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The Construction of Morals

Daniel Chen and Susan Yeh ()
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Susan Yeh: George Mason University School of Law

No 1042, Working Papers from George Mason University, Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science

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

Keywords: obscenity law; belief updating; values; norms; sexual risk (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D83 K1 K42 Z1 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-evo, nep-law, nep-soc and nep-upt
Date: 2013-11
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Journal Article: The construction of morals (2014) Downloads
Chapter: The Construction of Morals (2013)
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Persistent link: https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:gms:wpaper:1042

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