Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=2351451
 


 



The Construction of Morals


Daniel L. Chen


ETH Zurich - Center for Law and Economics

Susan Yeh


George Mason University School of Law

November 7, 2013

Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Forthcoming
George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 13-62

Abstract:     
When do policies generate expressive or backlash effects? Recent economic models suggest that where a proscribed activity is prevalent, permissive laws liberalize attitudes toward partakers while increasing utility. The opposite occurs in communities where the proscribed activity is rare. To test these predictions, we randomize data entry workers to transcribe newspaper summaries of liberal or conservative court decisions about obscenity. We find that liberal obscenity decisions liberalize individual and perceived community standards and increase utility. Yet religious workers become more conservative in their values, identify as more Republican, view community standards as becoming more liberal, and report lower utility. Workers update beliefs about the prevalence of sexual activities differently in response to liberal or conservative decisions. These results provide causal evidence for the law having indirect social effects that may amplify or attenuate deterrence effects and suggest that legitimacy of law can affect utility and self-identification.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 59

Keywords: obscenity law, belief updating, values, norms, health risk

JEL Classification: D83, K1, K42, Z1

Accepted Paper Series





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Date posted: November 8, 2013 ; Last revised: June 24, 2014

Suggested Citation

Chen, Daniel L. and Yeh, Susan, The Construction of Morals (November 7, 2013). Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Forthcoming; George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 13-62. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2351451

Contact Information

Daniel L. Chen
ETH Zurich - Center for Law and Economics ( email )
Haldeneggsteig 4
D-GESS IFW E 44
8092 Zurich, CH-1015
Switzerland
41 44 632 4462 (Phone)
41 44 632 10 97 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.dlchen.ethz.ch
Susan Yeh (Contact Author)
George Mason University School of Law ( email )
3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States
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