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So How Is Society’s Response to the Coronavirus Going?

Dan Drezner explores how well citizens have been able to self-regulate behaviors in response to COVID-19, via his Washington Post column.

A few days ago, as the number of covid-19 infections was increasing in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued an executive order for residents to stay at home. This raised the minor question of how to make that order stick. CNN reported that Newsom did not believe the order needed law enforcement to ensure adherence: “There’s a social contract here. People, I think, recognize the need to do more and to meet this moment,” Newsom said. “People will self-regulate their behavior, they’ll begin to adjust and adapt, as they have been quite significantly.”

In making this statement, Newsom brought to the forefront two aspects of politics that are so basic that they are accepted as given during ordinary times in the United States. The first is that the state maintains social order through enforcement and social compliance. If all California residents stopped paying their taxes, the state would be hard-pressed to punish everyone. Fear of acting illegally acts as a deterrent preventing some actors from breaking the law. Studies show that an awful lot of compliance, however, comes from the notion that it is simply the right thing to do.

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