Tags: voting | election | risk | Federal Reserve

Don't Vote Without Weighing Risks; You Could Get Killed

Don't Vote Without Weighing Risks; You Could Get Killed

Wednesday, 26 October 2016 11:54 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Election Day is coming and everyone is telling us how to vote. I have a more basic question: should you vote at all?

Don’t do it. Voting in the presidential election could kill you. We know this because economists say so.

I know that sounds weird. Let me explain.

Economics is all about how we allocate scarce resources - such as your vote. Like most other decisions, we make it using cost-benefit analysis. What does x cost and what benefit will it give me? If benefit outweighs cost, then x is a rational choice.

So, what is the cost of voting for our next president? It’s not much. Just find your way to the polling place, check a few boxes and then go home to await the results.

Voting’s benefit also seems clear: Your vote helps your chosen candidate win.
In fact, it’s a little more complicated than that.

You see, whoever wins the presidential election will almost certainly win whether you vote for them or not.

Your vote probably won’t decide the election – though it could. Here’s what would have to happen.

First, the other 49 states would have to line up such that no candidate has an Electoral College majority.

Then, your own state (or your congressional district if you’re in Maine or Nebraska) would have to deadlock with no one candidate earning a plurality of the popular vote.

Your vote, yes yours, is the one that tips the scale.

This scenario is possible. We can even calculate the odds it will occur.

It turns out the chance your vote will be decisive is considerably less than the chance you will be hit by a truck and killed on your way to the polling place.

Risk is a cost. Taking it is irrational unless you receive compensation.

We should note that the math changes in state or local elections. Your vote carries more weight in smaller populations.

But the math is also clear that voting for president is more likely to kill you than result in your candidate winning.

Statistically, voting for president because you think your candidate needs your vote is like watching a football game on TV and yelling at the coach to run a different play.

Will your yelling help your team win? Possibly.

  • Maybe your neighbor will hear you and happen to know the coach’s phone number.
  • Maybe he will call the coach to share your idea during the next commercial break.
  • Maybe the coach will call the play you suggest, and maybe it will win the game.

All that could happen. But it probably won’t.

The cost-benefit analysis is clear, then. Voting for president is a hazardous act we should all avoid. Yet many of us vote anyway. Why?

This is a big problem for researchers. It’s called the Downs Paradox, named after the political scientist who identified it back in the 1950s.

Quantitative decision models presume people are benefit-maximizing, cost-minimizing variables who always make rational choices. Yet next week millions of us will do something clearly irrational. We’re breaking economics and we don’t even feel guilty about it.

Humans are far more complex than any equation can capture. But economists keep trying. Including the economists who work at the Federal Reserve.

The Fed’s hundreds of Ph.D. -holding economic experts know exactly how to manage the economy if everyone is rational. Since we’re obviously not rational, we are also unmanageable.

It’s not just that we are irrational. We are all irrational in different ways, depending on our circumstances. We change all the time, too. For any model to reflect this dynamic diversity is all but impossible.

The Fed’s models assume a world that doesn’t exist. Is it any wonder they give us such crazy, ineffective interest rate and monetary policies?

To be fair, Fed Chair Janet Yellen knows the models are flawed. She has been asking the Fed staff to find better ones. They’re working on it.

Meanwhile, Election Day is coming. Should you vote or not?

Yes, you should.

Voting is about more than electing our preferred candidate. By voting, we show the politicians they work for us. We set an example for our children. We remind ourselves that, for all our differences, we are one nation that shares an important responsibility.

Yes, a truck might hit me on the way to vote. But it could also hit me if I go to the mall.

Staying home won’t shield me from lightning strikes. Danger is everywhere, not just around polling places.

I know my vote won’t change the election’s outcome. I also know with 100% certainty that my vote will change me.

None of us likes admitting mistakes. So, we defend whoever we voted for even when we shouldn’t. We give them a blank check – which is an excellent reason to take the choice seriously.

If I don’t vote at all, I’m essentially withdrawing from society. I’m saying to everyone else, “You’re on your own. Don’t blame me.”

That attitude is understandable if you don’t like any of the choices, but it’s not natural or healthy.

None of us lives in an economy of one. The “course of human events” Thomas Jefferson described in the Declaration of Independence includes every human.

Election Day is when we show our commitment to each other by making the best choice we can. That, I submit, has benefits far greater than its risks.

So live dangerously: Vote, and watch out for trucks.

Patrick Watson is an Austin-based financial writer and senior editor at Mauldin Economics. Follow him on Twitter: @PatrickW


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Election Day is coming and everyone is telling us how to vote. I have a more basic question: should you vote at all?Don't do it. Voting in the presidential election could kill you. We know this because economists say so.I know that sounds weird. Let me explain.Economics is...
voting, election, risk, Federal Reserve
Wednesday, 26 October 2016 11:54 AM
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