Gimme the moron's translation of this economics paper (voting)

I kind of get it, but there’s a lot of loaded terminology that I don’t think I fully understand. Can someone translate this into moron speak?

According to economic theory it is rational to pay 1 dollar for 50% chance of 3 dollars. This is because a 50% chance at 3 should be worth $1.50. Likewise it is rational to play the lottery if a ticket is one dollar when the prize exceeds probabilities of winning. So it is rationally to play a lottery that has a one in 70 million chance of winning when the payoff is over 70 million.
This paper is arguing that it is not rational to vote if you are only interested in bettering your self. That is because the benefit you would derive from your candidate winning is so much less than the odds of your candidate winning by one vote. However, if you are voting to benefit everybody then voting becomes rational because even though the odds are long the amount of benefit is great.
I don’t buy it, but that’s what I think it says.

I agree with puddlegum’s analysis, except that I find it mildly persuasive. Why don’t you buy it, puddlegum?

The odds are too high. Plus you can never be sure that the politician you vote for will implement your preferred policies. Also you can never be sure if your preferred policies will result in better outcomes. There are too many unknowns for voting ever to be rational. It is a pure leap of faith, and involves mostly self signaling.

I don’t believe being sure is ever really a criterion, though. That’s the point of expected value: to account for uncertainties by discounting benefits.

You know that it costs less than one dollar (the price of a lottery ticket) to vote, right? In fact, since they eliminated poll tax, it’s been free. So it’s worth a try. After primaries, usually you have only two realistic choices. You can vote by mail, which costs 37 cents. Is that too much for you?

But I agree that when people talk about economics they all too often ignore the unknowns. I often hear people who took only Econ 101 spouting off about “supply and demand,” who forget that their professor (if the professor was conscientious) prefaced the theory with: “…all other things being equal…”

All other things are rarely equal.

Voting is only free if your time is worth nothing. The busier the election the more time is wasted. This is also a point that the paper ignores.

Regardless, the game theory is both sound and essentially unassailable on probabilistic grounds. It’s the human psychology angle they’re actually investigating, however.

Well then thinking isn’t free, and conceivably, there is a lot of thinking that people do that just isn’t “worth it” (like the thinking that goes into this message board). People do many things that take time, and don’t always result in monetary recompense or likely social change. The time and expense that it takes to send in a mail-in ballot is so minimal that the argument against it is silly and arcane. You might as well say it “isn’t worth it” to play video games, or read the daily horoscope.

Even when I vote in person, it takes about 20 minutes, fifteen of which is going to and from the polling place. This is something that I do anyway walking my dog. So I take my dog to the polls. (You can tack on another ten minutes going over the issues). That’s fifteen minutes less that I watch commercials or some TV show that I’ll never miss. To me, it’s worth it.

The logical conclusion of this is that nobody should bother to vote. If that happened, then the political system would cease to function, and a political change that I and others wanted would never happen. It’s just academic solipsism.

Where do you live that it only takes 20 minutes to vote? Down here it can take up to 6 hours to make it through the lines.

Holy crap. Six hours? Here, in Alabama, there is no line. It takes about 10-15 minutes to fill out the registration sheet, the poll worker slips it in the computer, and you’re done.

East Hollywood, at the Masonic temple or the Catholic church up the street.

I have the advantage of free time in the middle of the day, when lines are shorter.

I think if you’re taking six hours to vote, no matter when you start you’ve gotta hit the middle of the day eventually.

Guizot is the one who votes in 20 minutes, not in six hours.


guizot, meet opportunity cost, an interesting subject you might like to read up on.

Like voting? :wink:

The fact is, the payoff for voting is low no matter what. When there are hundreds of millions of voters, issues you don’t care about and politicians who can’t (or won’t) change anything anyway, voting is pretty much worthless. Some people have better things to do with their time. Especially poor people. They’re going to be poor no matter which rich guy makes it into office. Why should they spend any of their minuscule leisure time (or time that could be spent earning more money) pretending they have some influence?

Yeah, the implication in his post was that cletus might be missing the opportunity to vote in the middle of the day.

I forgot to address this. That is not the logical conclusion. As fewer people vote, the value of each individual vote goes up. Eventually this value will outweigh the opportunity cost.

For each individual, the point at which it is worth it to vote differs. The debate isn’t whether it is worthwhile to vote, the debate is over what point it becomes worthwhile.

You haven’t mailed anything in a while, have you?


It doesn’t ignore it, actually.

The paper then goes on to discuss B almost exclusively, but this cost is tossed in where appropriate a few more times.

Got it.