If the motivation is negative, even though the external appearance may be smooth and gentle, in a deeper sense the action is very violent.
— Dalai Lama Quotes (@DalaiLamaPosts) September 12, 2014
The “carrot and stick” approach (also “carrot or stick approach”) is an idiom that refers to a policy of offering a combination of rewards and punishment to induce behavior. It is named in reference to a cart driver dangling a carrot in front of a mule and holding a stick behind it. The mule would move towards the carrot because it wants the reward of food, while also moving away from the stick behind it, since it does not want the punishment of pain, thus drawing the cart.
The idiom is used in the field of International Relations to describe the realist concept of ‘hard power‘. The carrot can stand for tax cuts or other benefits, the stick can stand for the use of (psychological) violence and threats by the government.
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.