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Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers: The Economic Engine of Political Change Hardcover – November 21, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford Economics and Finance (November 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804780978
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804780971
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #768,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Madmen raises serious questions about simple explanations of change—because it makes clear there are several necessary conditions for a political shift. We tend to think of change as resulting from a single hero or villain, but the story is more complex. The tales in this book show what it takes to effect change, while weaving a narrative that is entertaining and memorable."—Michael C. Munger, Duke University and author of Analyzing Policy


"Leighton and Lopéz supply intellectually sound arguments, grounded in public choice and of Austrian economics, to explain why democratic governments often fail to produce policies that are consistent with the public's interest. Drawing on sources from across history—from Plato and Aristotle to Friedrich Hayek, and James Buchanan—Madmen situates current policy debates in a context much wider than usual. Most impressive are the authors' evident grasp of—and ability to synthesize—complex arguments about the properties of 'good government.'"—William F. Shughart II, University of Mississippi and co-author of Policy Challenges and Political Responses


"Ideas matter. Madmen, with its engaging stories, is perfect for anyone interested in public policy, or how our world could be a better place. Read it, and assign it to your class."—Tyler Cowen, George Mason University, blogger at The Marginal Revolution, and author of Discover Your Inner Economist


"There's no shortage of writing about bad government policies, but Leighton and Lopez go several steps deeper, by exploring the incentives that foster bad policies, the institutions that foster bad incentives, the ideas that foster bad institutions, and the social processes that foster the spread of bad ideas. Better yet, they offer wise prescriptions for change and colorful stories to illustrate their wisdom. This is a book that manages all at once to be wise, important, and great fun to read. I highly recommend it."—Steven E. Landsburg, Professor of Economics, University of Rochester


"This book is an inspiring reminder that great thinking matters. It's a delightful, accessible, and thought-provoking book for anyone interested in big ideas at the intersection of economics and politics."—Charles Wheelan, University of Chicago and author of Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science

From the Author

Catch up with Wayne Leighton and Edward Lopez at PoliticalEntrepreneurs.com.

More About the Authors

Discover books, learn about writers, read author blogs, and more.

Customer Reviews

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This history, brief though it is, is very well done.
Ryan Young
To me, as a Public Choice economist, perhaps the most interesting part of the book is the discussion of the role crises play in bringing about policy changes.
stevemillerecon
Political myopia, special interests, transitional gains traps.... But Leighton and Lopez offer some hope for how the stasis of public choice can be overcome.
Tracy Lawson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Tracy Lawson on November 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you're a student of public choice economics, you must despair at all the obstacles to economic liberalization that public choice theory identifies. Political myopia, special interests, transitional gains traps....

But Leighton and Lopez offer some hope for how the stasis of public choice can be overcome. They offer up a simple model to analyze several instances (e.g., airline deregulation) in which, against all apparent odds, the special interests were beaten. Drawing on notions from both Keynes and Hayek, who argued for the primacy of intellectuals and "academic scribblers" as agents of social change, the authors add the notion of a "madman" to the mix. A madman is a policy entrepreneur who identifies a crack in the political system that he can exploit to achieve political change. They show how the combination of intellectual ideas, scribblers, and madmen at the right time and place can beat public choice barriers to reform.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By stevemillerecon on November 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is refreshingly concise, well-written, and yet provides depth both in its account of intellectual history and its contribution to our understanding of politics. Obviously, given the authors' training, Public Choice theory is front and center. But the book actually provides an important critique of "old school" Public Choice Theory, in particular the more purist versions of Rent-Seeking (think Tullock Rectangles). The authors recognize that while inefficient policies (protectionist tariffs, for example) can arise where that policy's benefits are highly concentrated and costs are dispersed, those policies are not necessarily locked in forever. While incentives matter, so do ideas -- and this is essentially the central theme of the book, that ideas matter when and where they can be popularized and applied by "political entrepreneurs". Leighton and Lopez provide numerous examples of policy changes that contradict the most dismal predictions of Public Choice economists.

To me, as a Public Choice economist, perhaps the most interesting part of the book is the discussion of the role crises play in bringing about policy changes. I must admit that I had previously accepted Friedman's view that a crisis is a necessary precondition for meaningful political change. Obviously, a crisis often is the trigger for reform, as it was for New Zealand's agricultural and trade reforms in the late 20th Century. However, Leighton and Lopez have now convinced me that crisis is not necessary. Obviously a crisis presents an opportunity for political entrepreneurs, but other opportunities exist, and often those opportunities happen to be synergies between people with the right ideas, the right ambitions, and the right incentives at the right time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David Zetland on February 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers: The Economic Engine of Political Change fulfills two important functions. First, it delivers a clear and concise overview of political economy, i.e., how politics and economic interact. Second, it provides a simple, but accurate description of how bad polices get put into place, why they persist and how -- perhaps -- to change those policies. Both aspects appealed to me as an entrepreneur of ideas because they helped me understand a topic that I work with everyday and gave me some hints on how to structure my work (e.g., this blog) to be more effective.

In the words of Leighton and Lopez (the authors):

Our understanding of political change is as follows: Incentives are shaped by the rules of the game, which economists call institutions, and these institutions in turn are shaped by the ideas in a society. In other words, ideas matter...[and] political change happens when entrepreneurs exploit loose spots in the structure of ideas, institutions and incentives [preface]

From this statement, you can understand how ideas affect institutions that modify the incentives that economists talk so much about. This structure implies that you need to change institutions to change incentives and that it takes ideas to change institutions. If, for example, we want to reduce the industrial agricultural output of corn in the US -- an output that produces water pollution, depletes aquifers, distorts our food choices, and so on -- then we need to change the incentives that farmers face. The biggest incentives are in the form of crop insurance, guaranteed demand for corn-ethanol, and subsidies and guaranteed prices for corn.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ryan Young on January 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is ostensibly about how political reforms happen, but that only occupies a small portion of the book towards the end. The first two thirds-plus are a history of political philosophy from Plato to the Enlightenment, and a history of economics from Adam Smith to James Buchanan. This history, brief though it is, is very well done. The book is geared towards laymen, and it makes for a quality introduction to most of the big names in philosophy and economics.

When the book does get to reform in the final two chapters, the authors introduce the term "political entrepreneur." Just as a business entrepreneur has to see what circumstances are in the market and react to them to make a profit, so a political entrepreneur has to see what political circumstances are and react to them in the right way to effect change. Reform requires both the right political weather conditions and reformers astute enough to act on them -- which might be why substantive political change is so rare a creature as to be an endangered species.
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