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Social Choice and Legitimacy
The Possibilities of Impossibility

Part of Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions

  • Date Published: July 2014
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9780521191012

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About the Authors
  • Governing requires choices, and hence trade-offs between conflicting goals or criteria. This book asserts that legitimate governance requires explanations for such trade-offs and then demonstrates that such explanations can always be found, though not for every possible choice. In so doing, John W. Patty and Elizabeth Maggie Penn use the tools of social choice theory to provide a new and discriminating theory of legitimacy. In contrast with both earlier critics and defenders of social choice theory, Patty and Penn argue that the classic impossibility theorems of Arrow, Gibbard, and Satterthwaite are inescapably relevant to, and indeed justify, democratic institutions. Specifically, these institutions exist to do more than simply make policy – through their procedures and proceedings, these institutions make sense of the trade-offs required when controversial policy decisions must be made.

    • Combines social choice theory and history
    • At the intersection of political theory and law
    • Combines practical considerations of policy making and theoretical concerns with democracy
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "Patty and Penn’s Social Choice and Legitimacy is a brilliant and breathtaking work. Its innovative reconceptualization of social choice theory offers new and powerful responses to long-standing questions about legitimacy in modern governance. Dynamic historical and contemporary examples further clarify how legitimacy is produced. The book is a worthy successor to Amartya Sen’s Collective Choice and Social Welfare and to Jürgen Habermas’ Between Facts and Norms. It is an important advance and a deeply rewarding read."
    Arthur Lupia, Hal R. Varian Collegiate Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan

    "Patty and Penn breathe new life into social choice theory. While reinterpreting old debates with wisdom and care, they develop a fresh and powerful theory of legitimacy. This book will profit anyone who cares about the difficult choices we make and the grounds on which we make them. Best of all, their main discussion, while rigorous, does not require that readers possess advanced technical skills in order to engage the key arguments."
    Michael A. Neblo, Ohio State University

    "Social choice theory provides axiomatic logic that there exists no nondictatorial method of collectively ranking alternatives. What then can be said of democratic outcomes? In this compelling book, Patty and Penn use formal logic and case studies to demonstrate how democratic institutions employ procedures that result in policy outcomes that, though not ideal, will be legitimate."
    Scott E. Page, Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Political Science, Complex Systems and Economics, University of Michigan

    "Patty and Penn offer a brilliant and creative reinterpretation of seminal results in social choice theory. They use this platform to develop an axiomatic theory of legitimacy, rooted in the notion of principled decision making. The book brings much-needed analytical rigor and clarity to central debates in democratic theory. The authors go to great lengths to make the argument accessible to a nontechnical audience and to illustrate the theory with a series of empirical applications. This is a profound and provocative book that should be on the must-read list of democratic and social choice theorists alike."
    Georg Vanberg, Duke University

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    Product details

    • Date Published: July 2014
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9780521191012
    • length: 222 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 16 mm
    • weight: 0.49kg
    • contains: 2 b/w illus. 7 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. The Ubiquity of Aggregation:
    1. Goals and trade-offs
    2. The debates surrounding social choice
    3. Social choice defended
    Part II. A Theory of Legitimate Choice:
    4. Legitimacy and choice
    5. Principles and legitimate choice
    6. A social choice theory of legitimacy
    7. Theory and method
    Part III. Legitimate Policy Making in Practice:
    8. Legislative legitimacy and judicial review
    9. Structuring discussion
    10. Administrative legitimacy
    11. Conclusion.

  • Authors

    John W. Patty, Washington University, St Louis
    John W. Patty is Associate Professor of Political Science at Washington University, St Louis. His research focuses on mathematical models of political institutions. His work has been published in various journals, including the American Journal of Political Science, Games and Economic Behavior, the Journal of Politics, the Journal of Theoretical Politics, the Quarterly Journal of Political Science, and Social Choice and Welfare. He also co-authored Learning While Governing (2013) with Sean Gailmard, which won the William H. Riker Prize awarded by the Political Economy Section of the American Political Science Association for the best book published on political economy.

    Elizabeth Maggie Penn, Washington University, St Louis
    Elizabeth Maggie Penn is Associate Professor of Political Science at Washington University, St Louis. A formal political theorist whose work focuses on social choice theory and political institutions, her work has been published in the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, the Journal of Theoretical Politics, Mathematical and Computer Modelling, Public Choice, Social Choice and Welfare, and Complexity.

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