Political Entrepreneurs

The Economic Engine of Political Change

2017 Vincent & Elinor Ostrom Prize

March 10th, 2017 by Edward Lopez

The Vincent & Elinor Ostrom Prize awards $1,000 for the best combined paper & presentation at the annual meetings of the Public Choice Society. Vincent and Elinor Ostrom both served as Presidents of the Public Choice Society. The naming of this Award recognizes their ceaseless dedication to working with graduate students to improve both their writing and presentation skills, a dedication that is captured nicely in the documentary film about the Ostroms by Barbara Allen.

The Prize is selected according to a two-stage procedure. First, eligible papers are ranked by a selection committee composed of PCS Executive Committee members. The top three papers advance as finalists to the second stage, in which finalists present their papers and benefit from having accomplished and distinguished scholars assigned as discussants. The presentations are evaluated by a prize committee composed of the Society President, the Society Executive Director, and discussants.

The Prize winner is announced and recognized during the conference at the Saturday Awards Luncheon. An award letter, commemorative plaque, and honorarium will be sent by mail after the conference. A press release will be disseminated to media outlets, academic journals affiliated with the Society, and to the winner’s university.

I have this great memory of Bobbi Herzberg, Mario Villarreal, Pete Calcagno and I sitting down to drinks in Hong Kong during the 2014 MPS meetings. I had a concept for the Ostrom Prize in mind, and I thought for sure that I was right. After arguing about it for an hour, those three beat me down, and we arrived at the current concept for the Prize. I’m really proud of what we came up with — i.e., of what Pete, Bobbi, and Mario convinced me was the best way to structure the prize. I also feel like those three have some ownership, more so than I do. Nonetheless, it’s gratifying to see the PCS Ostrom Prize doing so well. This year drew a field of 23 paper entries from graduate students in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. A panel of judges reviewed the papers, and a final round of three was selected as finalists. The finalists presented their papers at the annual meetings, with senior public choice scholars as discussants.

The 2017 runners-up are:

- Rosolino Candela (Ph.D. student in economics at George Mason University): “The Political Economy of Italian Unification in Sicily: Insecurity of Property Rights and the Role of Land Reform”
- Charles Delmotte, (Ph.D. student in legal and political philosophy, Ghent University): “The Political Economics of Tax Exemptions: Tax Uniformity as a Constitutional Principle”

And the winner of the 2017 Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Prize is Dodge Cahan (Ph.D. Student in Economics at University of California at San Diego) for his paper “Electoral cycles in government employment: Evidence from US gubernatorial elections”.

 

From the Pages of Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers (p.189, ch.7)

The most successful entrepreneurs know what they do well, they know the market and the opportunities within it, and they choose those activities that create the most value. This is true in economic as well as political markets.

From the Pages of Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers (p.178, ch.7)

[W]hen the right elements come together at the right time and place and overwhelm the status quo, it is because special people make it happen. We call them political entrepreneurs.

From the Pages of Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers (p.176. ch.7)

While we started this book with Danny Biasone saving basketball, we end it with Norman Borlaug saving a billion lives. These stories are not that different. Both faced vested interests, which were reinforced by popular beliefs that things should be a certain way—that is, until a better idea came along.

From the Pages of Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers (p.174, ch.6)

Because there was a general belief that homeownership was a good thing, politicians found the public with open arms.... Everybody was winning—except Alfred Marshall, whose supply and demand curves were difficult to see through the haze of excitement at the time, and except Friedrich Hayek, whose competition as a discovery procedure was befuddled... In short, once politicians started getting credit for homeownership rates, the housing market was doomed.

From the Pages of Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers (p.166, ch.6)

Everyone responded rationally to the incentives before them. In short, the rules that guided homeownership changed over time, which in turn changed the incentives of these actors. And bad things happened.

From the Pages of Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers (p.153, ch.6)

They understood the economics. The ideas had already won in ... the regulatory agency itself. All that remained to be overcome were some vested interests and a handful of madmen in authority.

From the Pages of Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers (p.146, ch.6)

If the idea for auctions of spectrum use rights had been part of the public debate since at least 1959, why didn’t the relevant institutions change sooner? What interests stood in the way?

From the Pages of Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers (p.121, ch.5)

When an academic scribbler comes up with a new idea, it has to resonate well with widely shared beliefs, which in turn must overcome the vested interests at the table. Many forces come together to explain political change, even though it may seem like coincidence of time and place.

From the Pages of Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers (p.120, ch.5)

It’s the rules of the political game that deserve our focus, not politicians’ personalities or party affiliations.

From the Pages of Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers (p.119, ch.5)

In short, ideas are a type of higher-order capital in society. Like a society that is poor in capital and therefore produces little consumer value, a society that is poor in ideas and institutions will have bad incentives and therefore few of the desirable outcomes that people want.

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