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Memetics & Voting: How Nature May Make us Public Spirited

  • John P. Conley

    ()

    (Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University)

  • Myrna Wooders

    ()

    (Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University)

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
File Function: First version, 2005
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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
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/econ/wparchive/index.html

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  1. Anthony Downs, 1957. "An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 65, pages 135.
  2. James Andreoni, 1994. "Warm-Glow versus Cold-Prickle: The Effects of Positive and Negative Framing on Cooperation in Experiments," Experimental 9410002, EconWPA.
  3. Drew Fudenberg & David K. Levine, 1998. "The Theory of Learning in Games," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262061945.
  4. Reiter, Stanley, 2001. " Interdependent Preferences and Groups of Agents," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 3(1), pages 27-67.
  5. 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.
  6. Andreoni, James, 1990. "Impure Altruism and Donations to Public Goods: A Theory of Warm-Glow Giving?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(401), pages 464-77, June.
  7. repec:hhs:iuiwop:487 is not listed on IDEAS
  8. 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.
  9. Jorgen W. Weibull, 1997. "Evolutionary Game Theory," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262731215.
  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.
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