Political Entrepreneurs

The Economic Engine of Political Change

Category: Competition in Ideas

Reflections on the Political Economy and Development of Ideas in Free Trade

October 22nd, 2016 by James Caton

Mercantilists formulated a system of political economy that put the strength of the state as the primary end. Economists supporting this doctrine, whether or not they realized, were defenders of the existing order. The mercantile system inverted the preference ordering appropriate for science, submitting the search for truth to some alternate end. Investigation was in the service of enriching and empowering the state and agents connected to it.  Much as still occurs today, the status…
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Knowledge, Language, and Coordination

October 11th, 2016 by James Caton

Language is the ultimate archetype for emergent phenomena. Its structure is the archetype for the structure of knowledge embodied in those phenomena. Nobody plans language. Attempts at planning are worthy of the cynicism they receive. Remember the zealous high school teachers and college professors who preached the gospel of MLA formatting? This privileged group of experts may do their best to enforce homogeneous belief upon those who appear to be their subjects, but the emergent features of…
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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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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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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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Spotted: Political Change Analysis on the Streets of San Francisco

December 8th, 2014 by Edward Lopez

A delightful story , “Our night as an Uber driver — Using a $500,000 Rolls-Royce,” appears in the current issue of Car and Driver. One passage, in particular, reveals that the writer may have read Madmen. Either that, or the writer has arrived at sound public choice and political change analysis through reasoned examination: In Uber’s mind, the company is Doing Good. In the eyes of the cabbies, their lunch is being eaten by a bunch of amateurs not subject…
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Why We Need the Madmen in Authority

July 31st, 2014 by Edward Lopez

Did you know that Oklahoma is ranked 28th in population but in 2011 had one of the nation’s largest unfunded pension liabilities? The Reason Foundation’s Pension Reform Newletter carries  an interview  with Oklahoma state legislator Randy McDaniel, who explains: OPERS is the state’s second largest retirement system. In 2010, the system had a $3.3 billion unfunded liability, … The big picture is the state had over $16 billion in total unfunded liabilities. In a reform process entering its fifth…
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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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Buchanan on the Economics and Morality of Deficits: It’s all Public Choice Theory

June 11th, 2014 by Edward Lopez

Here is James M. Buchanan (1919-2013) writing in “The Moral Dimension of Debt Financing,” Economic Inquiry, January 1985. Economists have almost totally neglected moral or ethical elements of the behavior that has generated the observed modern regime of continuing and accelerating government budget deficits. To the extent that moral principles affect choice constraints, such neglect is inexcusable. It is incumbent on us, as economic analysts, to understand how morals impinge upon choice, and especially how…
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Why Publishers Weekly Should Look Into How the Dismal Science Got its Name

April 20th, 2014 by Edward Lopez

The reviewer for Publishers Weekly did not like Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers. Annoyed evidently with the fact of economics — it’s very existence — the (anonymous) reviewer twice associates Madmen with “the dismal science,” hoping the reader shares every negative and objectionable connotation the reviewer seems to cast on that association. Madmen, we’re told, is dismal because it is a work of economics, because it is a difficult read, and because it recounts the life and works of “unheralded”…
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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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