by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest Forbes column might prompt you to add another volume to your reading list.
Why is it that democracies so often generate public policies that are wasteful and unjust? Why do such policies persist over long periods of time, even when they are known to be harmful?
Assuming that you’ve pondered those questions, you’d probably also like to understand why, on rare occasions, bad policies do get repealed.
If you have entertained those questions, or now see that they are worth entertaining, here is a book you’ll want to read. In Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers, economics professors Wayne Leighton (of Universidad Francisco Marroquin) and Edward Lopez (of Western Carolina University) take readers on an intellectual journey in search of the answers. The authors explain the connection between ideas, the “products” of the academic scribblers of their title, and the political actions that turn them into laws – and occasionally into ex-laws.
Starting with the first question above, why do democracies often produce bad public policies? The authors find the key to the explanation in what might seem a surprising place, namely John Maynard Keynes’ most famous book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money. No, not the book’s macroeconomic nonsense and its advocacy of government countercyclical fiscal policy, but instead a line that Keynes tossed in at the very end of the book, on how “madmen in authority” usually take their guidance, unwittingly, from “academic scribblers” in the past.
Leighton and Lopez state their point this way: “The ideas of academic scribblers might originate in ivory towers, but they become concrete and influential as they work their way down to shape what broader circles of people believe. Madmen in authority might speak to the masses in everyday language, but whether they know it or not, the depth of their message was penned by some bygone academic.”