Political Entrepreneurs

The Economic Engine of Political Change

Category: Crisis

Should Checks and Balances be Removed from the U.S. Constitution? Part 2 on Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains

July 15th, 2017 by Edward Lopez

NB: Part 1 of this series can be found here . The concluding chapter of Democracy in Chains is titled “Get Ready”. Here MacLean gathers all of her implications together and portrays the arc of influence that I summarized in Part 1 of my responses . Readers absorb details of just what the cause is capable of doing. I won’t recount the chapter. Instead, I would like to focus on pages 225-228, where MacLean argues that constitutional checks and balances should be removed because they…
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Case Study on Reform: The Transition to Market Economies in Central and Eastern Europe

May 31st, 2013 by Wayne Leighton

Lajos Bokros, former Minister of Finance of Hungary and current Member of the European Parliament, has published an overview of the main elements of reform in post-Soviet states,  Accidental Occidental : Economics and Culture of Transition in Mitteleuropa, the Baltic and the Balkan Area. For students of political change, the book draws links between nine different elements of reform. Below, some highlights. On liberalization of the business sector: The key was liberalization of entry and exit for private…
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Robert Samuelson on government spending: a public choice perspective

March 20th, 2013 by Wayne Leighton

A recent Washington Post op-ed  by Robert Samuelson argues that both Democrats and Republicans are hesitant to address some of the biggest problems affecting the federal budget. It’s a nice primer on the political economy of government spending (whether or not you agree with the policy recommendations). Money quote: What frustrates constructive debate is muddled public opinion. Americans hate deficits but desire more spending and reject higher taxes. In a Pew Poll, 87 percent of respondents…
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Richard Nixon as a Madman in Authority

March 14th, 2013 by Wayne Leighton

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s birth, so it’s not surprising that the 37th President of the United States has been in the press. This post argues that Nixon is interesting and relevant as a madman in authority — that is, as a political leader who was both brilliant and deeply flawed. His influence continues to permeate American politics. Recent additions to the Nixon genre focus relatively early in this politician’s career,…
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The Limits of Madmen in Authority

February 26th, 2013 by Wayne Leighton

This Washington Post interview  is a must-read on the power — and especially, the limitations — of the U.S. president. The interviewee, Professor George Edwards of Texas A&M University and Oxford University, argues that “the traditional view of the persuasive presidency is wrong.” Here’s the opening, which also serves as summary: Years ago, the notion of leadership was that you get in front of potential followers and shout “follow me.” If you were a good leader,…
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Nordic Countries as Case Studies in Economic Reform

February 6th, 2013 by Wayne Leighton

The lead article from the February 2, 2013 edition of the Economist highlights Nordic countries as a case study in economic reform. The four main Nordic countries — Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland — have lessons to share, both in terms of the mistakes that got them into an economic mess and the policies they adopted to get out. The article begins by noting that the Nordic countries had remarkably high ratios of government spending as a share…
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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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Financial Services Regulation: The New Ability-to-Repay Rule

January 11th, 2013 by Wayne Leighton

On January 10, 2013 the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released new proposed rules related to mortgage lending standards. In effect, the agency will implement an “Ability to Repay Rule” to govern those who engage in mortgage lending. Here’s the agency’s announcement , which offers few details. This news report from the Wash Post’s business section is more informative. The new rules will apply to “qualified mortgages” and are designed to keep lenders from issuing loans to borrowers who…
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Recommended Reading on Financial Regulation

January 8th, 2013 by Wayne Leighton

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University has been doing a fine job of chronicling the details of financial services regulation following the 2008 crisis. See, in particular, the research of the seventeen members of its Financial Markets Working Group . Today Mercatus announced that two of its scholars, Hester Peirce and James Broughel, have edited a new book on Dodd-Frank, “the largest and most complex piece of financial services legislation in American history.” Check out Dodd Frank: What It Does and…
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Quantitative Easing and Market Distortions

January 7th, 2013 by Wayne Leighton

In yesterday’s post , I noted that members of the Federal Open Market Committee are starting to discuss the Fed’s latest quantitative easing, in particular the size and duration of a program that includes purchases of Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities. What really needs to be asked is 1) whether this policy is distorting the market rate of interest (which, if it is, will distort investment decisions and set the economy on the path to bigger…
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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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