This class provides an introduction to positive political theory, i.e., the use of mathematical modeling to study political phenomena. We focus most generally on a fundamental problem of political decisionmaking: How can the preferences of individuals be aggregated into a single group choice? What are the properties of various decision making procedures, how do these properties relate to one another, and what are the implications of our findings for broader conceptions of democracy? We will then build on this foundation by turning to collective decision making by methods other than voting. That is, in the absence of a formal voting rule, how do groups of individuals aggregate their preferences and overcome challenges associated with group decision-making. Finally, we conclude by exploring how a variety of political institutions, both informal and formal, structure decision-making and affect a variety of policy choices and political outcomes.
To study these topics, we draw on simple mathematical models that can sharpen our intuition, and sometimes lead to surprising and unexpected insights. While the course does not require any advanced mathematical background, you will need to be comfortable with basic algebra and geometric reasoning. My goal is that by the end of the quarter, you will not only have gained new insights into a range of important political phenomena, but perhaps more importantly have acquired a new analytic perspective and skill set that will allow you to think about politics from a more nuanced and critical vantage point.