Political Entrepreneurs

The Economic Engine of Political Change

The Pursuit of Order in a Creative World

October 27th, 2016 by James Caton

We see demands lately for a reformulation of economic theory. The current state of our practice appears to be much like the state arrived at in Babel. There is a need for new organization that is impeded by a lack of mutual understanding. Where is the solution? Answers to this systemic problem seem to exist, but lack an obvious unity. This frustration in communication seems to have left us with dependence on a paradigm that many economists…
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Excerpt about Bob Tollison (1942-2016)

October 24th, 2016 by Edward Lopez

Robert D. Tollison was dissertation adviser to both Wayne (in 1996) and me (in 1997). Bob passed away this morning, no details are available. I will be posting soon a memorial of Bob, and no doubt we will be arranging a memorial at the 2017 Public Choice Society meetings. For now, here is an excerpt of Madmen chapter 3, in which we introduce neoclassical welfare theory before next contrasting it with public choice theory. Chapter 3: Economists…
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Reflections on the Political Economy and Development of Ideas in Free Trade

October 22nd, 2016 by James Caton

Mercantilists formulated a system of political economy that put the strength of the state as the primary end. Economists supporting this doctrine, whether or not they realized, were defenders of the existing order. The mercantile system inverted the preference ordering appropriate for science, submitting the search for truth to some alternate end. Investigation was in the service of enriching and empowering the state and agents connected to it.  Much as still occurs today, the status…
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Co Blogger Vlad Tarko

October 15th, 2016 by Edward Lopez

Welcome to new co blogger Vlad Tarko , who will be writing here at Political Entrepreneurs about his research on ideas, institutions, and political economy. Vlad is the author or editor of three books  and a range of papers on capitalism, institutions, economic history, and the history of economic thought. Welcome aboard to Vlad!

Knowledge, Language, and Coordination

October 11th, 2016 by James Caton

Language is the ultimate archetype for emergent phenomena. Its structure is the archetype for the structure of knowledge embodied in those phenomena. Nobody plans language. Attempts at planning are worthy of the cynicism they receive. Remember the zealous high school teachers and college professors who preached the gospel of MLA formatting? This privileged group of experts may do their best to enforce homogeneous belief upon those who appear to be their subjects, but the emergent features of…
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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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Guest Blogger James L. Caton

September 6th, 2016 by Edward Lopez

We continue our guest blogger series with James L. Caton, a Ph.D. candidate in Economics at George Mason University, where he specializes in computational modeling, Austrian economics, and monetary/macro.  Jim has blogged for several years at Money, Markets, and Misperceptions . He will be blogging here about knowledge transfers — a topic that is of central relevance to Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers and the basic questions it raises about institutional change — among other topics. Welcome Jim!

Celebrating Armen Alchian and Maverick Evolutionary Economics

April 10th, 2016 by Edward Lopez

Imagine finding yourself on the campus of UCLA in the late 1940s. If you were to have ventured anywhere near the economics department, you might have bumped into one of UCLA’s newest hires, who would become among the most insightful and original economists of the twentieth century, a vigorous man with the interesting name of Armen Albert Alchian (born April 12, 1914). Alchian was a maverick economist who always held the respect of the mainstream. You…
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Cook Book Authors: Originators or Codifiers of Ideas?

April 9th, 2016 by Edward Lopez

Cook book authors influence how ordinary people cook and think about food. Here is an illustration, from a recent piece in the Charlotte Observer about the variety of ways Southerners make corn bread  (HT: Daniel Green): Toni Tipton Martin’s new book, “The Jemima Code,”  on the history of African-American cookbooks, shows that in the 19th century, books by Malinda Russell and Abby Fisher showed no sugar in the cornbread recipes. By 1912, in “The Kentucky Cookbook” by Mrs. W.T. Hayes, the cornbread called for 1 tablespoon sugar….
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Celebrating Norman E. Borlaug

March 25th, 2016 by Edward Lopez

Today would have been Norman E. Borlaug’s 102nd birthday. He died in 2009 after an enormously productive life of helping others to help themselves. Known as the “father of the Green Revolution” for introducing high-yield wheat varieties to impoverished economies, his work was recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize among other awards for “the man who saved a billion lives”. I like the photo here because it evokes the academic scribbler side of his entrepreneurship but also…
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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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