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Benabou, R., Tirole, J. (2011). Identity, Morals and Taboos: Beliefs as Assets. Quarterly Journal of Economics, in press.

We develop a theory of moral behavior, individual and collective, based on a general model of identity in which people care about who they are and infer their own values from past choices. The model sheds light on many empirical puzzles inconsistent with earlier approaches. Identity investments respond nonmonotonically to recent acts or threats, and taboos on mere thoughts arise to protect beliefs about the priceless value of certain social assets. High endowments trigger escalating commitment and a treadmill e¤ect, while competing identities can cause dysfunctional capital destruction. Social interactions induce both social and antisocial norms of contribution, sustained by respectively shunning free riders or do-gooders.


BĂ©nabou, Roland J. M.

Roland Bénabou joined the faculty of Princeton University in 1999 and holds a joint appointment in the Department of Economics and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Bénabou’s research spans both macroeconomic and microeconomic areas, such as the...

Tirole, Jean

Jean Tirole is Scientific Director of IDEI, Member of the Toulouse School of Economics (TSE), Ingénieur général des Ponts et Chaussées and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Toulouse School of Economics.

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