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Why People Obey the Law: Experimental Evidence from the Provision of Public Goods

  • Lars P. Feld
  • Jean-Robert Tyran

According to economists, severe legal sanctions deter violations of the law. According to legal scholars, people may obey law backed by mild sanctions because of norm-activation. We experimentally investigate the effects of mild and severe legal sanctions in the provision of public goods. The results show that severe sanctions almost perfectly deter free-riding. However, people also obey law backed by mild sanctions if it is accepted in a referendum. We show that voting for mild law induces expectations of cooperation, and that people tend to obey the law if they expect many others to do so.

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Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 651.

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Date of creation: 2002
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Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_651
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  1. David Kreps & Paul Milgrom & John Roberts & Bob Wilson, 2010. "Rational Cooperation in the Finitely Repeated Prisoners' Dilemma," Levine's Working Paper Archive 239, David K. Levine.
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  8. repec:dgr:uvatin:20000011 is not listed on IDEAS
  9. Fischbacher, Urs & Gachter, Simon & Fehr, Ernst, 2001. "Are people conditionally cooperative? Evidence from a public goods experiment," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 71(3), pages 397-404, June.
  10. Bardhan, Pranab, 2000. "Irrigation and Cooperation: An Empirical Analysis of 48 Irrigation Communities in South India," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 48(4), pages 847-65, July.
  11. Gneezy, Uri & Rustichini, Aldo, 2000. "A Fine is a Price," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(1), pages 1-17, January.
  12. Kahan, Dan M, 1998. "Social Meaning and the Economic Analysis of Crime," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 27(2), pages 609-22, June.
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  14. Elinor Ostrom, 2000. "Collective Action and the Evolution of Social Norms," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 137-158, Summer.
  15. Cooter, Robert, 2000. "Do Good Laws Make Good Citizens? An Economic Analysis of Internalizing Legal Values," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt3xr1v1x2, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
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