Political Entrepreneurs

The Economic Engine of Political Change

Category: Intellectuals in Action

New Memorials of Jim Buchanan

August 18th, 2013 by Edward Lopez

Some noteworthy memorials have been published since my last post on memorials to Jim Buchanan . Perhaps most noteworthy are Geoff Brennan’s in Public Choice and Bob Tollison’s in the Southern Economic Journal . Links to both are gated, but most of the Brennan piece can be browsed free of charge. Both offer somewhat personal reflections. Geoff talks about Buchanan’s normative use of the word “optimal” — with reference to his own death — and how Buchanan wasn’t one to revise and keep coming back to prior works. Instead, he would just put it out…
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In Memory of Charles K. Rowley: Entrepreneur of Ideas

August 5th, 2013 by Edward Lopez

Our former professor, Charles K. Rowley , passed away this weekend after a long and prolific career as a scholar and teacher. Professor Rowley was a passionate teacher, as anyone who sat in his classroom will attest. He was also a deep scholar of public choice, and he worked tirelessly to shape the contours of the field, to advance those frontiers, and to stake claims to this work in the name of Virginia School scholars, particularly Jim Buchanan…
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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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Intellectuals in Action: Reason‘s Jesse Walker on Survivalists (a.k.a. “Preppers”)

February 21st, 2013 by Edward Lopez

This is the inaugural installment of a category we’ll call “Intellectuals in Action.” Keeping in mind that the book and this blog mean “intellectuals” in the Hayekian sense as traders in ideas – that is, people whose activities influence (whether deliberately or not) the way that other people view the world. To drill down, readers can go to Hayek’s 1949 essay, “ The Intellectuals and Socialism ,” and the introduction to his 1954 edited volume,  Capitalism and the Historians . The point of this…
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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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