Tuesday, December 01, 2009

How to Increase Social Welfare by Not Voting

Suppose you and your spouse are both voters with opposite political views. As a result, on election day you both show up to the ballot box and simply cancel each other out. Regardless of how you both valued the alternative outcomes, if one always cancels out the other while each incurring the cost of voting, this is a net social loss. If you and your spouse could simply agree to not vote, you would not incur said cost and improve social welfare.

If you vote, or plan to vote in the next election, you could similarly improve social welfare by finding another voter who would otherwise cancel your vote out and find a way to similarly ensure that you both abstain from voting in the next election. Perhaps you could both unregister to vote at the same time or maybe write a contract that requires your political opposite to compensate you if they register to vote.

If these transaction costs are lower than the costs of voting, you have yourself a net increase in social welfare. The less likely you are to be the median voter, the greater the social savings will be. In other words, the further in advance you know who you're voting for, the more benefit you'll confer to the world by just staying home with your new friend.

Perhaps a entrepreneur can arrange a website to lower the transaction costs and help political yangs find their yins.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a Nash equilibrium would be to both end up voting. If I want candidate X and you want candidate Y, I have an incentive to renegade on any agreement. Unless the contract was binding in some way (which sounds politically infeasible....try constraining someones right to vote for any reason).

Justin M Ross said...

Which is why I cradled the discussion as such in the second paragraph.

I don't think there is a political feasibility problem as it is not a policy recommendation but a personal recommendation for voluntary behavior.

Matt E. Ryan said...

Not to mention the increases to those who still wish to vote, as their vote becomes increasingly more valuable as other refrain from doing so.

Art Carden said...

Nice post; I've been thinking about things like this for a while. Here's a semi-serious suggestion: why not arrange to take friends with whom you disagree out for coffee on election day with the understanding that you will discuss the issues but that none of you will vote? Good will should overcome the commitment problem with repeated interaction: I doubt many of my friends whose vote would cancel mine would take advantage of me. FWIW, here's my take on the 2008 election.

Will Luther said...

My grandparents disagree politically (and, well really, on a lot of other things). They made such a pact for several electoral cycles. It worked well until my grandpa forgot to take off his "I voted today" sticker in 2004.

Needless to say, I am not persuaded that these pacts will have lower transaction costs than voting.

Pavel Yakovlev said...

That's an excellent example. Will use this in my micro class next time I teach it.