For some reason our entire model of governance is based on moving donkeys from place to place.
As the common wisdom goes, you can drive a donkey forward by whipping its backside with a stick, or you can lure it forward by dangling a carrot in front of its nose. Push or pull. Coax or cajole.
In case you missed it, the farmer in this analogy represents government, and carrots and sticks are instruments of policy such as laws, taxes and regulations. We, collectively, are the donkey.
Don’t be offended. While we reason fairly well as individuals, and can be justifiably proud of getting our shoes on the right feet before we leave the house in the morning, as a collective group we’re really not all that bright or dynamic. Sometimes we need that dangling, or a lash with a stick, to get us moving in the direction we need to go.
Politicians are all about carrots. They want the donkey to like them, to trust them, to follow them everywhere — they need the donkey’s continued support now that the donkey’s got the vote. The trouble is, after a while the donkey comes to expect carrots all the time and loses its sense of urgency. In fact, the donkey is so well fed these days that he can even refuse the odd carrot against his better judgment.
And the stick? The donkey isn’t quite sure what to do when suddenly threatened with it. He resents the whole idea of the stick, and can’t understand why the farmer would even go there when the carrot thing works most of the time.
So he leaves the farmer no other choice. The farmer can’t let the donkey pick and choose what carrots to follow, even when it’s for the donkey’s own good. It takes guts to wield the stick. Very few politicians have the guts, and should get some credit when they reach for the swish.
I’ll give you an example of positive stick-work.
Last week Quebec became the first jurisdiction in North America to introduce a carbon tax, which will likely cost about eight tenths of a cent per litre at the gas pumps and a comparable amount on home fuel and energy bills.
The tax is expected to raise more than $200 million a year, every penny of which will go into public transportation — the only real remedy to global warming that’s available to most of us. The government did ask energy companies not to pass along the new tax on consumers, but there’s little doubt that the public will end up paying.