"The Cobra Effect"

The British government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes in Delhi.

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.

@fribbledom this is the same mechanism by which welfare creates broken homes, so they say.


And when the government stopped paying bounties for cobras, all those cobra breeders just let them go and there were more loose cobras than before, many of which had learned to associate humans with food.

A brilliant historical example of the laws of unintended consequences, false metrics, and perverse incentives.

My favourite example is the (completely unsourced, probably apocryphal) story of a software company which decided to give the testers a bonus for every bug they found and the developers a bonus for every bug they fixed. They suddenly had a lot more, very easily spotted and fixed bugs.

@aparition42 @fribbledom this is also a great example of leveraging an oppressive regime's own tools against it in order to subvert its authority and stoke the coals of revolution.

@marie_joseph @fribbledom

Mostly, I'd say it's an example of clueless bureaucrats not understanding the system they're supposed to be managing and not realizing that when you write the rules of a game, you're deciding how people are going to cheat.

Similar things have happened under every type of government. The cobra farmers weren't out to "stick it to the man". They were out to make the most money with the least effort just like anyone else.

A hustler's gonna hustle.


A more sinister example of perverse incentives occurred in Canada between 1945 and 1960.

The federal government provided a stipend of 70 cents/day per orphan to orphanages. They provided a stipend of $2.25/day per patient to psychiatric hospitals.

It's estimated more than 20 thousand children were falsely certified as mentally ill by the provincial government of Quebec in order to grift that extra $1.55 a day.

love the "Chinese Four Pests Campaign" sounds like empire building

@fribbledom Ha! There’s a throwaway gag in a Discworld novel where the exact same thing happens in Ankh-Morpork, except with rats instead of cobras, and I *knew* it had to be a sly reference to something that happened in real life but I could not find it (because I was only searching for incidents involving rats)

@fribbledom Terry Pratchett, when describing the same effect but with rats, offered a simple one-phrase solution uttered by one Lord Vetinary, "Tax the rat farms".

@fribbledom I've read that this same thing happened in Florida with northern snakeheads. The bounty per fish resulted in some very well-stocked snakehead ponds.

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