Tight societies, like China, Singapore, and Austria, have many rules and punishments governing social behavior. Citizens in those places are used to a high degree of monitoring aimed at reinforcing good behavior. Loose cultures, in countries such as the United States, Italy, and Brazil, have weaker rules and are much more permissive.
Differences in tightness and looseness aren’t random. Countries with the strongest laws and strictest punishments are those with histories of famine, warfare, natural disasters, and, yes, pathogen outbreaks. These disaster-prone nations have learned the hard way over centuries: Tight rules and order save lives. Meanwhile, cultures that have faced few threats — such as the United States — have the luxury of remaining loose. They understandably prioritize freedom over constraint, and they are highly creative and open, but also more disorganized than their tight counterparts.
This trade-off in order versus openness becomes painfully obvious during the early, exponential spread of a virus, when these cultural differences can have profound effects. Famously “tight” societies like Singapore and Hong Kong, for example, have demonstrated the most effective response to Covid-19. Singapore, as of this writing, has recorded zero deaths from the disease. Meanwhile, the lack of coordination and resistance to rules in looser societies massively compounds the risk of widespread infection.