A ratchet affect is an affect where something can only change in one direction, i.e., something that cannot be reversed. It is named after a mechanical ratchet, which when moved into its forward position is unable to move backward.
It is related to things which are easier to protect than repair.
The following are examples:
- Environmental issues: it is easier to protect the environment than to bring it back from destruction. For example, it is easier to prevent a species from going extinct than to bring it back from extinction. Further, it is much easier to fill the ocean with acid and plastic than clean the ocean. It is much easier to warm up the earth than to cool it again. It is much easier to turn a forest into a city than turn a city into a forest.
- Featuritis: scope creep in the manufacturing of consumer goods
- When you reward people for improvement, it creates the perverse incentive to not be very good in the initial trials, in order to create room for improvement
- In monetary policy there is the analogy of “pushing on a string”. It is much easier to stop people from spending money than to make them spend money. So monetary policy is example of a case with a zip tie.
- Human migration: immigration restrictions can prevent changes in the ethnic makeup of a region, but it cannot revert the change in ethnic makeup once it has occurred.