What do we mean by “Political Entrepreneur”?
Wayne and I talked about it a few times before deciding to name this site Political Entrepreneurs. We considered going with something catchy like Madmen in Authority, but we feared that would draw more focus to policymakers than we intend to. Ultimately we went with Political Entrepreneurs because it puts attention on the driving force of political change in our framework, namely the political entrepreneur.
This of course raises the question: what do we mean by “political entrepreneur”? That question is intertwined with the core question we ask in the book, which is “what creates political change”? In the book, we draw on the history of ideas, both in theory and practice, to build a framework that focuses on the tension between ideas and status quo forces in shaping institutional rules. We tell a complex story, but it can be simply put: new ideas must overcome two forces of the status quo, existing political interests and prevailing ways of thinking; only then will policymakers then have the incentive to change institutional rules.
So how does political entrepreneurship fit in? In our framework, ideas shape institutions, which in turn shape incentives, which therefore determine outcomes we observe. So political change happens when entrepreneurs notice areas of weakness in the structure of ideas, institutions, and incentives, and then find ways to change the institutional rules in those areas. In a democracy, this requires making it in the political interests of the existing powers (the madmen in authority) to change the rules accordingly. Political entrepreneurs strive for that right political moment, for the time when the right idea can take hold. They try to change conditions, to fulfill what John Stuart Mill said in 1845: “when the right idea and the right circumstances meet, the effect is seldom slow in manifesting itself.”
In our view, this form of entrepreneurship has not been clearly explored and tested in social science, much less communicated to broad audiences. That said, we’re nowhere close to the first ones to take up these questions. Even a quick search turns up a good selection of articles and books on the topic of political entrepreneurship. One question that has come up is whether political entrepreneurs create net positive effects in society. In our framework, the gains to political entrepreneurship are not necessarily positive because rent seeking, for example, can influence changes in institutional rules as much as it can legislation and regulation. Many other interesting issues come up in the several mini-literatures that are developing on political entrepreneurship.
As Wayne and I continue blogging, we’ll draw comparisons to a lot of this other work. I suspect we’ll discover a large degree of overlap between these other contributions and ours. There is likely to be a fair amount of disagreement as well. Bottom line, for us the political entrepreneur is the driving force in political change, the agent who notices, creates and exploits opportunities to overcome status quo forces and change institutional rules.
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