Toothpaste tube theory

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A toothpaste tube

There are different theories in different formulations, which each have been popularly called the toothpaste tube theory. These theories usually are based on the observation that when one squeezes one end of the toothpaste tube, toothpaste is inevitably extruded from the other end. This is intended as an analogy to the fact that pressure built up in some finite bounded system needs to be released somewhere or the system will break. Although, prima facie, the theory is an explanation about the movement of physical objects, it has also been used to explain social and political behavior, as well as relationships involving abstract concepts.

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 involve the observation that there are diminishing returns to squeezing the tube after a certain point. These formulations are tantamount to the "law of diminishing marginal 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