Publish date 21-12-2020
Credible institutions: the key is the transparency of communication.
The new wave of Covid-19 is bringing back the political difficulty of finding "balanced" measures, capable of avoiding the collapse of the economy and at the same time protecting public health. This has put in crisis not only the political decision-makers, but also the citizens who are now tired of the virus and the related restrictions. If on the one hand, there is much talk of the responsibility of politicians and their choices, little is said of the responsibility of individual individuals, of the relationship between the so-called "social capital" and the effectiveness of the measures to contain the virus.
The concept of social capital refers to the set of relationships and integrations that facilitate cooperation to support choices that can have benefits on the community (eg public goods). One of its main components is trust in other people, but many scholars also include trust in institutions and / or politicians.
This institutional dimension assumes relevance when dealing with unpleasant policies, such as the choice of a lockdown and social distancing. On the other hand, social capital can push people to "voluntarily" restrict their freedoms: in a society with a high social capital and civic sense, one is more aware that one's behavior can lead to costs and / or benefits. bad to other people; therefore, we are more careful to wear masks and to limit their movements.
In the last few months, various academic studies on the subject have floated, including that of Bargain and Aminjonov (2020) which combines data on individual mobility with those on trust in politicians in different European regions. The authors compare regions with low and high confidence before and after the start of the lockdown, while checking the characteristics of the region.
The effect appears to be quite large: high-confidence regions have reduced their mobility by around 15% more than low-confidence regions. Furthermore, the authors show that this result mainly concerns unnecessary activities: there does not seem to be any effect of trust with regard to mobility towards grocery stores or pharmacies.
A further interesting result is the one that shows how for a given level of rigor in re ¬ restriction policies, greater trust leads to a further reduction in mobility, therefore to better compliance with the lockdown directives. In other words, trust increases the efficiency of these measures; Moreover, its effect is greater the greater the degree of restriction chosen: the gap between regions with high confidence and those with low confidence increases with the increasing rigor of lockdown policies. The authors estimate that a one standard deviation increase in confidence is associated with a 6.5% decrease in the death rate from Covid-19 (about 10,000 fewer victims in mid-April).
Similar studies conducted in other parts of the world achieve similar results. Hence, as the authors suggest, a stimulus for politicians to try to regain the trust of citizens through various measures, such as, for example, a transparent communication strategy based on scientifically validated results, a clear explanation of the reasons underlying the public decision and greater consistency over time of the various policies. However, it is also necessary to "activate" these beneficial effects of trust, pushing, for example, people towards a greater awareness of the impact of their decisions on their own health and that of others.
NP novembre 2020