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

Does this sort of reasoning factor in the possibility that there may be a moral imperative to vote, even if the effect of your vote is basically nil?

I mean, if I believe that we as a society benefit from having a high level of voter participation, then perhaps there’s some moral obligation to do my part even if my contribution, as one man, is negligible.

Analogously, if I believe that it would be bad if everyone littered, then I’d say it’s hypocritical and immoral for me to litter, even if the amount of litter I personally generate is negligible.

You aren’t reasoning like an economist. You could be working during the time that you are walking your dog. Let’s say you could be making $15 an hour taking calls on a sex 900 number. The fact that you aren’t means that you place a value of more than $5 on that 20 minutes.

The value doesn’t apply just to the time, it applies to what is done during that time. What I mean can be illustrated using the following observation. I’ll gladly take five dollars in exchange for twenty minutes spent sampling food. For 20 minutes taking calls on a sex line, I’ll need at least a few hundred thousand, I think.

I don’t value time, I value time spent doing this or that.


Reiterating post 21:

Does no one take seriously the idea that we may have a moral obligation to vote, even if the odds of our vote changing the outcome of the election are basically nil?

Your time is “worth” the most you could actually make during that time. If you forgo doing it you place a greater value on the alternate activity.

The paper is arguing that voting is not “rational” given the time it takes vs the potential reward. That is entirely orthogonal to moral obligation.

But why even ask the question of whether it is “rational” to vote (in a cost-vs-benefit sense) if you’re morally obligated to vote, regardless? I suppose you could pose it simply as an interesting but purely academic question, but that doesn’t seem to be the intent of the authors. Rather they talk of their theory as having actual bearing on why and how people should vote.

Specifically, in their conclusions they note that the benefit you personally derive from voting isn’t worth the cost, but the benefit society derives from you voting may be worth the cost, so you should base your voting preferences on society’s interests and not your personal interests. But if the real reason for voting is to fulfill a moral obligation to vote, it doesn’t follow that it isn’t rational to vote based on your personal interests. Yes, your one vote is virtually certain not to make a difference, but if you were going to vote anyway just out of moral obligation, then the additional cost of voting for what would benefit you is zero.

Putting it another way:

One could argue that “fulfilling your moral obligations” is a benefit to you. At the very least, doing what you believe you are morally obligated to do spares you from guilt. This wouldn’t contribute to the quantity they call B (benefit of your candidate winning), but it would affect the quantity they call c (cost of voting minus direct benefit of voting).

I’m saying that factoring in your moral obligation to vote, c could well be negative and voting always justified. In the paper they consider various distributions for c, including the possibility that it is negative for some voters (but only a minority of voters). They appear to disregard the possibility that c could be a function of B (as is the case if you believe that your moral obligation to vote is greater in elections whose outcome is more important). In fact, it seems they’re saying that c is negative only for voters who would vote even in an election with no importance. If there is a moral obligation to vote, I think it’s obvious it would be greater in an election whose outcome matters than in an election whose outcome is totally unimportant. That is, just because no one would feel obligated to vote in a meaningless election doesn’t mean no one would feel obligated to vote in a Presidential election (even one where their vote had no chance of making a difference).

Not really, to the extent that one’s morality informs one’s preferences they are already included in the estimation of benefits.

Does society benefit from high voter turnout, though? You haven’t established this fact yet, so I can’t say whether or not I have a moral obligation to vote. Anyway, if society benefits, so do I. By calling a vote a ‘moral obligation’ you are simply arguing that it has a higher value than one would think at first glance.

I’ve already studied opportunity cost, and thank you very much for presuming my ignorance. Voting is not about opportunity costs. You can’t assume that no matter who gets elected that the poor will stay poor. While that’s often true, you have no scientific assurance that it’s always going to be true. It’s a very subjective assumption.

Yes, I like to vote. Is that so hard to understand? I care about Prop 8 (it affects good friends of mine), and I care about various local issues, where the polls are pretty even, and it could be decided by a few hundred votes. (In Florida, Bush won by less than 1,000 votes.)

I understand that there are places where voting takes a lot of time because the register hasn’t supplied enough workers and machines. If I had to wait six hours I probably wouldn’t vote, but as long as I can mail in my vote, this isn’t an issue.

Yes, but how is one to know when that point comes about? You can’t. Voting is secret. It’s like saying you shouldn’t pick up a nickle you see on the sidewalk because you could earn more than a nickle by using the three seconds it takes to pick it up by working three more seconds of overtime. What kind of job offers three additional seconds of overtime?

Not much, but my stamps don’t have numbers on them. I just ask for first class stamps, and they give me these generic things.

I don’t necessarily want to reason like an economist, at least not the kind that are pedants.

I would check the assumptions. First of all, what value do you get from voting? If you assume that the only value you get is the miniscule benefit of A) your vote swinging the election, and B) your candidate doing something that directly benefits you, then no voting isn’t ‘rational’.

But in fact, there could be many other benefits you get from voting. For example, you get to set an example for your children. Or you feel like you have a right to express political opinion if you vote. Or you take pleasure in doing your civic duty.

If all motivations were purely financial self-interest, we couldn’t explain lots of behaviors. For example, why am I sitting here typing this when I could be putting in overtime? The opportunity cost is killing me. If my time is worth $30/hr, and it takes me five minutes to post this, it cost me $2.50 in opportunity cost. Would a rational person pay $2.50 per post? Not a chance. But yet, here I am. Clearly, something other than money is motivating me.

If you don’t think cultural factors are a strong motivator, you have to ask yourself why poor people from the inner city vote so much less. On the face of it, it doesn’t make sense. Since they are generally the biggest individual beneficiaries of government programs, they have the most incentive to vote. And because they earn the least amount of money or may not work at all, they have the lowest opportunity cost. But voter participation in those areas is dismal, and I’d suggest that the lack of peer pressure and cultural imperative has a lot to do with it - not money.

These reasons for voting, these ‘benefits’, are different for everybody. That’s what I’m getting at. For some people, voting is much more valuable than for others. The mental calculus is different for everybody.

I’m not agreeing with the article by saying voting isn’t reasonable, nor am I agreeing with guizot by saying voting is awesome and great and always worth your time. I’m saying the value of a vote is variable among the populace, so we ought to let them make their own decisions and stop implying that people somehow have to vote.

Sure. However, economists don’t simply look at financial best interests, but utility in general. That varies among people for each choice made. Doesn’t it? You seem to know more about economics than me, Sam. How do people measure utility?

This is exactly the thrust of the paper. That voting can be quite rational in unexceptional circumstances.

At the margin. :wink:

I never figured out why high voter turnout is desirable. The result will still be one of two choices.

I always sort of figured we had a two party system basically so each party serves as a counterbalance to the other. If either party got too far to the left or right, everyone would get all worked up and vote for the other party. It presumes most people are moderates though, not right or left wing nutjobs.

Papers I’ve read on the subject usually justify it by way of the Condorcet Jury Theorem. See, for example, “Epistemic Democracy: Generalizing the Condorcet Jury Theorem” by List and Goodin.

We don’t have a “two party system” by law, but we do have two strong parties that dominate. I think that is the inevitable outcome if you have a bell curve distribution of political opinion. Just another way of saying what you said that most people are moderates and not right or left wing nutjobs.