Can self-enforcing norms be effective?


Self-enforcing norms can indeed be effective, as they often emerge organically and those that effectively influence collective behavior tend to persist within societies. For instance, in the context of economic analysis, norms that are self-enforcing through mutual attention and informal social corrections (like norms against littering) can be highly effective without the need for formal legislative enforcement. This approach can lead to desired societal outcomes with less overhead or enforcement costs 1.

Additionally, norms that individuals internalize, feeling compelled to adhere to them for moral or social reasons rather than due to legislation, play a crucial role in self-governance. These internalized norms are driven by a sense of duty or the discomfort associated with acting against one's values, which can be powerful motivators for maintaining collective welfare 2.

However, the effectiveness of such norms can diminish as society grows larger or more diverse, where maintaining a shared understanding and enforcement becomes challenging. David Skarbek notes that in environments like prisons, when the population is small and homogenous, norms can be effectively self-enforcing. However, as the population grows and becomes more diverse, the consistent enforcement of these norms becomes more difficult, often leading to the breakdown of the existing normative order 3.

The Power of Norms

Paul and Tyler discuss the importance of considering the impact of policies on societal norms, using littering as an example. They explore the value of self-enforcing norms and the potential need for governmental solutions when norms are lost.

Conversations with Tyler

Paul Romer on a Culture of Science and Working Hard | Conversations with Tyler