Political Numeracy: Mathematical Perspectives on Our Chaotic Constitution

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9780393323726: Political Numeracy: Mathematical Perspectives on Our Chaotic Constitution

"An engaging and unusual perspective on the no-man's land between mathematics and the law."―John Allen Paulos

From the impossibility of a perfectly democratic vote to a clarifying model for affirmative action debates, constitutional law professor and math enthusiast Michael Meyerson "provides an engaging and unusual perspective on the no-man's land between mathematics and the law" (John Allen Paulos). In thoroughly accessible and entertaining terms, Meyerson shows how the principle of probability influenced the outcomes of the O. J. Simpson trials; makes a convincing case for the mathematical virtues of the electoral college; uses game theory to explain the federal government's shifting balance of power; relates the concept of infinity to the heated abortion debate; and uses topology and chaos theory to explain how our Constitution has successfully survived social and political change. b/w illustrations, charts

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Review:

There's more math in the Constitution than most people realize, from legislative majorities to congressional apportionment to what Michael Meyerson calls "the ugliest number in the Constitution"--the Founders' treatment of each slave as "three-fifths" of a person for the purposes of representation and taxation. Political Numeracy is a delightfully offbeat book, bursting with ideas that will appeal to the sort of person who had trouble deciding whether to major in math or political science: "Our federalist system can be seen as a kind of fractal structure," observes the author at one point. Meyerson, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, writes accessibly; it does not require a prior knowledge of fractals to follow his prose. Indeed, he even appreciates the severe limits of math: "It is utterly incapable of making the sorts of judgments and interpretations that lie at the heart of the Constitution." At the same time, he uses math to illuminate our understanding of that document. His discussion of the electoral college, for instance, shows why the result of the 2000 presidential election, in which the winning candidate won fewer popular votes than his opponent, should not be considered anti-majoritarian. Political Numeracy will appeal to fans of The Armchair Economist by Steven E. Landsburg and other readers who like to look at old topics from new perspectives. --John Miller

About the Author:

Michael Meyerson is professor of law and Piper & Marbury Faculty Fellow at the University of Baltimore School of Law. He lives in Columbia, Maryland.

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