Political Entrepreneurs

The Economic Engine of Political Change

Entrepreneurship in Ideas (Mormon Edition)

December 20th, 2012 by Wayne Leighton

Today’s NY Times describes a debate among Mormons about women and what they wear at church:

A call for Mormon women to wear pants at church, begun this month by a small group of women, has stretched across the globe, but not before creating a backlash and even generating death threats.

“Wear Pants to Church,” an event on Sunday, was meant to draw attention to the role of women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, using attire as a symbolic first salvo in a larger struggle over gender inequalities.

In other words, the debate  is about more than dress codes. It’s a reflection of new ideas bumping up against long-held beliefs and established interests, all within a religious institution.

What rules will guide the Mormon faith in the future? Which rules will endure and which will be deemed unnecessary? We don’t know. We can, however, make a general prediction as to the process by which a new idea may be adopted. It’s similar to the way in which a new idea is adopted in other institutions in a society.

As Ed and I explain in chapter 5 of Madmen, a new idea will have effect only if it resonates well with widely shared beliefs, which in turn must overcome established interests. If certain widely shared beliefs within the Mormon faith are changing — about pants or politics or anything else — then we should expect at least some new ideas to resonate with those beliefs. And that would be the first step towards change.

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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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