Wednesday, October 22, 2008

$8 on Barack Obama Please

Am I the last person in the country to find out about Intrade? The online trading company bills itself as "THE leading prediction market" (which begs the question, "There's more than one?"). I stumbled onto Intrade when I noticed a little NYSE looking box on the Real Clear Politics site last night. Turns out, it's a site for all of us to "trade political futures and tap into the wisdom of crowds." There's an oxymoron for you...the wisdom of crowds. Basically, Intrade allows you to bet, with real money, on a horse to win this presidential race. They've built the process and the website to mimic the stock exchange. There's even a ticker running across the bottom of the screen with info on the hottest trades of the day. You buy contracts, rather than shares...prices are determined by volume traded. You cash in, obviously, if you've bet on the right horse. Currently on Intrade, Obama stock is selling for 86.9 points (each point has a value of $0.10 USD). A winner is worth 100 points, so if you buy an Obama contract today and he wins...you make $1.31 on each contract you hold. McCain stock is currently selling at 13.0. So, if you take your chances on McCain at 13.0 and he wins...you make $8.70 on each contract you hold. In other words, Intrade shows McCain as the long-shot in this race. Intrade's execs claim their predictions are better than polls because people put their money where their intentions are. They also claim Intrade has successfully predicted everything from the winner of the 2004 presidential election to the top picks on American Idol. (If you're interested, you can place your bet today on when Mad Cow Disease will hit the US). Why does this make my stomach hurt? Have we become such dullards that we won't even pay attention to our presidential elections unless we have some immediate reward coming? Or some gambler's rush in store? Or some reason besides world shaping decision making hanging in the balance? There's a sort of Fantasy Football feel to the whole thing. You suddenly care about a game you likely wouldn't otherwise watch because you have something tangible at stake. Some money in the game. It could be argued that people who might otherwise be lazy and vote a party line without thinking become obsessed with national and world issues in order to make wise Intrade contract investments. I imagine, for instance, the Fantasy Football player in my family knows more about Rodney Harrison's right thigh muscle this week than he ever thought he'd need to know. Point taken. But why not put money on a candidate to win by making a contribution to that candidate's campaign? The reward might not be a $30 wire transfer to your bank account on November 5...but it could mean a lower federal deficit, less money spent on war, more money spent on alternative energy development, and health care everyone can afford. What's the wager on the Common Good? I'm all in. Peace.

1 comment:

Gay said...

How sad is this? That even today, for many it's still just a game. Thank you for making us think (I hope).

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