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Identity, Morals, and Taboos: Beliefs as Assets

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  • Roland Bénabou
  • Jean Tirole

Abstract

We develop a theory of moral behavior, individual and collective, based on a general model of identity in which people care about "who they are" and infer their own values from past choices. The model sheds light on many empirical puzzles inconsistent with earlier approaches. Identity investments respond nonmonotonically to acts or threats, and taboos on mere thoughts arise to protect beliefs about the "priceless" value of certain social assets. High endowments trigger escalating commitment and a treadmill effect, while competing identities can cause dysfunctional capital destruction. Social interactions induce both social and antisocial norms of contribution, sustained by respectively shunning free riders or do-gooders. Copyright 2011, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Roland Bénabou & Jean Tirole, 2011. "Identity, Morals, and Taboos: Beliefs as Assets," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(2), pages 805-855.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:126:y:2011:i:2:p:805-855
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1093/qje/qjr002
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