Can reputational concerns do any good? Economists have shown how they lead agents to ignore valuable information, to herd, and to become overly risk averse. We explore how they may be a social blessing. An agent may exert effort to become informed about the uncertain benefits of a project. A smart agent's efforts make him better informed; a dumb agent's efforts are to no avail. If an agent does not know his type, reputational concerns are socially beneficial. If an agent knows his type, reputational concerns may be socially beneficial. A dumb agent takes inefficient, unconventional decisions to mimic a smart agent. The latter exerts more effort in order not to be mistaken for a dumb. This holds whether or not project rejection is a safe haven for the dumb.

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Journal of Public Economics
Erasmus School of Economics

Visser, B., Swank, O., & Suurmond, G. (2004). On the bad reputation of reputational concerns. Journal of Public Economics, 88(12), 2817–2838. doi:10.1016/j.jpubeco.2003.10.004