IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The Signaling Power of Sanctions in Social Dilemmas


  • Joel van der Weele


Evidence from field and laboratory experiments indicates that a large fraction of the people behave like conditional cooperators in public good games. In this article, I investigate the implications of the existence of both conditional cooperators and egoists for optimal law enforcement strategies. When norms of cooperation exist between conditional cooperators, sanctions set by an authority can be lower than in a "Hobbesian" setting where everybody is egoistic. Moreover, if the authorities have private information about the fraction of egoists in society, low sanctions can be optimal because they signal that there are few defectors and thus "crowd in" trust and cooperation between agents. In social dilemmas where conditional cooperation is an important factor, as is the case in tax compliance, the model provides a rationale for the low observed sanctions in the real world and the mixed evidence on the effectiveness of deterrence. The Author 2009. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Yale University. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email:, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Joel van der Weele, 2012. "The Signaling Power of Sanctions in Social Dilemmas," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 28(1), pages 103-126.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:jleorg:v:28:y::i:1:p:103-126

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.


    RePEc Biblio mentions

    As found on the RePEc Biblio, the curated bibliography for Economics:
    1. > Economics of Welfare > Health Economics > Economics of Pandemics > Policy responses > Behavioral

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:oup:jleorg:v:28:y::i:1:p:103-126. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no bibliographic references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Oxford University Press or Christopher F. Baum (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.