The Cobra Effect
August 16, 2016 (Canadian Physicians for Life) -- I recently learned about a very intriguing economics phenomenon called the “Cobra Effect”. This occurs when a solution to a problem has unintended consequences, that actually worsens the initial problem. It received its moniker from a story of the British attempting to reduce the cobra population in colonial India. The British officials felt there were too many wild cobras in the city of Delhi than were desirable. As a solution, they decided to pay the citizens for killing these cobras. As anticipated, the locals started bringing in dead snakes. What was unexpected was that over time people noticed that the cobras were not disappearing—there were just as many present as before the reward. Upon further investigation it was discovered that the enterprising locals had started cobra farms where they raised cobras and killed them solely for the payment. In no way were they reducing the native cobra population. Once the government made this discovery they discontinued the reward system. The cobra farms were immediately dismantled since there was no longer any incentive to run them. And the city saw an exponential increase in free cobras being released from these farms into the city. The solution made the initial problem worse.
One can find a long list of such examples being studied by economists. Unfortunately, one key example in my eyes, is not found on these lists; abortion in Canada. When abortion was fully decriminalized in 1988 it was with what appeared to be a noble purpose. Canadians wanted to find a solution to gender inequality and wanted to empower women. It did not seem fair that women had to suffer with the burden of an unwanted pregnancy and be unable to control this outcome. It is nearly thirty years later and we now can see how the solution has only worsened the problem. We have given women power that they now use to selectively kill unborn baby girls. We have gone from not allowing women to vote to not allowing women to live. By trying to give women more power we have allowed for women to be killed when they are the most powerless. A truly horrifying unintended consequence of a solution if there was ever one.
What I find even more intriguing than the actual phenomenon is the reason why it happens. The “Cobra Effect” will occur whenever people create policy and fail to anticipate all possible responses that the affected party can make. It occurs when we are short- sighted. It occurs when we want easy answers to difficult questions. As a universal paradox states “We are free to choose, but we are not free from the consequences of our choice”. We have given women complete power to choose without considering that that very choice would limit their own freedom.
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It is time we strive to look past the smoke screen and search for real solutions. To find the medicine so we can stop drinking the poison. We need to truly empower women. We should have a culture where the media does not pressure young girls into having sex. A culture where women are told they are strong enough to raise a child, and fully supported in this decision. A culture that doesn’t condemn women and couples who have chosen to place their child for adoption, but walks with them through that process. We need to remove the choice that allows boyfriends to force their girlfriends to have an abortion. A world that sincerely loves them all: girl, boy, mother, child.
Natasha Fernandes is a medical student and Canadian Physicians for Life board member. Reprinted with permission from Canadian Physicians for Life.