Open main menu

The cobra effect occurs when an attempted solution to a problem makes the problem worse,[1][2] as a type of unintended consequence. The term is used to illustrate the causes of incorrect stimulation in economy and politics.[2]

The Indian Cobra

The term cobra effect originated in an anecdote, set at the time of British rule of colonial India. The British government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi.[3] The government therefore offered a bounty for every dead cobra. Initially this was a successful strategy as large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, enterprising people began to breed cobras for the income. When the government became aware of this, the reward program was scrapped, causing the cobra breeders to set the now-worthless snakes free. As a result, the wild cobra population further increased.[2][4]

Effects in historyEdit

Rats in VietnamEdit

A similar incident occurred in Hanoi, Vietnam, under French colonial rule. In 1902, the colonial government created a bounty program that paid a reward for each rat killed.[3] To collect the bounty, people would need to provide the severed tail of a rat.

Colonial officials, however, began noticing rats in Hanoi with no tails. The Vietnamese rat catchers would capture rats, sever their tails, and then release them back into the sewers so that they could procreate and produce more rats, thereby increasing the rat catchers' revenue.[5]

Chinese Four Pests CampaignEdit

In 1958, Mao Zedong launched the Four Pests Campaign in China to remove mosquitoes, rodents, flies, and sparrows responsible for the transmission of disease. The policy wiped out sparrows but also became a contributor to the Great Chinese Famine; the absence of sparrows led to insect infestation and massive crop loss.

Carbon credits for HFC-23Edit

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change kicked off an incentive scheme in 2005 to cut down on greenhouse gases. Companies disposing of polluting gases get rewarded with carbon credits, which could eventually get converted into cash. The program set prices according to how serious the damage the pollutant could do to the environment was, and attributed one of the highest bounties for destroying HFC-23, a byproduct of a common coolant. As a result, companies began to produce more of this coolant in order to destroy more of the byproduct waste gas, and collect millions of dollars in credits.[6] Credits for the destruction of HFC-23 were suspended in the European Union in 2013.[7]

Pig eradication in Georgia, USEdit

Most management strategies of the wild pig (Sus scrofa) had proven ineffective at reducing or eliminating its populations, resulting in population expansion in recent decades. As other places, the Fort Benning Army Infantry Training Center in Georgia, US, had been inhabited by wild pigs since the mid‐1900s. In response to increasing negative impacts on flora, fauna, and military training activities and equipment, Fort Benning began offering a bounty on pigs in June 2007 to reduce the population and eventually eradicate wild pigs from the installation. However, the hog population grew, possibly because of food set out to lure pigs.[8]

In mediaEdit

In the Autobiography of Mark Twain, the author says that his wife had a similar experience,

Once in Hartford the flies were so numerous for a time, and so troublesome, that Mrs. Clemens conceived the idea of paying George a bounty on all the flies he might kill. The children saw an opportunity here for the acquisition of sudden wealth. ... Any Government could have told her that the best way to increase wolves in America, rabbits in Australia, and snakes in India, is to pay a bounty on their scalps. Then every patriot goes to raising them.

A 2001 book by German economist Horst Siebert called Der Kobra-Effekt[2] discusses such perverse incentives in economics and politics.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Brickman, Leslie H. (1 November 2002). Preparing the 21st Century Church. p. 326. ISBN 978-1-59160-167-8.
  2. ^ a b c d Siebert, Horst (2001). Der Kobra-Effekt. Wie man Irrwege der Wirtschaftspolitik vermeidet (in German). Munich: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt. ISBN 3-421-05562-9.
  3. ^ a b Dubner, Stephen J. (11 October 2012). "The Cobra Effect: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast". Freakonomics, LLC. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  4. ^ Schwarz, Christian A. (1996). NCD Implementation Guide. Carol Stream Church Smart Resources. p. 126. Cited in Brickman, p. 326.
  5. ^ Vann, Michael G. (2003). "Of Rats, Rice, and Race: The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre, an Episode in French Colonial History". French Colonial History. 4: 191–203. doi:10.1353/fch.2003.0027.
  6. ^ "The Cobra effect in Freakonomics".
  7. ^ "Commission adopts ban on the use of industrial gas credits". Climate Action - European Commission. European Commission. 23 November 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2019.
  8. ^ "Effectiveness of a bounty program for reducing wild pig densities". Wildlife society – via https://doi.org/10.1002/wsb.787.
  9. ^ Mark Twain (2010), Michael J. Kiskis (ed.), Mark Twain's Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review, University of Wisconsin Press, pp. 151–2, ISBN 9780299234737