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Symbols, Signals, and Social Norms in Politics and the Law

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  • Posner, Eric A

Abstract

This article uses a signaling model to explain the role of symbols in people's behavior and beliefs, with special attention to legal manipulation of symbols. It is argued that certain actions become symbolic because they have the proper cost structure and because they are, for historical or psychological reasons, focal. The government can in theory use standard legal instruments (which mainly affect the cost of the signal) to change equilibrium behavior and belief. The use of the law in this way is likely to have unpredictable effects because of multiple equilibria and of the sensitivity of behavior to parameters, but it occurs frequently because lobbying and other actions that influence lawmaking can become signals themselves, and the law is simply an equilibrium outcome. The analysis is used to discuss flag desecration, censorship, voting, and antidiscrimination laws. Copyright 1998 by the University of Chicago.

Suggested Citation

  • Posner, Eric A, 1998. "Symbols, Signals, and Social Norms in Politics and the Law," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 27(2), pages 765-798, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlstud:v:27:y:1998:i:2:p:765-98
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/468042
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    Cited by:

    1. Jérôme Hergueux & Nicolas Jacquemet & Stéphane Luchini & Jason Shogren, 2016. "Leveraging the Honor Code: Public Goods Contributions under Oath," Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) halshs-01379060, HAL.
    2. Klick, Jonathan & Parisi, Francesco, 2008. "Social networks, self-denial, and median preferences: Conformity as an evolutionary strategy," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 1319-1327, August.
    3. Jean-Robert Tyran & Lars P. Feld, 2006. "Achieving Compliance when Legal Sanctions are Non-deterrent," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 108(1), pages 135-156, March.
    4. Sophie Harnay & Elisabeth Tovar, 2017. "Obeying vs. resisting unfair laws. A structural analysis of the internalization of collective preferences on redistribution using classification trees and random forests," EconomiX Working Papers 2017-34, University of Paris Nanterre, EconomiX.
    5. R. Aytimur & Aristotelis Boukouras & Robert Schwager, 2014. "Voting as a signaling device," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 55(3), pages 753-777, April.
    6. Lars P. Feld & Benno Torgler & Bin Dong, 2008. "Coming Closer? Tax Morale, Deterrence and Social Learning after German Unification," CREMA Working Paper Series 2008-09, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
    7. Lars P. Feld & Benno Torgler, 2007. "Tax Morale after the Reunification of Germany: Results from a Quasi-Natural Experiment," CREMA Working Paper Series 2007-03, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
    8. Scott Baker & Pak Yee Lee & Claudio Mezzetti, 2011. "Intellectual property disclosure as threat," International Journal of Economic Theory, The International Society for Economic Theory, vol. 7(1), pages 21-38, March.
    9. H. Sun & M. Bigoni, 2015. "A Fine Rule From a Brutish World? An Experiment on Endogenous Punishment Institution and Trust," Working Papers wp1031, Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna.
    10. Francis, Andrew M. & Mialon, Hugo M. & Peng, Handie, 2012. "In sickness and in health: Same-sex marriage laws and sexually transmitted infections," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(8), pages 1329-1341.
    11. S. Nageeb Ali & Roland Bénabou, 2016. "Image Versus Information: Changing Societal Norms and Optimal Privacy," NBER Working Papers 22203, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Julia Sophie Woersdorfer, 2008. "From Status-Seeking Consumption to Social Norms. An Application to the Consumption of Cleanliness," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2008-10, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
    13. Kotsadam, Andreas & Jakobsson, Niklas, 2011. "Do laws affect attitudes? An assessment of the Norwegian prostitution law using longitudinal data," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(2), pages 103-115, June.
    14. Amrish Patel & Edward Cartwright, 2009. "Social Norms and Naive Beliefs," Studies in Economics 0906, School of Economics, University of Kent.
    15. Gatiso, Tsegaye T. & Vollan, Björn & Nuppenau, Ernst-August, 2015. "Resource scarcity and democratic elections in commons dilemmas: An experiment on forest use in Ethiopia," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 114(C), pages 199-207.
    16. Vollan, Björn & Landmann, Andreas & Zhou, Yexin & Hu, Biliang & Herrmann-Pillath, Carsten, 2017. "Cooperation and authoritarian values: An experimental study in China," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 90-105.
    17. Robert Neumann, 2016. "Understanding trustworthiness: using response latencies from CATI surveys to learn about the “crucial” variable in trust research," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 50(1), pages 43-64, January.
    18. Pushkar Maitra & Russell Smyth, 2004. "Judicial Independence, Judicial Promotion and the Enforcement of Legislative Wealth Transfers—An Empirical Study of the New Zealand High Court," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 17(2), pages 209-235, March.
    19. Irlenbusch, Bernd, 2004. "Relying on a man's word?: An experimental study on non-binding contracts," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(3), pages 299-332, September.
    20. Kahan, Dan M & Posner, Eric A, 1999. "Shaming White-Collar Criminals: A Proposal for Reform of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(1), pages 365-391, April.
    21. Torgler, Benno, 2011. "Tax morale and compliance : review of evidence and case studies for Europe," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5922, The World Bank.
    22. Robert Neumann, 2016. "Understanding trustworthiness: using response latencies from CATI surveys to learn about the “crucial” variable in trust research," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 50(1), pages 43-64, January.

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