When is it Socially Desirable for an Individual to Comply with the Law?

29 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2010

See all articles by Steven Shavell

Steven Shavell

Harvard Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: November 1, 2010


When would an individual expect that adherence to the law would advance the social good? This time-honored question is not only of theoretical interest; it also holds practical importance to the degree that individuals wish to further social well-being. In the stylized model on which I focus, an individual’s knowledge of factors relevant to social welfare is inferior to that of lawmakers in some respects and is superior in others. Thus, in assessing whether obeying a legal rule would promote social welfare, an individual must take into rational account not only that the rule will impound certain superior information of lawmakers, but also that the rule will often fail to reflect his or her private information. A second issue that an individual must consider in deciding whether following the law would be socially desirable is a compliance externality: the potential influence of the witnessing of his or her compliance behavior on the compliance behavior of observers. The conclusions from the model of socially desirable conformance to the law are interpreted, including their implications for the moral obligation to obey the law.

JEL Classification: D6, D8, H8, K00, K10, K40

Suggested Citation

Shavell, Steven, When is it Socially Desirable for an Individual to Comply with the Law? (November 1, 2010). Harvard Law, Economics and Business Discussion Paper No. 682, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1719249 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1719249

Steven Shavell (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-3668 (Phone)
617-496-2256 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics