Political Entrepreneurs

The Economic Engine of Political Change

Why License a Tour Guide? Some Final Thoughts on the Economics of Political Change

July 8th, 2014 by Gary McDonnell

I have discussed in some detail airline deregulation as a case study of political change within the economic framework laid out in Madmen. Interstate trucking, long-distance telecommunications, railroads, banking, stock brokerage, oil and gas, are additional cases where deregulation occurred.  Future research into these cases may suggest ways in which political entrepreneurs were able to “arbitrage between academic ideas and political inefficiencies.”  But political change– or at least the potential– is in the here and the…
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Airline Deregulation: Political Entrepreneurs at Work

July 7th, 2014 by Gary McDonnell

Policy ideas do not always bear fruit in the real world. What was different with 1970s transportation deregulation? In a previous post I noted that political entrepreneurs find ways to use ideas to break down resistance to change, to overcome “structure-induced stability”. Ed and Wayne write in Madmen  that, “political change happens when entrepreneurs notice and exploit those loose spots in the structure of ideas, institutions, and incentives” (134). As noted by Rodrik , political entrepreneurs will…
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Rodrik on Political Entrepreneurship: Ideas Overcome Interests

July 3rd, 2014 by Gary McDonnell

In my previous posts ( here and here ) I have attempted to highlight some of the important research with respect to the economic theory of politics and how well it explains the deregulation of the 1970s. In one sense, the debate is whether deregulation can best be explained by resorting to government officials acting in the public interest, or whether there was a change in the relative power of interest groups. I have suggested that the…
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Madmen gets reviewed in Forbes

July 2nd, 2014 by Edward Lopez

George Leef, who has reviewed probably hundreds of books on human affairs, is the reviewer for Forbes.com. In his review of Madmen , Leef focuses on the three motivating questions that flow throughout the book: 1. Why do democracies generate policies that are wasteful and unjust? 2. Why do failed policies persist over long periods, even when they are known to be socially wasteful and even when better alternatives exist? 3. Why do some wasteful policies get repealed…
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How Well Does the Economic Theory of Politics Explain Deregulation?

July 2nd, 2014 by Gary McDonnell

The theory of economic regulation developed by Stigler and expanded by others is sometimes referred to as the Chicago theory of politics. Politicians broker resources, typically transferring them from large, unorganized groups whose individual members have a small stake in the outcome, to well-organized groups whose individual members have a large stake in a political outcome. Voter ignorance and apathy help this process along. There is a tendency for government regulatory bodies to be captured by the interest groups they…
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Ideas and Political Change: A (Very) Short History of Transportation Deregulation

June 30th, 2014 by Gary McDonnell

  Public choice is a field of study that is a relative new-comer in the discipline of economics. Even more recent is the attempt to incorporate ideas into models of political economy. In Madmen Ed and Wayne have made a giant leap in the development of an economic framework, a “transmission mechanism” if you will, whereby ideas influence political outcomes. This approach offers great potential for helping to explain political change. Transportation deregulation during the…
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Guest Blogger Gary McDonnell

June 30th, 2014 by Edward Lopez

Next up as a guest blogger is Gary McDonnell. Gary is an assistant professor of economics at Northern Michigan University whose teaching and research interests include the economics of regulation, antitrust, and public choice. Gary’s dissertation discussed the role of ideas and economics in the deregulation of airlines, trucking, and telecommunications industries. I first met Gary through the Association of Private Enterprise Education , where he presented an excellent paper on 1970s airline deregulation (which is now forthcoming in The Independent Review ). Chapter 6 of Madmen has…
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Engaging Students Through Op-Ed Writing Assignments

June 30th, 2014 by Todd Nesbit

As much as I and many other economists at teaching institutions take pride is having former undergraduate students go on to earn their PhD in economics and enjoy the “family” photos at professional conferences, the vast majority of students with which we interact will go on to pursue other professions.  This certainly suggests that we academic economists should not evaluate our success purely–or even mostly–as a function of students who go on to earn their…
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Taxi Cab Medallions, Uber, and the Transitional Gains Trap: Part 2

June 27th, 2014 by Todd Nesbit

In my earlier post , I discussed the conditions that led to New York City enacting in 1937 the first policy to establish taxi cab medallions.  In short, the public’s discontent with high taxi fares, the cabbies’ dissatisfaction with their compensation, the relatively few but large fleet owners, and a general tendency to support government intervention in the wake of the stock market crash and depressed economy created an environment ripe for a new idea to change…
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Engaging Students with Madmen

June 27th, 2014 by Todd Nesbit

As someone who has used Leighton and Lopez’s Madmen in multiple sections of a course and for two years, my experiences may be useful for many instructors who are contemplating incorporating Madmen in their courses or for those looking for new ideas in the use of the book.   I’d also be interested to learn of others’ methods of incorporating the book, and I encourage comments in that regard. In short, I have been pleased with the addition…
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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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