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Social Preferences and Public Economics: Are good laws a substitute for good citizens?


  • Samuel Bowles

    () (Santa Fe Institute, University of Siena and University of Massachusetts)


Laws and policies designed to harness self-regarding preferences to public ends may fail when they compromise the beneficial effects of pro-social preferences. Experimental evidence indicates that incentives that appeal to self interest may reduce the salience of intrinsic motivation, reciprocity, and other civic motives. Motivational crowding in also occurs. The evidence for these processes is reviewed and a model of optimal explicit incentives is presented. JEL Categories: D64, D52, H41, H21, Z13, C92

Suggested Citation

  • Samuel Bowles, 2007. "Social Preferences and Public Economics: Are good laws a substitute for good citizens?," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2007-04, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics, revised Mar 2008.
  • Handle: RePEc:ums:papers:2007-04

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Chichilnisky, Graciela & Heal, Geoffrey, 1984. "Patterns of power: bargaining and incentives in two-person games," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 333-349, April.
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    7. Basu, Kaushik, 1986. "One Kind of Power," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(2), pages 259-282, July.
    8. Klein, Benjamin & Leffler, Keith B, 1981. "The Role of Market Forces in Assuring Contractual Performance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(4), pages 615-641, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bernasconi, Michele & Corazzini, Luca & Marenzi, Anna, 2013. "‘Expressive’ obligations in public good games: Crowding-in and crowding-out effects," Research in Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 13-24.

    More about this item


    Social preferences; implementation theory; incentive contracts; incomplete contracts; framing; behavioral experiments; motivational crowding out; ethical norms; constitutions;

    JEL classification:

    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • D52 - Microeconomics - - General Equilibrium and Disequilibrium - - - Incomplete Markets
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • H21 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Efficiency; Optimal Taxation
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification
    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior

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