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Samson using the jawbone of an ass

"Jawboning" or "moral suasion" in economics and politics is an unofficial technique of public and private discussions and arm-twisting, which may work by the implicit threat of future government regulation. In America during the Democratic administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson officials tried to deal with the mounting inflationary pressures by direct government influence or jawboning. Wage-price guideposts were established, and the power of the presidency was used to push businesses and labor into going along with these guideposts. The term attracted some derision and is often associated with the Biblical story, in Judges 15:15, of Samson slaying a thousand of his enemies using the jawbone of an ass. Alfred E. Kahn, an economic advisor to President Carter, was particularly known for his dislike of the method.[1]

The term jawboning has also been used to refer to Herbert Hoover's efforts to convince employers to keep wages high as prices fell during the Great Depression. While Hoover was successful in obtaining such agreements, they did little to alleviate unemployment. The term has been used more recently in other contexts. During the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election, George W. Bush criticized outgoing president Bill Clinton for not attempting to lower oil prices by "jawboning OPEC" to increase supply.

The Canadian-American economist J. K. Galbraith stated that "jawboning" was first used to describe the activities of the U.S. Office of Price Administration and Civilian Supply, formed in April 1941.[2]

Examples of usage[edit]

  • 1979 Solutions to Inflation, by David C. Colander, has section heading "Wage-Price Controls, Guidelines, Guideposts, Jawboning and such" (p. 105).
  • 1999 (Dec) George W Bush, in the first Republican primary debate, said President Clinton “must jawbone OPEC members to lower prices.”
  • 2003 Global Climate Change: The Science, Economics and Politics, by James M. Griffin, pp. 86–87 discusses effect of government jawboning to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.
  • 2004 (May 19) New York Times "Mr. McAuliffe, Mr. Vilsack and Mr. Kerry each cited a comment Mr. Bush made in 2000 while campaigning in New Hampshire, when he said that as president, he would jawbone leaders from Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing nations to pressure them to expand oil production. Well, I haven't seen any jawboning, have you? Mr. Kerry asked the crowd here."
  • 2010 Barack Obama pressures British Petroleum to set up an independently managed $20B damage compensation fund. [3]


  1. ^ Donlan, Thomas G. (2008-03-15). "The Cudgel of Samson: How the Government Once Used 'Jawboning' to Fight Inflation". Barron's. Dow Jones.
  2. ^ Galbraith, J. K. (1976). Money: whence it came, where it went. Penguin: London, p. 252
  3. ^ New York Times, 2010-06-18, Twisting Arms at BP, Obama Sets Off a Debate on Tactics