Drugs, sex, rock, and roll: A theory of morality politics Academic Article uri icon


  • I assume that (a) the demand for sin is characterized by heterogeneous preferences and (b) private behavior diverges from public statements. From these assumptions, in the first section of this article I derive a series of propositions about morality policy. Rational politicians will perceive that demand for restrictive policies will be greater than it actually is and thus compete to produce more extreme policies. Bureaucracies will lack expertise and thus will not provide a check on political excesses. This 'politics of sin' can be translated into a contemporary form of redistributive morality policy politics if the issue can be reframed by political actors to legitimate an opposition position. In the second portion of the article, I argue formally that sin policies in general will fail because they operate on subsets of the population that are more and more resistant to the policy instruments available to government. I conclude with potential expansions of this theory, including how it might be generalized to other types of public policy.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Meier, K. J.

citation count

  • 55

complete list of authors

  • Meier, KJ

publication date

  • November 1999