Identity, morals, and taboos: Beliefs as assets

Roland Bénabou, Jean Tirole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

446 Scopus citations


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 acts or threats, and taboos onmere thoughts arise toprotect beliefs about the "priceless" value of certain social assets. High endowments trigger escalating commitment and a treadmill effect, while competing identities can cause dysfunctional capital destruction. Social interactions induce both social and antisocial norms of contribution, sustainedby respectively shunning free riders or do-gooders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberqjr002
Pages (from-to)805-855
Number of pages51
JournalQuarterly Journal of Economics
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics


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