[This chapter is in work and is to be expanded considerably as time permits.]
Any activity, if "everyone does it", is likely to have a major impact on society. The next time you buy or sell a few shares of stock, consider "What if everyone does it?". What if everyone flushed the commode at the same time you do? Etc.
But like the Prisoner's Dilemma, if you do "cooperate" by voting and everyone else does, society as a whole is greatly benefited. On the other hand if everyone declines to vote -- which rationally they should -- we have a disaster. Yet, since an individual vote has no impact, each individual has a greater net reward by not voting! That is the paradox.
Another consequence of the VP is that since voters know that their individual vote is highly unlikely to influence the election outcome, there is little incentive to become knowledgeable about the political candidates and issues [Downs, 1957; Green and Shipiro, Investor's Business Daily].
Every person in a housing project that has any sense at all knows that they can do little personally to turn around the neglect, deterioration, and filthy conditions of their community. Sure, they can clean up around their own apartment but that will be of no consequence for the whole project. It is very discouraging. The system attracts freeriders in droves. Social scientists have shown many times that "cooperating" individuals cannot survive or take over in a group of freeriders.
So, each person has little to gain and nothing to lose by freeloading. An important point to note: the freerider problem is a serious problem even when the common goods being shared are local, but if the common goods are provided by an external source (the government) the problem is exacerbated many times over!
I'll pick up my litter but not the other guy's
Should I refuse to buy shoes made in China that I can get much cheaper than USA manufactured shoes even though I dislike China's human rights policy? Should I avoid buying Willie Nelson's albums because he is an alleged tax cheat even though I really like his music? Should I avoid buying products at Walmart's, that save me a lot of money, because some clerk got nasty with me once?
To take any of these actions causes me to lose the direct and substantial benefits while having no significant impact on correcting the problems I dislike. I will keep buying Willie's albums.
The so-called "poverty level", blindly followed and reported by the media (as if it were as absolute as the value of the gravitational constant!), is an arbitrary level. Yet it impacts thousands of lives. Let us say the government determines that the "poverty level" is $10,000 and you just happen to have an income of $10,001. What does the social worker do if you still ask for the "below the poverty level" benefits? She has to reject you! Buy why can't she bend the rules a little and allow you the benefits anyway? Well if she did, then she would have to consider the next person at $10,002 -- and so on.
Hand clapping at a rally or concert provides a simple (if possibly silly) example that clearly illustrates the VP. The question to be answered is whether the person on the stage can tell whether one individual claps or not. It seems apparent that they could not but this could be easily confirmed by experiment for those who doubt. If I conclude that my clapping cannot be heard, then why do I clap? Direct pressure from those around me? Feels good inside?
Actually, while this example illustrates the insignificance of one "vote", it may not be a paradox if the person is directly rewarded by the good feelings from clapping.
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