978-0-393-04172-9 / 0393041727

Political Numeracy: Mathematical Perspectives on Our Chaotic Constitution

by Meyerson, Michael I.

Publisher:W. W. Norton & Company



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About the book:

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

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