Or, Did I Optimize or What?

I’ve posted a couple of times now (here and here) about a local election in Pacific Grove in which I took part. The proposal on the ballot, Measure A, would have imposed an added “parcel tax,” that is, a property tax, on properties in Pacific Grove. One of the things that makes this an attractive vehicle for the pro-tax forces, by the way, is the “taxation with representation” aspect. Only Pacific Grove residents are allowed to vote, but many properties in Pacific Grove, as the pro-tax forces have figured out, are owned by non-residents.

I calculated long ago that whenever I fight these things, I have a good chance of winning but also, considering my time value, an even better chance of spending more in the fight than the whole present value of my tax savings from winning. Bottom line: If I consider just my own self-interest and also don’t consider the pleasure I get from the camaraderie with fellow tax fighters, I should never fight the tax increases. In this case, the tax increase would have cost me personally $65 a year for 5 years. Present value: approximately $300.

But I enjoy fighting them and, like McGruff the crime dog, taking a bite out of government. So I fight these tax increases, unless I’m in an incredibly busy quarter, but I don’t invest heavily. My friend Carl Mounteer is a good writer and a great researcher. So he typically writes the first draft of the ballot arguments and I quickly rewrite them because the basics are all there and so I spend little time. I distribute signs to about 10 or so neighbors so that the signs remind people that (1) it’s a tax increase, and (2) there are people out there who oppose it. I’ll write an op/ed or two and a letter or two to the editor. I go out after the polling places have closed and pick up all the signs to re-use against future tax increases. Total time taken: 4 or 5 hours. The most pleasurable parts are dealing with Carl and meeting or re-meeting with neighbors.

Where is all this leading? To why I think I optimized ex post. The final election results, after all the ballot counting, came out yesterday. Here they are:

Vote Count Percent
YES 6,102 66.37%
NO 3,092 33.63%
Total 9,194 100.00%

Had the pro-tax side gotten just 28 more votes and the anti-tax side 28 fewer votes, we would have lost. Do I think I influenced at least 28 votes out of over 9,000? Yes I do.