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Self-esteem, Moral Capital, and Wrongdoing

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Author Info

  • Marko Tervio

    (UC Berkeley)

  • Ernesto Dal Bo

    (Stanford University)

Abstract

In order to help understand adherence to moral standards and the force of intrinsic motivation, we present an infinite-horizon model where an individual receives random temptations (such as bribe offers) and must decide which to resist. Temptations yield consumption value, but keeping a good self-image (a high belief of being the type of person that resists) yields self-esteem. Individual actions depend both on types and intent, so selecting a good intent does not guarantee good behavior and past resistance is informative of a good type. We identify conditions for individuals to build an introspective reputation for goodness ("moral capital") and for good actions to lead to a stronger disposition to do good. Bad actions destroy moral capital and lock-in further wrongdoing. Economic shocks that result in higher temptations have persistent effects on wrongdoing that fade only as new generations replace the shocked cohorts. Societies with the same moral fundamentals may display different wrongdoing rates depending on how much past luck has polarized the distribution of individual beliefs. The model helps rationalize taboos, harsher punishment of repeat offenders, and a tendency of individuals with low moral capital to enter high-temptation activities.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Society for Economic Dynamics in its series 2008 Meeting Papers with number 245.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Handle: RePEc:red:sed008:245

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  8. 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.
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Cited by:
  1. Alonso, Ricardo & Brocas, Isabelle & Carrillo, Juan D, 2011. "Resource Allocation in the Brain," CEPR Discussion Papers 8408, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Larbi Alaoui & Alvaro Sandroni, 2013. "Predestination and the Protestant ethic," Economics Working Papers 1350, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  3. Cervellati, Matteo & Vanin, Paolo, 2013. ""Thou Shalt Not Covet ...": Prohibitions, Temptation and Moral Values," IZA Discussion Papers 7334, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Ned Augenblick & Jesse M. Cunha & Ernesto Dal Bó & Justin M. Rao, 2012. "The Economics of Faith: Using an Apocalyptic Prophecy to Elicit Religious Beliefs in the Field," NBER Working Papers 18641, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. S. Nageeb Ali, 2009. "Learning Self-Control," Levine's Working Paper Archive 814577000000000384, David K. Levine.
  6. Larbi Alaoui & Alvaro Sandroni, 2013. "Predestination and the Protestant Ethic," Working Papers 679, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.

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