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The Cobra Effect, Continued

Quite a few readers and listeners have written in with their own versions of “the cobra effect,” as described in our recent podcast of the same name. Here’s one particularly entertaining one, from Eblyn Miguel Angel:

I would like to bring a comment that came to mind when I heard your podcast on the “Cobra Effect,” in particular when Levitt mentions that for any scheme presented a government must come to the realization that there will be schemers who will break the system or get around it.

I bring this up because my family is Dominican and growing up my father told me a folk tale of something very similar to this involving electric meters in his home country.

When electricity came to the island many things changed, and in particular every home now had a meter installed on the side and a person coming by to check on the meter. So first the people would break open the meters to set the dials to a low number and have it stay there. So the government caught on and locked the meters inside of boxes that couldn’t be opened without special tools & keys. So then the people began to use honey. They would pour the honey on the new lock boxes, and attract ants. Then the ants would carry dirt with them and this dirt & honey would damage the meters once again getting them stuck in place. All of this got so bad that the government had local town halls to discuss the issue.

At one town hall the presenter said, “Now there are ten different ways that the meters can be damaged, and …” — but before he could finish his sentence, someone in the back yelled out “Nope! There are 30!”

Figured you’d like this little tale. 

You figured right, Eblyn.