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Title:Democracy, elections, and rationality: An examination of the implications of social choice theory for the theory and practice of American government
Author(s):Radcliff, Benjamin Franklin
Department / Program:Political Science
Discipline:Political Science
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Economics, General
Political Science, General
Abstract:Arrow's Theorem implies that the problem of cyclical majorities is endemic any non-dictatorial system of preference aggregation that meets certain minimal conditions of fairness. The present study attempts to access the significance of this result to the theory and practice of democratic government.
The analysis begins with an empirical examination of individual and social level preferences for candidates in several recent American presidential elections. It is argued that clear Condorcet winners existed in each contest in question. Further, it was found that individual preferences tended, on whole, to be both transitive and single peaked along an ideological dimension. The significance of these findings to the American electoral process in particular and the economic analysis of politics in general are discussed.
Attention then turns to an appraisal of several tradition models of representative democracy fare given the Pandora's Box of Arrow's Theorem and related impossibility results. It is maintained that the only theory to remain theoretically coherent is the highly minimalist notion of democracy associated with contemporary liberalism. However, it is maintained this theory might form a foundation upon which more robust visions of democracy might be built.
Moving from theories of representation to those of direct participation, it is argued that while the General Will can be construed in such a way that it survives the challenge posed by the Arrow problem, such can be done only by via the importation of assumptions that are empirically dubious, normatively troubling, or otherwise so heroic as to make tax credulity.
The analysis concludes that no acceptable theory of democracy can be based upon the assignment of particular properties to the results of majority rule, as the previous results indicate. Accordingly, an alternative model based in the inherent value of participation itself, as opposed to the outcomes produced via participation, is proposed. It is argued that this conception of democracy remains theoretically coherent in the face of the aggregation problem. The implications of this result to the real world of democratic government are discussed.
Issue Date:1991
Rights Information:Copyright 1991 Radcliff, Benjamin Franklin
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9136705
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9136705

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