My keen observation of the ruling American zeitgeist in the past few months permits me to make the following predictions vis-à-vis Halloween costumes:

  • For the ladies, the most desired will be Sarah Palin.
  • For the gentle-men, the most desired will be the Joker.

There is interesting game theory at play, of course. Nobody chooses a costume in isolation, as the payoffs of the choice (in the form of popularity and praise) are contingent in large part upon the uniqueness of the get-up. Uniqueness, however, can come in the form of creative interpretation of a popular costume, so it's not clear what the Nash equilibrium will be even if one grants my predictions as accurate.

Economics plays a factor, too. I stopped buying women's clothing ages ago, but I'm pretty sure the Sarah Palin look can be approximated cheaply and requires no special technical ability other than figuring out how to mimic her hairdo. Most women already have the needed accessories. Diminishing marginal returns also kick in quickly: after about $30-40, each additional dollar spent confers less and less benefit, making for an equal playing field.

The Joker costume is a different story altogether. Though cheap costumes (such as the one linked to above) are available, they look pretty shabby and are further devalued by their assembly-line commonness. The Joker's clothes can probably be acquired for a cheap explicit cost, but search costs could quickly accrue and customization would probably be required. The true cost for the make-up will be the labor and technical know-how rather than the supplies.  Summing all this together means even those thinking on the margin could justify large costs depending on their estimates of the social payoffs; the rich will have their reward.

As for me, I'm considering dressing up as Hank "The Hammer" Paulson. Not only does his costume have favorable Palin-esque economics, but he's also scary as hell.