John D Wilkerson
POL S 476
Explores the problem of finding fair methods for making social decisions, and examines alternative methods of social choice. Emphasis on the importance of agenda control for outcomes, and the implications of theories of social choice for common interpretations of concepts such as democracy and the general will. Recommended: either POL S 101 or POL S 202; POL S 481.
Description. This course has two main goals. The first goal is to introduce game theory as an approach to describing and thinking strategically about social decisions and political choice. The main insight of game theory is its recognition that individuals do not make choices in a vacuum. One individual's best choice of an action or strategy often depends on what other individuals are expected to do. This dependency is obvious in games of entertainment. My best move in chess or in a football game undoubtedly depends on what I expect other players to do. The same reasoning also applies in political campaigns, legislating, and law enforcement.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
The second goal of this course is to examine how the processes by which societies make collective choices (e.g. majority rule) can influence outcomes. The important lesson of social choice theory is that there is no single method for making social choices that is always fair and always leads to a sensible outcome. To show this, we have to think about what we mean when we say that a procedure is fair or unfair, and then we have to see if we can find a method of choice that is always fair and sensible. Assuming we fail, social choice theory challenges us to reconsider how we think about democratic systems of government.
Class assignments and grading