2008 May 18 Sunday
Indirect Vote Buying Costs Populace More

Restraints on direct vote buying have probably made government more expensive and total tax expenditures on vote buying greater.

Mention the words “vote buying” and modern-day political villains Jack Abramoff and Tony Rezko probably come to mind, or perhaps special interest groups that donate to a politician’s campaign and expect support when relevant bills come to vote. It may shock American sensibilities to learn that, in an economic sense, our votes are bought with every election in the form of campaign promises that are paid later at a cost to the voter in the form of taxes. While the Tammany Hall era of beer and sandwiches campaigns has passed, campaign promises are a central strategy in securing voters in the center of the electorate. In a daring new article for the Journal of Political Economy, “Vote Buying: General Elections,” economists Eddie Dekel (Tel Aviv and Northwestern), Matthew O. Jackson (Stanford), and Asher Wolinsky (Northwestern) explore a theoretical voting system where, in addition to the already accepted campaign promises, votes can be bought and sold, free of stigma. Election strategy is often compared to strategic games, and Dekel and his co-authors provide the model for calculating the economics of the various forms of vote buying. In doing so, they shed light on the economics of our approaching general election.

Building on work showing a correlation between the decline of direct vote buying and the rise of government spending on social programs, Dekel and his co-authors look at the mechanics of different vote buying strategies and calculate the economic costs of both systems by imagining a scenario where both systems are allowed without moral weight given to either side. In this model, the politician may either guarantee a vote through an up-front payment or make a campaign promise of a later pay-off, with no guarantee of a later vote. The authors find that direct vote buying tends to involve only a small outlay of money and a small group of people. On the other hand, “when parties compete only through campaign promises, the total payments received by voters tend to be substantially higher than under up-front vote buying.” The authors also found that “when parties compete only through campaign promises, the voters whose preferences matter are a specific subset …near the median voter,” whereas a simple bought vote requires no commitment after the election and does not consider voter preference at any point.

Worse yet, we have to hear politicians posture and represent their vote buying as righting great moral wrongs. Have any of you heard Barack Obama's stump speech where he talks about education as the passport for opportunity?

Here's Obama in the act of vote buying.

When I say solutions, I mean giving children of all backgrounds access to world-class education. Education must remain the passport to opportunity. We'll start with universal pre-kindergarten. We'll go all the way to affordable college. And I will end the unfunded mandate known as No Child Left Behind.

While No Child Left Behind is an unfunded mandate you might think he'd be for it as a way to raise up blacks to a higher level of academic and economic achievement. So then does Obama not really believe that black scholastic achievement can equal white scholastic achievement?

When I say that I want to make sure that every child gets the best education this country has to offer from the day they are born until the day they graduate from college, investing in early childhood education to close the achievement gap, paying our teachers more and giving them more support, and giving a $4,000 tuition credit to every student every year in exchange for national service so that we invest in them and they invest in America, we need to let the American people know that it is not just rhetoric.

The so-called "national service" will reduce the productivity of anyone roped into it. Better these young folks get into the private sector and start learning how to do productive wealth-generating work.

Tuition credits: So far more money thrown at college has just raised tuition. Higher demand translates into higher prices. The very labor intensive and low productivity industry called higher education will waste as much resources as governments and private individuals will throw at it. The real solution to higher education costs is to automate. Make video feeds of pre-recorded college lectures cheaply available (and they can be cheap since a single lecture can be watched by tens and hundreds of thousands of people). Deliver tests via automated web forms.

Policies designed to cut costs (rather than to subsidize buying of educational services) do not lend themselves well to vote buying. Hence you won't hear Barack Obama on the stump arguing for policies that will end up laying off lots of college professors (who vote for him).

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 May 18 10:51 AM  Economics Political


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