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The Construction of Morals

Author

Listed:
  • Daniel L. Chen

    () (ETH Zurich)

  • Susan Yeh

    () (George Mason University School of Law)

Abstract

When do policies generate expressive or backlash effects? Recent economic models suggest that where a proscribed activity is prevalent, permissive laws liberalize attitudes toward partakers while increasing utility. The opposite occurs in communities where the proscribed activity is rare. To test these predictions, we randomize data entry workers to transcribe newspaper summaries of liberal or conservative court decisions about obscenity. We find that liberal obscenity decisions liberalize individual and perceived community standards and increase utility. Yet religious workers become more conservative in their values, identify as more Republican, view community standards as becoming more liberal, and report lower utility. Workers update beliefs about the prevalence of sexual activities differently in response to liberal or conservative decisions. These results provide causal evidence for the law having indirect social effects that may amplify or attenuate deterrence effects and suggest that legitimacy of law can affect utility and self-identification. Length: 58

Suggested Citation

  • Daniel L. Chen & Susan Yeh, 2013. "The Construction of Morals," Working Papers 1042, George Mason University, Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science.
  • Handle: RePEc:gms:wpaper:1042
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    File URL: http://www.gmu.edu/schools/chss/economics/icesworkingpapers.gmu.edu/pdf/1042.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Chen, Daniel L. & Frankenreiter, Jens & Yeh, Susan, 2016. "Judicial Compliance in District Courts," TSE Working Papers 16-715, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
    2. 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.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    obscenity law; belief updating; values; norms; sexual risk;

    JEL classification:

    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • K1 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics

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