The question why people obey the law is foundational in legal scholarship. Yet, as Richard McAdams illustrates in The Expressive Powers of Law, we do not ask it enough. On the occasions when I teach first-year law students, I sometimes begin by asking them why they think people obey the law. The first answer inevitably is “because there are penalties for disobeying.” If pushed further, answers such as “it is the right thing to do” or “it is part of the social compact” emerge. McAdams suggests that there may be an additional set of explanations for legal compliance – having to do with law’s expressive powers. He makes the case that law, through its ability to communicate information, is often able to induce people to comply regardless of whether there are penalties or whether people think that the legal system is legitimate.
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