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Yesterday we discussed the idea of how bundling choices together may lead choosers to select vastly different things than if they voted for items a la carte. How does this idea translate into the political realm? There are two applications. First, how would the policies we get enacted from Congress change if rather than voting for them a la carte, we voted for them in bundles? Second, how would the outcomes of elections change if we voted or parties or candidates or ideas in bundles rather than on a case by case basis?

In regard to the first, I believe we already have the answer. The way the budget process works in Congress and the way various bills are formulated is that they rarely are ever well defined, narrowly targeted bills. In order for Congress to build consensus on anything, riders and provisions are added to laws in order to turn some former majority opposition votes into new minority favorite votes. So, you and a majority of Congressmen might actually think that expanding the welfare state via a new health reform is fiscally troublesome particularly in light of the already precarious financial position of the government. And you would have no difficulty voting against ObamaCare when you stand with the majority. However, when inserted into that bill are other provisions that have nothing to do with health care, but which you, in the minority, would stand to lose out if you vote against the bill, well, it is not hard to see how you would change your vote.

At first glance it would appear that bundling allows for the government to do a great many more things than it would do if all policies were voted for with no riders whatsoever. However, I am not so sure that a simple procedural change would mean that government would do less, that spending would fall or that tax increases would slow down. Why? Because I think we are likely to see de facto bundling in the form of increased logrolling and other nefarious arrangements if the formal method of bundling were undone. So I look with suspicion upon folks who think it is a simple matter to clean up what is going on in DC (more on that later).

In regard to the second, the likely outcome would depend on exactly what one proposes to bundle. Should we bundle by party? I’d argue that we already do that with the gerrymandering of Congressional district and the ability to vote an entire ticket already – so I do not think we’d get an outcome much different than we see today. However, if candidates were listed according to the ideas they espouse and promise to enact, how would the outcome change? Again I do not think very much.

As much press as the partisans on each side of the aisle get, I suspect that a wide chunk of America does not feel too strongly about either party, and that there are a few ideas that are important to them – and they end up voting for the candidates who espouse those ideas. Think of single issue voters. If this is the case, the informational costs of finding out who supports a single position are far lower than understanding the entire locus of candidates’ positions – and thus it is plausible for voters to at least be moderately educated about their policy of choice. My sense (I am sure someone has run regressions on this somewhere) is that people then are already bundling when they make their political choices. So, just as in the first case above, I think the interesting question would be, what would our political world look like if we, in fact, managed to unbundle the decisions we are making in that sector?

I am not optimistic the outcomes would be any better.

UPDATE: Here is the head of the AFL-CIO after recognizing that the union dream of “card-check” legislation is not likely to pass on its own (i.e. without being bundled)

Coming after the automobile bailout, the stimulus and the mother of all entitlements in ObamaCare, Big Labor has had plenty to celebrate. Rich Trumka, the AFL-CIO boss, wants more. His latest idea is to sneak card check into some other legislation.

“Anything we can get it attached to,” he said the other day. “There are multitudes of things we can get it attached to, and we will. We will get it done and it will be a good thing for the country.” Or at least for the unions.

One Response to “On Bundling Political Choices”

  1. Michael says:

    I would guess that an unbundled political system would essential have to be where everyone votes on everything. I don’t think it would be possible to find a representative who thinks like I do on every issue, or at least the cost of finding one is probably higher than me representing myself, so I agree that we already bundle when we choose a candidate (which is a selection between different shoddy goods).
    It might be possible to have a system where everyone votes if all issues were kept between a small group of people. Ideally, I think that I should be able to completely ignore the political world because by-and-large they should be sticking their nose into my business.

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