David R. Henderson  

Consumer Surplus and the Presidential Election

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I woke up this morning at 4:30 a.m. and, as is my wont, reached for my iPhone. On it was a message I've never seen before. It told me that there was an activation lock on my phone. When I pushed a button or two, I found out that I had to remember my Apple ID and my password. I had written my password in a safe place but couldn't find my Apple ID. When I went on to the web, I found out my Apple ID but it didn't work with my password. This all took a while. I tried various things and started to panic. I'm heading up to San Jose State University late tomorrow afternoon to see historian Phil Magness speak and I usually use that time productively to make calls. Also, what if I went to the wrong building on campus and needed to text someone to find the right building? I started thinking through all the uses of my iPhone--how it's become an important tool for my business and personal life that I use every day.

Since I'm an economist, that got me thinking about the enormous consumer surplus I get from my smartphone. I thought about it two ways: (1) the smaller consumer surplus I get if the alternative is another smartphone, and (2) the huge consumer surplus I get it if the alternative is no smartphone. Because it was early in the morning and my panic was contending with my reason, I started thinking about the other thing I've despaired about: the coming election of president of the United States. We have two horrible choices (well, we have a good third choice, and I'm going to vote for him, but I'm realistic about his chances) and I've gone back and forth about which one I would like to lose more. The best case I've seen against Trump is this one by Steven Landsburg. I pretty much agree with it, but he doesn't address Hillary Clinton's hawkishness toward Russia or her pro-war views generally. The best case I've seen for Trump over Hillary is this one by Walter Block.

Then, since it was still early morning, I asked myself this: Let's say I figure that I fear Trump more than Clinton or let's say that I figure I fear Clinton more than Trump. Figure out the delta in the value of the outcome for me. And assume I can put aside that Clinton, obviously not intentionally, does something that leads to nuclear war, or that Trump, possibly intentionally if he does it, starts a nuclear war. So no nuclear war. My gut feel is that the delta in outcome for me is less than the consumer surplus I get from my iPhone versus having no smartphone.

Epilogue: When my wife woke up, by the way, she suggested that I go online and get Apple to call me. I did, the woman was very nice, she asked me some security questions, and I got my correct Apple ID. It turns out that there's one for my computer and one for my iPhone.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Jeff B writes:

Might I suggest getting yourself a copy of https://1password.com/ ?

It’s quite good at securely remembering such things across your devices, and while maybe you were out of your phone you’d have access to it via your computer. I’ve used it for what feels like an eternity and it’s never let me down.

Economic Sophisms writes:

[Comment removed. Please consult our comment policies and check your email for explanation.--Econlib Ed.]

Greg G writes:

David,

I am disappointed to see you engaging in this false equivalence between Hilary and Donald. Hilary has been around forever and is rightly seen as representative of everything people don't like about the political establishment. That would be the political establishment of what is still (for now) the most free and prosperous country in human history.

She is too hawkish for my taste but a whole lot less hawkish and less recklessly impulsive than Trump. Among his remarkably few consistent positions are:

That we should go into Iraq and "take their oil."
That we should embrace the use of torture.
That we should go after the innocent family members of terrorists.
That we should admire the "strong leadership" of the world's worst dictators.
That we should welcome nuclear proliferation.
That we should change libel laws in a way to make it easier to intimidate the press.
That we should view as illegitimate any election result he doesn't like.

I'm not sure how or why that should be compared to how you feel about your iPhone.

Khodge writes:

@Jeff B: anything that makes it easier to find pw information (especially electronic!) makes it easier to break security.

David,
I am totally puzzled by the assertion of Block and his interviewer, Daniel, that (guessing at numbers) Trump will be 5% effective at implementing his policy while Clinton will be 95% effective yet they continue their conversation. That discrepancy (or some similar difference) pretty much makes one somewhat harmless and the other radically dangerous.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Greg G,
I’m not convinced that he’s less hawkish. But I agree that he’s awful. I hadn’t known that he favored nuclear proliferation, but there’s a reasonable case to be made for that. Notice that of the 3 countries George W. Bush falsely put in his “axis of evil,” the one he hardly threatened at all was the one with nuclear weapons.
@Khodge,
I am totally puzzled by the assertion of Block and his interviewer, Daniel, that (guessing at numbers) Trump will be 5% effective at implementing his policy while Clinton will be 95% effective yet they continue their conversation. That discrepancy (or some similar difference) pretty much makes one somewhat harmless and the other radically dangerous.
I am too. I would put it at Trump 20% successful and Clinton 35% successful.

Syed Ahsan writes:

i saw a lot of energy and decent discussions on campus when i was there during the last elections. It seems quite different now when people are mostly confused and skeptical about both the candidates. Best of luck !

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