Thursday, 17 September 2015

This couldn't backfire, could it?... Ragweed edition

One of the most famous (possibly apocryphal) stories of unintended consequences took place in British colonial India. The government was concerned about the number of snakes running wild (er... slithering wild) in the streets of Delhi. So, they struck on a plan to rid the city of snakes. By paying a bounty for every cobra killed, the ordinary people would kill the cobras and the rampant snakes would be less of a problem. And so it proved. Except, some enterprising locals realised that it was pretty dangerous to catch and kill wild cobras, and a lot safer and more profitable to simply breed their own cobras and kill their more docile ones to claim the bounty. Naturally, the government eventually became aware of this practice, and stopped paying the bounty. The local cobra breeders, now without a reason to keep their cobras, released them. Which made the problem of wild cobras even worse.

Fast-forward to this story about the Canadian town of Hudson, Quebec, from a few weeks ago:
The last few weeks of August don’t just mean bidding goodbye to summer; for many allergy sufferers, it also means the agony of ragweed season.
But the town of Hudson, Que., is turning to a new idea to give its residents some relief: setting a bounty on the nasty weed.
Hudson has begun paying residents to pull out ragweed, offering five cents a pound for the weed, or 10 cents a kilo...
Some residents are taking on the challenge with gusto. Seven-year-old Kyle Secours has become known as Hudson’s own “Ragweed Terminator.” He’s managed to slice and dice nearly three times his own weight in less than two days.
Kyle sounds suitably smart. How long before he (or indeed, any enterprising resident of Hudson) realises that running around town looking for ragweed to dig up is a lot of hard work, which he could save by simply growing lots of it in his backyard? Although to be fair, 10 cents a kilogram isn't a huge incentive (although surprisingly not terribly far from the international price of wheat).

[HT: Marginal Revolution]

1 comment:

  1. At first, I thought this article was a joke. The fact that it's true has me wide-eyed and mouth gaping...