Political Entrepreneurs

The Economic Engine of Political Change

Category: Reviews

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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Politics as a Peculiar Business: Richard Wagner Revives a Tradition of Entangled Poltical Economy

September 6th, 2016 by James Caton

In Politics as a Peculiar Business , Richard Wagner explains that the world of the political and the world of the economic are by no means separate. Political and economic theory are complementary components of social theory. A theory that promotes detailed analysis must include both. It must be a theory of “entangled political economy”. The widespread adoption of neoclassical economics and econometric methods, with deterministic orientation and removal of the political from economics proper, shifted theory away from plausible (open-ended)…
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Diane Coyle reviews Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers

April 1st, 2015 by Edward Lopez

Diane Coyle, author of provocative and deep books including Sex, Drugs, and Economics: An Unconventional Introduction to Economics (2002), The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why it Matters (2009), and GDP: An Affectionate History (2012), has posted her review of Madmen over at The Enlightened Economist . She appreciates pairing the goal of the book (to understand political change, as we define that term ) with a “clear and concise history of thought”, and she concludes favorably: The book is very clearly written and an accessible…
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My Review of The Elgar Companion to Public Choice

August 25th, 2014 by Edward Lopez

Chris Coyne, the book review editor at Public Choice, asked me to write a review of the new Elgar Companion to Public Choice, Second Edition , edited by Michael Reksulak, Laura Razollini, and William Shughart. This book is a second edition of the first version that came out in 2003. It consists of 29 chapters The published version of the review is gated, but below I offer a link to the pre-publication version. Here are the first few paragraphs:           Co-Editors…
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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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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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Madmen Gets Recommended on Bloomberg Briefs’ Summer Reading List

June 28th, 2013 by Edward Lopez

It’s too big a stretch to call this a review, but Madmen has been recommended by Bloomberg’s Richard Yamarone on his summer reading list . Sandwiched between The Battle of Bretton Woods by Benjamin Steill and Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman, page two of the brief reads: A somewhat related book, Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers (Stanford University Press) by Wayne A. Leighton and Edward J. Lopez, looks at the systematic causes of political change, with influences by such “academic scribblers”…
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More Reviews of Madmen

April 27th, 2013 by Edward Lopez

Here are a few pointers to, and summaries of, recent reviews of Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers. First, a review by Isaac Morehouse , who is a development officer at the Institute for Humane Studies . Madmen is, in many ways, a clear articulation of many of the ideas I’ve come to hold about social change. It details how  Public Choice Theory reveals  that governments have all the wrong incentives for positive change. It discusses the role of ideas, and how they are  able to overcome the vested interests  that Public Choice makes seem…
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The Rise of the Political Entrepreneur

April 22nd, 2013 by Wayne Leighton

RootsHQ, an online resource for the conservative movement, recently published an article with a title we use for this post: “ The Rise of the Political Entrepreneur .” The article is by Allen Fuller, the group’s managing partner. You don’t have to be a conservative to appreciate his observations on shifting influences in politics. In short, how people influence the process of political change has evolved tremendously over the last few decades. It’s an argument that Ed and I make in Madmen….
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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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