Political Entrepreneurs

The Economic Engine of Political Change

Free Enterprise on a Massive Scale: The 2014 APEE Meetings

April 18th, 2014 by Edward Lopez

The Association of Private Enterprise Education is alive and well. This year’s conference was held earlier this week at The Wynn Las Vegas and was attended by about 530 scholars, practitioners, and students from 12 countries. It was the largest attendance in the Associations 39-year history.

To put that in perspective, my notes say that the 2001 meeting in Washington, DC, was attended by 142, and the 2000 meeting at Caesar’s Palace Las Vegas drew attendance of 206. So APEE has grown somewhere between two- and four-fold in the past 15 years. This is noteworthy because APEE’s mission is to teach

about markets and the benefits of private enterprise. We seek to educate the public about how a system of private enterprise aligns incentives so the pursuit of profits serves the interests of the general public in addition to the interests of those producers. We seek to spur economic understanding through all media and educational means for the broadest public possible.

Atop hundreds of academic papers and roundtable discussions, highlights for me included:

  1. Larry White being recognized with the Association’s highest honor, the Adam Smith Award. This is the second acceptance speech by Larry that I’ve attended in the past six months. He has a very entertaining style to go with his always-solid substance.
  2. My good friends Professors Nikolai Wenzel (Florida Gulf Coast University) and Alex Padilla  (Metropolitan State College of Denver) being awarded the Kent-Aronoff Award for service to the Association. Nikolai and Alex have worked for the past few years to initiate the Association’s undergraduate research poster session, which has rocketed to enormous success by offering a venue for undergraduates to be noticed and begin their long-term APEE membership.
  3. An “Author Meets Critic” panel on Peter Boettke’s book, Living Economics, with David Colander as critic. (Professor Boettke elaborates on the session here.)
  4. An important session, “Ideas and Arguments: Determinants of Political Change,” in which GMU graduate students Vlad Tarko, Kyle O’Donnell, and Stefanie Haeffele-Balch presented papers related to Chapter 5 of Madmen.
  5. A panel discussion on Virginia Postrel’s new book, The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion.
I was also humbled and honored to be recognized with this year’s Distinguished Scholar Award.
Congratulations to Josh Hall for organizing a stellar conference. See you again next year in Cancun, Mexico.
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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