Great Moments in Unintended Consequences: Subsidized Trees, Day Care Late Fees, New York Alcohol Ban (Vol. 11)

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.

Part One: Tree Decree

The year: 2019

The problem: Mexico needs trees!

The solution: the Sowing Life project, a $3.4 billion program that pays farmers to plant fruit and timber trees on barren land. Not only will this help spruce up the environment, but it will fight poverty and inequality by paying the farmers to maintain the new trees.

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

It turns out poor farmers need money. And since standing trees didn't qualify for the program, the system incentivized farmers to cut down mature trees to make way for new ones. 

In one village, two-thirds of the program's participants cut down forests to get that cash.

One study found the program caused the deforestation of more than 280 square miles.

But, you know what they say about best-laid plan…ts.

Part Two: Pay Care

The year: 1998

The problem: Private day care centers in Israel are tired of parents arriving late.

The solution: Fine tardy parents a small fee for every late pickup.

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

It turns out money isn't the only incentive, and a fine is just a price. To the surprise of the researchers, late arrivals more than doubled! The penalty, it seemed, allowed parents to ease their conscience. The shameful apology that once burdened them shifted to a simpler, legitimate cash transaction—one they were happy to pay.

Because honestly, ask any new parent what they would pay for an extra 10 minutes of free time.

Part Three: Loophole Lunch

The Year: 1896 

The Problem: Alcohol is ruining the moral fiber of New York! 

The Solution: the Raines Law! It created a bevy of rules that made it harder to open or operate drinking establishments, including a ban on the sale of alcohol on Sundays, except for hotels and lodging houses that served drinks with complimentary meals. I mean, wealthy New Yorkers tend to dine out at ritzy hotel restaurants when their servants have the day off. No need to ruffle their rich, upstanding, virtuous feathers. It's those poor people who are ruining everything! So yeah, stick it to them.

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

It turns out, people like drinking—even on Sundays! The ban was wildly unpopular.

Almost immediately, "Raines Law Hotels" were born. Basements and attics were converted into barely-furnished "rooms" and proprietors made deals with neighboring lodging houses. In Brooklyn, the number of registered hotels went from 13 to 800 after six months. Prostitutes and unmarried couples found the new rooms especially convenient.

To fulfill the law's food requirement, bar staff invented the "Raines Sandwich"—an easy, simple meal that would be served with a patron's drink but not consumed. The frequently inedible sandwich would be whisked away in seconds and quickly paired with the next order. It was not uncommon for the same sandwich to be reused for weeks. Yum.

Food for naught.

Great moments in unintended consequences: good intentions, bad results.

Do you know a great moment in unintended consequences? Email us at We might steal it! I mean, borrow it. I mean, you know what I mean.

Written and produced by Austin Bragg, Meredith Bragg, and John Carter; narrated by Austin Bragg