tylercowen

Tyler Cowen

Author of The Great Stagnation

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON August 27, 2015

Discussion

tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
Hi, I'm Tyler Cowen, economist and blogger over at marginalrevolution.com and author of *Average is Over*. I'm also a professor at George Mason University, and I try to promote a philosophy of extreme curiosity and the consumption of a lot of information. I'm happy to engage on just about any topic in good taste...
Ben Casnocha
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
How do you think your career and life would have been different if blogging, twitter, and digital media had be ubiquitous in your teens and 20's? Would you have still pursued an academic path or would you have become a full-time columnist/commentator/speaker earlier on? I seem to recall you saying at one point that you're glad the internet didn't exist early on in your life as it gave you the time to read the classics and develop a substantive base of knowledge.
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@bencasnocha I am glad I was forced to live in "book culture" and "meat space' for my first forty years. Or maybe thirty-five years would have been enough. People these days have lost the sense of information being scarce, and counterintuitively that makes it harder for them to develop profound thoughts. It's like practicing chess by asking the computer right away, all the time, what the right move it. If I were starting today, probably I would not be an academic. The seductions of the on-line world would be too great, I am pretty sure.
Ben Casnocha
Ben Casnocha@bencasnocha
@tylercowen "It's like practicing chess by asking the computer right away, all the time, what the right move it." That's a profound analogy if true, and worth a blog post expounding on this! Practically, for those of us who didn't grow up in book culture, how do we revel in the upsides of the information-rich online world while still developing the capability to think big thoughts...Something to ponder.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
@bencasnocha @tcowen definitely wondering the same thing
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
are you sympathetic with David Brook's claims in "The Road to Character" that (paraphrased) we need to have more moral and character education? The bigger question: What does that look like?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@eriktorenberg It is hard to disagree with that claim, but I am not sure what it means. Most of that education comes from childhood, or from making mistakes in life. Teaching people supply and demand is hard enough.
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@eriktorenberg the best way to "educate yourself," for most people at most stages in your life, is to make marginal adjustments in your peer group. That means more mobility along particular dimensions, including geographic. Yet in most ways our current mobility is going down.
Justin Mares
Justin Mares@jwmares · Co-author, Traction Book
@tylercowen You've mentioned in Average is Over that you see education for the masses becoming "more like the Marines" in that there will be a cheaper online model where discipline plays a key role. What do you think of the current trend of 3-month intensive bootcamps to teach programming, and do you think that education model could map to teaching other skills? Do you see the education bootcamp as being useful outside of just teaching programming?
Tyler Link
Tyler Link@tylerlink · Maker
In response to @namehra's question you said you'd move to Europe if you were 25 years old. Why Europe as opposed to say, Asia?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@tylerlink Europe is a more fundamental source for American and world culture, and there are lots and lots of countries really close together. You can learn a lot immensely quickly, and take in culture too. Ultimately I would then spend the rest of life exploring Asia, however.
Bo Ren
Bo Ren@bosefina · Product Manager, Tumblr
@tylercowen My biggest gripe with neuroeconomics is that we can study human decision-making in the confines of a lab study but can't easily extrapolate to reality. How do you think we can better apply behavioral science to building humanistic technology? P.S. Do you believe there is an algorithm for love?
@tylercowen Let's say GMU offered to allow you to maintain your current position and salary, but work 100% remotely. So, you would earn in USD and could live anywhere. Where would you go? How would that answer change if you were 25 years old?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@namehra I would travel half the year. For a base, northern Virginia remains my number one choice. It is very comfortable and I have great colleagues. I like the weather too, even in the summer. The region has three good airports and lots of ethnic food. What else could one want?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@namehra at twenty-five years old I would go live in Europe, but still travel a great deal. In fact at age 23 I did go live in southern Germany for a year and loved the experience.
Dan Wang
Dan Wang@danwwang
@tylercowen What's the right age for living in Tokyo/Singapore? When should one leave Europe?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@danwwang Tokyo young, or quite old because public transport is so good. Singapore is great for the family years, not ideal for young years when you can bear hardship and don't need all those comforts.
Haris H.
Haris H.@kingharis
@tylercowen If forced to eat one cuisine for the rest of your life (in its prime territory), what would you pick?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@kingharis Indian or Chinese, at least if I have access to the real thing. Lots of vegetables, lots of variety. I don't think there are any other serious contenders, and of course in a way it is unfair for me to count those as "one cuisine," even though each is "one country."
Dan Wang
Dan Wang@danwwang
How much prepwork (which I guess means reading) should you do before you visit a place? How much of good travel is simple wandering around? Do you have a system for when you visit a new place? Can it all still be as meaningful if you're doing it alone and without a guide?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@danwwang It depends what your background is of course. But if you have a few months' time, why not devote them to that country or region? Music too, art, etc. But at my current margins I usually show up with zero or near-zero prep. Guides I don't like, they are too automatic and won't open up so easily. Meeting locals spontaneously is usually more interesting.
David Foster Wallace: biggest strengths and weaknesses in your opinion?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@j_wehr Biggest weakness: not a good writer, see Megan McArdle's piece on him. I am sorry to say this, and I know he has his fans, but I just don't get it. I find it labored and not ultimately so brilliant. I nonetheless admire his reach and ambition.
I could not find the McArdle article after a brief Googling. Can someone please point me to it?
Haris H.
Haris H.@kingharis
Counterfactual: the US never builds the Interstate system. Are we better off today (more urbanization, railroads, less carbon dependence & its side effects) or were the gains from increased mobility large enough to offset costs? Will this still be true in 50 years? 100?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@kingharis Huge gains, most of all social. USA could never have been such a railroads country, just look at population density. Carbon is a global problem, we are only a small part of it. Think how backward the American south would still be today without interstates.
Tyler Link
Tyler Link@tylerlink · Maker
Choose one: Work 80 hours/week for $100,000/year or work 20 hours/week, make $20,000/year, and spend your time mostly as you please. Is this increasingly the choice most people with options will be forced to make going forward?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@tylerlink it depends on the nature of the work and where I can live. I think I would choose 20k in Mexico, if that is part of the choice set. but if it's my current work, well I've done 80 hours a week of it for less than 100k, when I was younger.
Tyler Link
Tyler Link@tylerlink · Maker
@tylercowen Thanks for answering. It seems like this dichotomy in the way one lives there life is becoming the norm. Do you agree?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@tylerlink more and more, high earners are working more, low earners are working less, see the research by Erik Furst. It is another form of the plague of modern segregation.
Stephen Fox
Stephen Fox@stephenfox
@tylercowen First, thanks much for your public intellectualism/scholarship; as a long-time reader & fan, I have learned much from you! I am curious if, as an Economist & very-wise-person-whom-roundly-understands-market-demand have you ever been tempted to allocate more time/effort to joining the market as a "capitalist", vis a vis people like Peter Thiel or Marc Andreessen? I appreciate their respective thoughtfulness & attribute some of their success to being "good thinkers." Do you ever consider leaving academia and focusing more on the private sector?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@stephenfox never been tempted. They are both awesome people and thinkers and intellectuals. They are building their versions of their empires, which I applaud. I am doing mine. They have a lot more money than I do, but in some ways that limits them rather than helping them. I feel I have enough. I do however view what I am doing as "private sector," the market in ideas is a pretty free one, even if it is not always "for pay" and indeed mostly is not. I get paid for writing books but not for blogging for instance.
Curt Gardner
Curt Gardner@perival
Oops - too late!
Chris Schroeder
Chris Schroeder@cmschroed · investor
@tylercowen I am a great admirer of your writing, and you have framed and challenged much of my thinking -- many thanks for this! There is so much happening in innovation and technology affecting so many aspects of the global economy -- from macro changes shifting economic strength to what we once called emerging markets, to increasingly universal access to technology which is changing not only how we are informed but creating new opportunities in entrepreneurship and societal problem solving bottom up. But this is little in compared to what is coming. Mobile payments, the block chain, changes in biotechnology, the rise of AI are a fraction of what will have exciting and challenging impact on our economies. I'm stunned at how little and rare this is discussed in policy communities in Washington, and how my macro economist friends treat it all like a side show to traditional analysis. What do you make of this and if you agree at all, what can be done to shift analysis and actions to these clear coming realities?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@cmschroed I think it still is a side show! Most of the economy is pretty boring services, and productivity growth is about half what it used to be. That said, I think all this will change over the next few decades. Politicians will never be good at thinking this stuff through. How well did they respond to the electricity revolution? Eventually they did catch on. The real risk is that new technologies are misused for war. Note that the military is the one part of the government most "up" on new technology and in fact they have helped develop a lot of it.
@tylercowen Which wisdom traditions do you think are most underrated, and why? (By “wisdom traditions” I am thinking of ancient Western schools like Stoicism, Cynicism, Skepticism, and Epicureanism and also Eastern traditions like Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Confucianism.) I don’t believe any wisdom tradition could fairly be called “overrated,” but it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on that side as well.
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@j_wehr They were all underrated for so long, I am not sure any have remained underrated. Or maybe underrated by whom? Note that not all of these philosophies are really "book philosophes." I don't find it so rewarding to read Confucius or Confucian texts. In that sense he is overrated. But the philosophy as a whole remains underrated, precisely because it is not about book knowledge and what is carried along in books. Stoicism comes the closest to be a true book knowledge and a lot of its claims have been vindicated by modern behavioral economics. Judaism and Christianity are arguably underrated too. How about gnosticism? That might be my pick overall, in this regard I am influenced by Harold Bloom.
Dan Wang
Dan Wang@danwwang
I’m resisting reading all Russian novels so that I can be more familiar with fewer authors. Is that rational? If not, what sort of limits should I impose on sampling?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@danwwang Tolstoy is by far the best, read all of him, the short fiction too. A lot of the rest is overrated I think, at least as it translates into the English language. These days I find most of Dostoyevsky unreadable and its concerns are from a different age in any case. Chekhov is amazing but I suspect best in the Russian language. Some of the others are overrated, a kind of residue from 1960s and 70s angst. Lermontov is still underrated. But I say Tolstoy, Tolstoy, Tolstoy. Is Pasternak really better than Vikram Seth's *A Suitable Boy*? I don't see it.
Dan Wang
Dan Wang@danwwang
You review Jürgen Osterhammel's book as feeling “very German.” What does it mean that something feels German, perhaps without particular reference to Osterhammel?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@danwwang Long, thorough, historical, with a kind of awkwardness and lack of humor. That's German scholarship in some regards, I am not saying it describes the German people more generally. Overall the German sense of humor is much underrated, in my view.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hey Tyler! What is the philosophy of extreme curiosity? And has being too curious ever got you in trouble?
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@ems_hodge Extreme curiosity means following ideas where they lead. Seeking out new "viewquakes." Absorbing a lot, and most of all travel. Of course it has gotten me into trouble.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@tylercowen what trouble? :)
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@ems_hodge I have ended up as hard to categorize and have had shifting phases in my life. Maybe never really fit in. That can be a virtue too, of course. I would not in fact choose it another way.
Deepthi Guttikonda
Deepthi Guttikonda@dguttikonda
@tylercowen If smart software and AI replace people's job and the service economy has to expand to become the catchment for all these lost jobs further depressing average incomes- how can economies thrive? Most people will either be unemployed or making very less because they have been replaced by automation and can't be consumers. The very corporations that adopt smart technology and displace people won't have customers left.
Ty Martin
Ty Martin@tymrtn · Founder, Turf.ly
@tylercowen I'm actually just reading Average is Over after it appeared here on PH with a big recommendation from @ryanholiday (https://www.producthunt.com/book...). Fascinating stuff, especially on conscientiousness and the advantages of certain personality traits in the future. My wife is a psychologist and was very intrigued by this, especially since it put me it my place. :) I'm not finished the book yet, but I'd love to hear if anything major has changed, either in your views or world events or research, since you wrote the book.
tylercowen
tylercowen@tylercowen · Professor, George Mason University
@tymrtn I feel that events since the publication of the book have gone in the directions the book has predicted. Smart software continues to advance. Significant other parts of the economy, along with real wages, continue to be stagnant. Service jobs are the future for most people, and that requires a kind of pliability. Social skills become more and more important. I would say the measured rate of productivity growth remains disappointing relative to the projections in the book, but it is a bit like computers -- they change our lives before showing up much in the aggregate statistics.