Political Entrepreneurs

The Economic Engine of Political Change

Category: Professional Incentives

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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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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Better Living Through Political Entrepreneurship

June 27th, 2013 by Edward Lopez

Today I discovered a book the old fashioned way: while browsing the stacks at a brick-and-mortar library . Published in 2010, Better Living Through Economics is a collection of essays that documents the impact of basic economic research on improving public policies. The collection is edited by John J. Siegfried, who is Professor of Economics at Vanderbilt University and the Secretary-Treasurer of the American Economic Association. All the contributors to the volume are top economists in the profession. Better Living has a…
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Is a marginal revolution coming to the science of pain management?

December 21st, 2012 by Edward Lopez

Imagine you’re in your late 50′s and you’ve had a wildly successful research career. You wrote a revolutionary study at age 31, and most major players in the field would become your disciples. Your work has changed the daily lives of millions of people — whether they’re happy or sad, getting better or worse, alive or dead. And now imagine that you’ve come to realize that much of what you’ve taught is wrong. What do…
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Why You Should Be Skeptical of Economists’ Advice

December 14th, 2012 by Edward Lopez

I have the refrain to “Fight of the Century” stuck in my head again. “Which way should we choose? More bottom up or more top down?” I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of commentary on this video. Great job, Russ and John . I just wanted to point to a tiny slice of the lyrics, which I noticed while watching the video with my students this past semester. At 2:14, Keynes retorts to Hayek’s argument that stimulus spending doesn’t necessarily shorten 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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