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Expressive Law: Framing or Equilibrium Selection?

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  • Bohnet, Iris
  • Cooter, Robert

Abstract

Law deters, educates, and coordinates. Economists typically focus on deterrence and sociologists often focus on education. Since deterrence causes marginal changes and education confronts relatively stable preferences, economists and sociologists may overlook law’s largest effects on behavior. We hypothesize that law’s largest effects come from coordination. Normative systems have multiple equilibria, so announcing a new law can change expectations and cause behavior to jump from one equilibrium to another. To demonstrate this possibility, we ran games with interdependent payoffs in which we simulated a law by telling experimental groups that choosing Left will result in a “penalty†ten percent of the time. We set the penalty too small to change the equilibria among rationally self-interested actors, thus eliminating deterrence effects. First we ran a PD game in which the penalty does not affect the uniquely dominant strategy of each player. In these circumstances, any change in behavior caused by announcing the penalty must result from more people acting morally and renouncing self-interest. In fact, announcing the penalty did not change the number of moral actors. Next we repeated the experiment in a crowding game with a uniquely dominant strategy for each player and obtained the same results as in the PD game. Finally, we ran a coordination game with multiple equilibria. Announcing the penalty caused jumps in behavior from one equilibrium to another. The power of the penalty to coordinate increased as the proportion of actors decreased whose cooperation was needed to tip the system to a Pareto-superior equilibrium.

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Paper provided by Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics in its series Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series with number qt5h6970h8.

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Date of creation: 09 Mar 2001
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Handle: RePEc:cdl:oplwec:qt5h6970h8

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Cited by:
  1. Fehr, Ernst & Falk, Armin, 2002. "Psychological Foundations of Incentives," IZA Discussion Papers 507, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Bruno S. Frey & Susanne Neckermann, 2005. "Auszeichnungen: ein vernachlässigter Anreiz," CREMA Working Paper Series 2005-14, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
  3. Christoph Engel & Michael Kurschilgen, 2011. "The Coevolution of Behavior and Normative Expectations. Customary Law in the Lab," Working Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2011_32, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
  4. Carbonara, Emanuela & Parisi, Francesco & von Wangenheim, Georg, 2012. "Unjust laws and illegal norms," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 285-299.
  5. Ellingsen, Tore & Johannesson, Magnus & Mollerstrom, Johanna & Munkhammar, Sara, 2012. "Social framing effects: Preferences or beliefs?," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 117-130.

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