Pol. Eng. (2011)-1


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POLITICAL ENGINEERING: THE DESIGN OF INSTITUTIONS Politics V53.0810 S. J. Brams, 19 West 4 th St., Rm. 309 New York University Phone: (212) 998-8510 Spring 2011 E-mail: [email protected] Class: Office Hrs.: Mon., 3:30 – 6 PM Description Institutions are the rules by which societies govern themselves. In this course, the tools of economic theory, game theory, and social-choice theory will be applied to the rational-choice analysis of political, economic, and social institutions, whose consequences for society will be derived from assumptions about what individuals seek to maximize. The product of such analysis, which is reflected in the title of this course, is normative: To design institutions that meet certain “engineering” specifications and, therefore, may be superior to institutions that, because they arose more haphazardly, may not satisfy these specifications. Like engineering in the natural sciences, which translates theory (e.g., from physics) into practical design (e.g., a bridge), engineering in the social sciences translates rational-choice analysis into the design of better political-economic- social institutions. The main text is  Mathematics and Democracy , which illustrates how mathematics  can illuminate two essential features of democracy: • how individual preferences can be aggregated to give a social choice or election     outcome that best reflects the interests of the electorate; and • how public and private goods can be divided in a way that respects due process      and the rule of law. Whereas questions of aggregation are primarily the focus of  social choice theory questions of division are the focus of  fair division . By making precise properties that one wishes a voting or fair-division procedure to  satisfy and by clarifying relationships among these properties, mathematical analysis can  strengthen the intellectual foundations on which democratic institutions are based.  But  because there may be no procedures that satisfy all the properties one might desire, trade- offs among the properties are necessary and will be discussed.  These, problems of  implementation, and experience with procedures that have been tried out will all be  discussed.
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Six other books will be read in tandem with  Mathematics and Democracy .   Game  Theory: A Very Short Introduction  and  Rational Choice  focus on methodologies and  theories relevant to politics;  The Art of Political Manipulation  and  In Praise of Deadlock  look, especially, at applications in American politics, whereas  Dilemmas of Democratic  Consolidation  offers a more comparative view.  Finally,  Game Theory and the  Humanities  provides a broader perspective—on humanistic applications of game theory
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