Political Entrepreneurs

The Economic Engine of Political Change

Category: About the Book

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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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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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 Why do some wasteful policies get repealed…
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Public Choice reviews Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers

May 1st, 2014 by Edward Lopez

Economist Michael D. Thomas has written a review of Madmen (gated) for Public Choice (vol. 159, pp.313–315, 2014). Michael, Wayne and I know each other fairly well through the George Mason network. At the 2013 Public Choice Society meetings , we were all on a panel with Larry White and Peter Boettke discussing Madmen and Larry’s excellent book The Clash of Economic Ideas . Michael’s review truly gets to the heart of what Madmen is about: incorporating ideas into public choice for the purpose of explaining political change. Following Keynes, Hayek, and Mill, we…
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Ronald Coase (1910-2013): He kept his hands dirty

September 3rd, 2013 by Edward Lopez

The news has spread quickly that Ronald Coase has passed away at the age of 102. The list of his fundamental contributions to human understanding runs long, as did his career. Just last year he published a book on capitalism in China (discussion here and here ). He is most famous for the “Coase Theorem,” which is fairly easy to grasp at a superficial level but is quite rich and nuanced at deeper levels. For this reason, the idea is often…
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“I change the world—with thought.”

April 8th, 2013 by Edward Lopez

Probably the most common reaction to our book has been people’s curiosity about the title. Who are these “madmen” and “academic scribblers”? What do you mean by intellectuals? That’s why whenever we give a talk on the book, we use this slide to offer up some examples: “Intellectuals” are middlemen of ideas who influence (deliberately or not) the way large numbers of people view the world around them. These worldviews find their way into individual…
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Margaret Thatcher: Revolutionary “Madman in Authority”

April 8th, 2013 by Edward Lopez

Margaret Thatcher has died at the age of 87. The New York Times posts an obituary . The Guardian lists some of her most well-known quotations . The “Iron Lady” leads off Chapter 5 of  Madmen (“How Ideas Matter for Political Change”). We recount a story of Thatcher that we found in John Blundell’s writings. Thatcher is one of the revolutionaries discussed under the heading “Maggie, Mart, and the Madmen,” which are the opening words of Chapter 5: It happened with Lenin rousing the…
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David Zetland at Aguanomics reviews Madmen

February 10th, 2013 by Edward Lopez

Dutch economics professor and water expert, David Zetland,  has reviewed Madmen on his blog, Aguanomics . It is a favorable review (“I recommend as a text for ANY policy class and for ALL students of law, economics and politics.”) that goes chapter-by-chapter in describing our approach to understanding political change, as well as its implications for bringing about beneficial change. I tried in vain to select a paragraph to block quote here, because the entire review is insightful — including the footnotes!…
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Video of Cato Book Forum on Madmen

January 18th, 2013 by Edward Lopez

We had a thoroughly good experience presenting the substance of Madmen at yesterday’s Cato Book Forum. For those of you who didn’t catch the live webcast, the video is now available. Follow the link below. I think it’s particularly interesting to hear Ian Vasquez’s opening remarks and then to skip to the 34:30 mark and watch/listen to the comments by Fred Smith (until recently, the President of the Competitive Enterprise Institute).  There was robust discussion during…
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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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