Cost-efficient fraud

I’m not shocked that in Italy people are in a position to offer politicians a bundle of votes. I’m shocked by how cheap it is to buy one.

Mancini [a candidate in Puglia] found himself speaking to three men who explained that they controlled ten polling divisions and could provide him with a package of 2,000 guaranteed votes. “To get those crosses next to my name, I just had to pay 3,000 euros.” At that price, it was a bargain: €1.50 a vote.

If I’m reading this correctly, Obama spent $758.2 million on his presidential campaign. Very crudely, that comes down to $15 per vote. Not that a southern Italian regional vote is anywhere near as valuable as a presidential American one. But that’s still a saving of about $13. In Sicily it’s even cheaper — the mafia bosses sell you a vote for 80 euro cents.

A few Tyler Cowen-esque, “markets in everything” observations:

1. The American voter is often portrayed by those who worry about campaign spending as a sheep who will vote according to the amount of ads thrown in his or her face. It’s a credit to his or her mental resilience that it costs that much to sway his or her mind compared to the baseline scenario — having his or her mind swayed by the threat of death.

2. This is a bulk market — it’s only worth selling votes in massive vote-swaying bundles. And it’s also an ancillary market. Anyone wanting to get into the vote-selling business must plan to lock down an entire voting district, which isn’t worth doing for a few thousand euros every four or so years. So, for you would-be vote sellers, make sure you’ve done plenty of shake-downs in other areas before you carve out this niche. For the rest of us, this is a further incentive to break down racketeering.

3. An empirical question: do you gain more votes by exposing this skulldduggery  than your opponent does by quietly engaging in it? It would be depressing if not.

4. Another question: Does the mafia play favorites by giving their preferred candidate first refusal? Again, it’s sort of depressing if they just pick their candidates randomly.

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