by Will Schreiber

The “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t” Fallacy

Is there a term for a problem that is exacerbated by its solution?

A couple years ago, I got into an argument with a friend about a carpooling company.

“I like the mission of reducing the number of cars on the road,” he said.

I think making carpooling easier is wonderful. But if you wanted fewer cars driving to office buildings, you should make it more expensive to commute in cars.

Pooling the gas expenses and riding with other humans makes driving 30 minutes to and from the office a little less horrific. Less horrific commuting means more people will put up with it.1

The common narrative is that Lyft takes cars off the road. But the ease and cheapness of having a Lyft drop you off at that bar across town (instead of walking to one next door) means more people spend more time in cars than they used to.2 3

And does anyone believe 5G is going to solve our wireless spectrum crunch? Faster video streaming means more people streaming videos on their phones. The better our wireless technology gets, the more clogged our airwaves become.

I first learned about this dilemma from Thomas Sowell. He pointed out how, after Washington D.C. completed new interstate mileage, traffic got worse instead of getting better.

Maybe it’s the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” fallacy?

[Edit May 12, 2020] @bschne pointed me to the Jevons paradox, which describes innovation-driven induced demand.

  1. My brother commutes to Pittsburgh from Morgantown. He has said before that, without fellow carpoolers, he’s not sure he’d still be making the drive.
  2. The situation is so bad in places like Nashville that they’ve had to re-engineer traffic flow and setup specific ride share pickup points to try to alleviate the gridlock.
  3. Uber/Lyft Joint Study On Congestion