cobra effect
n. When an intended solution makes the original problem worse.
The cobra effect is a well known term in behavioral economics, referring to an anecdote from British colonial rule in India. The story says that a British governor, wanting to eliminate the cobra population in Dehli [sic], declared a bounty for each dead snake. To his horror, illegal cobra breeders began popping up all over the city — raising the snakes, then killing them and collecting the money. Realizing his mistake, the governor ended the bounty in order to stop the breeders, which caused them to release their now worthless animals into the city, exponentially increasing Delhi’s cobra problem.
—Ian Evans, “Missouri Struggles With Feral Hogs — And Hog Hunters,” Undark, July 01, 2016
Opponents of our chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, should bear the cobra effect in mind.
—Mike Rowse, “Politicians in China, and elsewhere, should beware the cobra effect,” South China Morning Post, March 30, 2015
American sociologist Robert K Merton, popularised the law of unintended consequences and was known as the godfather of the focus group. One of his terms, called the "cobra effect", stresses the perverse effect, which is completely contrary to what was originally intended.
—Charles Waterstreet, “The law is full of ironies — the more privacy we seek the more that is seen — take Barbara Streisand,” The Sydney Morning Herald, October 19, 2014
2002 (earliest)
The short term effects of not prototyping can appear to be highly beneficial. After all, our groups seem to grow by leaps and bounds. What, though, is to be said about the long term effects if we fail to prototype? The consistent result is that the church is fatally bitten by the "cobra effect".
—Leslie H. Brickman, “Preparing the 21st Century Church,” Xulon Press, October 01, 2002
The origins of this term are well explained in the 2016 citation, although I should note that there is no proof that such an event ever occurred. A similar event involving rats in Hanoi did happen, so this variation on the theme of unintended consequences is sometimes called the rat effect.
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