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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Carrots, Sticks and the Multiplication Effect


Although a punishment can be applied only once, the threat to punish (also referred to as stick) can be reiterated several times, because when parties obey, the punishment is not applied and thus the threat can be repeated. The same is not possible with promises to reward (also known as carrots), since they need to be carried on every time a party complies, and hence at each round a new reward is needed. We show that the multipliability of sticks has pervasive consequences in economics and law and provides a unified explanation for seemingly unrelated phenomena such as the dynamics of riots and revolutions, the divide-and-conquer strategy, comparative negligence, the anticommons problem, the use of property rules in markets, the most-favored nation clause, legal restrictions on penalties in employment contracts, and legal aid.

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