Social Choice Theory by Cassie Novick

Ranchod Nilsson’s article “Gender Politics and the Pendulum of Political Social Transformation in Zimbabwe” brings indirect attentions to the importance of institutions and economic conditions in public choice and policy making as well as the importance of working with and no solely against a government with which a group of people disagree. First of all, institutions help determine voting rules and actions within established voting rules. Social Choice Theory tells us through Arrows Impossibility Theorem that there is a tradeoff between social rationality and the concentration of power. In other words, there is a tradeoff between representing everyone’s interests fairly and allowing for authoritarianism or dictatorship. This theorem that mirrors Locke’s ideals relates to the article, because in a newly independent government such as Zimbabwe, the government as well as the people are going to struggle with their new found freedom, responsibilities, and the tradeoff of social rationality and concentration of power. So it honestly makes sense to me that new found independence and a growing progressive social movement would exacerbate the volatile swinging of the pendulum toward social equality, which already exists in countries with stable institutions and political conditions (discussed further below in relation to the magaya v. magaya decision).

 Additionally economic conditions are important in that they determine the incentives the majority has to make change. To reference social choice theory again, people will always prefer the status quo to being worse off and will only make an effort to change the status quo when they have a certain level of assurance or probability that they will be able to successfully make their situation better off (or closer to their ideal). Furthermore, if economic conditions are as bad as they were in Zimbabwe after independence and people are more concerned with surviving day to day, they will rarely find the time, resources, or desire to fight for change. This will result in a minority of people fighting for social change and accomplishing it in a more non-linear fashion that the article references It is not until a majority of people have the luxury to advocate or are left with nothing left to lose that there will be substantial, more linear progress made toward social equality. When a majority of people have the luxury to advocate for a cause rather than worry about their day to day survival, they will take the time to educate themselves and work with a government entity to change policy. In contrast if a majority is left with nothing left to lose will spark reactionary revolt and overthrow the government rather than work with it.

The magaya v. magaya court decision in the Gender Politics article also resonates with issues presented in the Intimate Partner Violence article from two weeks ago. Both the court decision and the previous article recognize the time it takes for social transformation to infiltrate the ranks of authority and various institutions/systems already in place under a more paternalistic system. I would argue that nearly every fight for greater social equality has been more non-linear than linear and subject to the idea of the pendulum presented in the article.  Advocate groups often win small battles with pieces of legislation, swinging the pendulum back and forth, but the real war the advocacy groups are fighting are not won until the clock strikes twelve, if you will, and a Supreme Court decision or some other higher up authority falls in their favor. This process can be observed in many of the movements for acceptance and against discrimination in the United States such as Women’s Rights, Civil Rights, and is in action now with the fight to gain acceptance/legalization of gay marriage.

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