Why rewards are better than sanctions

Daniel Verdier, Byungwon Woo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Sanctions are said to fail because of the "rally-round-the-flag effect". This is the main reason why many advocate the use of positive incentives as a viable alternative. Not only do rewards provoke no defensive reaction, but they may elicit a rally in support of compliance - a "fifth-column effect." Yet, positive incentives are vulnerable to extortion - doing wrong in the hope of obtaining larger rewards. As a result, many conjecture that sanction threats and promises of reward are most efficient when used simultaneously. We put this conjecture to a test, staging a formal confrontation of the two forms of incentives. Our model pits a sanctioner and a target in a game allowing for the possibility of rally-round-the-flag, fifth-column, and extortion effects. The game yields unambiguous results: under no circumstances should a sanctioner prefer sanction threats to reward promises. This result holds despite the risk of extortion, a risk that proves to be less of a drawback than the rally round the flag.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-238
Number of pages19
JournalEconomics and Politics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Jul

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics


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