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.

Proof: https://twitter.com/tylercowen/status/837770428995239938

Comments: 275 • Responses: 91  • Date: 

yourweapon29 karma

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?

TylerCowen28 karma

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.

SeaMoe25 karma

Hi Tyler,

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!

TylerCowen13 karma

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.

cavedave25 karma

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?

TylerCowen35 karma

More! The infovores are not the ones I worry about, it's everyone else. I hope that Reddit energizes you, why not?

thisisnotapencil24 karma

Hi 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?

TylerCowen35 karma

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.

SIR_Sergeant22 karma

Professor Cowen,

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?

TylerCowen36 karma

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.

mariuscmorar21 karma

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"?

TylerCowen19 karma

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.

fair_enough_6 karma

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.

TylerCowen17 karma

I enjoy the quality of students and how articulate they are...

narugawa18 karma

Hi Tyler, 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?

TylerCowen24 karma

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.

coryrenton6 karma

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"


TylerCowen4 karma

They are less political, for one thing...

peanutcrackers16 karma

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!

TylerCowen28 karma

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.

cooler_boy15716 karma

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!

TylerCowen13 karma

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!

_jongleur16 karma

Which modern commentator on economics, political philosophy, public policy, and/or current affairs do you agree with most often?

I'll guess Megan McArdle.

TylerCowen30 karma

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.

codesForLiving14 karma

Hey Tyler!!

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

TylerCowen24 karma

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.

Drunken_Economist13 karma

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?

TylerCowen34 karma

The idea that a sound polity has to be based on ideas other than just redistribution of wealth.

thebaumer112 karma

What is the most underrated city in the US? In the world?

TylerCowen19 karma

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.

Pakse11812 karma

I am a single guy. Can learning economics help me find a girlfriend?

TylerCowen48 karma

No, it will hurt you. Run the other way!

Jericho_Hill11 karma


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?

TylerCowen19 karma

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.

Carleas11 karma

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?

TylerCowen12 karma

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.

ModiModiModiModiModi10 karma

Would you describe your new book as overrated or underrated in your opinion?

TylerCowen16 karma

Not yet rated!

danwang910 karma

What is your ranking of Mahler symphonies? And who are the conductors who get him best?

TylerCowen15 karma

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?

UMCPAccount10 karma

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?

TylerCowen11 karma

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.


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?

TylerCowen10 karma

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.

peltist10 karma

What do you think is currently the most underrated ethnic food amongst people who seek out and try uncommon ethnic food?

TylerCowen16 karma

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.

RamboManfist8 karma

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?

TylerCowen9 karma

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

DPPAnon5908 karma

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?

TylerCowen11 karma

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.

_iama_person_ama_8 karma

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!)

TylerCowen8 karma

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.

murdersdogs8 karma

  1. What do you think about Peter Thiel's relationship with President Trump?

  2. 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?

  3. I know you consider alcohol a social ill. What are your thoughts on marijuana or LSD?

TylerCowen12 karma

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.

loserforsale8 karma

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?

TylerCowen12 karma

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...

DPPAnon5908 karma

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?

TylerCowen9 karma

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.

danwang97 karma

Where can we find the influence of René Girard in your thought?

TylerCowen10 karma

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.

Mimetic desire.

More too, including on how he reads literature, such as Shakespeare and Hardy.

peltist6 karma

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.

TylerCowen10 karma

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!

canthardywait6 karma

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?

TylerCowen15 karma

p.s. my career advice is to make a lot of money instead!

TylerCowen14 karma

"Let them eat internet" -- the modern Marie Antoinette.

yourweapon6 karma

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."?

TylerCowen6 karma

Buy and hold diversified equities, don't sell, then lots of cash too. Don't even check your portfolio for years.

GOD_Over_Djinn6 karma

Hi Professor,

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?

TylerCowen8 karma

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.

evanjs965 karma

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?

TylerCowen4 karma

Twitter and email.

How many hours? All of them! (sometimes)

My main tip is be born the right way and then persist.

ykcans5 karma

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!

TylerCowen10 karma

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.

murdersdogs8 karma

Is he trolling or writing in Straussian esotericism?

TylerCowen7 karma


danwang94 karma

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.)

TylerCowen4 karma

I've never had that happen so hard to say but I am probably less patient than he is...

filigreed_is_good4 karma

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?

TylerCowen6 karma

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?

coryrenton4 karma

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?

TylerCowen5 karma

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.

ladansusan4 karma

Do you think convenience apps like Amazon grocery make us more complacent?

TylerCowen11 karma

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.

samwise09124 karma

On a personal level, what are a few of your favorite films?

TylerCowen6 karma

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.

likepigs3 karma

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?

TylerCowen7 karma

Support good institutions in a stubborn, pigheaded kind of way.

paulssl3 karma

Where is the best food in South America (outside of the major cities)?

TylerCowen3 karma

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.

TheBigBangTheoryIsOk3 karma

Whats going on dude?

TylerCowen17 karma

Some things, but not as much as you might think.

p2deeee3 karma

Relative to the public, are you optimistic or pessimistic on Kevin Durant's return this season?

TylerCowen3 karma

He won't return until the second round of the playoffs, and in uncertain form. That puts me in the relatively pessimistic camp.

JasonBayz3 karma

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?

TylerCowen23 karma

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!

speudebradeos3 karma

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.

TylerCowen4 karma

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.

murdersdogs3 karma

What are some overrated/underrated questions you wished someone would ask you? And what are the answers?

TylerCowen3 karma

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.

murdersdogs8 karma

Overrated or underrated:

• Beethoven's 9th?

• John Coltrane?

• Rationalism?

• Originalism?

• Fan-fiction?

• David Hume?

• Abraham Lincoln?

• EMH?

• Indoor smoking bans?

TylerCowen6 karma

Under! Coltrane over rationalism over originalism over fan fiction I don't know so well Hume under Lincoln slightly overrated EMH always underrated Smoking bans I would have to read the research.

QuintessentialDog3 karma

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?

TylerCowen5 karma

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.

TheFilthiestCorndog3 karma

How do you pronounce Cowen, like Cow-en or like Co-wen?

TylerCowen8 karma


Tree_Gordon_Fiddy3 karma

Thank you for this AMA Dr. Cowen.

  • Perhaps too late, but would you consider writing a critique of Bernie Sanders’ campaign economic policies? Besides the Romer & Romer paper, which only touched on his fiscal policies, I don’t know of any high-quality critiques of his policy proposals. Likewise, what are the best arguments against becoming a single payer healthcare system?
  • Would you ever do a CwT with gay African-American conservative film critic Armond White?
  • Any Chinese/Vietnamese movies you’d recommend?
  • Best Greek cookbook?
  • Besides Stephen Foster, what pre-1900 American composers are worth listening to?

TylerCowen7 karma

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.

UMCPAccount3 karma

What do you think are the most realistic ways for governments and other institutions to reduce global catastrophic risk?

TylerCowen7 karma

Pandemic preparation, and trying to stop the further spread of nuclear weapons. I worry most about the basic stuff, not "Skynet goes live."

AvianDentures2 karma

If you could make the general populace educated about one particular economic topic, what would it be?

TylerCowen5 karma

Right now? Free trade.

iowamatt2 karma

Are the marginal returns to reading increasing or decreasing where you are?

TylerCowen4 karma

Decreasing, I am pretty sure.

Eric-J2 karma

Is China Star still the best Chinese restaurant in Northern Virginia? What are some strip-mall gems I'm probably missing?

TylerCowen3 karma

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.

dufflepud2 karma

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?

TylerCowen6 karma

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.

231ssssdfnfnf2 karma

Do you own more gold ounces, bitcoins, or 30 Y Treasury bonds?

TylerCowen10 karma

I would have to check the portfolio, but in direct terms it is 0, 0, and 0.

Ilovemygf22 karma

Why do people marry down?

TylerCowen6 karma

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.

wakeballer392 karma

Hi Tyler,

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?

TylerCowen4 karma

See my book The Age of the Infovore for more on this...

sschow2 karma

Hi Tyler!

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?

TylerCowen6 karma

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.

mariuscmorar2 karma

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?

TylerCowen3 karma

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.

LongDistRider2 karma

How do changes in minimum wage impact the supply chain?

TylerCowen8 karma

We know oddly little about the long-run impacts of the minimum wage, but I suspect it means less labor in the supply chain and more automation. I don't consider that a very well-grounded answer, and be wary of those who offer you very definite conclusions on this one.

Ketamine2 karma

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.

TylerCowen4 karma

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.

tripletruble2 karma

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?

TylerCowen3 karma

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!

towardvisionzero2 karma

Dr. Cowen some of the best advice I ever got was your "beware of stories" lecture. Seems like a lotta of what used to be news is mostly stories. Where do you get your general news? And how do you tell the stories from the news?

TylerCowen3 karma

Twitter and email, much of it...but I try to read cautiously...

EmanuelNoriega2 karma

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.


TylerCowen3 karma

In any relevant short run I am pessimistic about this area of study.

RandomWalk762 karma

Which places in the United States will benefit the most from self-driving cars? Who will benefit the least?

TylerCowen6 karma

Los Angeles, such a big road network. The uncongested parts of the country, which are numerous, won't benefit much at all.

danwang92 karma

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?

TylerCowen2 karma

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.

indoorinternetvoice2 karma

Professor Cowen,

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.

TylerCowen3 karma

My earlier book Discover Your Inner Economist has some of this...

__or2 karma

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.

TylerCowen5 karma

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.

towardvisionzero2 karma

Dr. Cowen, 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 can understand? thankyou in advance

TylerCowen6 karma

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!

wcials2 karma

Hello Prof. Cowen!

Are you and Alex Tabarrok best friends in real life?

And what is your greatest point of disagreement? (Related to economics) (or not).

TylerCowen6 karma

We are very good and longstanding friends, yes. I am weirder than he is, however.

william458reddit2 karma

Dear Pr. Cowen,

Where do you think macroeconomics is heading? Will we see a growing consensus? PS : Your blog is great. Thank you

TylerCowen2 karma

Right now macro feels irrelevant, maybe ripe conditions for a new idea altogether...

Medieval-Maggot1 karma

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?

TylerCowen4 karma

Blogs, blogs, blogs. And my text with Alex.

pesm51 karma

Is China's future brighter than America's?

TylerCowen2 karma


RandomWalk761 karma

Over-rated or under-rated: NGDP targeting as a tool of central bank governance?

TylerCowen4 karma

Underrated by most, slightly overrated by Scott!


My favorite Marginal Revolution posts are Markets in Everything. Can you link some particularly interesting ones for Redditors who aren't into the RSS?

TylerCowen3 karma

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.

josephflaherty1 karma

Given the increasing levels of self-segregation and polarization, should we more seriously consider ideas like Calexit (and perhaps an Acelaexit)? Splitting the USA into three countries With NY/TX/CA as anchors would leave us with three of the top 10 economies in the world, but more formal separation that could reduce tension around social issues, immigration policy, etc.

Also, you've written that religion is an underrated positive force in contemporary America. Is there any way you can see the government encouraging the spread of religion without running afoul of the first amendment and an increasing aversion to it within elite media and cultural centers?

TylerCowen2 karma

There are not really clear dividing lines, that is part of the problem...

donramses1 karma

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?

TylerCowen2 karma

Just not that important, see my next book on that one...

Pakse1181 karma

You have been blogging for over ten years and you have expressed your admiration of Andrew Sullivan. Have you given any thought of discontinuing blogging like Sullivan? What did you think of his essay last year "I used to be a human being"?

TylerCowen3 karma

Maybe Andrew did too much, he used to do 15 (!) posts a day. I hardly do more than five. I've never met Andrew, but may be his personality type is quite different than mine. My current equilibrium feels quite stable and I never think seriously of quitting, not anytime soon at least. Perhaps the world will quit me first!

akalde1231 karma

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.

TylerCowen2 karma

This may sound trivial, but just read as much as you possibly can...

mikeyouse1 karma

Have you read Sapiens or Homo Deus by Harari? They seem to chase down a similar thread about human history to René Girard -- and both seem to influence a lot of the 'thinkers' in Silicon Valley. Any thoughts on the role of myth and conflict in human history and how much we should take them into account when trying to escape stagnation?

TylerCowen5 karma

Myth and story are very important in this context, and Harari gets that fully...