The Risk of Reading This Blog

From a reader named William Haisley:

I’m a weekly columnist for the Daily Collegian, the Penn State newspaper, where I currently attend law school. Today my column about why I don’t vote — an idea I was exposed to and ran with after reading your “Why Vote” article — ran and I have been dealing with the fallout ever since. I think I’ve been insulted more often today than the rest of my 24 years combined.

In some sense, my column is just an amalgamation of your article and various Overcoming Bias articles — which, again, I was introduced to on your blog and can’t thank you enough for — I’ve read over the years, though I guess I could say that about my entire belief system at this point.

Anyways, you should have a warning label at the end of your articles that tells people the potential dangers of publicly stating some of your more controversial findings (though I really didn’t think this was that controversial, but I’ve been proven wrong). You really need the cultural tread to take people somewhere they didn’t know they were going.

Something like, “Warning: improper use of contents may cause hate mail.”

So what constitutes “improper” use?

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  1. Owen says:

    Freakonomics can allege that an individual vote doesn’t matter but that doesn’t answer the question of whether or not an individual should or shouldn’t vote.

    A number of comments have already reached this critical conclusion; measuring whether or not a single vote will swing an election is not very relevant.

    While you might make a strong argument that an individual should not vote but does your argument suggest that no one should vote? Or maybe you think that there is some level of voting, happy equilibrium that is perfect. That’s hard to believe and I would love to see some evidence for that.

    I don’t think I will ever participate in an election that is determined by one vote. I do think it is a civic duty to vote but I understand why people don’t vote and it doesn’t bother me very much. On the other hand, it does bother me when people wear the guise of making a sensible argument that discourages voting.

    It’s great that Freakonomics thinks they are supporting some greater good, like a public defender, by making people consider arguments from a perspective they haven’t seen before but excuse me for being a little skeptical that the real motive is simply to make more money by being controversial. Furthermore, how do you feel if your argument has actually decreased voter turn-out just like your flawed analysis of drunk walking has led to law firms getting off drunk drivers?

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  2. Peter says:

    I find the impact of differences in voting laws to be very interesting from an economic point of view.
    In the USA, where voting is optional, there is a strong alignment between people and their party of choice. Elections are commonly decided on how many of each group turn out to vote.
    Here in Australia voting is mandatory – there are legal repercussions to not voting (a fine) and therefore turn-out is well over 90%. There are still many people who align tightly to a particular party, but the distinction is not nearly as sharp as the American Republican/Democrat chasm. Perhaps more importantly for the process – elections results are determined by voters who are *not* closely aligned since they are the only ones who’s vote varies.

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  3. txdave22 says:

    Unless you want to see CERTIFIED INSINCERITY in the White House, better not risk it, VOTE.

    Yes, the oddsmakers are saying Obama has a 70% chance of winning and mittens only 29% (google INTRADE, if you doubt), but let”s not risk another gw bush (recessions, stock market crash, fiscal crisis, wars, 5000 Americans needlessly dead in Iraq, over 30000 seriously wounded—don’t want another 8 years like that on your conscience), so VOTE.

    How bad is roms? From leading Australia newspaper and others around the world saying same:

    The man whose father toured the black ghettos in 1968 as a statement of solidarity said to rich donors in private that 47 per cent of Americans think of themselves as victims, and that———————————– “[My] job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives”.

    George Romney’s gaffe was a clumsy attempt at honesty, on live television, about why he had changed his mind. Mitt Romney’s gaffe was —————————an ugly piece of pandering to plutocrats, meant for private consumption only. George was blunt and rough-edged; Mitt has spent a lifetime trying not to make a mistake like his father’s.

    George Romney fought the far right with a passionate sense of morality;—————————————– Mitt has surrendered to it at every single opportunity. George Romney built a business from the ground up; Mitt dismantled and reconstructed others from a distance, making a fortune regardless of their individual fates. George Romney knew how vital it was to understand those who oppose you; ———————Mitt just wrote off almost half the country as parasites he doesn’t need to worry about.

    What comes across with his son ———————-is an insincerity so deep, one is almost at a loss to understand who he is, or why he is running. Or if he is just still competing with his dad – and still miserably failing.


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  4. David Walsh says:

    Interesting though this discussion is, it is largely irrelevant. Many human actions have little to do with economics, and voting is one of those. If my parents had made all their decisions on economic grounds, then I would not be here. Ditto the rest of you, in all probability.
    On the basis that all governments screw things up; and the more secure they are, the bigger the screw up; I recommend voting against whoever is currently in power. This increases the insecurity of those in power, and keeps them more honest.

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  5. Statspotting says:

    I have a feeling that if you could make the voting process as simple as a click on a smartphone
    There would be a dramatic increase in voting numbers overall.

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  6. Steve Nations says:

    I also wrote for my college paper, way back in the day. I once wrote a signed opinion piece regarding who should be on the honor roll. I thought is was fairly controversial. Not one student said anything to me about it, although one of my professors did.

    Later, I wrote an article about our beer-bike race, a combination bike race and beer chugging relay. I heard so much crap from so many people who didn’t like my article, my analysis, my conclusion, and my face. And it was an article about a bike race. Geez.

    My advice — Publish some of the replies, but don’t respond. You’ve had your say, now give them theirs. And don’t ever be surprised again at what gets people into an uproar. You can’t predict it.

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  7. Mark says:

    I finally read the original article on ‘Why vote’. Only economists could think that voting could have something to do with affecting the outcome of one’s action. Its more than just a little disappointing that behavioral economists would miss the reason people vote. It should be plainly obvious when one sees bumper stickers, yard signs, campaign buttons, campaign rallies in huge venues and all along everyone >participating< is getting all revved up. The process of voting is an affirmation of allegiance. Its like saying this is my 'tribe', this is the group I am affiliated with. In some instances, (in the US in many instances) the allegiance is contrary to the individual's personal economic interest. So, clearly voting is almost entirely about socials norms and only minimally if at all about economic norms. Therefore it does not matter if your candidate wins or your cause becomes policy. What does matter is that your vote is counted with your side regardless of how relevant it is to the outcome of the election.

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  8. Bill McGonigle says:

    The ignorance on the linked article’s comments thread is staggering. So, I’ll leave mine here, among a crowd that at least applies the frontal lobe to these issues.

    There are a few different reasons not to vote. “I can’t make a difference” is only a small slice. There are many people who believe the system itself is undeserving of their vote. Some on philosophical grounds (“51% of us will pass some capricious laws and beat the hell out of the 49% of you who disagree”), some on moral grounds (“I’m not voting for any of those bastards”) and some on pragmatic grounds (“I support a third party but a plurality voting system can be mathematically shown to always favor two parties”). There’s also the Carlin view, (“If you chose to accept the system you can’t complain about the outcome”). And just to invent an angle, who has calculated the productivity costs or carbon loads of elections (and how does Oregon compare)?

    Are most of these folks apathetic? Of course not, but the politicos’ narrative portrays them as such. Could there be any bias there?

    The author seems to adopt both the ‘meaninglessness’ angle and also casts the system as a farce, with its two political parties having unwavering loyalty and very ‘flexible’ policy positions. Neither is apathy – one is a utility judgement, the other a condemnation of the system.

    But what to do about it? Those who want a government, only chosen better, can work for Approval Voting laws in their jurisdictions. Those who feel the State mechanism is waning should work on market-based replacements. Those who are truly apathetic should just go about their business and hope they won’t be bothered much by the rest (who can’t seem to resist doing so) or figure that paying protection to those types is the best economic alternate available.

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