Monday 8 June 2009

Vote-buying deal of the day: Mattresses!

Latest reports from Tanzania indicate that both the government and the opposition bought voter cards in areas where they were likely to face greater opposition. The going currency? Mattresses. Trade in your voter card for a new mattress. Reports the Guardian on Sunday:
While CCM was quick to accuse opposition party Chadema of buying voter cards, inside information shows that the ruling party also participated in the dirty politics especially in the areas where it faced stiff opposition.

“I gave them my card in exchange for the new mattress on the condition that after the voting they would return my ID card,” one voter told The Guardian on Sunday. “I didn’t establish whether they were agents for the ruling party or opposition.”

Eyewitnesses from Geita told The Guardian on Sunday that the night before the by-election; hundreds of mattresses were being distributed to voters in exchange for voter cards.

One mattress dealer from Geita town admitted that he had sold more mattresses during the campaign period than he had sold in all of 2008, but he said he couldn’t be sure he had been selling his stock to party strategists.

“It might be true because suddenly the demand for mattresses surged dramatically during the months of April and May,” said the salesman, who spoke to The Guardian on Sunday on condition of anonymity. “I can assure you that, what I sold during that period was more than my annual sells for last year.”

Buying voter cards is not a new trend in Tanzanian elections, but the tactic has been spreading rapidly as of late, and has apparently gone unnoticed by election officials.
While I'd be more than happy to stay home from voting in exchange for a mattress or even a ham sandwich (conditional on quality of course), careful observers would know that this would be pure rent: payment isn't required to induce the desired behaviour. Such ever is the case for the inframarginal non-voter.

Why mattresses though? Isn't cash both less obvious and more fungible?

HT: Jeet Sheth, faithful graduate of my Public Choice class.


  1. If a political party is willing to buy and deliver hundreds of mattresses across the countryside, part of me says: let them have this election; they just wanted it more.

  2. Of course, the limit of that process is that Stalin buys the election and makes everyone his slaves. The highest bidder will always be the one who's willing to extract maximally if there's any kind of efficient capital markets running somewhere in the background.

    The biggest puzzle for me remains: why mattresses? They've none of the useful money characteristics. I'm trying to imagine a re-doing of Menger's treatise on money where the mattress emerges rather than gold as the natural commodity isn't pretty. Not easily divisible, low value per weight or bulk, a use value that deteriorates markedly with prior use....