Tuesday, May 25, 2010

When voting is not optimal

"One man one vote" is not always optimal. I reported a few days ago that technocrats can under some conditions take better decisions than a referendum could. The point there was about information and heterogeneity of preferences.

Surajeet Chakravarty and Todd Kaplan use similar arguments to compare simple voting and shouting matches. In the latter, those caring more about the outcome put more effort into shouting. Thus, if there is a lot of variance in opinions, shouting better reflects marginal utility and yields something closer the social optimum.

How is this shouting concretely expressed? It should be a signal that is costly and in some way wasteful. In France, it is demonstrating on the streets. In the United States it is donating to political campaigns. In Thailand it is erecting barricades. Usually seen as major inefficiencies, all these can actually be good.

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