Inside and Outside Perspectives on Legitimacy: A Theory of the Noble Lie

29 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2018 Last revised: 26 Sep 2018

Cameron Harwick

The College at Brockport SUNY

Date Written: September 19, 2018


The impossibility of constructing totally incentive-compatible institutions, whether organizationally or politically, implies the necessity of something like what has traditionally been called a “noble lie”. Specifically, drawing on the theory of cooperation, the paper argues that viable social organization requires a systematic divergence between subjective preferences and the objective fitness landscape. This implies the existence of irreducible and irreconcilable “inside” and “outside” perspectives on social institutions; that is, between foundationalist and functionalist approaches, both of which have a long pedigree in political economy. The conflict between the two, and the practical impossibility of dispensing with either, poses a challenge for an ethical institutional economics.

Keywords: Game Theory, Cooperation, Institutions

JEL Classification: C73, A13

Suggested Citation

Harwick, Cameron, Inside and Outside Perspectives on Legitimacy: A Theory of the Noble Lie (September 19, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Cameron Harwick (Contact Author)

The College at Brockport SUNY ( email )

Brockport, NY 14420
United States

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