Consumer Surplus and the Presidential Election
By David Henderson
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.