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Rugged Individualism and Collective (In)action During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Samuel Bazzi, Martin Fiszbein and Mesay Gebresilasse

No 27776, NBER Working Papers from National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc

Abstract: Rugged individualism—the combination of individualism and anti-statism—is a prominent feature of American culture with deep roots in the country’s history of frontier settlement. Today, rugged individualism is more prevalent in counties with greater total frontier experience (TFE) during the era of westward expansion. While individualism may be conducive to innovation, it can also undermine collective action, with potentially adverse social consequences. We show that America’s frontier culture hampered the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Across U.S. counties, greater TFE is associated with less social distancing and mask use as well as weaker local government effort to control the virus. We argue that frontier culture lies at the root of several more proximate explanations for the weak collective response to public health risks, including a lack of civic duty, partisanship, and distrust in science.

JEL-codes: H12 H23 H75 I12 I18 P16 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020-09
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-hea and nep-soc
Note: DAE HE LE PE POL
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Working Paper: Rugged Individualism and Collective (In)action During the COVID-19 Pandemic (2020) Downloads
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