When it comes to describing changes in complex systems, I often need a word to describe “something that might seem cheap now but more expensive later.”

It’s usually non-obvious that some action will have long-term, negative consequences. Both sides of the decision will have merit, but the longer-term view can lose out to shorter-term concerns.

The classic example here is the Cobra Effect, where an attempted solution exacerbates the problem or causes more problems. This anecdote refers to authorities in India under British rule offering a fee for every cobra caught and killed. Rather than eliminating a cobra problem, this led to cobra breeding being a viable profession.

I would call the decision to introduce a cobra bounty an “unsustainable change.” In complicated situations, it might be very difficult to find and choose the most sustainable option.

Consider this post my humble submission into the vernacular.

Further Reading

This blog post is inspired by some books I’ve recently read. They are as follows: