Nice post by Raisa Sheriff and Lekha Chakraborty of NIPFP.
Does democracy determine public expenditure decisions? With Nobel laureate Hurwicz’s revelation that it is impossible to have simultaneously a balanced budget, Pareto optimality (“you are better off without making anyone worse off”) and an incentive compatibility between Government and the citizens, we turn to pose a question, what exactly determine public expenditure decisions?1
Can a median voter reflect her preference for public expenditure priorities in her voting decisions? Antony Downs in his historic work (Downs, 1957), explained a moment of “democratic collapse” if the “costs of voting” (C) are higher than the voter’s faith in the probability of her vote changing the outcome (P) and the benefits she derives out of her winning (B). William Riker (1968) later balanced Down’s equation by incorporating a new variable “D” which captures the “civic duty” or “rights of citizen to vote” and pre-empted that magnificent embarrassment of C>P*B. A test of this theory prior to the elections would be an interesting evidence-based research.
With the Lok Sabha elections and several state elections lined up in India, we look at the question ‘why do people vote?’ When we posed this to a group of teenagers, they retorted – ‘well, shouldn’t the question be why don’t people vote?’ They were looking forward to exercising their right to vote for the first time and using their agency seemed significant at a very personal level.
In a democracy, elections offer to provide every citizen an opportunity to choose a representative. Creating, correcting and maintaining a democracy is important for every member in varying degrees, and is in essence a public good. We would like to have a fully functional democracy, but the costs at the individual level are high, and each of us would prefer if the others did it for us.
Voting, if thought along this line, is comparable to vaccination.2 The costs aren’t limited to taking the time out to vote, finding your polling booth or standing in the winding queues all morning, but also acquiring information about the candidates, their campaign promises, and most importantly, deciding on the merits of different policies based on what is good for you and your fellow constituents. This is a cognitively demanding task and a formidable challenge for most of us.