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Psychology | The carrot and the stick

The carrot or stick approach is often used by governments and employers to motivate people. The approach is to offer a reward, the carrot or a punishment, the stick.  Rewards might be wages at the end of the week. Governments offer rewards in the form of benefits or tax breaks to provide an incentive to people to behave in the manner preferred by government. The government in the UK has put up personal income tax allowances as a carrot to try to get more people working.

The stick in this case is a painful cut in social benefits. With high unemployment, partly caused by an influx of workers from poorer parts of Europe and Asia, the cost of welfare benefits has risen and so this strategy will reduce costs as well as providing an incentive to take lower paid jobs, should they become available.

This carrot or stick idea is said to be an erroneous use of the carrot and stick idiom. The original idea was to move a mule or a donkey by dangling a  carrot on a large stick in front of them offering what would appear to be a reward that was constantly just out of reach. The idea of a constant reward isn’t new for workers. They used to work all day looking forward to getting paid at the end of the day; the reward. That was changed to the end of the week, because it was more convenient for the rich employer and has subsequently been changed to the end of the month. Times change and the now the payday loan companies take advantage of low monthly pay, just as the pawn brokers took advantage of poor  weekly paid workers in Victorian times. 

We now see fewer rewards and more threats by government and employers towards workers. People become less secure as a result and now even the homes of the poorest in society are under threat as the so called ‘bedroom tax’ is introduced.

There will come  a breaking point. When the breaking point was reached in France there was the French Revolution; the aristocracy went to the guillotine. In my lifetime, I’ve seen unfair punishments levelled against the poor in the form of Thatcherism. The breaking point was the so called community charge and riots followed. We have had riots in the past few years, but we haven’t reached breaking point yet.

The strong are the ones that will fight back; the young and the desperate. Maybe students will join in the fight against oppression. The crisis that then ensues when breaking point is reached, could take a different form and involve the weaker members of society. It could be a back lash against government and the rich. A consumer backlash could mean companies that exploit people being boycotted for example.

What do you think? Do people need more carrot and less stick? Do people need security; so they can feel safe in their homes, secure in the knowledge that they have enough money for their needs? Please share your thoughts in the comments box.


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  1. Pingback: This weeks top posts | Mike10613's Blog

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