POLS1008 Essay

Essay Length: 3,000 words (+/- 10%) Essay Due: October 18th, 2021 Worth: 40%

Submission: via Wattle and Turnitin

Late Submission Policy:

  • Late submissions lose 5% of the possible marks per working day or part
  • All extension requests must be made before the due date. No extension request will be considered after the 18th of October, 2021.

The paper must be double-spaced, written in a 12-point font, and 3,000 words long (excluding bibliography and citations). The structure must include a thesis, a main argument, and address at least one counterargument. Citing secondary sources is recommended. Writing advice and a rubric is provided on the course Wattle page. See Steele (2007) for a summary of what we traditionally mean by ‘choice theory’. The vast majority of readings on Wattle can be interpreted in terms of choice theory.

Note that the essay deadline is deceptively late in the semester. You will need to also start revising for the final exam around this time. If you leave the essay to the last minute you will be overburdened and the final product will likely suffer. Students are expected to start their drafts early. Tutors and lecturers cannot read drafts, but they can comment on broad approaches. Essays must be uploaded onto Turnitin via Wattle.

With reference to ‘choice theory’, broadly construed, answer one of the following,

  1. Why (if at all) do rational actors need the state? What are the normative implications of your answer?
  1. Do the inefficiencies associated with majority rule justify a heavily constrained legislature? 
  1. Is the Australian ‘alternative vote’ better than its rivals?
  1. Does justice demand that the basic structure of society be arranged according to the maximin criterion?
  1. Should national electoral systems have single member constituencies? Or should they be multi-member?
  1. Critically assess Riker’s (1982) endorsement of the Washington constitutional model over the Westminster alternative.
  1. Is the level of world greenhouse gas emissions a Nash equilibrium of a simple game? What does this tell us about proposed solutions?
  1. Should we curb log-rolling in legislatures? Discuss with reference to Buchanan and Tullock (1962).
  1. How pernicious is rent-seeking in a democracy? Can it be avoided?
  1. Niskanen (1972) argues bureaucrats will seek to maximize their department’s budgets in inefficient ways. Is public service reform required in light of his argument?
  1. In “Ending Footbinding and Infibulation,” Mackie discusses a number of belief traps. What is another politically salient example of a belief trap and what does this imply about the case?
  1. Does Arrow’s theorem show that populism is misguided?
  1. To what extent should the state provide and regulate public goods? Discuss with reference to Ostrom (1990).
  1. Can we consistently commit to both liberal rights and welfare-maximisation?
  1. Is weak or strong party discipline to be preferred in majoritarian political systems? Discuss with reference to the paradoxes of
  1. Will proportional electoral systems incentivize minimal winning coalitions? Is this desirable?
  1. What, if anything, do the McKelvey-Schofield and Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorems tell us about democracy?
  1. Should utilitarians favour policies preferred by the median voter?
  1. To what extent is Roemer’s proposal for market socialism (see Cohen, 2009: 70-6) consistent with Rawls’ second principle of justice?
  1. Do the decision-making biases identified by Tversky and Kahneman (1974) put pressure on the theory of rational choice?


 Buchanan, J. and Tullock, G. (1962) The Calculus of Consent, University of Michigan Press.

Cohen, G. (2009) Why Not Socialism?, Princeton University Press.

Mackie, G. (1996) ‘Ending Footbinding and Infibulation: a convention account’, American Sociological Review, 61 (6).

Niskanen, W. (1971) Bureaucracy and Representative Government, Aldine Atherton.

Ostrom, E. (1990) Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, CUP.

Riker, W. (1982) Liberalism Against Populism, W.H. Freeman.

Tversky, A and Kahneman, D. (1974) ‘Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases’, Science, 185 (4157).