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The Construction of Morals

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  • Daniel L. Chen

    ()
    (ETH Zurich)

  • Susan Yeh

    ()
    (George Mason University School of Law)

Abstract

When do policies generate expressive or backlash effects? Recent economic models suggest that where a proscribed activity is prevalent, permissive laws liberalize attitudes toward partakers while increasing utility. The opposite occurs in communities where the proscribed activity is rare. To test these predictions, we randomize data entry workers to transcribe newspaper summaries of liberal or conservative court decisions about obscenity. We find that liberal obscenity decisions liberalize individual and perceived community standards and increase utility. Yet religious workers become more conservative in their values, identify as more Republican, view community standards as becoming more liberal, and report lower utility. Workers update beliefs about the prevalence of sexual activities differently in response to liberal or conservative decisions. These results provide causal evidence for the law having indirect social effects that may amplify or attenuate deterrence effects and suggest that legitimacy of law can affect utility and self-identification. Length: 58

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by George Mason University, Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science in its series Working Papers with number 1042.

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Date of creation: Nov 2013
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Handle: RePEc:gms:wpaper:1042

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Keywords: obscenity law; belief updating; values; norms; sexual risk;

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  1. Martha J. Bailey, 2009. ""Momma's Got the Pill": How Anthony Comstock and Griswold v. Connecticut Shaped U.S. Childbearing," NBER Working Papers 14675, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Benjamin Edelman, 2009. "Markets: Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 23(1), pages 209-20, Winter.
  3. Louis Kaplow & Steven Shavell, 2007. "Moral Rules, the Moral Sentiments, and Behavior: Toward a Theory of an Optimal Moral System," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115, pages 494-514.
  4. Dora L. Costa & Matthew E. Kahn, 2010. "Energy Conservation "Nudges" and Environmentalist Ideology: Evidence from a Randomized Residential Electricity Field Experiment," NBER Working Papers 15939, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. John Horton & David Rand & Richard Zeckhauser, 2011. "The online laboratory: conducting experiments in a real labor market," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 14(3), pages 399-425, September.
  6. Gordon Dahl & Stefano DellaVigna, 2009. "Does Movie Violence Increase Violent Crime?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 124(2), pages 677-734, May.
  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. Ernesto Dal Bó & Pedro Dal Bó, 2009. ""Do the Right Thing:" The Effects of Moral Suasion on Cooperation," NBER Working Papers 15559, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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