Saturday, May 14, 2005

Social capital and secession

This coming Tuesday, two seemingly indistinguishable mayoral candidates will be on the City of Los Angeles ballot. In the March, 2005, primary, these two and a field of others managed to turn out less than 27 percent of the 1.4 million registered voters -- out of a population of 3.8 million.

Public choice economists wonder why anyone votes at all. But there are two caveats to the rational ignorance hypothesis: (i) members of interest groups may identify a rational reason to support a candidate or a cause; and (ii) a vague feeling of civic responsibility, sometimes identified as "social capital". There may also be interaction between these two phenomena; as the domain of interest groups expands and more go to the polls because of (i), the stock of social capital is likely to fall.

Unattractive and uninspiring big-city politics exist because big cities exist. They have not been allowed to downsize because the rules of secession maintain the status quo. This was shown once again when citywide voters were allowed to overrule the wishes of San Fernando Valley residents to secede in 2002.

Social capital is unlikely to flourish in this context.