Unintended consequences, the collection

[ by Charles Cameron — what you don’t see can blindside you ]

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Unintended consequences are the clearest indicators we have of just how much more complex the world is than we imagine it to be. They are therefore of great interest.

A short while back, WaPo had a piece that overtly referenced unintended consequences: Unintended consequences: Inside the fallout of America’s crackdown on opioids.

I’m going to take that as the starting point for another of my collections. When I find a clear case of an unintended cnsequence, I’ll add it to this post or in the comments session..

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One major group of unintended consequences news items clusttered around the revision of redistricting rules in an attempt (at least purportedly) to curb the abuse of partisan power in gerrymandering, an ancient American political tradition practiced by both (all?) partties —

Overby & Cosgrove‘s 1996 Unintended Consequences? Racial Redistricting and the Representation of Minority Interests would appear to be a much quoted starting point, followed by Rose Institute’s 2008 Unintended Consequences of Texas Gerrymandering.

But the general principle is evident: course corrections don’t always set you back on track — or as the Taoist fellow might say, any map you can draw is liable to lead you astray — maps are fallible wrt terrain, wrt reality!

Case in point: The meandering path of the Mississippi, now here, now there — with oxbows!

Travelers, mappers and modelers, beware!

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Oh, and BTW, I woke from the anaesthetic that accompanied my triple heart bypass to find.. Trump was president. That consequence was unintended by me at least, no matter hwat Mr Putin may have decided.

5 comments on this post.
  1. Charles Cameron:

    Strange causality?
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    An earthquake in Mexico, attributed by seismologists to soccer fans leaping up in joy as Mexico scores a game-winning goal against Germany in the World Cup! Earth-shattering? Well, almost. Definitely unintended, in any case.

  2. Charles Cameron:

    Putin sees unpredictability kn possible consequences of AI, of which he says “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” — heady stuff indeed:

    In early September 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin brought artificial intelligence from the labs of Silicon Valley, academia, and the basement of the Pentagon to the forefront of international politics. “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind,” he said. “It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”

  3. Charles Cameron:

    There’s an unexpected downfall to banning plastic straws.
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    Plastics contribute vastly to the various ocean garbage patches, get stuck in the nostrils of sea turtles (horrible video, glad I watched it all, this is the abbreviated version), are fed by albatrosses to their young, and in general are hazardous and often needless — but for some disabled folk, flexible plastic straws are of passionate importance, allowing them to drink beverages the rest of us take for granted
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    Unintended consequence # 89,367,426 this year so far..

  4. Charles Cameron:

    George Will, Don’t fix baseball, even if it’s broken

    It is a prudential axiom: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. This reflects the awareness that things can always be made worse, and it reflects the law of unintended consequences, which is that they often are larger than and contrary to intended ones. As baseball reaches the all-star break amid lamentations about several semi-broken aspects of it, it is time to amend the axiom: Don’t fix it, even if it is broken.
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    The itch to fix complex systems often underestimates the ability of markets, broadly understood, to respond and adapt to incentives. So, even if you are an unsatisfactory American — i.e., uninterested in baseball — read on, because the debate about some of the game’s current defects contains lessons about lesser things than baseball, meaning everything else.

    Well, the rest is baseball — the rest of Wiill’s article, that is. But that first para may give us pause to ponder..

  5. Charles Cameron:

    How about this?

    Hedging Against the Unknown: PRC Media Coverage of the Sino-US Trade War
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    Unexpected Conflict
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    Despite US President Donald Trump’s repeatedly endorsement of trade protectionism during his campaign, Beijing did not expect a large-scale trade war with Washington. Mainstream PRC media outlets refrained from harsh language in their coverage, for the most part, prior to the escalation of trade frictions in late March. Simply put, Beijing believed that bilateral trade, investment and commercial opportunities are ‘too big to fail’ (see, for example, Global Times, May 8).

    The trade war, according to Jamestown, is a seerious business.. and China wasn’t expecting it.
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    When a golfer fails to sink a putt due to some unseen vagary in the grass en route to the hole..
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    The Unintended Consequences of Helsinki
    In Trump’s zeal to get warmer relations with Russia, the American president has stepped straight into a paradox.
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    Peter Perla, So a Wargamer and a Black Swan Walk into a Bar . . . :

    We behave as if Black Swans do not exist; as if we live in what Taleb calls Mediocristan, when in fact we live in Extremistan. Human nature is not programmed to accept the existence of Black Swans, at least not as the “normal” state of things. We prefer reasoning and thinking linearly. We have been fooled by the large number of phenomena that usually are well-behaved, and we tend to think of extremes as not only unlikely but also inconsequential. Linear relationships are easy to grasp; nonlinear ones are confusing, especially because once you break out of linear relationships, the number of nonlinear possibilities becomes nearly infinite.