With less than a year to the next election, and with the publicity starting up already, now is a good time to ask, is it rational for you to vote? And, by extension, is it worth your while to pay attention to what Hillary, Rudy, and all the others will be saying for the next year or so? With a chance of casting a decisive vote that is comparable to the chance of winning the lottery, what is the gain from being a good citizen and casting your vote?
This is pretty silly
"Which American is responsible for getting Bush in?"
I dunno. Clarence Thomas?
Maybe Walden O'Dell, the CEO of Diebold?
It could be argued that Bush himself had something to do with it. There were various people who probably had a veto on it, and he was almost certainly one of them. He's personally responsible for his election at least as much as anyone else, unless you suppose that he was so mentally incompetent that he shouldn't be held responsible for knowing how incompetent he was.
Did he reason it out from first principles, or did he perhaps learn it from someone else?
Who knows? Maybe he learned Alice, who in turn learned it from Chuck, who in turn reasoned it out. Maybe Dave would have suggested to Bob to consider drinking wiper fluid instead, except that Dave reasoned the same way Chuck did. There are many ways to converge on a rational solution, the model is valid no matter which is the actual story.
And why does he think soda is a good thing to drink while someone in a different culture might prefer fermented mare's milk?
Not knowing how Bob rates the various tastes, or how he trades off health vs. tastiness, I can't make a prediction in this case, any more than you can. But I can predict that he probably won't drink blinker fluid, and my claim is that your model can't even make that prediction.
And if rationality is such a good predictor of human action, why do we have a whole blog devoted to strenuously encouraging people to be more rational?
No one said humans are *always* rational. That said, there are useful *models* where humans are held to be "always rational"; these models are usually more useful, in terms of predictive power, than models that have no notion of rationality. But even neoclassical economists don't actually believe that humans are always rational, any more than chemists believe that atoms are actually discrete colored spheres that snap together like tinker-toys.
There are also useful models where humans are rational "to a first level of approximation" but also include some structured, well-defined deviations from rationality. These are extremely hard to do right, and aren't something you can whip together on a Saturday afternoon. Keynes is famous, not because he was the first one to think of making such a model, but because a huge number of people before him had *tried* to construct such a model in a way that would produce better predictions than the "always rational" model, and failed.
It is extraordinarily unlikely that the pound I spend on the lottery will pay off.
It is extraordinarily unlikely that the time I spend voting will 'pay off' by swinging the vote to my candidate.
For the sake of argument, let's put the odds of these two events roughly equal, some millions to one. I'm not advocating playing the lottery, and I only have done once (16th birthday, naturally). I'm just saying that if you have a pound to spend, and it can either go on a bus ticket to the polling station or a lottery ticket, I know where mine would go. That's my analogy.
Rolf, how did Bob know that soda is better for him than windshield-wiper fluid? Did he reason it out from first principles, or did he perhaps learn it from someone else? And why does he think soda is a good thing to drink while someone in a different culture might prefer fermented mare's milk? And if rationality is such a good predictor of human action, why do we have a whole blog devoted to strenuously encouraging people to be more rational? Nobody has to scold the planets for not hewing closely enough to the laws of celstial mechanics.
If you start with the supposition that people are fundamentally individual rational actors, much of human life is mysterious. If you start with the much more accurate supposition that action and cognition are fundamentally social processes, things get clearer, and more interesting.
Such models are usually wrong, and more importantly, are not useful in predicting people's future actions (as opposed to just making ex-post-facto rationalizations of what already happened.)
Is Bob more likely to drink soda or windshield-wiper fluid today? My prediction, based on my model that humans tend to be rational, is that he is more likely to drink soda. You, on the other hand, with your model, have to scratch your head. "What did he see someone on TV drink last night? What would his friends think is cool? Does he live in Samoa? Margaret Mead said the culture is different in Samoa, so maybe he drinks wiper fluid if he lives in Samoa. Dang, I wish I remembered what the guy on TV drank last night. And how did the guy on TV decide what to drink? Did that person, in turn, watch another TV show?" Etc.
"By the same logic, if two people poison a drink, neither is guilty of murder."David Friedman shows (in Law's Order, pages 192-194) how a somewhat serious argument can be made for conclusions that are very similar to this.The most important caveat to remember is that the logic requires that their actions be independent, but if this became a legal rule then we should expect undetected collusion to commit this kind of murder to become more common than two people independently poisoning the same drink.Whether voters should be considered to be acting independently is not a simple question.
This story seems to add to the case of the media "helping" us decide on candidates. It is certainly Disney's right to have their policy. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/...
But if we're talking about astronomical odds, why aren't we playing the lottery? Would you rather have ten million dollars to spend on making the future safer, or get to cast the deciding vote between the two front-runners in the next election?
The lottery always has a negative expected monetary value. I don't get the analogy at all.
but the problem is that it is nearly impossible (I think) to discern any clear-cut difference between most electable candidates on those issues. Is Rudy more likely than Hillary to help the species survive and flourish over the longer term?
I'm sure one is less likely to start World War III, and I'm pretty sure I know which, and that probably dominates most other concerns. This deserves further thought from the Lifeboat Foundation or someone.
I highly doubt, however, that such an atypical motivation suffices to explain the behavior of most voters, few of whom are very concerned with existential risk, and almost none of whom would be able to articulate which way the issue of existential risk would cut in an election contest.
FYI, I wasn't trying to explain the behavior of most voters.
Nick, I agree that if there was a clear-cut difference between candidates on existential risk issues, that could raise the values quite a bit...but the problem is that it is nearly impossible (I think) to discern any clear-cut difference between most electable candidates on those issues. Is Rudy more likely than Hillary to help the species survive and flourish over the longer term? That is a question that is extremely difficult to answer, and our lack of epistemic access to the answer means that we have to discount any predictions we would make by a fairly strong probability of our being wrong.
Lacking any sense of which major party candidates are better from the standpoint of existential risk, I cannot use that as a basis for a rational decision between them, so it becomes irrelevant from the standpoint of my own personal lottery. Maybe you feel like you can draw such distinctions between candidates with enough confidence to make voting a rational act for you; I highly doubt, however, that such an atypical motivation suffices to explain the behavior of most voters, few of whom are very concerned with existential risk, and almost none of whom would be able to articulate which way the issue of existential risk would cut in an election contest.
To various commenters:
I'm not trying to say that you personally should vote. If you don't want to vote, that's fine. But millions of people do vote, so I'd rather try to understand this rather than to dismiss it as simply irrational.
As we discuss in section 5.2 of our paper, psychological and rational explanations are complementary, not competitors. Ultimately, we do everything for psychological reasons, so, yes, we vote because it feels good, because everyone's talking about the election and we want to be involved, etc. At the same time, voting can be rational.
To conclude: I don't object to people not voting. What I do object to is for people to tell _others_ that they _shouldn't_ vote or that it's silly to vote because it's so irrational. I don't think it's silly to vote at all, and these are my reasons (which are backed up by some research). My reasons won't apply to everyone, but what I objected to was people like the Freakanomists bloggers saying "we know that voting doesn't make good economic sense." That "we know" statement was based on ignorance (as are a lot of "we know" statements, I suppose). Voting can indeed make good economic sense, even if voting can be explained by other psychological processes as well.
"...seemingly 10 million voters are "solely responsible" if the win is by one vote..."
This is the 'winning goal' scenario. If a team wins a game 3-0, which is the winning goal? The first? The last? All three? None of them?
Which American is responsible for getting Bush in? The only answer that makes any sense is 'everyone who voted for him.' Doesn't matter that if you hadn't voted for him, he'd have got in anyway. Unless you're in Florida of course.
Nick - existential risk is a big deal, possibly the biggest deal. But if we're talking about astronomical odds, why aren't we playing the lottery? Would you rather have ten million dollars to spend on making the future safer, or get to cast the deciding vote between the two front-runners in the next election? Bear in mind the amount of time current presidential hopefuls have spent discussing existential risk....
Mtraven, I agree with that. One of my points is that no one really votes because if one participated in 10,000,000 elections, on one occasion one might cast a deciding vote. No one is going to spend 10 minutes of his time on such a possibility, let alone the time it takes to actually vote. People vote for many other reasons such as appearance, for the feeling of being a part of a whole, and so on.
This type of discussion, which assume that the only point of voting is to cast the deciding vote in anotherwise 505-50 race, always strike me as magnificently misguided. Only the socially autistic could have such a hard time understanding something which is perfectly transparent to normal people. It's tough to explain how minds work to a person with autism, and it's tough to explain voting to those who either can't or won't recognize social phenomena as something other than a collection of atomic economic transactions. But I made a try a few months back which might be of interest.
Despite having argued against it, I am not really sure whether this argument for voting works or not.
However, if it does, I am skeptical that anyone really votes for this reason. Suppose that someone does. Such a person, if he is consistent, will also agree to be mugged by Pascal's mugger, at least if the mugger makes sure to make his threat sufficiently credible and sufficiently bad. Such a person may also accept Pascal's wager, in fact; the usual argument that the infinities cancel is absurd (consider this: you are in a room with a green button which has a 99.99% of causing infinite utility and a .01% of causing infinite disutility, and a red button with a 99.99% of causing infinite disutility and a .01% chance of causing infinite utility. Do you flip a coin because the infinities cancel?)
Maybe the argument is valid anyway, and a real altruist would vote, and choose all of his actions on the basis of tiny probabilities of vast utilities, and accept Pascal's wager. I'm skeptical, but I doubt that anyone can validly respond to the mugging or the wager without also showing the irrationality of voting.
Voting might be a group socialization activity. As such it may strengthen community bonds. I've read that group singing or ritualistic group dancing serves a similar purpose. If so, not voting has social costs for those who seek group acceptance.