Economic Policy Review ISSN 1313 - 0544

Freakonomic analysis of the market for votes*

Author: Velin Peev / 29.06.2009
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The election campaign is picking up speed and all sorts of advertising are pouring over us from everywhere. They have one thing in common, regardless of the advertising party: the label: "Buying and selling votes is a crime".

This made me think why two parties - the voters (sellers) and the candidates (buyers), who are performing a voluntary and mutually beneficial exchange, should be deprived from the opportunity for this transaction. In this paper I would present my logical reasoning on a purely hypothetical basis, without any claim for serious legislative proposals.

Let me return to the question why buying and selling votes should be forbidden by law. As a beginning, let us assume that if one party needs to buy votes it apparently does not enjoy the trust of the majority of the people. Probably the lawmakers believe that trading of votes would have negative external effects on society, which affect neither the seller nor the buyer. This however is not true, since the seller (the voter) also is part of society and he also must endure the negative affect of a bad future government.

After I cleared that, I would like to discuss the source for financing the vote buying. The most likely scenario is that the buyer would like to recover his costs of the campaign after he comes to power and most likely would like to have profit. The means for getting that are known: corruption, theft and abuse. In that sense, the higher the cost of electing a candidate the bigger the theft must be. And this relation must be clear to everybody who is prepared to sell his vote. In some way, the more they pay you now for your vote, the more they will steal from you when they come to power. The conclusion is that it is in the interest of everybody not to sell his vote.

In any event, if the lawmakers decide that they would not rely on the voters to follow their personal interests, than they could introduce regulation of the market by totally banning it. The question however is how to enforce this ban? It is not possible to prevent these small transactions and punish them. For that reason it is expected that the morality would act as a break and for that reason each election advertising has the slogan. To rely on the conscience however is a chaotic and inefficient measure, because every individual has a different interpretation of what is moral.

The case became very complicated. The possible solutions are many. But here is the most effective, which is actually conventional: to rely on the judiciary system to investigate and punish the cases of theft, corruption and abuse.

In that case guerilla warfare between those in power and the people who sold their votes will be avoided. On the other hand the judiciary system is capable of acting on a much larger scale and to focus on serious abuses of the political class. In such case even if the candidate buys votes he could not recover his cost through theft, due to the well working judiciary system, society would not be harmed in any way. I do not propose anything new or radical. Simply respect for the law, which has been in existence for quite some time.

* The term freakonomics comes from the book „Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything" by the economists Steven Levitt and Steven Dubner, where the authors analyze everyday events with economic principles.