Becker Friedman Institute
for Research in Economics
The University of Chicago

Research. Insights. Impact. Advancing the Legacy of Chicago Economics.

A Little Good is Good Enough: Ethical Consumption, Cheap Excuses, and Moral Self-Licensing

April 2017
Jannis Engel, Nora Szech

We explore the role of cheap excuses in product choice. If a product improves upon one ethically relevant dimension, agents may care less about other, completely independent ethical facets of the product. This ‘static moral self-licensing’ would extend the logic of the well studied moral self-licensing over time. Our data document that static moral self-licensing exists. Furthermore, effects spill over to later, unrelated but ethically relevant contexts. Thus, static moral self-licensing and moral self-licensing over time amplify each other. Outsiders, though incentivized for correct estimates, are completely oblivious to effects of moral self-licensing, both, static and over time.