About The Course
This course will introduce several related approaches to modelling individual and group decision making. Each of the models discussed has important implications for understanding the processes of political institutions and their implications for democratic governance. As we shall discover, many of our decision-making mechanisms may yield perverse social decisions (as Calvin and Hobbes discover). "Escape" from these consequences involves understanding the nonobvious implications of decision rules.
For example, we will explore theories underlying if and why individals choose to participate in the political process. The role of parties and political institutions in resolving collective problems will be another focus of our attention. The role of rules as key factors determining the outcome of bargaining and negotiation will be examined. Public policy problems ranging from why Congress finds it so hard to balance the budget to why environmental pollution is so easy to produce and so hard to clean up serve to highlight why it is important that we understand the motivations that generate collective action or collective inaction in response.
Although many of the tools of deductive reasoning to be used in this course are mathematical in nature, there is no formal prerequisite in mathematical skills for people taking this course. An understanding of basic algebra is necessary, but more important is an open mind, an ability to reason abstractly, and a willingness to explore new concepts.
Class requirements include completing all the reading material before class meets. Some of this material is rather abstract and the only way we as a class can work through it is to be well prepared for class discussions.
K. Shepsle and M. Bonchek (1997) Analyzing Politics. New York: W.W. Norton.
W. Riker (1982) Liberalism Against Populism. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press.
A. Dixit and B. Nalebuff (1991) Thinking Strategically New York: W.W. Norton.
Excerpts from additional on-line materials will be linked to the class syllabus. Some of this work will be accessible through JSTOR which requires you access it through a University IP address. Those of you reading it off-campus will need to connect through the campus VPN network. Other material is directly linked to the class syllabus. Please see the instructor for a password.
Midterm Examination (25%)
A Midterm Examination will be held Thursday, March 13th in this classroom during the normal class hour.A list of basic concepts discussed during the first half of the course may be found here.
Final Examination (30%)
The Final Examination will be held Monday, May 5th, 2008 in our regular classroom at 1:30PM - 4:00PM. NO makeup exam will be given. Please don't be late. This will be a cumulative final exam.
If you have 3 or more examinations scheduled on this date, University policy requires the instructor of the last exam scheduled to offer you an alternative exam time. Please speak to the appropriate instructor.
Please do not plan to leave prior to the end of the semester. I am unable to offer an early examination.
A list of basic concepts discussed during the second half of the course may be found here.
Term Paper. (25%)
A short paper of 8-10 pages is required. You may choose one of two options:
I. Political Science Meets Fantasy. This paper should illustrate a variety of the theoretical concepts learned during the semester. This paper is conceptualized as a theoretical exercise, building on a hypothetical world known as "Transitive City". A preliminary introduction to this world is described here.
II. Political Science Meets Empirical Reality. This version of the paper applies the theoretical concepts learned during the semester to a real world public policy issue. You may apply rational choice theories to plitical phenonema ranging from the 2008 Presidential election canmpaign to the current debates over the use of the world's oceans or the global environment. (You may not use turn in the same paper for both this class and another class such as Campaigns & Elections or Environmental Policy.) This paper is due April 17th. Hard copy and an electronic copy must be submitted by 5PM.
Class Participation and Homework (20%)
Class attendance and participation count!
While I will not always take attendance, attendance matters. Students who do not attend regularly have rarely scored high grades in this class. For those of you for whom this material is "new & different", it's only by attending class and asking questions that the concepts may make sense. We will also have several in-class group exercises for which attendance is obviously necessary.
Six homework assignments are required. Unless otherwise indicated, homework is due at
the beginning of the last class period of the week in which it is scheduled.