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A theory of moral persistence: Crypto-morality and political legitimacy


  • Greif, Avner
  • Tadelis, Steven


Why, how, and under what conditions do moral beliefs persist despite institutional pressure for change? Why do the powerful often fail to promote the morality of their authority? This paper addresses these questions by presenting the role of crypto-morality in moral persistence. Crypto-morality is the secret adherence to one morality while practicing another in public. A simple overlapping generations model is developed to examine the conditions under which crypto-morality is practiced, decays and influences the direction of moral change. We demonstrate the empirical relevance of crypto-morality by discussing the moral foundations of political legitimacy in various historical episodes.

Suggested Citation

  • Greif, Avner & Tadelis, Steven, 2010. "A theory of moral persistence: Crypto-morality and political legitimacy," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 229-244, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jcecon:v:38:y:2010:i:3:p:229-244

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Coşgel, Metin M. & Miceli, Thomas J. & Rubin, Jared, 2012. "The political economy of mass printing: Legitimacy and technological change in the Ottoman Empire," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(3), pages 357-371.
    2. Rubin, Jared, 2014. "Centralized institutions and cascades," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(2), pages 340-357.
    3. Brousseau, Eric & Garrouste, Pierre & Raynaud, Emmanuel, 2011. "Institutional changes: Alternative theories and consequences for institutional design," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 79(1-2), pages 3-19, June.
    4. Mendelski, Martin & Libman, Alexander, 2011. "History matters, but how? An example of Ottoman and Habsburg legacies and judicial performance in Romania," Frankfurt School - Working Paper Series 175, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.
    5. Giuliano, Paola & Nunn, Nathan, 2017. "Understanding Cultural Persistence and Change," IZA Discussion Papers 10930, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. Pavel Kuchař, 2016. "Entrepreneurship and institutional change," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 26(2), pages 349-379, May.
    7. Vidal-Robert, Jordi, 2014. "Long-run effects of the Spanish Inquisition," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 192, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    8. Koyama, Mark & Xue, Melanie Meng, 2015. "The Literary Inquisition: The Persecution of Intellectuals and Human Capital Accumulation in China," MPRA Paper 62103, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item


    Morality Moral persistence Institutions Political legitimacy Crypto-morality;

    JEL classification:

    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • D10 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - General
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • N40 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism


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