Information Revelation of Decentralized Crisis Management: Evidence from Natural Experiments on Mask Mandates
64 Pages Posted: 25 Nov 2020
Date Written: November 24, 2020
We highlight the importance of signaling effects in determining whether public policy should be implemented at a decentralized or centralized level. For example, although a public policy may have the same direct effect if enacted at a state or county level, people may perceive these policies differently, leading to different indirect effects. We explore this mechanism using the patchwork of mask mandate orders in the U.S. from April to September 2020. State-wide mask mandates stimulate economic activity while also reducing COVID-19 case growth. Surprisingly, county-level mask mandates generally have the opposite effect, depressing economic activity. We argue that different unintended signaling effects can explain these differences in policy effects: households infer from county mask mandates that infection risks have increased in their local area and, therefore, socially distance more and spend less. In contrast, state mask mandates do not lead to similar local inferences, and thus overall, they stimulate the economy.
Keywords: COVID-19, voluntary social distancing, federalism, public information disclosure
JEL Classification: I15, I18, J68, H21, H77
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation