More unintended consequences

Airport security theatre is, we are told, intended to make people safer.  Of course, it doesn’t: People who would otherwise be perfectly happy to fly places decide that the numerous indignities visited upon them in the name of the War On Terror are too burdensome, and decide to drive instead.  Driving, as you’ve probably guessed by now, incurs more deaths per passenger-mile:

To make flying as dangerous as using a car, a four-plane disaster on the scale of 9/11 would have to occur every month, according to analysis published in the American Scientist. Researchers at Cornell University suggest that people switching from air to road transportation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks led to an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month—which means that a lot more people died on the roads as an indirect result of 9/11 than died from being on the planes that terrible day. They also suggest that enhanced domestic baggage screening alone reduced passenger volume by about 5 percent in the five years after 9/11, and the substitution of driving for flying by those seeking to avoid security hassles over that period resulted in more than 100 road fatalities.

(That’s Charles Kenny, quoted from that first link.)

An exaggerated perception of risk leads to dire unintended consequences.  So it goes.

It doesn’t end there.  Eric Crampton reminds us that the dose makes the poison, and in particular that there’s no evidence that light alcohol consumption (by the mother) during pregnancy leads to harm to the fetus.  “But what’s the harm?”, you might ask, because the idea of accepting light drinking by pregnant women makes you feel uncomfortable.  “Even if light drinking is more or less okay, no drinking is certainly safer, isn’t it?  It can’t hurt, can it?”  (That’s what’s known as a leading question.)  Crampton first points out that blatantly specious warnings are counterproductive:

Lower decile groups hear the “drink nothing” warnings, dismiss them entirely as nonsense, and go on to drink way too much while pregnant, doing real harm.

“Lower decile” is a curious euphemism.  Lower decile of what?  Intelligence?  There might be some correlation, but it’s not obvious.  Income?  Social standing?  Now we’re getting somewhere.  It’s clear that the zero-tolerance policy on pregnant drinking is built on the foundation of prevailing wisdom and fear of opprobrium — sure, a glass of wine at dinner once or thrice a week probably isn’t going to hurt the baby, but what would the neighbours think?  Crampton continues:

High decile groups hear the “drink nothing” warnings and, adding that to all the other advice they’re given about all the other costly-and-useless rituals they must follow during pregnancy, rationally decide to have fewer kids.

(Emphasis added.)

So at the margins, people who would otherwise like to have children are persuaded by spurious arguments that pregnancy and child-raising should be made more of a pain in the ass than necessary, and choose not to.  D’oh!


2 Responses to “More unintended consequences”

  1. November 22, 2012 at 09:06

    I am guessing Crampton means socio-economic decile, since he’s in NZ and that’s what they use in their school system. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socio-Economic_Decile

    • November 22, 2012 at 14:49

      Yeah, Grasspunk has it. Decile here is shorthand here for the lump of income/education/ethnicity. School zones are sorted by decile ranking, which is a mix of ethnicity, income, and a bunch of other stuff.

      I was able to get us from one to two, in part, by making sure that anything costly-and-useless was eliminated from our plan.

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