Toothpaste tube theory

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A toothpaste tube

The toothpaste tube theory is a jocular metaphor stating that increasing pressure eventually forces some sort of release, just as when one squeezes a toothpaste tube, toothpaste comes out. It is used to explain social and political behavior, as well as relationships involving abstract concepts.

You can't keep squeezing a tube beyond a certain point to get any additional benefit, it's also used to describe human behavior in legal negotiations and there's also a second meaning to the toothpaste tube theory that says there's diminishing returns after a certain point so if you have a bounded system where you have pressure continuing to increase and increase, eventually the system will break if the pressure is not released somewhere, that's the idea behind the toothpaste tube theory.

Applications of the theory[edit]

In administrative law, the toothpaste tube theory describes problems of displacement, for instance, where discretion or accountability are shifted elsewhere. In the case, Byrnes v. LCI Communication Holdings Co. an appeals court rejected one formulation of the toothpaste tube theory.[1]

In labor law, the toothpaste tube theory[2] means employer and employee relations are always under pressure.

In economics, the toothpaste tube theory[3] may be applied to, for instance, exports. Under this formulation, when home demand is squeezed, exports are extruded.

Other formulations[edit]

Some versions of the toothpaste tube theory observe that there are diminishing returns.[4]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Taking back the workers' law, Ellen J. Dannin
  3. ^ Britain's Economic Prospects Reconsidered Alec Cairncross, and Ditchley
  4. ^ Sogyal Rinpoche, Erik Pema Kunsang, Kerry Moran, and Marcia Binder, Fearless Simplicity