Economics Dictionary of Arguments

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Yochai Benkler on Behavior - Dictionary of Arguments

Benkler I 386
Behavior/Institutional Ecology/Law/Society/Equilibrium/Path Dependence/Benkler: First, law affects human behavior on a micro-motivational level and on a macro-social organizational level. This is in contradistinction to, on the one hand, the classical Marxist claim that law is epiphenomenal, and, on the other hand, the increasingly rare simple economic models that ignore transaction costs and institutional barriers and simply assume that people will act in order to maximize their welfare, irrespective of institutional arrangements.
Second, the causal relationship between law and human behavior is complex. Simple deterministic models of the form “if law X, then behavior Y” have been used as assumptions, but these are widely understood as, and criticized for being, oversimplifications for methodological purposes. However, they also shape social norms with regard to behaviors, psychological attitudes toward various behaviors, the cultural understanding of actions, and the politics of claims about behaviors and practices. Some push back and nullify the law, some amplify its
I 387
effects; it is not always predictable which of these any legal change will be.
Third, and as part of the complexity of the causal relation, the effects of law differ in different material, social, and cultural contexts. The same law introduced in different societies or at different times will have different effects. It may enable and disable a different set of practices, and trigger a different cascade of feedback and counter-effects.
Fourth, the process of lawmaking is not exogenous to the effects of law on social relations and human behavior. One can look at positive political theory or at the history of social movements to see that the shape of law itself is contested in society because it makes (through its complex causal mechanisms) some behaviors less attractive, valuable, or permissible and others more so. Different societies will differ in initial conditions and their historically contingent first moves in response to similar perturbations, and variances will emerge in their actual practices (…).
The term “institutional ecology” refers to this context-dependent, causally complex, feedback-ridden, path-dependent process.
I 388
The possibility of multiple stable equilibria alongside each other evoked by the stories of radio and print media is a common characteristic to both ecological models and analytically tractable models of path dependency. Both methodological approaches depend on feedback effects and therefore suggest that for any given path divergence, there is a point in time where early actions that trigger feedbacks can cause large and sustained differences over time.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Benkler I
Yochai Benkler
The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom New Haven 2007


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