University of Chicago Law Review

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When policymakers and academics think about designing optimal innovation incentives, they almost exclusively limit their considerations to various types of re-ward incentives—that is, innovation “carrots.” But in this Article, we show that, under specific circumstances, innovation “sticks”—potential penalties for failures to innovate—can play valuable roles in our innovation policy, either alone or in conjunction with innovation carrots. We also provide examples of several innova-tion sticks that have already been used with apparent success, including the feder-al Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. Finally, we apply our approach to a new area—the problem of car fatalities—to illustrate the potential of innovation sticks to yield substantial social benefits. Our model suggests that a relatively sim-ple system of yardstick penalties could help reduce national auto fatalities by as much as 20 percent simply by bringing laggard entities (such as companies and states) up to the median.