Taxes

Great Moments in Unintended Consequences (Vol. 6)

Good intentions, bad results

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"Great moments in unintended consequences"—when something that sounds like a great idea goes horribly wrong. Watch the whole series here.

Part 1: Driving Days

The year: 1989.

The problem: Terrible air quality in Mexico City!

The Solution: Keep traffic down and improve air quality by prohibiting one out of five cars from driving each weekday, based on their license plate numbers.

Sounds like a great idea with the best of intentions. What could possibly go wrong?

Citizens got around the ban by buying a second car—often a cheaper, older, and less efficient car. Having more, crappier cars in circulation failed to fix the problem and, according to a number of studies, air pollution actually increased after the restrictions were imposed.

But not to worry, politicians saw the error of their ways and in 2008….expanded the program to include Saturdays. Wait, really?

Part 2: Boat Taxes

The Year: 1773.

The problem: Britain needs money!

The solution: Collect port and lighthouse fees on merchant ships based on their length and width.

Sounds like a great idea with the best of intentions. What could possibly go wrong?

It turns out people don't like paying taxes. Since ships were charged by width and length but not depth, shipbuilders maximized cargo capacity while minimizing taxes by building deep, sluggish, flat-bottomed, flat-sided vessels—a recipe for instability. While Britain's Navy was ruling the sea, their unsightly and unmanageable merchant ships were a laughingstock.

On the plus side, the taxman can't reach you on the bottom of the sea.

Part 3: Airplanes Fly Empty

The year: 2020.

The problem: A global pandemic straining the American airline industry.

The solution: A $60 billion bailout to rescue airlines and maintain continuity of service.

Sounds like a great idea with the best of intentions. What could possibly go wrong?

With concerns over COVID, air passenger rates plummeted as much as 95 percent. But since airlines were mandated to maintain a minimum level of service to qualify for the emergency government funding, airlines were forced to continue flying planes…even if there was no one on board. Voila! American skies were quickly filled with "ghost flights"—nearly empty planes crisscrossing the country so the industry could qualify for billions of taxpayer funds.

Written and produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg; additional research by Natalie Dowzicky; narrated by Austin Bragg.