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The Roman Metro Problem: Dynamic Voting and the Limited Power of Commitment

  • Christian Roessler
  • Sandro Shelegia
  • Bruno Strulovici

A frequently heard explanation for the underdeveloped metro system in Rome is the following one: If we tried to build a new metro line, it would probably be stopped by archeological finds that are too valuable to destroy, so the investment would be wasted. This statement, which seems self-contradictory from the perspective of a single decision maker, can be rationalized in a voting model with diverse constituents. One would think that commitment to finishing the metro line (no matter what is discovered in the process) can resolve this inefficiency. We show, however, that a Condorcet cycle occurs among the plans of action one could feasibly commit to, precisely when the metro project is defeated in step-by-step voting (that is, when commitment is needed). More generally, we prove a theorem for binary-choice trees and arbitrary learning, establishing that no plan of action which is majority-preferred to the equilibrium play without commitment can be a Condorcet winner among all possible plans. Hence, surprisingly, commitment has no power in a large class of voting problems. JEL Classification Numbers: D70, H41, C70

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Paper provided by Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science in its series Discussion Papers with number 1560.

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Date of creation: 02 Mar 2013
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Handle: RePEc:nwu:cmsems:1560
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  1. Bruno Strulovici, 2008. "Learning while voting: determinants of collective experimentation," Economics Papers 2008-W08, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  2. William Jack & Roger Lagunoff, 2003. "Dynamic Enfranchisement," Levine's Bibliography 666156000000000030, UCLA Department of Economics.
  3. Messner, Matthias & Polborn, Mattias K., 2012. "The option to wait in collective decisions and optimal majority rules," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(5), pages 524-540.
  4. Kevin Roberts, 2005. "Condorcet Cycles? A Model of Intertemporal Voting," Economics Series Working Papers 236, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  5. Barbera, S. & Maschler, M. & Shalev, J., 2001. "Voting for Voters: A Model of Electoral Evolution," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 40-78, October.
  6. B. D. Bernheim & S. N. Slavov, 2009. "A Solution Concept for Majority Rule in Dynamic Settings," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(1), pages 33-62.
  7. Shepsle, Kenneth A, 1970. "A Note on Zeckhauser's 'Majority Rule with Lotteries on Alternatives': The Case of the Paradox of Voting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 84(4), pages 705-09, November.
  8. Zeckhauser, Richard, 1969. "Majority Rule with Lotteries on Alternatives," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 83(4), pages 696-703, November.
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