HKS Authors

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Civil liberties are sometimes considered non-tradable and “sacred,” and their protection a hallmark of democracies. Using representative surveys of 480,000 respondents from 15 countries, we find that citizens demonstrate a clear willingness to trade off civil liberties for improved public health conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Exposure to health risks is associated with greater willingness to trade off civil liberties, though to a lesser degree among disadvantaged groups. This trade-off is sensitive to information and evolves over the course of the pandemic. Yet the elasticity of the willingness to forego civil liberties to perceived health risk remains relatively constant over time.


Alsan, Marcella, Luca Braghieri, Sarah Eichmeyer, Minjeong Joyce Kim, Stefanie Stantcheva, and David Y. Yang. "Civil Liberties in Times of Crisis." National Bureau of Economics Research, October 2020.