Identity, Dignity and Taboos: Beliefs as Assets
AbstractWe analyze social and economic phenomena involving beliefs which people value and invest in, for affective or functional reasons. Individuals are at times uncertain about their own 'deep values' and infer them from their past choices, which then come to define 'who they are'. Identity investments increase when information is scarce or when a greater endowment of some asset (wealth, career, family, culture) raises the stakes on viewing it as valuable (escalating commitments). Taboos against transactions or the mere contemplation of tradeoffs arise to protect fragile beliefs about the 'priceless' value of certain assets (life, freedom, love, faith) or things one 'would never do'. Whether such behaviours are welfare-enhancing or reducing depends on whether beliefs are sought for a functional value (sense of direction, self-discipline) or for 'mental consumption' motives (self-esteem, anticipatory feelings). Escalating commitments can thus lead to a 'hedonic treadmill', and competing identities cause dysfunctional failures to invest in high-return activities (education, adapting to globalization, assimilation), or even the destruction of productive assets. In social interactions, norm violations elicit a forceful response (exclusion, harassment) when they threaten a strongly held identity, but further erode morale when it was initially weak. Concerns for pride, dignity or wishful thinking lead to the inefficient breakdown of Coasian bargaining even under symmetric information, as partners seek to self-enhance and shift blame by turning down 'insultingly low' offers.
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Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 6123.
Date of creation: Feb 2007
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Other versions of this item:
- D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
- D91 - Microeconomics - - Intertemporal Choice - - - Intertemporal Household Choice; Life Cycle Models and Saving
- Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Social and Economic Stratification
This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:
- NEP-ALL-2007-02-24 (All new papers)
- NEP-LTV-2007-02-24 (Unemployment, Inequality & Poverty)
- NEP-SOC-2007-02-24 (Social Norms & Social Capital)
- NEP-UPT-2007-02-24 (Utility Models & Prospect Theory)
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