The morals of moral hazard: a contracts approach

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Although moral hazard is a well-known economic concept, there is a long-standing controversy over its moral implications. The language economists use to describe moral hazard is often value-laden, and implies moral judgments about the persons or actions of economic agents. This in turn leads some to question whether it is actually a scientific concept, or simply a convenient tool for criticizing certain public policies. At present, there is no consensus about the moral meaning of moral hazard, or about whether the concept can be salvaged by economists. As a first step toward resolving this problem, I suggest a contracts approach to moral hazard. I use the ‘title-transfer’ theory of contract to clarify the moral content of moral hazard, thereby increasing its value to scholars in numerous disciplines. A contracts view is useful for economic policy discussions because it does not include hidden value judgments. At the same time, however, it is also valuable for ethicists because it directly explains a moral dimension of behavior under moral hazard, namely, the violation of property rights.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBusiness Ethics
Early online date16 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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