Cobras + House of Cards = Unintended Consequences

Good morning everyone! Now I know it’s a tad early but I’m in the middle of my House of Cards binge (I’m on episode 5) and I suddenly felt the need to opine on one of the many random tales that comes out of the Hendrix Econ Department since it vaguely reminded me of House of Cards. It’s a story that illustrates what one of my professors called the Law of Unintended Consequences. It goes like this.

In order to deal with a cobra infestation, the Indian government put a bounty on cobras; if people killed cobras,  they could bring the dangerous little suckers in for a a decent prize. On the surface at least, this seems like a fairly efficient way to deal with a problem right? Nope. People caught on to the government’s plan and actually began to breed cobras so that they’d have a steady way to earn income. That is, until the government found out it was being cheated. The government immediately ended the policy and that was the end of that…at least I wish it was. Once the breeders realized the cobras were no longer up for sale, they immediately released them into the wild. See the problem?

Being the geek I am, I googled the story and it turns out it actually has a name: The Cobra Effect. It’s essentially a way to refer to a situation of unintended consequences where the final result of a problem-solving venture actually worsens the situation instead. To those of us interested in policy writing, it’s a nifty little tale to remember for when we spot a solution that may seem just a little too convenient.

Now, how does this relate to House of Cards? Well the fan base of House of Cards has any number of things it loves about the show: Kevin Spacey, the drama, the shock effect, etc. As for myself, I’m partial to the rather fluid plot details; everything connects, everything is related to everything else, and decision-making is on display for the world to marvel (or abhor). Somewhere in there, the cobra effect has to be there and I have a new (and very geeky) determination to find it. Now technically, I do not condone thirteen hour binge watching sessions in my official capacity as a Roosevelt Blogger. However, seeing as I’ve identified something policy-related to look for in the show, we can say it has education value and therefore I’m going to continue regardless.

Look at that! A nice story, policy advice, and an excuse to use thirteen of hours of your life on House of Cards Season 2: there’s my productivity quota for the morning. I promise I’ll have more substantive posts on this and many other things later today. Enjoy the show!

Chirag

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