Money Norms01 Jan 2017
Money norms present a fundamental contradiction. Norms embody the social sphere, a system of internalized values, unwritten rules, and shared expectations that informally govern human behavior. Money, on the other hand, evokes the economic sphere of markets, prices, and incentives. Existing legal scholarship keeps the two spheres distinct. Money is assumed to operate as a medium of exchange or as a tool for altering the payoffs of different actions. When used to make good behavior less costly and undesirable behavior more costly, money functions to incentivize, sanction, and deter. Although a rich literature on the expressive function of law exists, legal scholars have generally confined money to the economic sphere of sanctions and subsidies.
This Article attempts to bridge that gap. Money elicits a strong, visceral, and emotional reaction, triggering (and creating expectations of) selfishness, individualism, and self-reliance that is unaccounted for in current legal scholarship. Money norms not only insulate our moral values from market encroachment, but they also prescribe modes of behavior that encourage cooperation and counteract the impulse to act selfishly. The Article sets out a framework for understanding the interrelationship of money norms and the law in an effort to enhance the effectiveness of existing incentive structures. It suggests that legal efforts to influence money norms may be more successful in the context of morally ambiguous norms where noncompliance is both easier to rationalize and less likely to be socially condemned.