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
From Publishers Weekly
University of Baltimore law professor Meyerson shows how a wide range of mathematical subjects, from Euclid's ancient axiomatic method to recent developments in chaos theory, can throw light on the Constitution and how the Supreme Court interprets it. Though he sometimes delves into fairly sophisticated math game theory, transfinite arithmetic, Gdel's Incompleteness Theorem his sharp focus on essential insights should put all readers at ease. For example, he demonstrates how the comparison of infinite numbers illuminates different precious values the author's life may be of "infinite value" to him, for example, and yet his children's lives are more valuable. Calculations are rare and only involve simple arithmetic. By disavowing claims that a focus on math can replace other perspectives, Meyerson highlights the valuable insights his methods can provide. His use of proportional analysis as a way of evaluating affirmative action is fascinating not because he suggests an ultimate solution, but because the mathematical approach "infuses analysis with an awareness of the inevitable imperfections of one's own position." Such an awareness might encourage more reasoned debate. Some of Meyerson's topics voting systems, reapportionment have long been studied mathematically, but most get a novel treatment (for example, "our federalist system can be seen as a kind of fractal structure"). Particularly intriguing is the argument, based on chaos theory, which asserts that the nation is on a "very different constitutional path" than Madison and Hamilton would have ever imagined. Meyerson's insights vary in profundity, but all serve to stimulate awareness of a potentially rich new perspective. Illus.
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