The Cobra Effect

(Photo: Russ Bowling)

Season 4, Episode 4

If you want to get rid of a nasty invasive pest, it might seem sensible to offer a bounty as a reward. But the problem is: nothing backfires quite like a bounty. In this episode of Freakonomics Radio, we look at bounties on snakes in Delhi, India; rats in Hanoi, Vietnam; and feral pigs in Fort Benning, Georgia. In each case, bounty seekers came up with creative ways to maximize their payoff – and pest populations grew. Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt talk about how incentives don’t always work out the way we expect them to. Later in the hour, if you want to write a book about Winston Churchill, you are going to have to pay. The Churchill estate is intensely protective of Sir Winston’s copyright, so much so that if you write a book about him, you are likely to go into the red. Stephen Dubner talks about who owns words, and what it will cost you to write a book about Churchill.

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  1. Andrew B says:

    Love your podcasts but please skip the reruns. Better to just skip a week if you are on vacation. People start listening while, say, riding a bike or running, and have to stop and go to the next podcast if they do not want to hear it.


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  2. Mark Frautschi says:

    Twenty years ago the U.S. and the Russian Governments signed a twenty-year agreement for the U.S. to purchase 500 metric tonnes of Highly Enriched Uranium for recycling into mixed oxide fuel in commercial nuclear reactors. This prevented the HEU from falling into the hands of nongovernment actors. Naturally this created a cobra effect. The Russians continued to produce what we wanted to help them get rid of. I believe it was anticipated, and taken as the just part of doing business, necessary to keep the HEU out of the hands of bad actors.

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  3. Daddy Dave says:

    I’ve seen a case where a landowner in my town cut down all the trees on the property prior to putting it up for sale. They are getting around a law designed to protect nesting birds. Trees cannot be cut down if there are nesting birds in them, so the landowner cuts them down in the fall so that he can sell the property and start construction in the spring when there might be nesting birds. The result is a loss of trees and nesting habitat. It is a counter-productive law.

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