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Why People Obey the Law: Experimental Evidence from the Provision of Public Goods

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  • Lars P. Feld
  • Jean-Robert Tyran

Abstract

According to economists, severe legal sanctions deter violations of the law. According to legal scholars, people may obey law backed by mild sanctions because of norm-activation. We experimentally investigate the effects of mild and severe legal sanctions in the provision of public goods. The results show that severe sanctions almost perfectly deter free-riding. However, people also obey law backed by mild sanctions if it is accepted in a referendum. We show that voting for mild law induces expectations of cooperation, and that people tend to obey the law if they expect many others to do so.

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File URL: http://www.cesifo-group.de/portal/page/portal/DocBase_Content/WP/WP-CESifo_Working_Papers/wp-cesifo-2002/wp-cesifo-2002-01/651.PDF
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 651.

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Date of creation: 2002
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Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_651

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Keywords: deterrent effect of legal sanctions; expressive law; social norms; public goods; voting.;

References

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  1. Jordi Brandts & Gary Charness, 2000. "Hot vs. Cold: Sequential Responses and Preference Stability in Experimental Games," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 2(3), pages 227-238, March.
  2. Kreps, David M. & Milgrom, Paul & Roberts, John & Wilson, Robert, 1982. "Rational cooperation in the finitely repeated prisoners' dilemma," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 245-252, August.
  3. Kahan, Dan M, 1998. "Social Meaning and the Economic Analysis of Crime," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 27(2), pages 609-22, June.
  4. Urs Fischbacher & Simon Gaechter & Ernst Fehr, . "Are People Conditionally Cooperative? Evidence from a Public Goods Experiment," IEW - Working Papers 016, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  5. Posner, R.A. & Rasmusen, E., 1998. "Creating and Enforcing Norms, with Special Reference to Sanctions," Papers 98-005, Indiana - Center for Econometric Model Research.
  6. Waldfogel, Joel, 1994. "Does conviction have a persistent effect on income and employment?," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(1), pages 103-119, March.
  7. Sunstein, Cass R, 1999. "Behavioral Law and Economics: A Progress Report," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 1(1-2), pages 115-57, Fall.
  8. Elinor Ostrom, 2000. "Collective Action and the Evolution of Social Norms," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 137-158, Summer.
  9. Bardhan, Pranab, 2000. "Irrigation and Cooperation: An Empirical Analysis of 48 Irrigation Communities in South India," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 48(4), pages 847-65, July.
  10. Keser, Claudia & van Winden, Frans, 2000. " Conditional Cooperation and Voluntary Contributions to Public Goods," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 102(1), pages 23-39, March.
  11. Cooter, Robert, 2000. "Do Good Laws Make Good Citizens? An Economic Analysis of Internalizing Legal Values," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt3xr1v1x2, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
  12. Charness, Gary B & Brandts, Jordi, 1998. "Hot vs. Cold: Sequential Responses and Preference Stability in Experimental Games," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt4kx7d5pv, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  13. Steven Shavell & A. Mitchell Polinsky, 2000. "The Economic Theory of Public Enforcement of Law," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 38(1), pages 45-76, March.
  14. Gneezy, Uri & Rustichini, Aldo, 2000. "A Fine is a Price," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(1), pages 1-17, January.
  15. Lott, John R, Jr, 1992. "Do We Punish High Income Criminals Too Heavily?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 30(4), pages 583-608, October.
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Cited by:
  1. Tyran, Jean-Robert, 2004. "Voting when money and morals conflict: an experimental test of expressive voting," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(7-8), pages 1645-1664, July.
  2. Marcela Ibáñez, 2010. "Who crops coca and why? The case of Colombian farmers," Courant Research Centre: Poverty, Equity and Growth - Discussion Papers 40, Courant Research Centre PEG.
  3. Shahi, Chander & Kant, Shashi, 2007. "An evolutionary game-theoretic approach to the strategies of community members under Joint Forest Management regime," Forest Policy and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 9(7), pages 763-775, April.
  4. Bohnet, Iris & Cooter, Robert, 2003. "Expressive Law: Framing or Equilibrium Selection?," Working Paper Series rwp03-046, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  5. Werner Gueth & Rupert Sausgruber, 2004. "Tax Morale and Optimal Taxation," Papers on Strategic Interaction 2004-12, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.
  6. Richard McAdams & Janice Nadler, . "A Third Model of Legal Compliance: Testing for Expressive Effects in a Hawk/Dove Game," Yale Law School John M. Olin Center for Studies in Law, Economics, and Public Policy Working Paper Series yale_lepp-1029, Yale Law School John M. Olin Center for Studies in Law, Economics, and Public Policy.
  7. Dawson, Peter & Jones, Philip, 2010. "How are They Spending my Taxes? Tax Compliance and Citizens’ Interest in Politics," Department of Economics Working Papers 21047, University of Bath, Department of Economics.

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