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Law versus Morality as Regulators of Conduct

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  • Steven Shavell

Abstract

It is evident that both law and morality serve to channel our behavior. Law accomplishes this primarily through the threat of sanctions if we disobey legal rules. Morality too involves incentives: bad acts may result in guilt and disapprobation, and good acts may result in virtuous feelings and praise. These two very different avenues of effect on our actions are examined in this article from an instrumental perspective. The analysis focuses on various social costs associated with law and morality, and on their effectiveness, as determined by the magnitude and likelihood of sanctions and by certain informational factors. After the relative character of law and of morality as means of control of conduct is assessed, consideration is given to their theoretically optimal domains--to where morality alone would appear to be best to control behavior, to where morality and the law would likely be advantageous to employ jointly, and to where solely the law would seem desirable to utilize. The observed pattern of use of morality and of law is discussed, and it is tentatively suggested that the observed and the optimal patterns are in rough alignment with one another. Copyright 2002, Oxford University Press.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal American Law and Economics Review.

Volume (Year): 4 (2002)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
Pages: 227-257

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Handle: RePEc:oup:amlawe:v:4:y:2002:i:2:p:227-257

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Cited by:
  1. Anastassios Karayiannis & Aristides Hatzis, 2012. "Morality, social norms and the rule of law as transaction cost-saving devices: the case of ancient Athens," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 33(3), pages 621-643, June.
  2. Benito Arruñada, 2003. "Specialization and rent-seeking in moral enforcement: The case of confession," Economics Working Papers 653, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Jul 2009.
  3. Friesen, Lana & Gangadharan, Lata, 2013. "Designing self-reporting regimes to encourage truth telling: An experimental study," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 94(C), pages 90-102.
  4. Xiao, Erte & Houser, Daniel, 2009. "Avoiding the sharp tongue: Anticipated written messages promote fair economic exchange," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 393-404, June.
  5. Fali Huang & Peter Cappelli, 2006. "Employee Screening: Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 12071, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 2006. "Public Enforcement of Law," Discussion Papers 05-016, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  7. Hongbin Li & Mark Rosenzweig & Junsen Zhang, 2008. "Altruism, Favoritism, and Guilt in the Allocuation of Family Resources: Sophie's Choice in Mao's Mass Send Down Movement," Working Papers 965, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
  8. Benito Arrunada, . "Catholic Confessions of Sin as Third Party Moral Enforcement," Gruter Institute Working Papers on Law, Economics, and Evolutionary Biology 3-1-1013, Berkeley Electronic Press.
  9. Benito Arruñada, 2010. "Protestants and Catholics: Similar Work Ethic, Different Social Ethic," Working Papers 497, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
  10. A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 2005. "The Theory of Public Enforcement of Law," NBER Working Papers 11780, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Bruno Deffains & Claude Fluet, 2013. "The Role of Social Image Concerns in the Design of Legal Regimes," Cahiers de recherche 1321, CIRPEE.
  12. Bhole, Bharat & Wagner, Jeffrey, 2008. "The joint use of regulation and strict liability with multidimensional care and uncertain conviction," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(2), pages 123-132, June.
  13. Dorothee Schmidt, 2005. "Morality and Conflicts," Working Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2005_12, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.

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