Why People Obey the Law: Experimental Evidence from the Provision of Public Goods

34 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2001

See all articles by Jean-Robert Tyran

Jean-Robert Tyran

University of Vienna; University of Copenhagen - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Lars P. Feld

Walter Eucken Institute; University of Freiburg - College of Economics and Behavioral Sciences; CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Date Written: January 2002

Abstract

According to economists, severe legal sanctions deter violations of the law. According to legal scholars, people may obey law backed by mild sanctions because of norm-activation. We experimentally investigate the effects of mild and severe legal sanctions in the provision of public goods. The results show that severe sanctions almost perfectly deter free-riding. However, people also obey law backed by mild sanctions if it is accepted in a referendum. We show that voting for mild law induces expectations of cooperation, and that people tend to obey the law if they expect many others to do so.

Keywords: Deterrent Effect of Legal Sanctions, Expressive Law, Social Norms, Public Goods, Voting

JEL Classification: H41, D72, K42, H26, C92

Suggested Citation

Tyran, Jean-Robert and Feld, Lars P., Why People Obey the Law: Experimental Evidence from the Provision of Public Goods (January 2002). CESifo Working Paper Series No. 651; U of St. Gallen, Econ. Discussion Paper No. 2001-14. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=290231

Jean-Robert Tyran

University of Vienna ( email )

Oskar-Morgenstern-Platz 1
Vienna, Vienna 1090
Austria

HOME PAGE: http://homepage.univie.ac.at/jean-robert.tyran/

University of Copenhagen - Department of Economics ( email )

Øster Farimagsgade 5
Bygning 26
1353 Copenhagen K.
Denmark
+45 353 23 027 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.econ.ku.dk/tyran/

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

Lars P. Feld (Contact Author)

Walter Eucken Institute ( email )

Goethestrasse 10
Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg D-79100
Germany

University of Freiburg - College of Economics and Behavioral Sciences ( email )

Freiburg, D-79085
Germany

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

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