The Impact of Public Policy on Social and Moral Norms: Some Examples
Journal of Consumer Policy26 (3), 259-277
Social and moral norms may be required for a sustainable development of private consumption patterns. But how can public policy influence norm-motivated consumer behaviour? Based on a recent research project two possible mechanisms for such influence are outlined. The first focuses on behaviour motivated by social approval or disapproval; in such cases, policy can sometimes lead the economy into, or out of, “good” or “vicious” circles, with potentially dramatic consequences for aggregate behaviour. The second mechanism relates to internalized moral motivation; in this case, policy may affect consumers’ perception of what morally responsible behaviour means. Explicit inclusion of such mechanisms can change the predictions from economic models in important ways; however, results may depend crucially on whether norms are enforced by social approval or through internalized self-sanctioning. Survey data on considerate smoking behaviour, recycling of household waste, and voluntary community work support several assumptions and predictions from the theoretical models discussed.