Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Rational Non-Voter

As an economist, I often take great delight in pointing out that the expected marginal benefits of voting are greatly outweighed by the expected marginal costs. Most of the time when people vote, they have little-to-no expectation that their vote will affect the outcome, they have little-to-no expectation that their vote will have an impact on the policies of whomever is elected, and they have a reasonable expectation that they could have done something else of positive value with their time, transportation expenses, etc.

Facing these expected costs and benefits, in North America we see turn-out rates at the polls of somewhere between 30% and 80%, even though the expected costs outweight the expected benefits.

Now consider the expected costs of voting in Iraq's election, with potential candidates and poll watchers being assassinated, who knows what will happen to the actual voters? Given that the expected costs of voting are quite high for that election, it should not surprise people if the turnout is low. And given the very high voter registration of Iraqis in North America, it is possible that absentee voters from North America could determine the outcome of the election.

Would you vote if you lived in Iraq? I don't know that I would, but since I'm old, the expected costs are lower for me; and generalizing from this, we should expect higher voter turnout in Iraq among the old and others with similarly low expected costs of voting.
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