Adverse bundling

I thought it was a common term in economics, but there is no wikipedia article. And a google search on “adverse bundling” brought up a bunch of papers on energy efficiency (my day job). So you may not be familiar with the term. Adverse bundling means packaging unrelated things together under a single decision in a “take it or leave it,” “all or nothing” configuration.

Cable TV packages are an example. It used to be that you could buy the small, medium or mega package. Of course the business theory is really simple – if somebody wants Home&Garden OR ESPN OR Disney, then they will upgrade to the package that includes that channel. Even if they don’t want any of the additional channels. By bundling the channels together into packages, the cable company makes people buy a lot of things that they don’t want, making more money and straining customer relationships at the same time.

The same thing has happened with two-party politics in America, though perhaps for a different reason. When I go to the polls, I must choose between a republican and a democrat. These people are supported by the national party and likely to vote “along party lines” on most if not every issue. As I am writing this, I realize that there may be people reading who dispute the claim that elected legislators vote with their party, so I did some research. Using this great database from the Washington Post, I found out that the median value for votes along party lines in the 112th Congress is 91% in the Senate and 93% in the House. (If you are curious, the numbers ten years ago were 85% and 88%.)

So do you agree that when you vote for a candidate, you are really voting for one of two political parties? The highly partisan, “good-vs-evil” believers among us might be OK with that, but most people are not.

Especially when you think about it a little more. A political party constructs a platform of policy ideas and philosophies, and then markets the package based on the strengths that resonate in the populace at a given time. That is fine if I agree with all of the policy ideas in the bundle. But if I happen to disagree with one of the policy ideas, then I am in a difficult spot. What if I am a democrat who opposes abortion? Or a republican who wants to reduce the size of the military? The list could go on, with as many possible permutations as their are voters.

Today we bite the bullet, choose the party we feel most closely aligned with, and don’t think about the inefficiency caused by the official I just elected representing the exact opposite of my view on a specific issue. After all, what can we do?


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