Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

“The main hope for a genuine science of politics”. Rational Choice Theory, Game Theory and the cross-fertilization between economics and political science in 1950s.

Damiani Gianluca Damiani, University of Turin-University of Florence

In this paper, which is part of my PhD dissertation, I want to offer an historical reconstruction of the early cross-fertilization between Economics and Political Science in 1950s and early 1960s. My aim is to appraise how the formal revolution in economics, through the developments of Rational Choice and Game Theory, has influenced Political Science. The first hypothesis of this work is that the effect of these new theories on political science’s theoretical and methodological status was risible, at least in the first decades (up to mid-seventies). My second hypothesis (related to the first) is that there has been a misunderstanding of the methodology of axiomatic approach to develop new theories, as well as of meaning of such economic concepts, like general equilibrium, outside economists’ community. Thus, in this paper I want firstly to establish if my starting hypotheses, the massive and growing “indifference” of Political Science for the so-called (often with a sort of “dispregiative” nuance) “economic approach” to politics and its causes, are correct, through an analysis of some methodological debates on the disciplinary status of Political Science, as well as the reactions to the application of formal reasoning (for example the reviews of Riker’s 1962 work - the first systematic application of vN/M game theory to political issues - or some responses to Arrow’s impossibility result). I want also offer a review of some theoretical developments of what seem to me the two main paths of the formal approach to political science, namely, the cooperative game theory to appraise distribution of power between committees, and the early applications to voting procedures of social choice. Secondly I want to advance some possible explanations of this indifference.


Keywords: Game Theory, Political Science, Social Choice, William H. Riker, Kenneth J. Arrow, Martin Shubik, Lloyd Shapley