Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Intrade and hedging your bets in life

The prediction market Intrade is a neat contribution to economics as well as everyday living. It offers odds on a variety of important world events occurring, and allows users to buy or sell "shares" in the occurrence of events (take a look at the site for details of how it functions).

If you're interested in knowing what the chance of some upcoming event is, go to Intrade and you can see what the market rates the odds as. It's better than listening to pundits because on Intrade, people are putting money where their collective mouths are.

The recall election of Governor Scott Walker is going on in Wisconsin as I type this. Ballots are yet to be counted and Intrade currently prices his chance of victory at 93.6%. I'm ignorant about the political climate in Wisconsin, but even so I can quickly see that it would be an extremely strange event for Walker to lose this recall.

There are more subtle benefits to be gained from Intrade besides just information. Mainstream economic models of consumer behavior predict that people want to equalize consumption across time; a stable income with minimal variance is most desirable. Another nice aspect of Intrade (although I suspect rarely taken advantage of) is smoothing consumption over time.

For people who are deeply concerned about the outcome of political events, this should be a great service.

For example: if you expect that a loss for Walker will cause fiscal crisis and collapse of civilization, you should bet against the possibility that he wins, so you'll have enough shotgun shells and canned beans to survive the oncoming apocalypse. If instead you think that Walker winning another term will bring about a neo-fascist corporate state and crush middle-class living standards, you should bet heavily that he wins so you can bribe your way out of the country. Either way, the option is there!

Realistically, few people likely think that the outcome of political contests will have such divergent results. If money was used to match political rhetoric, Intrade would have even more money and traffic flowing through than it does now (hopefully enough to keep the site open, unlike some past attempts at prediction markets).

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