The Most Ironic Examples Of The Cobra Effect

Coined by the late German economist Horst Siebert, the cobra effect calls back to an idea put in place in India during English colonization. What does it all mean? Well, let’s just say that things didn’t go as planned during colonization and that, in a nutshell, the cobra effect is created when you want to fix a problem, but your solution makes things worse than they were before. It’s sort of like a dude cutting the sleeves off his shirt to make a tank top. Yes, you were hot before and now the tops of your arms are cool, but you’re also a guy wearing a cut off shirt, and that’s horrible. That metaphor doesn't completely encapsulate the socio-economic implications of the cobra effect, but hopefully after you read this list of the most ironic examples of the cobra effect, you’ll be on board.

The unintended consequences of “good ideas” on this list range from massive global destruction, to presidents getting embarrassed on the Internet. Why try to do anything good if it’s just going to blow up in your face? Hopefully after reading this list of cobra effect examples you don’t get thrown under the existential bus and know how to solve your problems without any surprise bad results.

Vote up the instances of the cobra effect you think are the most interesting.

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    186 VOTES

    The Original Cobra Effect

    The term "cobra effect" stems from the initial British colonization of India. The British government was concerned with the amount of poisonous snakes in the region, so they offered a bounty for every snake killed. Initially this worked like gangbusters, until the locals started breeding the snakes for profit.

    When government officials caught wind of this, they cut off the program and the Indian region was filled with even more cobras than before.

  • The Hanoi Rat Bounty
    Photo: Rafał Stryjek / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
    101 VOTES

    The Hanoi Rat Bounty

    When Hanoi was under French colonial rule, they discovered that their villages had a rat problem. So the regime created a bounty program, similar to that of the British cobra program, that paid a reward for each rat killed. To get paid, people would provide a severed rat tail and get a little cash. Colonial officials, however, began noticing rats in Hanoi with no tails.

    The Vietnamese rat catchers would capture rats, lop off 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.

  • 3
    56 VOTES

    Conservatories In British Homes

    In the early '90s, Tadj Oreszczyn, a physicist, stumbled upon the concept of reducing energy consumption by adding south-facing conservatories (glass rooms) to British houses. His line of thinking was that the sun would hit the glass, thus heating the rest of the house and soon it would cut down on expensive heating bills.

    Well, he was super wrong. Instead of using the conservatory as a green room hot box, people started using them as living areas, installing heating, and ultimately increasing overall energy consumption.

  • 4
    55 VOTES

    The Duplessis Orphans

    Beginning in the 1940s and continuing into the 1960s, the Quebec government received subsidies from the Canadian federal government for building hospitals, but hardly anything to build orphanages. Government contributions worked out to be $1.25 a day for orphans, but $2.75 a day for psychiatric patients. So, to get more money from the government, the Catholic Church of Quebec frequently misdiagnosed orphaned children as mentally ill, affecting up to 20,000 people.

    This led to 80% of the misdiagnosed children reporting that they underwent a traumatic experience between the ages of 7 and 18, and over 50% said they underwent physical, mental, or sexual abuse.