Public Choice reviews Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers
Economist Michael D. Thomas has written a review of Madmen (gated) for Public Choice (vol. 159, pp.313–315, 2014).
Michael, Wayne and I know each other fairly well through the George Mason network. At the 2013 Public Choice Society meetings, we were all on a panel with Larry White and Peter Boettke discussing Madmen and Larry’s excellent book The Clash of Economic Ideas.
Michael’s review truly gets to the heart of what Madmen is about: incorporating ideas into public choice for the purpose of explaining political change. Following Keynes, Hayek, and Mill, we frame political change as occurring when a new idea is implemented into social institutions, replacing previous institutional arrangements and therefore overturning the status quo. Public choice is well suited to this question because it offers a framework for analyzing political entrepreneurship. Our basic thesis is that ideas on their own don’t have consequences. Only when political entrepreneurs implement the right idea under the right conditions do ideas trump status quo interests.
Michael’s review provides good context for the book and helpful summaries of each chapter. A couple of select passages:
Leighton and López’s book, Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers, is a motivated reading into the role political entrepreneurs play in creating policy. The book discusses three distinct levels of change: origination, establishment, and implementation of new ideas. The result of their efforts is an expansive survey edited to less than 200 pages of discussion. What is surprising, then, is that the authors cover the material and maintain a conversational tone…
Ideas do not truly matter until they have influenced the way people interact. An idea alone will not succeed until there is a moment when it can be employed to someone’s benefit. This book ties together existing research on the political entrepreneur and provides context for a discussion.
Each chapter of the book develops this idea of political entrepreneurship. It does this through three main contributions. Each offers a substantive reason to read and share the book. The first stage is a historical survey. The second stage gives a particular case study of how different intellectual figures (e.g., James Buchanan and Ronald Coase) were able to transform the thinking of their contemporaries as well as the next generation of policymakers. The final stage of the argument is prospective and offers insight into how the authors characterize and apply the lessons of political entrepreneurship to new areas of inquiry.
You can check out Michael’s papers here.