On the publisher’s website, Madmen is described as a book that “offers up a simple, economic framework for understanding the systematic causes of political change.”
That description follows the language that Wayne and I use throughout the book. For example, in the Preface we say we “offer a framework to think about how ideas matter, when it is that political change happens, and why at other times the status quo endures.”
In brief, our framework (laid out in Chapter 5) pairs the structure of ideas, institutions, and incentives with the main types of people who bring about change: namely academic scribblers who originate ideas, intellectuals who translate and popularize those abstract ideas, and madmen in authority who appeal to the masses and ultimately are the ones who twist the knobs of change.
All fine and good. But why do we use the word framework? Why not use theory or model instead? For direct inspiration on this point, we drew on Elinor Ostrom’s work, particularly how she uses the word framework in her 2009 Nobel address to describe the analytical structure that guided her empirical work.
While the terms frameworks, theories, and models are used interchangeably by many scholars, we use these concepts in a nested manner to range from the most general to the most precise set of assumptions made by a scholar. The IAD [Institutional Analysis and Development] framework is intended to contain the most general set of variables that an institutional analyst may want to use to examine a diversity of institutional settings including human interactions within markets, private firms, families, community organizations, legislatures, and government agencies. It provides a metatheoretical language to enable scholars to discuss any particular theory or to compare theories.
A specific theory is used by an analyst to specify which working parts of a framework are considered useful to explain diverse outcomes and how they relate to one another…. Models make precise assumptions about a limited number of variables in a theory that scholars use to examine the formal consequences of these specific assumptions about the motivation of actors and the structure of the situation they face. (pg. 414, emphases in original)
In the same manner, the framework in our Chapter 5 is intended to be a general platform on which specific theories and models of political change can be built, which in turn can be used to formulate and test specific hypotheses about individual instances of political change. For example, at what point can we expect marijuana prohibition to be repealed? Or what types of tax and budget reforms will emerge from the “fiscal cliff” crisis? Or which proposals for reforming vital organs have real political legs? And so on.
At the beginning of our project (i.e., in this first book) we consciously set out to build a highly general approach that could be used to understand virtually any episode of political change. As our project continues, we’ll be writing studies on various episodes of political change, and along the way we’ll rely on our framework to formulate and test specific theories and hypotheses. So there’s much more to come…