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date: 06 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Legal norms are often seen as a means to regulate behaviour when neither self-interest nor social norms produce the desired behaviour in individuals. This suggests, on the one hand, that the law should regulate those areas in which social norms do not exist and provide support and extra enforcement in those areas where social norms exist. It also suggests on the other hand that there seems to be no questioning of the intrinsic efficiency and fairness of existing social norms. This article first looks at the genesis of social norms and the mechanism of their enforcement. This allows a closer inspection of the efficiency and fairness concepts. It then considers the impact that introducing legal norms has in contexts in which social norms already exist and in those that social interaction left unregulated. The main issue here is that the social norms prevailing at some historical moment may be just an equilibrium among multiple equilibriums. Given many possible equilibriums, we need to explain why and how one equilibrium is selected and others are rejected. The scholarship on social norms emphasizes that expressive acts in law can select the equilibrium. Legal norms seemingly reinforce existing social norms, bending them towards the law when discrepancy exists and favouring their creation where social norms do not exist. However, legal regulation can also destroy existing social norms (crowding out) or it can be defeated by them (legal backlash and countervailing effects).

Keywords: law, self-interest, social norms, efficiency, fairness, legal norms

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