Rugged Individualism and Collective (In)Action During the Covid-19 Pandemic

28 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2020 Last revised: 24 May 2021

See all articles by Samuel Bazzi

Samuel Bazzi

Boston University - Department of Economics

Martin Fiszbein

Boston University - Department of Economics

Mesay Gebresilasse

Amherst College

Date Written: September 2020

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.

Suggested Citation

Bazzi, Samuel and Fiszbein, Martin and Gebresilasse, Mesay, Rugged Individualism and Collective (In)Action During the Covid-19 Pandemic (September 2020). NBER Working Paper No. w27776, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3687932

Samuel Bazzi (Contact Author)

Boston University - Department of Economics ( email )

270 Bay State Road
Boston, MA 02215
United States

Martin Fiszbein

Boston University - Department of Economics ( email )

270 Bay State Road
Boston, MA 02215
United States

Mesay Gebresilasse

Amherst College

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