A survey of New York University students confirms what I argued more than four (!) years ago: people will sell their power to vote if the price is right.
Two-thirds say they'll do it for a year's tuition. And for a few, even an iPod touch will do.
That's what NYU students said they'd take in exchange for their right to vote in the next presidential election, a recent survey by an NYU journalism class found.
Only 20 percent said they'd exchange their vote for an iPod touch.
But 66 percent said they'd forfeit their vote for a free ride to NYU. And half said they'd give up the right to vote forever for $1 million.
I bet most of those students would sell their power to vote for a lot less than $1 million if they actually found a guy willing to write checks.
Four years ago I raised this economic perspective on voting to wonder whether or not even fundamental elements of our society, such as suffrage for women, would be up for sale.
Costs and benefits often aren't monetary -- generally economists refer to "utility" to describe how valuable something is to a person. Love and affection, the power to vote, $1000, clean air -- all of these items have utility to people, and different people will value them differently. When it comes to the power to vote, I hypothesized that if you were to walk up to a random guy on the street and offer him a 20% permanent raise in exchange for his power to vote, he'd probably sell it to you. Most people don't vote, and many who do don't take it very seriously. If Joe Shmoe won't sell his vote for a 20% raise, maybe he will for 50%, or 100%, or 1000%. There's a price, you just have to find it and be willing to pay it. Some people may place infinite value on their power to vote, but I doubt there are many such people -- especially if you separate the power to vote from the natural rights we hold so dear.
With all that understanding, it's quite reasonable to wonder whether or not giving women the power to vote was a wise idea. I agree that it has moral value, and we gain some utility as a society from that good morality, but does that moral utility out-weigh the utility of every effect that has arisen because women can vote? It's possible that that moral utility is more valuable to you than anything else, but I doubt that's the case.
If we could all see a permanent 20% increase in our standard of living by disenfranchising women (or men?), would you vote for it? 50%? 100%? It's a hypothetical, so name your price.