How Do Rights Revolutions Occur? Free Speech and the First Amendment
TSE Working Paper No. 16-705
59 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2017 Last revised: 2 Mar 2020
Date Written: January 26, 2020
Does obscenity law corrode moral values and does it matter? Using random judge assignment and all U.S. obscenity precedents since 1958, we present four main results. Progressive laws liberalized sexual attitudes and behaviors, reduced child abuse, but increased asymptomatic STDs. We document that newspapers reported on obscenity cases. We then assign data entry workers to transcribe randomly allocated news reports and find that exposure to progressive law shifts attitudes. Second-order norm shifts are consistent with a model where laws sanctioning activity increase its perceived prevalence, and laws shape values when sanctioned activities are prevalent. Deterrence does not solely mediate law’s impacts.
Keywords: Law and Norms, Expressive Law, Cultural Change
JEL Classification: J12, J16, Z1, N32, N42, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation