The Interaction of Legal and Social Norm Enforcement


  • Sebastian Kube and Christian Traxler, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, Germany (

  • We would like to thank Marie Claire Villeval and two anonymous referees as well as participants at the PET Workshop on “Public Economics: Theoretical and Experimental Approaches” in Lyon and seminar participants in Bonn for helpful suggestions. Georg von Heusinger provided excellent research assistance.


Although legal sanctions are often nondeterrent, we frequently observe compliance with “mild laws.” A possible explanation is that the incentives to comply are shaped not only by legal, but also by social sanctions. This paper employs a novel experimental approach to study the link between legal and social norm enforcement. We analyze whether the two institutions are complements or substitutes. Our results show that legal sanctions partially crowd out social norm enforcement. Mild laws nevertheless give scope for a potentially large, positive welfare effect, as a higher level of compliance is achieved at lower social enforcement costs.