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A little good is good enough: Ethical consumption, cheap excuses, and moral self-licensing


  • Engel, Jannis
  • Szech, Nora


We explore the role of cheap excuses in product choice. If a product improves upon one ethically relevant dimension, agents may care less about other, completely independent ethical facets of the product. This 'static moral self-licensing' would extend the logic of the well-studied moral self-licensing over time. Our data document that static moral self-licensing exists. Furthermore, effects spill over to later, unrelated but ethically relevant contexts. Thus, static moral self-licensing and moral self-licensing over time amplify each other. Outsiders, though incentivized for correct estimates, are completely oblivious to effects of moral selflicensing, both, static and over time.

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  • Engel, Jannis & Szech, Nora, 2017. "A little good is good enough: Ethical consumption, cheap excuses, and moral self-licensing," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Economics of Change SP II 2017-301, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:wzbeoc:spii2017301

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Thomas Deckers & Armin Falk & Fabian Kosse & Nora Szech, 2016. "Homo Moralis: Personal Characteristics, Institutions, and Moral Decision-Making," CESifo Working Paper Series 5800, CESifo Group Munich.
    2. Björn Bartling & Roberto A. Weber & Lan Yao, 2015. "Do Markets Erode Social Responsibility?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 130(1), pages 219-266.
    3. Friedrichsen, Jana & Engelmann, Dirk, 2013. "Who cares for social image? Interactions between intrinsic motivation and social image concerns," Annual Conference 2013 (Duesseldorf): Competition Policy and Regulation in a Global Economic Order 79746, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    4. Falk, Armin & Becker, Anke & Dohmen, Thomas & Huffman, David B. & Sunde, Uwe, 2016. "The Preference Survey Module: A Validated Instrument for Measuring Risk, Time, and Social Preferences," IZA Discussion Papers 9674, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. Falk, Armin & Szech, Nora, 2016. "Pleasures of skill and moral conduct," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Economics of Change SP II 2016-301, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
    6. Roland Bénabou & Jean Tirole, 2002. "Self-Confidence and Personal Motivation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(3), pages 871-915.
    7. Alexander M. Danzer & Robert Grundke, 2016. "Coerced Labor in the Cotton Sector: How Global Commodity Prices (Don't) Transmit to the Poor," CESifo Working Paper Series 5937, CESifo Group Munich.
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    More about this item


    moral self-licensing; moral spillovers; cheap excuses; outsider beliefs; moral personality; homo moralis; preference module;

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D84 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Expectations; Speculations

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