January 30, 2009
Democracy has two essential features: (1) periodic and fair elections and (2) rule of law and due process. With respect to (1), several alternatives to our present election system of plurality voting--with or without a runoff--have been proposed, including approval voting, single transferable vote, and the Borda count. I will offer an overview of these systems and discuss properties they do and do not satisfy. Feature (2) seems best achieved by fair-division algorithms that satisfy properties like "envy-freeness," whereby resources are divided so that everybody gets a share he or she considers comparable to that of others and so is not envious of them. I will illustrate difficulties one encounters in the fair division of divisible and indivisible goods, which may vitiate equal treatment of citizens under the law.
Steven J. Brams is Professor of Politics at New York University and the author, co-author, or co-editor of 16 books and about 250 articles. His recent books include Theory of Moves (1994) and, co-authored with Alan D. Taylor, Fair Division: From Cake-Cutting to Dispute Resolution (1996) and The Win-Win Solution: Guaranteeing Fair Shares to Everybody (1999). His newest book, Mathematics and Democracy: Designing Better Voting and Fair-Division Procedures, appeared in 2008. Brams has applied game theory and social-choice theory to voting and elections, bargaining and fairness, international relations, and the Bible and theology. He is a former president of the Peace Science Society (1990-91) and of the Public Choice Society (2004-2006). He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1986), a Guggenheim Fellow (1986-87), and was a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation (1998-99).