Carrot and stick

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Carrot and the stick

The phrase "carrot and stick" is a metaphor for the use of a combination of reward and punishment to induce a desired behavior. It is based on the idea that a cart driver might activate a reluctant horse by dangling a carrot in front of it and smacking it on the rear with a stick. The idea sometimes appears as a metaphor for the realist concept of 'hard power'. The carrot might be a promise of economic aid from one nation to another, the stick might be a threat of military action.

When the incentive is given only by displaying a (usually unattainable) reward, this is known simply as a "dangling carrot". The idea is that the motion of the carrot (dangling on a string) creates the illusion of attainability, and keeps the subject chasing it.

"And" may be replaced with "or" ("the carrot or the stick)" to suggest the choice between reward or punishment as a means to alter behavior.[1] There is debate that another idiom, "Carrot on a stick", existed separately and prior to the "carrot and stick" idiom,[2] which may have originated as an idea in a letter written by Winston Churchill dated July 6, 1938, using a metaphor for a reward-punishment combination: "Thus, by every device from the stick to the carrot, the emaciated Austrian donkey is made to pull the Nazi barrow up an ever-steepening hill."[3]

The earliest citation of this expression recorded by the Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary is to The Economist magazine in the December 11, 1948, issue. Earlier uses of the expression were published in 1947 and 1948 in Australian newspaper commentary discussing the need to stimulate productivity following World War II.[4][5] An earlier American example was published in February 1948 in a Daily Republic newspaper article discussing Russia's economy.[6]


Boardman Robinson cartoon using the carrot on a stick[dubious ] metaphor. An anti-war cartoon, it depicts Death enticing an emaciated donkey towards a precipice with a carrot labeled "Victory."

An example of the use of this policy is Stalin's control of Eastern Europe during the period of the Cold War.[further explanation needed] He applied it among countries of the Soviet Sphere of Influence to have a tighter control on them.[citation needed]This policy is also used by the presidents of the USA and NATO

Carrot on a stick[dubious ] is a similar, but separate, idiom. This is the original form of the metaphor that has been corrupted to the above form. It refers[citation needed] to a policy of offering a reward for making progress towards benchmarks or goals but not necessarily ever actually delivering. The original metaphor[citation needed] referred to a boy sitting on a cart being pulled by a donkey. The boy held a long stick to which a carrot had been tied, and he dangled the carrot in front of the donkey but just out of its reach. As the donkey moved forward to get the carrot, it pulled the cart—and the boy—so that the carrot always remained just out of reach as the cart moved forward.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Carrot or the Stick: Rewards, Punishments, and Cooperation"
  2. ^ Safire, William (November 29, 1993). "Essay – Carrot Or Stick?". New York Times. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  3. ^ Safire, William (December 31, 1995). "On Language – Gotcha! Gang Strikes Again". New York Times. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  4. ^ "Douglas wilkie's News Sense UK Workers Must Produce More". The Daily News. 1947-08-05. p. 5. Retrieved 2015-12-14.
  5. ^ "Increased Productivity". Daily Advertiser. 1948-02-14. p. 2. Retrieved 2015-12-14.
  6. ^ "Marxist Socialism Abandoned, Russian Economy Capitalistic (1948) - on". Retrieved 2016-01-21.

External links[edit]

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