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Profit, Persuasion, and Fidelity: Why People Follow the Rule of Law

Michael Ilg EMAIL logo


This article proposes that there are three types of individual interest perception that explain adherence to the rule of law. The first level, “profit,” refers to tangible individual gain, whether in the form of economic enrichment or the accumulation of political power. The second layer of interest, “persuasion,” involves social norms and reputation. In this second level, individuals adhere to a rule not because of the threat of government sanction or reward, but rather because of intangible concerns for reputation and social status. Finally, the third layer of interest involves individuals forgoing tangible benefit for the sake of fidelity to a constitutional order or a shared set of beliefs. A potential advantage of the three-interest view is that it provides for an accessible descriptive framework that captures the broad nature of the rule of law, moving from the small bribe for a local official to the question of whether a constitution will constrain the powerful. The three-interest view also aligns well with modern developments in experimental and behavioural economics and suggests future lines of research into how individuals and groups navigate from self-interest toward cooperation and fidelity.


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Published Online: 2017-7-8
Published in Print: 2017-9-26

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