Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=1954505
 
 

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Laws and Norms


Roland Bénabou


Princeton University - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

Jean Tirole


University of Toulouse 1 - Industrial Economic Institute (IDEI); University of Toulouse 1 - Groupe de Recherche en Economie Mathématique et Quantitative (GREMAQ); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

November 2011

NBER Working Paper No. w17579

Abstract:     
This paper analyzes how private decisions and public policies are shaped by personal and societal preferences ("values"), material or other explicit incentives ("laws") and social sanctions or rewards ("norms"). It first examines how honor, stigma and social norms arise from individuals' behaviors and inferences, and how they interact with material incentives. It then characterizes optimal incentive-setting in the presence of norms, deriving in particular appropriately modified versions of Pigou and Ramsey taxation. Incorporating agents' imperfect knowledge of the distribution of preferences opens up to analysis several new questions. The first is social psychologists' practice of "norms-based interventions", namely campaigns and messages that seek to alter people’s perceptions of what constitutes "normal" behavior or values among their peers. The model makes clear how such interventions operate but also how their effectiveness is limited by a credibility problem, particularly when the descriptive and prescriptive norms conflict.The next main question is the expressive role of law. The choices of legislators and other principals naturally reflect their knowledge of societal preferences, and these same "community standards" are also what shapes social judgments and moral sentiments. Setting law thus means both imposing material incentives and sending a message about society's values, and hence about the norms that different behaviors are likely to encounter. The analysis, combining an informed principal with individually signaling agents, makes precise the notion of expressive law, determining in particular when a weakening or a strengthening of incentives is called for. Pushing further this logic, the paper also sheds light on why societies are often resistant to the message of economists, as well as on why they renounce certain policies, such as "cruel and unusual" punishments, irrespective of effectiveness considerations, in order to express their being "civilized".

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Date posted: November 4, 2011  

Suggested Citation

Bénabou, Roland and Tirole, Jean, Laws and Norms (November 2011). NBER Working Paper No. w17579. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1954505

Contact Information

Roland Bénabou (Contact Author)
Princeton University - Department of Economics ( email )
Robertson Hall, 440
Princeton, NJ 08544
United States
609-258-3672 (Phone)
609-258-5533 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)
77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
212-998-8939 (Phone)
212-995-4186 (Fax)
Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)
P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany
Jean Tirole
University of Toulouse 1 - Industrial Economic Institute (IDEI) ( email )
Place Anatole France
21 Allees de Brienne
F-31042 Toulouse Cedex
France
+33 5 61 12 8642 (Phone)
+33 5 61 12 8637 (Fax)
University of Toulouse 1 - Groupe de Recherche en Economie Mathématique et Quantitative (GREMAQ) ( email )
Manufacture des Tabacs
21 Allees de Brienne
Toulouse, 31000
France
Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)
77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom
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