Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Final Exam for "American Values and Institutions" Course

Below is the final for the Aldrich-Munger taught course, "American Values and Institutions," PS112A.

The kids had to answer some three of the five questions, their choice.
Afterwards, three kids had editorial comments:
a. "I hate you, and I always will."
b. "I can't feel anything, including my fingers."
c. "Somewhere in the second hour of the exam, I was struck by just how much I had learned this semester."

The exam, for your amusement:

1. Assume that you are a member of a three person committee with the following preferences over the set of outcomes (x, y, z):

(First,Second,Third) Rank in preference order
Person I (you) x y z

Person II y z x

Person III z x y

a. This committee decides by comparing two alternatives (akin to a bill and a proposed amendment) with the majority rule winner in the first vote pitted against the remaining alternative. The majority winner from that second vote is the overall winner. Remembering that you are "Person 1," suppose you got to choose which two alternatives are pitted against each other, with the winner in that comparison then being voted up or down for final passage against the remaining alternative that goes against the winner. What agenda, or sequence of pairwise comparisons, would you choose?

b. Now, suppose that you suddenly become, through some odd transubstantiation of mind/soul, Person II. How would you vote, assuming that the agenda you laid out in your answer to a is held fixed? What would be the outcome? That is, which alternative should win?

c. Finally, suppose that the transubstantiation happens again, and your mind/soul returns to its original body, Person I. Having inhabited Person II briefly, you know what Person II is going to do. Do you change the agenda you picked for item a above?

2. The political thought well-known to the American Founders had a variety of perspectives on the nature of the state, and the obligations of the individual to the state. Summarize what you see as the primary thinkers in the "collectivist" (focusing on the state, and the federal government) tradition in the political thought before 1830, and the primary thinkers of the "individualist" tradition (focusing on private rights, and local government). Make sure and mention at least two of each. Which set of values, collectivist or individualist, does the American Constitution come closer to embodying?

3. Consider the following analogy: Condorcet's Paradox is to Majority Rule as Arrow's Theorem is to the Set of All Voting Rules. Can we really say that one set of rules is better than another, given this problem? Is the American system of elections, with two major parties, better than other systems because it is more stable? Or is it rigid? How could you evaluate a political system, except by comparing it to other systems in terms of stability and survival? How does the U.S. system solve the problem of instability, using a "first past the post" electoral system, and "one issue at a time" procedures in the legislature?

4. Property. What is the role of property, and protection of property rights, in the institutions created by the American Founding? What is the basis of the claim of individuals to "own" property? How did the Founders adapt this notion of property to extend to the ownership of other human beings?

5. One of the key problems that any set of institutions, or any social movement, must overcome is the collective action problem. In many of the things we read, including Aldrich's "Why Parties?", King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," Walker's "Appeal," and others, the collective action problem was central to the concerns of the writer. And, collective action problems in taxation and military coordination were central to the change from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution. Why is the collective action problem so hard to solve? Is the only solution to the collective problem to use "Madisonian" institutional incentives? Or is it possible to cajole and persuade people to act collectively on their own, as a "Rousseauvian" approach might suggest?


John Thacker said...

1 and 3 are really fun for this mathematician. Makes me wish I had taken your course when I was an undergrad at Duke.

Angus said...

any real class on 'merican values and institutions would have to cover:

(1) american idol
(3) 'rassling
(4) lolcats

I'm hoping that they at least were on the midterm.

Kelly said...

I should have gone to Duke for undergrad.

Tom said...

Answer to question 1: This is why decisions should not be made by committee.

The result in the real world: loudest person has the early lead, but the winner is the guy who will stay at this early morning meeting (with no lunch break) right through to 13:45.

LSS said...

Question 3 looks awfully familiar...

Anonymous said...

Great exam. I didn't know a class on American politics could double as an introduction to social choice. I wish my own such undergrad class, two semesters long, had been this rat-choicey.

What do you think, Mungowitz? Can we say something normative about the American 'decision rule?' I recall you arguing at Brookings a while back for totally lopsided House districts. Nobody else at the table wanted to/could engage the point, which, I think, was about proportionality.

Anonymous said...

I love you, Professor! Only the fact that you're already married keeps me from proposing.

I'm only 1/16th Italian.

Anonymous said...

This exam would have been fun. makes me wonder how I missed taking one of your classes when I was an undergrad at Duke.

KLR said...

I talked a Professor I TA for into using #1 on a Public Finance exam. It was a huge hit. Hope you don't mind the plagiarism.