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Memetics & Voting: How Nature May Make us Public Spirited

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  • John P. Conley

    ()
    (Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University)

  • Myrna Wooders

    ()
    (Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University)

Abstract

We consider the classic puzzle of why people turn out for elections in substantial numbers even though formal analysis strongly suggests that rational agents would not vote. If one assumes that voters do not make systematic mistakes, the most plausible explanation seems to be that agents receive a warm glow from the act of voting itself.ÊÊ However, this begs the question of why agents feel a warm glow from participating in the electoral process in the first place. We approach this question from an memetic standpoint. More specifically, we consider a model in which social norms, ideas, values, or more generally, "memes" influence the behavior of groups of agents, and in turn, induce a kind of competition between value systems. We show for a range of situations that groups with a more public-spirited social norm have an advantage over groupsÊ that are not as public-spirited. We also explore conditions under which the altruistic behavior resulting from public-spiritedness is disadvantageous. The details depend on the costs of voting, the extent to which different types of citizens agree or disagree over the benefits of various public policies, and the relative proportions of various preference types in the population. We conclude that memetic evolution over social norms may be a force that causes individuals to internalize the benefits that their actions confer on others.

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File URL: http://www.accessecon.com/pubs/VUECON/vu05-w14.pdf
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Vanderbilt University Department of Economics in its series Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers with number 0514.

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Date of creation: Apr 2005
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Handle: RePEc:van:wpaper:0514

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Web page: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/econ/wparchive/index.html

Related research

Keywords: Memetics; evolution; voting; warm glow; civic duty; free riding; public choice; public goods;

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  1. Hirshleifer, Jack, 1977. "Economics from a Biological Viewpoint," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(1), pages 1-52, April.
  2. Harbaugh, W T, 1996. " If People Vote Because They Like to, Then Why Do So Many of Them Lie?," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 89(1-2), pages 63-76, October.
  3. Jack Hirshleifer, 1977. "Economics from a Biological Viewpoint," UCLA Economics Working Papers 087, UCLA Department of Economics.
  4. Arthur J. Robson, 2001. "The Biological Basis of Economic Behavior," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 39(1), pages 11-33, March.
  5. Lagunoff, Roger, 2000. "On the Evolution of Pareto-Optimal Behavior in Repeated Coordination Problems," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 41(2), pages 273-93, May.
  6. Eshel, Ilan & Samuelson, Larry & Shaked, Avner, 1998. "Altruists, Egoists, and Hooligans in a Local Interaction Model," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(1), pages 157-79, March.
  7. DeMichelis, Stefano & Dhillon, Amrita, 2001. "Learning in elections and voter turnout equilibria," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 608, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  8. repec:att:wimass:9612 is not listed on IDEAS
  9. Drew Fudenberg & David K. Levine, 1998. "Learning in Games," Levine's Working Paper Archive 2222, David K. Levine.
  10. Becker, Gary S, 1976. "Altruism, Egoism, and Genetic Fitness: Economics and Sociobiology," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 817-26, September.
  11. Thomas Palfrey & Howard Rosenthal, 1983. "A strategic calculus of voting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 41(1), pages 7-53, January.
  12. Robson, Arthur J., 1996. "A Biological Basis for Expected and Non-expected Utility," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 68(2), pages 397-424, February.
  13. Bolle, Friedel, 2000. "Is altruism evolutionarily stable? And envy and malevolence?: Remarks on Bester and Guth," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 131-133, May.
  14. Friedman, Daniel, 1991. "Evolutionary Games in Economics," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(3), pages 637-66, May.
  15. Eshel, I. & Samuelson, L. & Shaked, A., 1996. "Altruists, Egoists and Hooligans in a Local Interaction Model," Working papers 9612r, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
  16. John Ledyard, 1984. "The pure theory of large two-candidate elections," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 44(1), pages 7-41, January.
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