Mutual, one of the lobbying bodies, actually went bankrupt itself, which just goes to show how people will stop at nothing to shirk their debts. We probably need some law to stop it.
Oh, don't look so glum, pussy. At least you got to keep your suit.
Special thanks to Ryan Menezes for his help with this article. Follow his Twitter and he might help you, too.
Related Reading: At least none of those laws were as petty as these. Iran's government even cracks down on water gun fights. It's hard to say if that's worse than this Kansas law imprisoning people for unpaid rent. It's easy to wind up a criminal today. You might be breaking the law right now and not even know it.