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Symbols, Signals, and Social Norms in Politics and the Law

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  • Posner, Eric A
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    Abstract

    This article uses a signaling model to explain the role of symbols in people's behavior and beliefs, with special attention to legal manipulation of symbols. It is argued that certain actions become symbolic because they have the proper cost structure and because they are, for historical or psychological reasons, focal. The government can in theory use standard legal instruments (which mainly affect the cost of the signal) to change equilibrium behavior and belief. The use of the law in this way is likely to have unpredictable effects because of multiple equilibria and of the sensitivity of behavior to parameters, but it occurs frequently because lobbying and other actions that influence lawmaking can become signals themselves, and the law is simply an equilibrium outcome. The analysis is used to discuss flag desecration, censorship, voting, and antidiscrimination laws. Copyright 1998 by the University of Chicago.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal Journal of Legal Studies.

    Volume (Year): 27 (1998)
    Issue (Month): 2 (June)
    Pages: 765-98

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    Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlstud:v:27:y:1998:i:2:p:765-98

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    Web page: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JLS/

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    Cited by:
    1. Scott Baker & Pak Yee Lee & Claudio Mezzetti, 2011. "Intellectual property disclosure as threat," International Journal of Economic Theory, The International Society for Economic Theory, vol. 7(1), pages 21-38, 03.
    2. Julia Sophie Woersdorfer, 2008. "From Status-Seeking Consumption to Social Norms. An Application to the Consumption of Cleanliness," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2008-10, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
    3. Lars P. Feld & Benno Torgler, 2007. "Tax Morale after the Reunification of Germany: Results from a Quasi-Natural Experiment," CESifo Working Paper Series 1921, CESifo Group Munich.
    4. Klick, Jonathan & Parisi, Francesco, 2008. "Social networks, self-denial, and median preferences: Conformity as an evolutionary strategy," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 1319-1327, August.
    5. Francis, Andrew M. & Mialon, Hugo M. & Peng, Handie, 2012. "In sickness and in health: Same-sex marriage laws and sexually transmitted infections," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(8), pages 1329-1341.
    6. Lars P. Feld & Benno Torgler & Bin Ding, 2008. "Coming Closer? Tax Morale, Deterrence and Social Learning after German Unification," School of Economics and Finance Discussion Papers and Working Papers Series 232, School of Economics and Finance, Queensland University of Technology, revised 16 Jun 2008.
    7. Jakobsson, Niklas & Kotsadam, Andreas, 2010. "Do Laws Affect Attitudes? - An assessment of the Norwegian prostitution law using longitudinal data," Working Papers in Economics 457, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    8. Schwager, Robert & Aytimur, R. Emre & Boukouras, Aristotelis, 2012. "Voting as a Signaling Device," Annual Conference 2012 (Goettingen): New Approaches and Challenges for the Labor Market of the 21st Century 62075, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    9. Pushkar Maitra & Russell Smyth, 2004. "Judicial Independence, Judicial Promotion and the Enforcement of Legislative Wealth Transfers—An Empirical Study of the New Zealand High Court," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 17(2), pages 209-235, March.
    10. R. Aytimur & Aristotelis Boukouras & Robert Schwager, 2014. "Voting as a signaling device," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 55(3), pages 753-777, April.
    11. Torgler, Benno, 2011. "Tax morale and compliance : review of evidence and case studies for Europe," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5922, The World Bank.

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