Handbook of Social Choice and Voting

Handbook of Social Choice and Voting

Edited by Jac C. Heckelman and Nicholas R. Miller

This Handbook provides an overview of interdisciplinary research related to social choice and voting that is intended for a broad audience. Expert contributors from various fields present critical summaries of the existing literature, including intuitive explanations of technical terminology and well-known theorems, suggesting new directions for research.

Chapter 2: The strange history of social choice

Iain McLean

Subjects: economics and finance, political economy, public choice theory, politics and public policy, political economy, public choice


This chapter tells a bizarre story. The subject that we now call social choice has been repeatedly characterized. Over two millennia, some exceptionally smart people have glimpsed the paradoxes of voting and have proposed solutions to them, only for their solutions to be lost by an uncomprehending world. This is known to have happened in the Roman Empire, in the medieval Christian Church, in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and Revolutionary period, and in the peaceful mid-Victorian years when Lewis Carroll turned from writing Alice through the Looking Glass to resume his day job. There have been other discoveries and losses, which are still being revealed. That the subject now has a secure place is due to two complementary but very different geniuses: Kenneth Arrow and Duncan Black.

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