The Origin of Social Norms

23 June 2014 at 2:43 pm 5 comments

| Peter Klein |

Some findings that would not have surprised Carl Menger:

Ode to the sea: Workplace Organizations and Norms of Cooperation
Uri Gneezy, Andreas Leibbrandt, John A. List
NBER Working Paper No. 20234, June 2014

The functioning and well-being of any society and organization critically hinges on norms of cooperation that regulate social activities. Empirical evidence on how such norms emerge and in which environments they thrive remains a clear void in the literature. To provide an initial set of insights, we overlay a set of field experiments in a natural setting. Our approach is to compare behavior in Brazilian fishermen societies that differ along one major dimension: the workplace organization. In one society (located by the sea) fishermen are forced to work in groups whereas in the adjacent society (located on a lake) fishing is inherently an individual activity. We report sharp evidence that the sea fishermen trust and cooperate more and have greater ability to coordinate group actions than their lake fishermen counterparts. These findings are consistent with the argument that people internalize social norms that emerge from specific needs and support the idea that socio-ecological factors play a decisive role in the proliferation of pro-social behaviors.

I await comments below about how social norms emerge and persist not because they facilitate cooperation and joint gains, but because they legitimize existing social structures or support exploitation or power or. . . .

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Institutions, Recommended Reading.

Gans on Lepore on Christensen Louise Mors on Ambidexterity

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Divine Economy Consulting  |  23 June 2014 at 5:29 pm

    The counterfeit culture is a culture. A culture is reflective of the values chosen within that culture. Of course culture also influences the values. What we have is the counterfeit culture of statism that is all-pervasive and so it is very evident that the pseudo-ethics of that culture is as counterfeit as the whole structure, which is desperately being promulgated by the agents of statism.

  • 2. Michael Giberson  |  25 June 2014 at 11:35 am

    Robben, Sons of the Sea Goddess (1989), provides an anthropological treatment of similar issues looking at fishing societies just a little further up the Brazil cost from the area in the Gneezy paper. As I recall from the book (and it has been over 20 years since I’ve read it), canoe fishermen had a mostly solitary and household locus of action (get up, fish near the coast in the morning, repair nets in front of the house in the afternoon, repeat), whereas motorized boat fishermen had a more community focus of action (days spent working on boats on the ocean, then time spent mostly in bars when in town looking for the next job).

    I’m surprised Gneezy Lebbrant List don’t reference the book in their paper given the general overlapping of interests.

  • 3. Richard O. Hammer  |  25 June 2014 at 2:08 pm

    I describe a model of life in which rules (or norms or institutions) grow naturally in an environment where individual living things can live better if they can learn to cooperate. I first described this in An Engineer’s View of Morality Set in a Model of Life. That paper and subsequent presentations of the model at conferences have attracted little notice.

    So more recently I’ve started a blog with the hope of expounding the model more convincingly and completely. That blog will build up as blogs do, one entry at a time, perhaps not the clearest way to lay down an unfamiliar model. But I can give links here in an order which may be helpful.
    First, here are important
    model assumptions.
    Second, here is
    a statement of the model.
    Finally, here is the link to
    the blog as normally offered with the latest entry at the top.

  • 4. Richard O. Hammer  |  25 June 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Probably I posted my previous comment too hastily. Now, being more careful, I see Peter specified:
    “I await comments below about how social norms emerge and persist not because they facilitate cooperation and joint gains, but because they legitimize existing social structures or support exploitation or power or. . . .”

    The model to which I gave links in the previous comment extends readily, in my imagined applications, to show social norms emerging and persisting because they legitimize existing social structures or support exploitation. For exploitation, note that living things can themselves be resources available in the environment. But I can not yet claim such applications should be clear to critical readers of my Perceived Order blog. In time, I hope …

  • 5. Peter Klein  |  25 June 2014 at 2:52 pm

    No worries, I was just baiting the sociologist trolls!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Nicolai J. Foss | home | posts
Peter G. Klein | home | posts
Richard Langlois | home | posts
Lasse B. Lien | home | posts


Former Guests | posts


Recent Posts



Our Recent Books

Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
Nicolai J. Foss and Volker Mahnke, eds., Competence, Governance, and Entrepreneurship: Advances in Economic Strategy Research (Oxford, 2000).
Nicolai J. Foss and Paul L. Robertson, eds., Resources, Technology, and Strategy: Explorations in the Resource-based Perspective (Routledge, 2000).