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Expressive Law and Economics

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  • Cooter, Robert

Abstract

This article develops an economic theory of expressive law. By expressing social values, law can tip a system of social norms into a new equilibrium. This process can create or destroy a social norm without changing individual values. In addition, law can change the individual values of rational people. Internalizing a social norm is a moral commitment that attaches a psychological penalty to a forbidden act. A rational person internalizes a norm when commitment conveys an advantage relative to the original preferences and the changed preferences. I call such a commitment a "Pareto self-improvement." By creating opportunities for Pareto self-improvements, law induces rational people to change their preferences. Inducing change in this way respects individual preferences, rather favoring a particular moral theory. Copyright 1998 by the University of Chicago.

Suggested Citation

  • Cooter, Robert, 1998. "Expressive Law and Economics," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 27(2), pages 585-608, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlstud:v:27:y:1998:i:2:p:585-608
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/468036
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