Political Entrepreneurs

The Economic Engine of Political Change

Celebrating Armen Alchian and Maverick Evolutionary Economics

April 10th, 2016 by Edward Lopez

Imagine finding yourself on the campus of UCLA in the late 1940s. If you were to have ventured anywhere near the economics department, you might have bumped into one of UCLA’s newest hires, who would become among the most insightful and original economists of the twentieth century, a vigorous man with the interesting name of Armen Albert Alchian (born April 12, 1914). Alchian was a maverick economist who always held the respect of the mainstream. You…
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Cook Book Authors: Originators or Codifiers of Ideas?

April 9th, 2016 by Edward Lopez

Cook book authors influence how ordinary people cook and think about food. Here is an illustration, from a recent piece in the Charlotte Observer about the variety of ways Southerners make corn bread  (HT: Daniel Green): Toni Tipton Martin’s new book, “The Jemima Code,”  on the history of African-American cookbooks, shows that in the 19th century, books by Malinda Russell and Abby Fisher showed no sugar in the cornbread recipes. By 1912, in “The Kentucky Cookbook” by Mrs. W.T. Hayes, the cornbread called for 1 tablespoon sugar….
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Celebrating Norman E. Borlaug

March 25th, 2016 by Edward Lopez

Today would have been Norman E. Borlaug’s 102nd birthday. He died in 2009 after an enormously productive life of helping others to help themselves. Known as the “father of the Green Revolution” for introducing high-yield wheat varieties to impoverished economies, his work was recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize among other awards for “the man who saved a billion lives”. I like the photo here because it evokes the academic scribbler side of his entrepreneurship but also…
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Austrian Public Choice: An Empirical Investigation

July 23rd, 2015 by Edward Lopez

That is the title of a paper that examines some of the same main subjects that we do here, including an empirical look at political entrepreneurship, and the confluence of public choice with Austrian economics. The authors do not use political entrepreneurship in the institution-changing sense that we tend to use the term here, but instead as a descriptor of policymakers, legislators, regulators, and others decision units within government. Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to…
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12 articles on eminent domain + 2 bonus tracks

June 20th, 2015 by Edward Lopez

Here is everything that I have written about eminent domain (not counting blog posts). Journal Articles: “ The Problem With the Holdout Problem ,” Review of Law & Economics 9(2), September 2013, pp.151-167 (with J. R. Clark) “ Pass a Law, Any Law, Fast! State Legislative Responses to the Kelo Backlash ,” Review of Law & Economics 5:1, May 2009, pp.101-135 (with R. Todd Jewell and Noel D. Campbell) “ Kelo and its Discontents: The Worst (or Best?) Thing to Happen to Property Rights ,” The Independent Review, XI:3, Winter 2007, pp.397-416 (with Sasha M. Totah) Book Chapters: “Making Property Rights Stronger in Tennessee: Limiting Discretionary Powers of Eminent Domain,” 2012, in…
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Pure Protectionism, Texas Style

June 8th, 2015 by Edward Lopez

Three basic questions motivate our building the  framework of political change in Madmen.  Why does politics generate wasteful and unjust policies? Why do such failed policies persist even when superior alternatives are known and  available? Why do certain failed policies get replaced with other ideas? While most of this blog focuses on question 3, it’s always helpful to come back to the first two questions, both of which are answered by traditional public choice theory (1 by…
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Good example of changes in public beliefs

June 4th, 2015 by Edward Lopez

The Seismic Shift in Irish Values, and One Reason It Happened ” Huffington Post 5/24/2015 James Peron Historically, the more market-oriented the economy, the more the well-being of LGBT people increases. Politicized markets require political power, something sexual minorities rarely have, but depoliticized economies only need an entrepreneur willing to cater to a minority. Soviet-style, top-down economies would never allocate paper for books on gay issues, let alone for a thriving gay media. That required a bottom-up, depoliticized or less-politicized economy, where entrepreneurs only had…
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Diane Coyle reviews Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers

April 1st, 2015 by Edward Lopez

Diane Coyle, author of provocative and deep books including Sex, Drugs, and Economics: An Unconventional Introduction to Economics (2002), The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why it Matters (2009), and GDP: An Affectionate History (2012), has posted her review of Madmen over at The Enlightened Economist . She appreciates pairing the goal of the book (to understand political change, as we define that term ) with a “clear and concise history of thought”, and she concludes favorably: The book is very clearly written and an accessible…
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The Italian Immigrant Who Saved the Game of Basketball — From Dean Smith

February 9th, 2015 by Edward Lopez

It was March 7, 1982, and the cold drizzle falling on Greensboro, North Carolina, was no match for college basketball fever. The hottest ticket in the country was the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) men’s basketball championship, with nationally ranked number-one North Carolina taking on number-three Virginia, in a rematch of their two-game split of the regular season. This game had it all. Both teams had come in with only two losses all year. A total…
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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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