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04.06.2023 | טו סיון התשפג

Voluntary Compliance: Is It Even Possible?

Is it possible to ensure public obedience to the law without punishment and increase the state's trust in its citizens?


Prof. Yuval Feldman, a jurist at Bar-Ilan University’s Faulty of Law, delves into the intersection of law and the human soul. His research explores ways in which the state can encourage citizens to comply and cooperate, even in the absence of severe punishments.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique enforcement challenge, prompting a corresponding research endeavour. People tended to adhere to mask-wearing regulations in outdoor settings, where enforcement was more prevalent, but displayed less caution when it came to wearing masks indoors, despite the higher risk.

Conflicting announcements about mask safety and their subsequent impact on public trust necessitated research specifically focused on the Israeli public and what motivates their adherence to guidelines. Thus, the study " Generating Voluntary Compliance Across Doctrines and Nations: Integrating Behavioural & Regulatory Aspects of Governments’ Ability to Trust the Public’s Cooperation, Ethicality & Compliance " was initiated. Prof. Feldman secured a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant for this project.

Prof. Feldman assumes that individuals strive for balance between their desire to conform and uphold the law, and the various constraints that hinder them. Human beings hold to subjective perceptions of the law, and to understand the significance of judgments, one must examine the mechanisms individuals employ to define what is right or wrong. Law and punishment only account for a fraction of these mechanisms.

The research aims to explore models that would enable the state to trust its citizens in domains such as environmental quality, taxes, commercial ethics, and public health. It aims to ascertain if a cultural shift is feasible, and whether countries can increase their trust in citizens and civil society. Unlike conventional studies that examine the public's trust in the government and its institutions, Prof. Feldman examines the state's trust in citizens and citizenship as influenced by cultural, social, and legal norms.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the opportunity for the public to voluntarily adhere to regulations without coercion appeared to be less successful. This was exemplified by the low compliance rate of parents in conducting home self-tests for their children in the education system. According to Feldman, most people are inclined to follow regulations, but only if everyone else does too. Hence, regulations that people can pay to violate, such as the home corona test, without facing punishment, pose challenges. The solution lies in establishing a stable social norm of cooperation. One method to achieve this is through reactive and gradual regulation, starting with lenient enforcement and progressively increasing it. This cultivates an understanding that the state "intends to act fairly but is not gullible."

Prof. Feldman emphasizes that voluntary compliance does not necessitate 100% adherence.

Vaccination serves as an illustrative example—compliance from a certain percent of the population is sufficient. This approach is even more favourable than achieving universal compliance through aggressive enforcement that could incite resistance and resentment.

Therefore, in each legal domain, it is crucial to assess the required compliance rate within each population and define the desired behaviour, tailoring cooperation accordingly.

As mentioned, Prof. Feldman's research focuses on developing models for effective collaboration between the government and civil society.