'Pushing on a string' Meaning and Examples

Pushing on a string means that your strategy, despite investing all your energy and efforts, is not working. In other words, you do not succeed in achieving your goal because what you are doing is ineffective.

Pushing on a string means that your strategy, despite investing all your energy and efforts, is not working. In other words, you do not succeed in achieving your goal because what you are doing is ineffective.

Why on a string?

If you have an object attached to a string, you can only move it by pulling on the string, not by pushing on the string. By pulling on a string, the object on the other end comes toward you, so we can say that there is an advance. By contrast, pushing on a string is pointless or useless.

When Can You Use 'Pushing on a string'?

You can use the idiom pushing on a string when you are talking about systems, methods, approaches, policies, or tactics that are ineffective or are not helpful with regard to achieving your objective.

'Pushing on a string' in Economics

In economics, the term is typically used to convey that an expansionary monetary policy does not help stimulate a weak economy. The metaphor "pushing on a string" illustrates the limits of the monetary policies implemented by central banks.

Under certain economic conditions, such as low economic growth or increasing unemployment, central banks tend to stimulate consumption and economic activity by injecting money into the system. On many occasions, however, the strategy is ineffective. Instead of expanding economic activity, liquidity injections push financial asset prices higher (e.g., stock market prices).

Examples

  • Theory without practice is like pushing on a string. Effective learning is a process that requires practice and feedback.
  • You are working hard in high school, but not in the right way. Memorizing without understanding is like pushing on a string.
  • Trying to get my kid to do something is like pushing on a string. I am tired of repeating and reminding without success.
  • I feel like this effort is a waste of time, that is, I feel like I am pushing on a string.
  • Experience has shown that your method does not work. Stop pushing on a string and change it.
  • This book teaches how to be more effective at work, without feeling like you are pushing on a string.
  • Central banks are pushing on a string. They are trying to expand economic activity by lowering rates, without success.
  • The bank of Japan has tried to spur inflation by implementing expansionary monetary policies. In my opinion, this is like pushing on a string.
  • Under certain conditions, easy monetary policy is like pushing on a string because liquidity injections does not stimulate growth.
  • The new fiscal policies implemented by the government are like pushing on a string. They have not been effective to reduce income inequality.

Synonyms of 'Pushing on a string'

  • to no avail
  • without success
  • in vain
  • pointless
  • useless
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