The Carrot and/or the Stick

The Carrot and/or the Stick

There are two popular ways to address social problems, the carrot and the stick.  Are either of these ways naive?

The stick is used when penalties for crime increase.  This can be done by increased enforcement or new laws.  In general, the poor bear the brunt of this negative stick. People object to this type of reform because it does not go to the root of the problem.  It doesn’t address the causes of poverty and social ills.  Instead of creating more attractive opportunities, it focuses on penalties.  The carrot is used when people create new opportunities and try to entice people away from negative activities.

Simple House is a ministry that uses lots of carrots.  The stick is usually the police.  We almost never collaborate with the police because the carrot and stick don’t really mix.  We befriend the drug dealer, the prostitute, and the criminal. Instead of trying to run them off, we try to show them a better way.  The carrot is better spiritually and materially.

Unfortunately, the carrot does not always work.  It seems to work better when there is also effective policing.  I am writing this because the stick often seems unloving.  When the carrot is compared to the primitive stick, it looks like an enlightenment, but the carrot cannot replace the stick.  It is a naive view of human condition to believe that people will choose the good if it is just offered.  In my own life, consequences have made me a better follower of Christ.  These two ways of addressing problems do not mix, but they should not trade off either.  We need both, and we should be thankful when they are done well.