Wiping Out the Cobras: A Parable

See the source image

Now who would want to breed cobras?

I haven’t been able to determine whether this is true or not; but the story goes that in the 19th century, when the British ruled India, the colonial government wanted to put a stop to people being killed by cobras. And so, to eliminate the cobras, the government put a bounty on them.

The people soon realized that, as badly as they needed the bounty money, sooner or later all the cobras would be gone. So… they bred them. Set up home cobra hatcheries: that way there’s always a dead cobra to bring in for a bounty.

When the government found out that people were breeding cobras for fun and profit, they canceled the bounty. With no more money to be made from cobras, the people who had boxes of cobras at home released them into the wild. Presto! They had a much worse cobra problem than they had before.

This is the origin of the expression, “cobra effect,” describing how efforts to solve a problem sometimes make the problem worse.

Especially when the government gets involved.

2 comments on “Wiping Out the Cobras: A Parable

Leave a Reply