Political Entrepreneurs

The Economic Engine of Political Change

Category: Academic Scribblers in Action

Excerpt about Bob Tollison (1942-2016)

October 24th, 2016 by Edward Lopez

Robert D. Tollison was dissertation adviser to both Wayne (in 1996) and me (in 1997). Bob passed away this morning, no details are available. I will be posting soon a memorial of Bob, and no doubt we will be arranging a memorial at the 2017 Public Choice Society meetings. For now, here is an excerpt of Madmen chapter 3, in which we introduce neoclassical welfare theory before next contrasting it with public choice theory. Chapter 3: Economists…
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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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Guest Blogger Todd Nesbit

June 20th, 2014 by Edward Lopez

The Political Entrepreneurs Blog is starting a guest blogger series. Our first guest blogger is Todd Nesbit. He is a senior lecturer in economics at Ohio State University. Here is his Google Scholar page . He’s going to cover some interesting angles on being effective competitors in academic and commercial labor markets. He’ll also share some info about using Madmen in the classroom, among other topics. Welcome Todd!

Free Enterprise on a Massive Scale: The 2014 APEE Meetings

April 18th, 2014 by Edward Lopez

The Association of Private Enterprise Education is alive and well. This year’s conference was held earlier this week at The Wynn Las Vegas and was attended by about 530 scholars, practitioners, and students from 12 countries. It was the largest attendance in the Associations 39-year history. To put that in perspective, my notes say that the 2001 meeting in Washington, DC, was attended by 142, and the 2000 meeting at Caesar’s Palace Las Vegas drew attendance of 206. So APEE…
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Robert D. Tollison on James M. Buchanan

February 15th, 2014 by Edward Lopez

I previously listed and commented  on several published memorials of James M. Buchanan. Many academic journals have since published special issues on Buchanan as well as customary memorial essays. I wanted to update my earlier posts by conveying some more of Bob Tollison’s memorial in the Southern Economic Journal. Bob was my professor and dissertation advisor at George Mason from 94 to 97. Jim Buchanan was also on the faculty of course, and while I got to…
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Why Jon Stewart Should Read Buchanan and Wagner not just Zingales, Stiglitz, and Lessig

February 13th, 2014 by Edward Lopez

“Intellectuals” are middlemen of ideas. They influence the world views of large numbers of people, both in designed and spontaneous ways. In general, we can say that people’s worldviews affect their positions about the proper role and scope of government. So when people’s worldviews change, this in turn can be an impetus to political change. Video as a medium of communication, be it film or television or YouTube or other, is a powerful tool for the…
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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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