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COVID-19 and the Political Economy of Mass Hysteria


  • Philipp Bagus

    (Department of Applied Economics I, History and Economic Institutions and Moral Philosophy, Social and Legal Sciences Faculty, Rey Juan Carlos University, 28033 Madrid, Spain)

  • José Antonio Peña-Ramos

    (Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universidad Autónoma de Chile, Providencia 7500912, Chile)

  • Antonio Sánchez-Bayón

    (Department of Business Economics (ADO), Applied Economics II and Fundamentals of Economic Analysis, Social and Legal Sciences Faculty, Rey Juan Carlos University, 28033 Madrid, Spain)


In this article, we aim to develop a political economy of mass hysteria. Using the background of COVID-19, we study past mass hysteria. Negative information which is spread through mass media repetitively can affect public health negatively in the form of nocebo effects and mass hysteria. We argue that mass and digital media in connection with the state may have had adverse consequences during the COVID-19 crisis. The resulting collective hysteria may have contributed to policy errors by governments not in line with health recommendations. While mass hysteria can occur in societies with a minimal state, we show that there exist certain self-corrective mechanisms and limits to the harm inflicted, such as sacrosanct private property rights. However, mass hysteria can be exacerbated and self-reinforcing when the negative information comes from an authoritative source, when the media are politicized, and social networks make the negative information omnipresent. We conclude that the negative long-term effects of mass hysteria are exacerbated by the size of the state.

Suggested Citation

  • Philipp Bagus & José Antonio Peña-Ramos & Antonio Sánchez-Bayón, 2021. "COVID-19 and the Political Economy of Mass Hysteria," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 18(4), pages 1-15, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jijerp:v:18:y:2021:i:4:p:1376-:d:492150

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    1. Yang Yang & Keqiao Liu & Siqi Li & Man Shu, 2020. "Social Media Activities, Emotion Regulation Strategies, and Their Interactions on People’s Mental Health in COVID-19 Pandemic," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 17(23), pages 1-16, December.
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    More about this item


    mass hysteria; nocebo effects; contagion; mass media; social media; public health; law and economics; political economy; groupthink; culture of fear; emotional contagion; anxiety; policy error; COVID-19;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • A10 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - General
    • B53 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches - - - Austrian
    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General


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