IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Laws and Norms

  • Bénabou, Roland
  • Tirole, Jean

This paper analyzes how private decisions and public policies are shaped by personal and societal preferences (values), material or other explicit incentives (laws) and social sanctions or rewards (norms). It first examines how honor, stigma and social norms arise from individuals’ behaviors and inferences, and how they interact with material incentives. It then characterizes optimal incentive-setting in the presence of norms, deriving in particular appropriately modified versions of Pigou and Ramsey taxation. Incorporating agents’ imperfect knowledge of the distribution of preferences opens up to analysis several new questions. The first is social psychologists’ practice of norms-based interventions, namely campaigns and messages that seek to alter people’s perceptions of what constitutes normal behavior or values among their peers. The model makes clear how such interventions operate, but also how their effectiveness is limited by a credibility problem, particularly when the descriptive and prescriptive norms conflict. The next main question is the expressive role of law. The choices of legislators and other principals naturally reflect their knowledge of societal preferences, and these same community standards are also what shapes social judgements and moral sentiments. Setting law thus means both imposing material incentives and sending a message about society’s values, and hence about the norms that different behaviors are likely to encounter. The analysis, combining an informed principal with individually signaling agents, makes precise the notion of expressive law, determining in particular when a weakening or a strengthening of incentives is called for. Pushing further this logic, the paper also sheds light on why societies are often resistant to the message of economists, as well as on why they renounce certain policies, such as "cruel and unusual punishments", irrespective of effectiveness considerations, in order to express their being "civilized".

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: CEPR Discussion Papers are free to download for our researchers, subscribers and members. If you fall into one of these categories but have trouble downloading our papers, please contact us at

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 8663.

in new window

Date of creation: Nov 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:8663
Contact details of provider: Postal: Centre for Economic Policy Research, 77 Bastwick Street, London EC1V 3PZ.
Phone: 44 - 20 - 7183 8801
Fax: 44 - 20 - 7183 8820

Order Information: Email:

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Weibull, Jörgen & Villa, Edgar, 2005. "Crime, punishment and social norms," SSE/EFI Working Paper Series in Economics and Finance 610, Stockholm School of Economics.
  2. Dan Ariely & Anat Bracha & Stephan Meier, 2007. "Doing good or doing well? Image motivation and monetary incentives in behaving prosocially," Working Papers 07-9, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  3. Andrea Prat, 2002. "The Wrong Kind of Transparency," STICERD - Theoretical Economics Paper Series 439, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
  4. Pesendorfer, Wolfgang, 1995. "Design Innovation and Fashion Cycles," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(4), pages 771-92, September.
  5. Dean Karlan & John A. List, 2006. "Does Price Matter in Charitable Giving? Evidence from a Large-Scale Natural Field Experiment," Working Papers 1, The Field Experiments Website.
  6. Bruno Deffains & Claude Fluet, 2013. "Legal Liability when Individuals Have Moral Concerns," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(4), pages 930-955, August.
  7. Ellingsen, Tore & Johannesson, Magnus, 2006. "Pride and Prejudice: The Human Side of Incentive Theory," CEPR Discussion Papers 5768, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  8. Andrei Bremzen & Elena Khokhlova & Anton Suvorov & Jeroen van de Ven, 2015. "Bad News: An Experimental Study on the Informational Effects Of Rewards," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 97(1), pages 55-70, March.
  9. Bar-Isaac Heski, 2012. "Transparency, Career Concerns, and Incentives for Acquiring Expertise," The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 12(1), pages 1-15, January.
  10. Stefano DellaVigna & John A. List & Ulrike Malmendier, 2009. "Testing for Altruism and Social Pressure in Charitable Giving," NBER Working Papers 15629, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Patricia Funk, 2007. "Is There An Expressive Function of Law? An Empirical Analysis of Voting Laws with Symbolic Fines," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 9(1), pages 135-159.
  12. Marie Claire Villeval & Mathieu Lefebvre & Pierre Pestieau & Arno Riedl, 2011. "Tax Evasion, Welfare Fraud, and "The Broken Windows" Effect: An Experiment in Belgium, France and the Netherlands," Post-Print halshs-00628786, HAL.
  13. Iris Bohnet & Bruno S. Frey & Steffen Huck, . "More Order with Less Law: On Contract Enforcement, Trust, and Crowding," IEW - Working Papers 052, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  14. Daron Acemoglu & Matthew O. Jackson, 2011. "History, Expectations, and Leadership in Evolution of Cooperation," Levine's Working Paper Archive 786969000000000106, David K. Levine.
  15. Roberto Galbiati & Karl Schlag & Joel van der Weele, 2011. "Sanctions that Signal: an Experiment," Vienna Economics Papers 1107, University of Vienna, Department of Economics.
  16. Samuel Bowles & Sandra Polanía Reyes, 2009. "Economic Incentives and Social Preferences: A Preference-based Lucas Critique of Public Policy," CESifo Working Paper Series 2734, CESifo Group Munich.
  17. Andreas Fuster & Stephan Meier, 2009. "Another hidden cost of incentives: the detrimental effect on norm enforcement," Working Papers 09-2, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  18. Rotemberg, Julio J., 2008. "Minimally acceptable altruism and the ultimatum game," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 66(3-4), pages 457-476, June.
  19. Glenn Harrison & John List, 2004. "Field experiments," Artefactual Field Experiments 00058, The Field Experiments Website.
  20. Licht Amir N., 2008. "Social Norms and the Law: Why Peoples Obey the Law," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 4(3), pages 715-750, December.
  21. Paul Fischer & Steven Huddart, 2008. "Optimal Contracting with Endogenous Social Norms," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(4), pages 1459-75, September.
  22. Krupka, Erin & Weber, Roberto A., 2009. "The focusing and informational effects of norms on pro-social behavior," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 307-320, June.
  23. Sliwka, Dirk, 2006. "Trust as a Signal of a Social Norm and the Hidden Costs of Incentive Schemes," IZA Discussion Papers 2293, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  24. Andrew F. Daughety & Jennifer F. Reinganum, 2010. "Public Goods, Social Pressure, and the Choice between Privacy and Publicity," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 191-221, May.
  25. Roland G. Fryer, Jr, 2010. "Financial Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from Randomized Trials," NBER Working Papers 15898, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  26. Xiao, Erte, 2013. "Profit-seeking punishment corrupts norm obedience," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 77(1), pages 321-344.
  27. Bicchieri, Cristina & Erte, Xiao, 2007. "Do the right thing: But only if others do so," MPRA Paper 4609, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  28. Jean-Robert Tyran & Lars P. Feld, 2005. "Achieving Compliance when Legal Sanctions are Non-Deterrent," CREMA Working Paper Series 2005-17, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:8663. 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: ()

The email address of this maintainer does not seem to be valid anymore. Please ask to update the entry or send us the correct address

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.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with 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 profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

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

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.