Lessons in unintended consequences

Certainly cities believed that, when they started installing traffic cameras, they would increase their revenues from traffic violation tickets. But, as most people have heard, these cameras have also been shown to spark an increase in the number of rear-end accidents, not to mention enraging local residents.

538.com has pointed to another possible example of an unintended consequence. In 2010, the death estate tax will be repealed for the entire year, and will then be reinstated at a 55% level, far above the 45% rate it currently sits at.

As Nate Silver eloquently put it, "[t]hink there might be a few rich grannies pulled off a few respirators on December 31, 2010?" And, as always, he finds a study that shows a so-called "death elasticity": when Australia repealed their estate tax 30 years ago on June 30th, 1979, they noticed that an abnormal number of people managed to extend their lives to July 1st.

I don't think Nate's going far enough. My view is that this could take off in the same way that the whole "going Galt" movement has. Not only are more people on life support going to have the plug pulled, but I think that perfectly healthy people whose estates will be subject to the tax will decide that they would rather die young than live a long life and force their relatives to pay the tax.

Think that's crazy? Given the way people have freaked out and thrown "tea parties" over a small increase in the top tax bracket, and threatened to "go Galt" without understanding what exactly that means in the first place, I wouldn't put it past them to pull a stunt like that.

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