Civil Liberties in Times of Crisis

Authors : Marcella Alsan, Luca Braghieri, Sarah Eichmeyer, Joyce Kim, Stefanie Stantcheva and David Yang

Publication: NBER Working Paper 27972, 2020

Abstract: The respect for civil liberties is one of the fundamental roles of the state, and many consider civil liberties as sacred and “nontradable.” Using cross-country representative surveys that cover 14 countries and over 195,000 individuals, we study how citizens trade off civil liberties during COVID-1, one of the largest crises in recent history. We find four main results. First, many around the world reveal a clear willingness to trade off civil liberties over public health conditions. Second, consistent across countries, exposure to health risks is associated with citizens’ greater willingness to trade off civil liberties, though individuals who are more economically disadvantaged are more willing to do so. Third, attitudes over such trade-offs are elastic to information. Fourth, we document a gradual decline and then plateau in citizens’ overall willingness to sacrifice rights and freedom as the pandemic progresses, though the underlying correlation between individuals’ worry about health and their attitudes over the trade-offs has been remarkably constant. Our results suggest that citizens do not view civil liberties as sacred values rather they can be influenced by health risks or information on their potential erosion to trade them off more or less readily, at least in the short-run.