Tyler Cowen is an American economist, philosopher, and writer, who is a professor at George Mason University, where he holds the Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics. He hosts a popular economics blog, Marginal Revolution, together with his co-author, Alex Tabarrok. Cowen and Tabarrok have also started the website Marginal Revolution University, a venture in online education.
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Have to run now people, thanks for your participation, but I am due to record a podcast at Bloomberg! Has been lots of fun, if you have further questions try emailing me in the future...
I am an economist, online education entrepreneur, podcast host, blogger, ethnic food expert, author of many books, general director of the Mercatus Center at Goerge Mason University, and contributor to Bloomberg. My new book, The Complacent Class, challenges the idea that America is still at the forefront of innovation and advancement. Back in the mid-20th century, we envisioned a future of flying cars, cities in space, and time travel. Today, we've seen progress in communication technology but a slowdown in other areas like infrastructure, jobs, healthcare, and income inequality. Instead, Americans are moving less, starting fewer businesses, using technology to self-segregate, and are working harder than ever to avoid change. I welcome questions on the ideas in my book, but you can ask me about any of my interests.
What confluence of events led to GMU having such a diverse and cogitative economic faculty? (You, Alex Tabarrok, Bryan Caplan, Robin Hanson, Arnold King, etc.) And what other groups of faculty do you think are comparable or similar?
Some smart and able people doing the hiring!
I will leave it to you to guess who those might be.
I don't know of a comparable cluster elsewhere, though of course there are many excellent departments, superb and world class along other dimensions. Harvard, Stanford, MIT would be tops these days.
If given the opportunity, would you ever produce a show akin to Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose" in order to better educate about and interest more people in economics?
I don't think I am ideal for TV, not charming enough!
I also feel it would ruin my life, all that taping and filming. I would consider it, but might end up just saying no. Hard to say without having been asked. It could just be the internet is already the future of this kind of endeavor, and there I am already well-represented, including on MRUniversity.com and also Conversations with Tyler.
When asked if they would rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses, many people say they would be more scared of a horse-sized duck. My question to you is, duck-sized horses, over-rated or under-rated?
Not a great danger. Remember all those large birds that used to roam around New Zealand? Where are they today? Hunted and eaten by the Maori. The small horses could nip at your heels, however.
Your and Alex's blog is my first stop in the morning. Can you explain (like I'm 5?) what you mean when you say someone has "mood affiliation" and, separately, when something is "Straussian"? I see these on the blog all the time and I never quite understand what you mean.
Thanks and keep writing!
use the MR search function for my first post on mood affiliation. "Straussian" is tougher, but when I use it I refer to the notion of hidden or coded meanings in a piece of writing. Strauss of course was much more than that, including a skepticism about modernity and the popular will, synthesis of Greek and Hebrew sources, love of the classics, and much much more.
Professor Tyler, I'm a big fan of yours. In one of your interviews, a while back, you mentioned that if you were young today and had to start your career today, you wouldn't pursue an academic career. What would you do if you were to start all over, something that would allow you to satisfy the demands of your "extreme curiosity"?
I think I meant I might not do economics. How about teaching in a law school? Economics today is so specialized. It is hard for me to imagine being completely outside of academic life.
At the margin should we spend more or less time on Reddit?
It's great fun for infovores.
It is probably not that productive a use of time. Productivity growth seems to have slowed down once social sharing sites got popular.
Are we likely to only read people in our bubble and get complacent?
The infovores are not the ones I worry about, it's everyone else.
I hope that Reddit energizes you, why not?
I recently found your blog, Marginal Revolution. It has a lot of interesting things about economics. But, why is the comment section so terrible? It's full trolls constantly taking swings at each other, that make no sense to anyone else. That, and it's full of far-right people, which doesn't really match the theme of the blog. I get that a comment section does not represent the blog owner(s), but yours is unusually bad. I will read an interesting blog post, open the comments and be disappointed every time.
About your book, what is in it that I cannot pick up from blog posts? Also, when is it coming out in the U.K. and Europe?
90% of the book is not on Marginal Revolution, though much of the productivity material is.
Maybe blogs get the comments sections they deserve! I apologize for that, it can be horrendous. Maybe a lot of human beings just aren't that good.
What is the best way to combat growing nihilism about both politics and news quality?
Also, what are the best paths to reforming entitlements and what political coalition do you think would successfully pursue them?
Thank you for your great books and impeccable blogging! Please let Tyrone blog more!
Read good blogs. Write a good blog yourself. Try to pass ideological Turing tests. Always try to master the opposing point of view.
I don't see the political coalition to reform entitlements. If interest rates stay low and health care cost inflation goes back to its 2011-2015 rate, we might be OK, but I wouldn't want to have to bet on either of those. The risk of a hard landing seems to be going up.
Amazon page of your book says
> The Complacent Class argues that this cannot go on forever. We are postponing change, due to our near-sightedness and extreme desire for comfort, but ultimately this will make change, when it comes, harder. The forces unleashed by the Great Stagnation will eventually lead to a major fiscal and budgetary crisis: impossibly expensive rentals for our most attractive cities, worsening of residential segregation, and a decline in our work ethic.
Given that, universal basic income or similar scheme will become necessity after large scale automation kicks in, will these arguments about fiscal and budgetary crisis still hold true?
And with self driving cars and tech like hyperloop, wouldn't the rents in the cities go down?
PS : I am layman in economics
Driverless cars are still quite a while away in their most potent form, as that requires redoing the whole infrastructure. But so far I see location only becoming more important, even in light of tech developments, such as the internet, that were supposed to make it less important.
It is hard for me to see how a country with so many immigrants will tolerate a UBI. I think that idea is for Denmark and New Zealand, I don't see it happening in the United States. Plus it can cost a lot too. So the arguments about fiscal crisis I think still hold.
Which modern commentator on economics, political philosophy, public policy, and/or current affairs do you agree with most often?
I'll guess Megan McArdle.
I agree with Megan a lot, and am good friends with her. But I am reluctant to pull out any single name.
As for food, she bakes pies and the like, and I can't say I agree with that at all. So it all depends.
I am a single guy. Can learning economics help me find a girlfriend?
No, it will hurt you. Run the other way!
Dear Prof. Cowen,
thank you for your frequent blogging! I've been a daily reader since I found marginal revolution. Whenever I stumble upon an interesting person or issue, I first look whether it has been mentioned by you. I have several questions, feel free to answer any of them:
1) What is your favorite or pet theory of the Industrial Revolution?
2) What is the best post-crisis book that could be titled "In Defense of Neoliberalism"? Why is it underrated in contemporary Germany?
3) Is sociology over- or underrated? What are your views on Bourdieu and Luhmann?
4) Robin Hanson and the top amazon review criticize your concept of historical cycles. What's your answer?
5) Is the DSGE-program nowadays over- or underrated?
6) How does the Great Stagnation fit with the risk of increasing automation?
7) What is Ray Lopez up to?
8) If I was going to do research on the role of trade for the German Reich, what should I look for? :)
Vielen Dank und viele Grüße aus Berlin!
On the IR, the role of coal is still underrated in my view, though I don't go for any of the monocausal theories.
I don't think of the book you seek, maybe a few of those from Sweden, such as Johan Norberg?
Germany seems to be moving away from Ordoliberalismus ein bisschen.
My notion of historical cycles is pretty loose, simply that progress should not be so tightly expected.
DSGE now underrated, too many critics who don't have anything better to offer.
Mass automation lies in the future, TGS lies in our past, two phases of a broader story.
I have never met Ray, and don't know how much of his story/persona is real vs. invented.
Look for a good research assistant!
Danke fuer die Fragen! Bis demnaechst!
whoa, I didn't realize you were doing an AMA today!
What is an issue or concept in economics that you wish were easier to explain so that it would be given more attention by the public?
The idea that a sound polity has to be based on ideas other than just redistribution of wealth.
What is the most underrated city in the US? In the world?
Los Angeles is my favorite city in the whole world, just love driving around it, seeing the scenery, eating there. I still miss living in the area.
Would you describe your new book as overrated or underrated in your opinion?
Not yet rated!
Hi, Dr. Cowen. I'm a "millennial" in my early 30s and think a lot of the predictions you make in this book are very persuasive. Like a lot of my peers, I'm actually not averse to greater economic and social dynamism - it's very scary for our Baby Boomer parents, but sounds like opportunity (and social good!) to us. What I want to ask, though, is what do you think this means for wealth/asset generation for our generation?
No one I know believes our Social Security will be funded at 100% when we retire (if it's there at all). None of have pensions. A lot of us have student debt, which makes most of us delay household formation (houses, marriage, babies, etc). Tons of folks I know would love to start businesses, but between debt, rent and cost of living, it's almost impossible to do unless you come from family wealth. And when the Boomers retire/need old age care, most of those costs will inevitably fall to us.
So... what do? Besides political choices, how do I, as a part of the generation who will be most affected by greater disruption over the next 20/30 years, avoid getting screwed?
There is a wealth crisis quite distinct from the median income and wage stagnation crisis. it will become much harder to save for one's retirement. Imagine a world where equities no longer yield 7% on average! Yikes. That could be our future.
either you should save a lot more, or just say **** it, and spend all you've got. Depends on your temperament, I suppose.
What is your prescription for the 'bottom 50%' of society in 20-30 years when the majority of their jobs have been automated away, and they lack the flexibility/natural talent to retrain for higher paying, more abstract forms of work? In Silicon Valley, a Universal Basic Income is floated as a common solution. Do you think UBI is workable/practical? Or do you advocate for something else?
Take care of the elderly.
No society will lots of immigrants is likely to embrace a UBI, I just don't see it. Plus at any kind of decent level it is quite costly.
I think welfare reform in America will continue to be conducted at the piecemeal level.
In the past you've given some reasons for why you don't support futarchy. Do you still agree with those reasons, and do you think we could perhaps move closer to futarchy in some (useful) ways?
Still agree, the point of a government is to secure loyalty and unity. Futarchy is too complicated and nerdy to do that. First I'd like to see it succeed in smaller-scale trials. I would be very happy if it could count some victories on its belt, but I don't see them yet.
Why do you ask whether things are over/under rated rather than just good or bad? Surely in the vast majority of domains (tourism being one possible counterexample if you wish to avoid the crowds) the latter is what matters?
It forces thought onto a higher meta-level to ask about overrated vs. underrated. It's like asking about investments relative to the market price, and an economist who has studied a lot of finance naturally will have this inclination. Water and food are good! Yes, but which are the underrated restaurants...
What do you think about Peter Thiel's relationship with President Trump?
I haven’t done any real travel and would like to but don’t have a grasp even on the basics. At a really basic level, what do you do during the day to maximize your limited time in a foreign environment? Eating good food is obvious, but what else? If tourist sites are overrated, then what do you replace them with (for someone maybe not so interested in GDP tourism)? Are there any good books on how to travel?
I know you consider alcohol a social ill. What are your thoughts on marijuana or LSD?
I have never tried marijuana or LSD, don't feel well0informed, but I guess I don't see the upside. The rest of life is so much fun!
I haven't seen Peter since his time with Trump. I am not myself a Trump supporter, but wish to reserve judgment until I know more about Peter's role. I am not in general opposed to the idea of people working with administrations that may have serious flaws.
As for travel, walk, walk, walk! More walking. Then walk some.
Thanks for doing this AMA!
If you were in your mid twenties, what counter-to-the-conventional-wisdom life decisions would you make as a consequence of the picture you paint in The Complacent Class, Average is Over, and on your blog? Or, put another way: what life decisions for young people deserve to have their status raised, and which deserve to have their status lowered?
Separately, I wanted to thank you for writing the one blog I read religiously. One of the best metrics of whether I think someone is smart and interesting is whether I reflexively recommend that they read Marginal Revolution.
Thanks for the kind words...my biggest and best decision was to live in Germany for a year in my mid-20s -- discovered more that year than any other time in my life. Maybe Asia these days, ohwever!
What do you think is currently the most underrated ethnic food amongst people who seek out and try uncommon ethnic food?
Chinese, oddly enough. Real Chinese food. Perhaps the best cuisine in the world. Regional Indian would be my pick #2, most people just know "northern" and "southern" India, that is a start but only a tiny start.
Are you familiar with the work of Karl Polanyi? What do you think of it? Was your book title, The Great Stagnation, a riff on his, The Great Transformation?
Much influenced by it, that book was one force making me more of a liberaltarian. People will only tolerate so much instability, and Polanyi showed that pretty clearly.
1) As technology displaces more and more jobs in our economy what is the best way to (1) measure and (2) provide meaning in peoples' lives decoupled from work?
2) You've made a career by 'specializing in being a generalist.' For millennial polymaths who have diverse interests, do you have any career advice re: what to pursue that would allow you to learn about a diverse set of topics?
"Let them eat internet" -- the modern Marie Antoinette.
p.s. my career advice is to make a lot of money instead!
What is your ranking of Mahler symphonies? And who are the conductors who get him best?
9, 2, 6, 3 are the ones I really love. 1,5, 7, 10 don't do much for me. I've never seen 8 live, but it doesn't work well on disc. Maybe the spectacle value pulls it through. Abbado is a good basic choice for Mahler, von Karajan has the best version of 9, Stokowski and LSO the best for #2. Levine for #3. Barbirolli maybe for 6?
Is he trolling or writing in Straussian esotericism?
Hi. I'm a mod @ r/badeconomics and a former student of yours (and, for the record, I hope you get to go to Oban, Scotland and have a nice dish @ EEUSK).
In a recent article by you, you spoke about who in the US was experiencing the American Dream, finding evidence that the Dream is still alive and thriving for Hispanics in the U.S. What challenges do you perceive now with the new administration that might reduce the prospects for this group?
Breaking up families, general feeling of hostility, possibly damaging the economy of Mexico and relations with them. All bad trends. I am hoping the strong and loving ties across the people themselves will outweigh that. We will see, but on this I am cautiously optimistic.
Where can we find the influence of René Girard in your thought?
The idea that societies demand sacrifices to maintain their unity.
The notion that there is truly something special about Christianity for elevating the victim and making a notion of individual rights possible.
More too, including on how he reads literature, such as Shakespeare and Hardy.
TL;DR: Do you think there is less "great" theory/ideology today (e.g. thinking about capitalism, communism, etc. in broad strokes)? And, why or why not? Also, what is your take on why academia has become increasingly granular and "grand theories" have seemingly gone out of fashion?
Tyler, just wanted to say I completely devoured The Complacent Class this past weekend, and I'm on your last chapter. I wanted to say that you certainly provided a vocabulary for something I've been thinking a lot about recently. Thank you for the food for thought.
I've read a lot about the past and the various ideological movements that gripped the 20th century (e.g. fascism, socialism, communism, and lesser known yet still influential ones such as anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, etc.). The lack of ideological clashes in the current day really strike me. I feel as though we are living through a time that is devoid of ideology (which, of course, can still be seen as an ideology...), and as though people are not thinking as big as they have in the past. As a voracious consumer of political news, most of the fights I see are over whether or not we can afford x or continue to do y, but there is really no questioning of the underlying systems outside of what we would likely perceive to be "fringe" and/or in academia. I'm guessing, from your book, you would agree (forgive me if I am misremembering, it was quite a bit of information to work though and I'm still reeling from it :) ), hence my questions above.
Just wanted to give you a huge thank you for all the work you put into your blog and your latest book. You always provide a lot of food for thought even if I don't necessarily agree with you 100% :)
Also, if you ever find yourself in Philadelphia, be sure to stop in to South Philly Barbacoa and Khmer Kitchen. There is a surprisingly large expat Cambodian population in South Philadelphia and a lot of good eats. (I know you're always on the prowl for good spots... so those are my local contributions. Thanks again for the AMA!)
Thanks for the kind words, and please email me the recs, they might get "lost" in this thread. Grand theory has been declining for quite a while, who is the big French thinker today? Zizek is exhausted too, though he can be interesting in his earlier writings. Too much specialization in academia, and too much to read, those are the main culprits.
Would you be open to adopting whatever mechanism the Language Log uses? (A blog with similar pop-academia flavor to it, but with a much more constructive comments section.)
I mean you'd expect a post on language difficulty to attract all sorts of xenophobic ire, but it's remarkably civil, especially for a comment section where the second comment is from a "Dr. BUTTOCKS"
They are less political, for one thing...
Hi Tyler, I'm a long time reader.
Sometimes when I'm reading certain of your posts, I'm almost convinced that they're salted with statements or questions that amount to trolling. I usually laugh it off, but I often wonder - was it really trolling? Would you mind tipping your hand to us a little and maybe tell us about a few favorite times you had a little fun with a posts?
Alternatively, if you're totally serious all the time, you're pretty darn unique!
Yes! But totally serious in my trolling. Do you know the posts where I only quote other people and don't add words of my own? Sometimes those have a bit of trolling too. Just look at my post today asking for help with Northern Ireland and see if you can spot the trolling.
Are you familiar with Cliodynamics or any of Peter Turchin's work? He predicts that we will see a spike of violence in the 2020s, and that the main driver of most revolutions/civil instability is intra-elite competition. What's your take on the likelihood and character of future political instability?
Turchin went to high school with my wife, Natasha, and I have met him. I am intrigued by his work, but find his notion of cycles to rigid, and I doubt if the concept has very specific predictive value for timing and the like.
How do you invest your money? Do you agree with Buffett's assertion: "The bottom line: When trillions of dollars are managed by Wall Streeters charging high fees, it will usually be the managers who reap outsized profits, not the clients. Both large and small investors should stick with low-cost index funds."?
Buy and hold diversified equities, don't sell, then lots of cash too. Don't even check your portfolio for years.
Overrated or underrated:
• Beethoven's 9th?
• John Coltrane?
• David Hume?
• Abraham Lincoln?
• Indoor smoking bans?
fan fiction I don't know so well
Lincoln slightly overrated
EMH always underrated
Smoking bans I would have to read the research.
Why teach at a law school? I'm heading to law school next year and am considering pursuing academia, would very much appreciate your thoughts on it.
I enjoy the quality of students and how articulate they are...
Do you think convenience apps like Amazon grocery make us more complacent?
Anything shipped to your home -- worry! Getting out and about is these days underrated. Serendipitous discovery and the like. Confronting the physical spaces we have built, and, eventually, demanding improvements in them.
On a personal level, what are a few of your favorite films?
Almost anything by Bergman, most of all Persona and Scenes from a Marriage.
Tarkovsky, most of all Stalker.
The Star Wars films.
John Woo and classic Asian cinema.
Every year on MR I publish a list of my favorites from that year, most recently Toni Erdmann made a big impression on me.
You seem to be a lot more worried about automation than most other economists. What should people who are skeptical about the dangers of automation look at to change their minds, and what do you think is the main thing other economists are missing when looking at the issue?
They should study the history of the Industrial Revolution, and all of its bumps, I had a recent Bloomberg column on this, https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-02-16/industrial-revolution-comparisons-aren-t-comforting
What does the average day in the life of Professor Cowen look like? Do you have a specific morning ritual that gets your day started on the right foot? How many hours a day do you devote to reading and writing? Any tips or tricks you use to maintain your impressive productivity?
Twitter and email.
How many hours? All of them! (sometimes)
My main tip is be born the right way and then persist.
Thanks for doing an AMA! I've read MR for about 6 years and listened to your
Conversations podcast for about 6 months. Both have taught me a lot.
My question: I've heard you ask some variant of this question on your podcast: given a billion (or 10 billion, if you like) dollars to attack a problem of your choosing, what problem do you choose to attack? How, and why?
I don't know that you can do that much good with a billion dollars, not easily at least and not without great skill and also a good deal of luck. I know of a bunch of billionaires who have given away a billion or more. Maybe Andrew Carnegie was the most successful in terms of long-run impact?
What are some overrated/underrated questions you wished someone would ask you? And what are the answers?
No one asks me any! Not many at least, Patrick Collison did a few, they will come on-line in mid-April. I'd be happy to be asked just about anything, you'll find a few more in this thread.
Whats going on dude?
Some things, but not as much as you might think.
About "complacency" what do you think about education? People are moving less and starting fewer businesses, but they're getting more education. High schoolers have more homework and college admissions are more competitive. With credential inflation, more education has occured accross the board, with more people going to community college and more going to graduate school. On the other hand, to many students, college is paid vacation which doesn't ask much of them. Do you see this trend of more education as an exception to or a part of what you consider the greater "complacency" of Americans?
So much of that education is a form of consumption. Nothing wrong with that, but a lot of it isn't leading to higher productivity at all, if anything the opposite. so many colleges and universities are incredibly conformist places these days. They give the faculty tenure, and then those people don't really take many chances with that remarkable privilege. Sad!
Are there people who might be exterior complacent types - e.g., they are on the computer and social media 90% of their lives - but are interior radicals - e.g., they are not creating an echo chamber but learning all sorts of new and unusual (not matching) things?
I hope I am one of them!
At times, at least.
We are all more conservative than we appear at first, I suspect. Keep that in mind, too.
Thank you for this AMA Dr. Cowen.
Too late on Bernie, I am afraid, not enough people would read it. But those ideas will indeed reemerge, and in less than four years' time.
I don't know Armond White but will look into it, an intriguing idea.
Zhang is my favorite Chinese director. and most recently I saw The Chinese Mayor, streaming on Netflix, a perceptive look at local government in China. I don't know any Vietnamese movies, alas.
Probably no pre-1900 composers, unless you are referring to some traditional blues tunes.
Claudia Rosen is maybe the best Greek cookbook in English at least.
I graduated a few years ago with a degree in economics and decided to work in the private sector. Now I am what they call a "data scientist" and I work a lot with machine learning. As I was teaching myself how to use these tools, I was struck by how machine learning and computer science communities use many of the same tools as econometricians, but in slightly different ways and to different ends. It seems that the ML community and the econometrics community would have a lot to teach each other. Are you aware of any cross-pollination in these areas? Is there any interesting recent work that joins these two areas that you know of?
Susan Athey is the point person here, see her writings on machine learning, mostly developed to bring economists into the fold...this is all happening quite rapidly.
Relative to the public, are you optimistic or pessimistic on Kevin Durant's return this season?
He won't return until the second round of the playoffs, and in uncertain form. That puts me in the relatively pessimistic camp.
Where is the best food in South America (outside of the major cities)?
Sao Paulo if you count the major cities, otherwise Peru. Chile is underrated, just avoid the cream sauces there. Columbia is the weak link of the continent when it comes to food, but give them time. Venezuela I haven't visited.
Have you considered moderating or re-engineering the comments section on your site (which tend to be populated by some fairly unsavory characters)? Is there a philosophical reason you have for leaving it as is, and what sorts of comments or posters have you been forced to remove?
I only remove overt obscenity, libel, and racism when I spot them. I don't spend that much time looking at the comments section, would rather write more posts. I say just ignore them.
Prof. Cowen, how do you see the role of religion in either making us more complacent or pushing us to be less complacent? There seems to be a large complacency gap between, for example, Mormons and mainline Christianity.
I am a big fan of religion for pushing many people out of complacency, the earlier version of American Protestantism, for instance, which influenced Mormonism too.
You try a new acclaimed food, supposedly authentic. It tastes gross! You wait a few days and come back again. It still tastes gross! How many times do you return to sample it so that you really get it?
(Jonathan Gold is supposed to have gone to a Taiwanese place in LA over a dozen times before he started to appreciate it.)
I've never had that happen so hard to say but I am probably less patient than he is...
Why do people marry down?
Some people can't marry up, others feel less secure that way. Then they marry down, or don't marry at all. But also keep in mind that "up" and "down" in these contexts are not always so well-defined, and partners who may appear to be prizes actually may...I suspect you get my point.
What do you think are the most realistic ways for governments and other institutions to reduce global catastrophic risk?
Pandemic preparation, and trying to stop the further spread of nuclear weapons. I worry most about the basic stuff, not "Skynet goes live."
Do you listen to music while you read? Just wandering when do you find the time to listen to all the great music you find on Fanfare?
Reading non-fiction almost always, but reading serious fiction or poetry usually I prefer silence, otherwise there is a clash of sorts. I listen in the car, too, though the home stereo system is a real treasure.
You cited Hao Jingfang's Folding Beijing as evidence that China is "becoming a society supercharged with creativity." What is creativity, generally, and in economic terms? And have you read the Three Body Problem trilogy?
I love the first volume of Three Body, will read more of it soon. WeChat, electronic payments, and possibly biomedicine. I expect lots of innovation from China, so much talent there.
Regarding using technology to self-segregate: I have been feeling lately that people have forgotten the art of "leaving each other alone" (in a libertarian sense) and this is negatively affecting the national mood. Everything has to be a national news story, a protest, a movement. I see self-segregation as a maximization of happiness when using technology. Why can't I just look at things and interact with people that make me happy? Maybe this is wishful thinking from a well-off white person with no real trauma in my life.
Do you think the negatives of self-segregation outweigh the positives?
At current margins there is too much polarization I think. Social media make it too easy to see that "the other side" really does hate you. Maybe more people should withdraw altogether, and concentrate their efforts in physical space.
Dear Dr. Cohen,
I've been following your blog for a while, and to be honest it has given me a somewhat negative view of macro-economics. It seems like you suggest any macro-economic beliefs are valid as long as they are consistent with themselves with the data. I don't have any objections to that, that's fairly standard scientific practice. However, the data seems to be of very poor quality. In some cases, it seems that there is enough data that you can draw some conclusions as to what causes a localized phenomenon, but this seems to rarely lead to well-founded policy suggestions as there isn't data available for any proposed policies. These studies also doesn't seem to generalize well as there such a huge set of variables that your localized phenomenon doesn't occur exactly anywhere else. So it seems that "consistent with existing data" doesn't play as big a role in defining beliefs as in other fields.
It also seems that given a set of beliefs, its not always clear what predictions can be made with them, since economists with similar beliefs seem to apply them differently. Even if predictions can be made, it seems nearly impossible to test them. In short, overall, the field seems to be extremely unempirical.
This leads me to the following questions:
Have I got it wrong, and is macroeconomics more empirical than I'm giving it credit for?
In general, given the difficulty in testing predictions, how can you tell good macroeconomics from bad?
Thank you in advance.
I would say you are mostly on track. That said, in macro the things we do know -- which are significant -- I usually don't bother covering. See the Cowen & Tabarrok text for a presentation of many of those.
I am torn, should I learn Chinese (more practical, more future use, larger population) or Japanese (more personal interest but Japan is a smaller declining country that is notoriously isolationist)?
PS: Feel free to add further points of differentiation between the two languages.
PPS: By Chinese I mean mandarin with simplified script, i.e. the official language in China.
Don't do either unless you have the means to live there for a while. If you do, pick the country you would prefer to live in. I truly love both places, among my all-time favorites.
Prof Cowen, although I haven't yet read The Complacent Class, its thesis seems to implicate concerns Scott Alexander discussed in "Meditations on Moloch" and Robert Hansen" has summed by saying "This is Dream Time." So my question is this: do you see the problems you describe as solvable, or do they demonstrate that western liberal democracy is in decline and destined to lose out to more autocratic competitors? Can a society focused on individual fulfillment sustain itself in competition with societies less interested in championing human freedoms?
The autocratic competitors may be in decline, too. I wouldn't want to bet on Russia right now. China, maybe, but only if they ease up a bit and become freer. I think they will.
No, I don't think our current problems are solvable, we will simply grow into new and bigger problems.
Are the marginal returns to reading increasing or decreasing where you are?
Decreasing, I am pretty sure.
Hi Tyler, I'm a big fan of your blog and cannot wait to read your book.
I noticed you post some interviews published in Spanish and German. Are the German interviews conducted in German or are they translated from English? Also, would you mind sharing a little bit about your experiences in Germany?
Conducted in English, though I feel I could do one in German. I've also given talks in Spanish, though with grammatical errors. I lived for a year in Freiburg im Breisgau, 1985-86, a wonderful time for Germany and I made it to East Germany as well. So much of Europe was less spoilt by tourists then, Amsterdam and Barcelona being prime examples. I had a car much of the time too, and it was 3.45 German marks to the dollar, a fantastic rate for an American. German women were very interesting too!
Which places in the United States will benefit the most from self-driving cars? Who will benefit the least?
Los Angeles, such a big road network. The uncongested parts of the country, which are numerous, won't benefit much at all.
Avid MR reader here. Thanks for enriching my day the last 5 five years or so.
I've always enjoyed your insights on how as an economist you approach everyday life - food being the main one and the subject of one of your books.
However I think the world would frankly benefit from more Cowen-thinking to everyday life, for example choosing a college or career, buying a car, picking a movie to see, where to vacation, etc. You've dropped similar insights from time to time on your blog.
Have you considered doing another, potentially broader book on how you as an economist explore life decisions, both big and small?
Or maybe just another book on another specific topic? Either way, would love more of these seemingly "off-topic" subjects.
My earlier book Discover Your Inner Economist has some of this...
I have learned a lot from your work but am not an economist.
I intuitively believe that a main reason for wage stagnation is rising health care costs paid for by employers.
Some prominent economists say this is incorrect.
I don't understand their arguments or their math.
What do you think?
Can you explain their position in a way a dumb redneck
thankyou in advance
That is surely a big factor. Health care has risen in price more rapidly than it has increased in quality, especially if you are young and maybe not having to use it at all!
How do you pronounce Cowen, like Cow-en or like Co-wen?
If you could make the general populace educated about one particular economic topic, what would it be?
Right now? Free trade.
I have been following you for a while and have noticed you have an interest in autism, perhaps more than other health conditions. What do you find fascinating about autism? What is one thing we could be doing to make autistic peoples lives better?
See my book The Age of the Infovore for more on this...
My favorite Marginal Revolution posts are Markets in Everything. Can you link some particularly interesting ones for Redditors who aren't into the RSS?
Just go to the Marginal Revolution search function, and type in "Markets in Everything." Note my 2007 book Discover Your Inner Economist gives some earlier examples at some length, some of my earlier favorites.
I loved your book “Stubborn Attachments,” which argues that the best way to help the people of the distant future is to promote sustainable economic growth. What are some underrated ways to increase the odds of achieving said growth?
Support good institutions in a stubborn, pigheaded kind of way.
Are you optimistic about the future of the genetic study of complex traits?
Specifically where do you stand on UVA professor and behavioral geneticist Eric Turkheimer's gloomy prospect?
What do think about behavioral geneticist Eric Turkheimer's "gloomy prospect" regarding the future of the genetics of complex traits.
In any relevant short run I am pessimistic about this area of study.
Is China Star still the best Chinese restaurant in Northern Virginia? What are some strip-mall gems I'm probably missing?
Not close, it has declined though is still decent. My current favorite is the new Uighur place in Fairfax, next to the H-Mart, see tylercowensethnidiningguide.com for a review of it.
Hi Tyler, thanks for doing this AMA. As someone who is interested in getting into ecanomics and understanding it, what is the best "bigginers guide to economics" in your opinion?
Blogs, blogs, blogs. And my text with Alex.
Over-rated or under-rated: NGDP targeting as a tool of central bank governance?
Underrated by most, slightly overrated by Scott!
What are your tips for undegrduate students wanting to become a non-academic economists? What's the best way to study the philosophical questions in economics, like social choice theory or Rawls? They don't appear in undergrad programmes.
This may sound trivial, but just read as much as you possibly can...
Hi Tyler -- love the CwT and MR.
Question: High-frequency trading? Overrated orunder rated? Will today's MS Financial Engineering gradesbe tomorrow's law school grads or tomorrow's software engineers?
Just not that important, see my next book on that one...