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Inexpressive Law


  • Emanuela Carbonara

    (University of Bologna)

  • Francesco Parisi

    (University of Minnesota/University of Bologna, Department of Economics)

  • Georg von Wangenheim

    (University of Kassel)


According to expressive law theories, expression of values is an important function played by the law. Expressive laws affect behavior, not by threatening sanctions or promising rewards, but by changing individual preferences and tastes and, in some cases, by affecting social norms and values. New laws, however, can run against sticky social norms, failing to achieve their expressive effects. By developing a dynamic model, in this paper we show that inexpressive laws (laws whose expressive function is undermined by sticky norms) can not only be ineffective but can push the values of society away from those expressed by the law. We study the effects of legal intervention on the values shared by members of society, considering the feedback effects between laws and social norms. Just like expressive laws can foster consensus in heterogeneous groups, inexpressive laws can create a social divide, even in previously homogeneous societies.

Suggested Citation

  • Emanuela Carbonara & Francesco Parisi & Georg von Wangenheim, 2010. "Inexpressive Law," MAGKS Papers on Economics 201010, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Faculty of Business Administration and Economics, Department of Economics (Volkswirtschaftliche Abteilung).
  • Handle: RePEc:mar:magkse:201010

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    More about this item


    Social Norms; Countervailing Effect; Expressive Law; Civil Disobedience;

    JEL classification:

    • K10 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - General (Constitutional Law)
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • D70 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - General
    • B52 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches - - - Historical; Institutional; Evolutionary
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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