The Not Unreasonable Podcast

Tyler Cowen on Stubborn Attachments, Tyrone and Multiple Perspectives

October 01, 2018 David Wright Season 1 Episode 27
The Not Unreasonable Podcast
Tyler Cowen on Stubborn Attachments, Tyrone and Multiple Perspectives
Show Notes Transcript

This is a special interview for me because Tyler Cowen has been an enormous intellectual and moral influence on me over the last ten years or so.

I'm not alone. Tyler blogs with Alex Tabarrok at marginalrevolution.com, which is usually ranked as the top economics blog and Tyler as one of the most influential economists of the day. Tyler's books (see my blog post) are also enormously influential and you name your favorite economic or financial public intellectual and they probably read Tyler every single day.

The interview I've wanted to do with Tyler has been the "who is Tyler" conversation. Luckily he just wrote an entire book on what he values and why. That new book, Stubborn Attachments, is the foundation for Tyler's entire value system. What an opportunity to dig in.

And yet I am so immersed in Tyler's thinking that it's hard for me to appreciate that you might not yet see why I think he's worth understanding (and he is!). So please visit my blog post for a podcast transcript and a quick run-down and reading list of some ideas and books that will help prime you for this conversation.

Are you an actuary? Someone you know? Check out the Not Unprofessional Project, for the price of a CAS webinar you get unlimited access to content dedicated to Continuing Education Credits for Actuaries, especially Professionalism credits. CE On Your Commute!

Subscribe to the Not Unreasonable Podcast in iTunes, stitcher, or by rss feed. Sign up for the mailing list at notunreasonable.com/signup. See older show notes at notunreasonable.com/podcast.

David Wright:

My guest today is Tyler Cowen, professor of economics at George Mason University blogger at Marginal Revolution calm podcast host at conversations with Tyler, and my words cannot convey how strongly I recommend his work. Tyler is the author of numerous books, the latest of which, and the subject of today's show is stubborn attachments. This is a philosophical work for Tyler lays out his value system. Here's a quick quote from his blog, no punches are pulled. This is my account of what I strongly believe and you should believe to my bottom lines, so to speak. Before we start, though, I want to try and give listeners a little bit of insight into why I'm talking to Tyler, because honestly, I'm worried that I'm going to fail and what I'm trying to accomplish today, it might sound weird, but before reading this book, I thought was Tyler as an emotional mentor and role model to me. Luckily, I think morality as being built on emotional foundations. So Tyler's book actually gives us a pretty good framework for exploring what I mean by that. The goal today is to do no less than figure out what Tyler is and why big project. So let's see how we do. Tyler, welcome to the show.

Tyler Cowen:

Thank you for having me on. Thank you for the kind words,

David Wright:

I want to start with what I see as the most marginally important convenien contribution. And for the sake of the audience, marginal in this case doesn't mean small. It means that there are lots of commentators and public intellectuals out there saying for the most part, a lot of the same stuff. But given all the various smart people saying very smart things, where does toddler stand out? What do you need to go to toddler for? My answer is that it isn't even Tyler is Tyrone. So I'll defend that selection in a minute. But maybe first Tyler, if you could explain to us who Tyrone is. And I don't mean the name on his driver's license. But you can tell us that too. Who is Tyrone? Really,

Tyler Cowen:

Tyrone is a Guest writer on the Marginal Revolution blog. And he appears periodically and writes very controversial or provocative ideas and a very straightforward, no holds barred tone. So the reason there is a Tyrone, I thought some while ago, while this thinkers out there you'd like to read variants on them, like Wouldn't you like to read a pessimistic Steven Pinker, or maybe a right wing, Paul Krugman, you wouldn't necessarily agree with these variants. But you'd want to see what would come out of the talent mixed with some different set of views different approach. So what I did was I got on a plane, and I flew to South Korea. And just as that woman had her dogs cloned in South Korea, I thought I would have myself cloned and I had myself cloned in South Korea, and then brought back the clone but I figured most people wouldn't believe this. So I described Tyro and as you know, my brother, in fact, when I was born, my father wanted to name me Tyrone, my mother wouldn't let him and it became Tyler. He likes Tyrone Power, the movie star. So now there's this persona, Tyrone, who's a clone of me, but you know, the cloning process a lot doesn't carry through. So you get like a variant on Tyler. And it's a way of having multiple Tyler voices that may be as interesting or provocative. But Tyler himself doesn't have to you know, bear all the hassles of being Tyrone.

David Wright:

So what I think about reason I think Tyrone is important is that it seems to me that you're able to through that persona embody a couple of different points of view the gap for which we do not see many people cross right right so that being you know there's a there's a strong kind of almost anti intellectual sort of bent about Tyrone I'm not sure the right way of putting it but he he has a perspective on the world's problems that are is wrong and a certain kind of way and you're often quick to point out Tyrone is so wrong but all these things and then in the near the go publish it on your blog, under your own name is the author that goes in the in the in the you know, in the in the publisher line or the writer line. And so I think of it as embodying a kind of conflict within yourself of there's a dialogue that goes on that that generates the the Tyler Cowen view at the end, but Tyrone's part of that is Tyrone, like is that a representation of what of what you are? Is? Is it a version of you? Or is it something that is like a spoiler that you like to just sort of play off of is? Do you believe what Tyrone says in any way?

Tyler Cowen:

Tyrone likes to bang on the table. Tyler doesn't. If you think what's the best way to learn different arguments or points of view or avoid getting trapped? It's to take points of view you may not agree with and simply you know write them out. Yeah, I think it's the single best thing you can do whether or not you blog. So in the course of doing this, sometimes you may decide like hey, I actually agree with this. But it will be a diverse set of responses. Sometimes you move away from it, you write it out. It's like Oh my goodness. Now I see what this implies. That really must be wrong. So engaging with Tyrone, I would say it pushes Tyler's views and all kinds of different directions. So it's not that Oh, Tyler really agrees with Tyrone. Or Tyrone is the opposite of Tyler. You could say Tyrone increases the variance of Tyler in different directions. keeps him open minded.

David Wright:

I like that phrasing. Now. I'm gonna go a bit deeper on Tyrone still I'm not done with him yet,

Tyler Cowen:

because nor is he done with you?

David Wright:

I think not. So you're I I learned that you're from Bergen County,

Tyler Cowen:

New Jersey, correct northern jersey.

David Wright:

That's right during our correspondence, and I live right now I'm from Canada originally, but I live in a town called Ridgewood, New Jersey, which is a few towns over from the town you grew up in what interests me about that particular area where you grew up. It's a little bit country. And so it's a suburban area of New York. But it's not. It's not manicured gardens. It's a little it's a little hilly, there's a little rocky, there's a, there's more of a, there's a lower socio economic level there than you'd think being that close to New York City. And when you grew up there, it must have been very much more like that. I would think for you know, 3040 years ago, is that am I right on that being an important kind of feature of that part of part of the country? Does that because I think I've actually Tyrone's view as being I know, I know, Tyrone's. I grew up, I grew up in a small town myself here. And I know people who are really smart, smarter than you think they should be in some way. Yes. And who are giving opinions about things that are irritatingly difficult to push back on? Because they are kind of right. And it's hard to actually defend, call it a more sophisticated view, which might be more correct, but in a way to meet them on their own terms and actually beat them on their own terms. And I think it's a very frustrating intellectual process. And so what am I kind of like working hypothesis on Tyrone, there might be a real person that that you're modeling Tyrone after, it could be somebody that you grew up with or met or knew when you were a child or a young adult?

Tyler Cowen:

Well, a composite Wait, think of my background this way. I was born into Hudson County, which at the time was completely working class. As my father was upwardly mobile, we moved into the wealthier Bergen County, but my town Hillsdale was still part like Irish American working class, Italian American working class and Jewish, which tended to be more intellectual. So I had those diverse influences and then this quiet working class background. My father hadn't gone to college, right. And I too, grew up with many Tyrone's or if I hear Donald Trump speak, it sounds very familiar to me. It's not strange or disorienting. It's like oh, you know, I heard that 4050 years ago, these

David Wright:

guys made it correct.

Tyler Cowen:

Yeah, and Tyrone is somewhat of a throwback to that time in place. So I like to say all thinkers are regional thinkers. Yeah, Tyrone himself is indeed a regional thinker.

David Wright:

Right. And his region is his working class northern New Jersey.

Tyler Cowen:

I would say Tyrone's region is a bit to the south of Tyler's region. Okay, Tyler's region is Bergen County, intellectual not too far from New York City, New Jersey. Tyrone's region is much more Hudson County, closer to the Heartland. Soprano's territory, Bruce think Bruce Springsteen land.

David Wright:

And so we're I think Tyrone, the way that I think that he gets integrated into rural view, I think of that as being really, I don't instructive as a way to as a way to diversify your own your own thought process, I guess. And, and this is another thread in a lot of your thinking to the point I made earlier about the word I using was emotional mentor. And although this is the you know, this is the first time we've met, so you don't know me or know when all kind of what kind of person I am. But I like your attitude and the openness you have to these different kinds of view and actually accepting them on their own terms. And saying, you know, there's something here, this isn't just you being you being less educated than me, or speaking with different jargon or, or trying to, or wrong and wrong is just wrong. And I can now dismiss everything you say there are good parts there. And I think that there's an openness, and the word you use in your book, which we'll touch on now, maybe a little bit of pluralism, which I think is is evidence of this phenomenon in your own personality. Maybe you can tell me what you think of that, that assessment, and maybe define what pluralism is and how it works in stubborn attachments. Well, first, maybe

Tyler Cowen:

Tyrone needs a sister. But since I plan to keep on writing the blog, there'll be time for that. But pluralism I take to be the view that everything is not just what utilitarianism suggests, human wellbeing is very important. But other values matter. There are human rights, the arts can have an independent value above and beyond how much how much people are willing to pay for them. There's such a thing as beauty as Justice, and our assessment of a good society. It's a kind of weighted average of many different things. So we always need to be viewing a question from multiple perspectives.

David Wright:

And and valuing those perspectives even Well, I suppose maybe overvaluing them in some sense, because deliberately so you might not agree with somebody's view, but you recognize and respect that it has some value, even though you yourself, don't assign any value to

Tyler Cowen:

it. And you want to wait it with some probability. So let's say you mostly think the arts don't have any value above and beyond what people are willing to pay for them. But it might be true with 5%. Well, in your calculations for a good society, you should put it in with right 5%. So you have to worry about many more things than you might actually think are true. That's a huge burden. People don't like it, they like to push that stuff away. Keep things neat and easy to deal with what I call the philosophy of once and for all ism. They want to be done with stuff once and for all. But that rarely works. Yeah, but

David Wright:

it's always tempting. And you one of the things that I another idea associated with you is actually being pretty okay with the messiness of the world in some ways or celebrating it. That's right, right. Right. Right. And that's related and surely that's related to so it's not there's some link there between being able to acknowledge that other people's perspectives are you know, there's there's a Tyrone inside Have you and there are people who have used that you don't agree with but still valley with some probability. And it's a mess. And that's okay.

Tyler Cowen:

Absolutely.

David Wright:

So they in the book, I think that there's a there's a word that manifests itself is in this idea of I think it may be I'm getting this may draw on this link properly between radical uncertainty maybe can define for us what radical uncertainty is, and, and how that works in your kind of philosophical view, or your framework.

Tyler Cowen:

Any action you take now to bring about a better state of affairs in the world is subject to extreme uncertainty. Yeah, it will have many long run ramifications. You can't forecast, partly just policy science or policy analysis is imperfect. If it's foreign policy, our ways of modeling those decisions, they're really not very good, right? We don't have systematic data and easy models to measure. And then there's the deeper philosophical point that even small changes, they will influence which people meet each other, which people marry the timings of their conceptions. So they remix the future identities of everyone in the world. So the general point is, even if you're doing something that you think unexpected value terms is the best thing to do. The chance you will be pretty wrong, is likely fairly high. So you may, you know, favor what you're doing like 52 to 48, or 53 to 47. But rarely Is it like 99 to one or 98 to two. So for most reasonable disagreements with like non totally evil people, the chance you might be wrong is really pretty high, even if your arguments to us seem much better. And you don't see why the other people don't get them that's related to polar pluralism is absolutely so that pluralism, and this epistemic uncertainty. They're really two sides of the same coin.

David Wright:

Yeah. And so there's a twin idea in the book, and we're going to keep getting into the book. Sure. But it's a book. Yeah, that's 21 day in a book, which is about rights. Right, right. So there are actually still absolutes.

Tyler Cowen:

That's right. So there are some activities we should not do, even if it will bring great gain to civilization. So killing and torturing large numbers of innocent people would be an obvious example. It's not the main topic My book is about. And I simply want to point there are constraints on the calculus of utilitarianism.

David Wright:

Right. And, and that, I think of those two ideas. So this idea of call relativism, maybe, I mean, you can push back against my use of that word, and rights as being in conflict, being an intention always inside of you and inside of other people. Did you always have both? Or did you sort of like started as a bit more of a pluralist and you've kind of drifted towards a bit more of a, I'm not sure whether you whatever the opposite of pluralist is, over time,

Tyler Cowen:

I started more as a rights theorist, okay. But the space of decision making open for utilitarianism has gone up in my mind with age. But I would say this, here's the surprising thing I learned writing the book, a meaningful notion of rights has to be pretty close to absolute. Because if your rights are weak, wishy washy rights. I mean, over a long enough period of time, the well being from the utilitarian calculus will overwhelm those rights. So rights are either not very important, or they're strong and absolute. And I hadn't really understood that until I tried to write down this book.

David Wright:

Interesting. And did you have the Did you have what part what parts of this book existed in Tyler Cowen, age 16.

Tyler Cowen:

Probably a lot of it. And this is an unusual book, I've been working on it for 20 years, but not the whole time. So like, every year, I would take a month or two, and just try to improve this book. And I thought, well, my views on these topics will change. This book needs 20 years, but it's too short a book to have just worked on it straight through for 20 years. So some of the 20 years I just spent taking out parts of the book. Okay. And I had a lot in an earlier draft on existential risk, which I still agree with, but enough other people published on that topic. You know, I narrowed down this book, and it took me a year and a half, just to basically, you know, do Ctrl C and delete.

David Wright:

Yeah, yeah. But But in terms of the younger Tyler, I mean, you mentioned that you're a bit more of a rights theorist was that was that like, really early, like pre college, high school, Tyler,

Tyler Cowen:

like 14 year old Tyler

David Wright:

was a rights guy

Tyler Cowen:

was a rights guy. But back then, you know, I believed in capital,

David Wright:

who influenced you in that.

Tyler Cowen:

Sorry,

David Wright:

who influenced you in that to get you to that opinion? Do you think data rights guy or your you know something?

Tyler Cowen:

He was not very philosophical, you might say he had an incoherent view, similar to our rights view. But iron Rand, I read when I was early, I was influenced by that. libertarian thinkers, people like Milton Friedman, who was not himself a rights thinker. But you read Friedman, you start thinking in terms of rights, even though he claimed to be a utilitarian, but the real Friedman In fact, was also a rights thinker. So early exposure to a lot of libertarians mostly rothbard.

David Wright:

What was the most important thing your father taught you?

Tyler Cowen:

To get up every day and work and be responsible and don't complain and don't feel the world owes you a living?

David Wright:

And do you? Do you think about that? Oh,

Tyler Cowen:

all the time. Of course.

David Wright:

I started part of his teaching to you and you think about your dad, you think about that. Doing that every day.

Tyler Cowen:

I don't know. Not every day, but very often some days more than once, and he didn't pay for my college I should add. And that was very good for me. Like when I was an undergraduate like I started my own business like writing and editing and doing things. I supported myself. And maybe now that sounds outrageous to people, like an upper middle class father wouldn't pay for his kid going through college, but it's one of the best things anyone ever did for me, and I'm very grateful. That's how it was.

David Wright:

And how about your mom when she teach you?

Tyler Cowen:

kindness, compassion, openness and tolerance. So my father was more dogmatic. My mother was very open left to read about Eastern religion. Jonathan Livingston, seagull was one of her favorite books. So what kind of pluralist pluralist? Absolutely

David Wright:

So rights versus Pirlo is pluralism in the Cowen household?

Tyler Cowen:

Correct?

David Wright:

Yeah. And it did did that. Is that something that is? How true is that as a characterization of your of your upbringing, was it? You know, are you actually just the synthesis? Your parents philosophical views implicit, though?

Tyler Cowen:

They might be probably Sure,

David Wright:

yeah. Here's another thought that I actually asked this to people in job interviews. So you're interviewing for a job now? How does the relative strength of your call it your intellectual capability, your personality change over time, so you're in high school, you're probably you know, you're probably a pretty good high school student, I would imagine. So but you had a relative strength, you say, against your peer group, and then in college, that change. And so you know, now everybody's kind of smart now. So now I'm going to change now. Now, I'm gonna adapt a little bit. And there's a feedback mechanism here, right? And then maybe as your graduate student, maybe as a professor, and over time, it evolves, you know, kind of what your marginal contribution is, how would that have changed over your life?

Tyler Cowen:

in relative terms, I've become much worse at math relative to my peer groups. With age,

David Wright:

have you started out pretty good? Probably.

Tyler Cowen:

Right. And I'm much better at the humanities, and doing an integrating theory and practice and judging talent. And I've worked hard at trying to better myself in those areas, right, and have gained a lot in those areas. And in terms of like, how rapidly I can multiply two numbers in my head? Both I've gotten worse at it. Absolutely. And I keep on meeting people who are way, way better at it than I am, you have to mention topology and differential equations.

David Wright:

And so is there is there a lesson there in kind of, is there a value statement? It's embedded in that, right? Because you could have chosen to work more at math, but you've chosen instead, to work more at these other things, does that mean they're more valuable, those skills, that you always need to change what you're doing as you age, because your peers are changing what you're good at changes and what the world demands changes.

Tyler Cowen:

So if you're just doing the same thing, you get into a rut, you either tend to burn out, or you become bored. And waking up every day and asking myself, what should I be doing next? How is it different? Something I've tried to live, you know, from the beginning, pretty much

David Wright:

is another thread to a lot of your writing and thinking that I've and I share this with you, where there's a there's an appreciation and respect for religion. And what you're right, a quite a lot of what you write,

Tyler Cowen:

I'm not religious myself, right?

David Wright:

And likewise, and yet, but, man, it does a lot of good for the world, for the most part,

Tyler Cowen:

correct. And even if some of it harms the world, you know, we should cheat seek at the margin to move toward having more constructive religion and less destructive religion. It's one of the main forces that moves people. Yeah. And a lot of secular intellectuals, they might pay lip service to this, but it's not internalized as part of their worldview.

David Wright:

I think religion from for those who choose to be critical of it, they see it as a set of constraints against people. And they say, you know, there's rule you can't do this, you can't do that. And people find that confining. I think outsiders find that confining. But I think the experience of people within religion, some of you think of this is that it's restraint, not constraint, right? So restraint is more about, I'm choosing to not do these things, because I think it's good for me whether I totally understand why it's good for me or not. restraint is actually almost a liberating feeling as opposed to constraint, which is a confining feeling. What do you think about that distinction?

Tyler Cowen:

It's true, and religion can tie people together and give them opportunities. The secular don't necessarily have, and they feel related. They would call it God, but whether or not you think it's God, to some notions creation, the universe in a way that may well be harder for secular people?

David Wright:

And do you do you don't drink? Right? Not at all. That's right, right. And so that's a form of restraint, right, that you're choosing to to adopt in your life. What's interesting, so I have this experience. When I was in high school, I sat through class and people came in these women came in from Alcoholics Anonymous. And they said to me, they said, the class anyway, they told us, they refer to themselves in the present tense as alcoholics, and they hadn't drunk they had had a drink and whatever, 2030 whatever number of years, right, but it was a personality characteristic whereby they had to impose upon themselves this extraordinary restraint. But they needed to because they had this this problem of addiction. And so there's an interesting kind of point there about I think, once you let something in, it can take over and then you have to be more extreme in your design in your in your removal of it after the fact. And I'm wondering if you've if you've ever felt you've been addicted to something before where you need to have extraordinary restraint. It could be work, it can be all kinds of things. It doesn't need to be something necessarily destroyed. have actually,

Tyler Cowen:

I think I'm addicted to work. But I've never accepted the restraint on that. I've been drunk twice. I used to drink red wine, you know, reasonably often a few times a year. And I enjoyed it, I still think it's a very fine pleasure. But at some point I just stopped realized I don't miss it. I work enough. If I have like a meal out with people, I actually go back and odds are I want to do some work. And if I've had some alcohol, I can't do that. And I think it's a positive for other people just to see you can live a life without alcohol. There was a study on my blog, Marginal Revolution this morning an estimate that one out of 20 deaths in the world result from alcohol. Yeah, it may be a mis measurement, but that it even plausibly, the right number to me is stunning. And it's hardly ever discussed the early 20th century notion that prohibition was like a major social issue has fallen off the table, I think we should think about it much, much more. I don't want to throw people in jail for drinking. But people I think, should voluntarily abstain and become social examples that you know, it's possible not to drink at all.

David Wright:

Yeah. And in language you'd use raise the status of non drinking,

Tyler Cowen:

Correct, yeah, Mormons have done this as well. It's another way in which religion can be a big positive.

David Wright:

Yeah. I want to turn now to back to the book and talk about another column, or pair of ideas, which I think are really related. And I actually think of the first set of ideas there as sort of the the, I don't know, the, the moral core of Tyler, you know, these are the urges, maybe you have and interact into a bit more emotionally, perhaps. And the next set of ideas I think of as actually being much more intellectual ideas. And these two ideas are time preference and economic growth, right. And maybe you can talk about your some interesting thoughts. So the first time I've ever seen something like this on on time preference, we define what that is, and then explain your view on it and the book,

Tyler Cowen:

probably, and preferences, the preference that many people have to think what is coming up soon, is significantly more important than what's going to happen later. And from the social point of view, I argue that time preference is not rational, that we should care just as much about the distant future, we should discount it if we're not sure something will happen. But we shouldn't discount it simply because it's more distant in time. So imagine that if, in the days of antiquity, Cleopatra had taken an extra heaping of desert, and said, Well, this may lead to 5000 people dying a horrible death, you know, in the year 2000. But this is now that's more important. When the year 2000 comes, it's just as real as the time of Cleopatra for the people in it. There's not some kind of waiting in the meantime that anyone has done. So morally, we usually at the social level, should think of time as an illusion, and worry more about the future. And that has an interesting implication. And it turns out the best social policy will be the one that maximizes the rate of sustainable economic growth, because that will make the future much, much better.

David Wright:

And what I think is especially powerful about these, both of these ideas in powerful, maybe not the right word there, but they're, they're counter instinctive, let's call it right. So these are both two ideas, which actually, so the sort particularly the idea of no zero discount rate that is value, an outcome in the future, the same as you value it today. That is not something that humans naturally do we prefer the burden hand as opposed to doing the bushel, that's not an exact metaphorical mapping to what you're talking about put

Tyler Cowen:

off going to the dentist, right,

David Wright:

right. So you know, I'd rather have something today it's more real, and you deal with those arguments. But it's not something that instinctively somebody would just come up with probably,

Tyler Cowen:

you know, you're an actuary. So the notion of taking advantage of the power of compound returns must be quite familiar to you. Of course, what I'm saying is society should in essence, be organized around this principle. It's the strongest principle we have. And people in finance insurance, people who are actuaries understand this, they live in work every day. But it's not really a part of political philosophy. If you read the great political philosophers, it is mostly absent from their thought. And what I'm trying to do is bring the idea of compound returns into philosophy. I might add also into education, that the way to train yourself to be smarter is to be along learning curves that have compound returns and not just one off learning.

David Wright:

Yeah, yeah. And again, something that I think the idea of compounding is something we struggle with intuitively is something you have to learn it. That's right. Yeah, you have to be deliberately learn observing the data in order to convince yourself that's true, probably.

Tyler Cowen:

And people will borrow money at crazy rates of interest. They think of it as a one time fee. But when you compound that return, you know, year on year after year after year, it's a terrible bargain for them. Yeah. And just teaching people to think that way does not come easily.

David Wright:

So what I was kind of wondering about i was i was reading this, and I'm harkening back to a conversation you had with Agnes Callard where you talked about philosophy and reading the ancient texts, right. And so there's some points you made, I think we might have been in an article that you referenced, not necessarily the conversation itself, but this idea is there, which is that we read the ancient philosophers because they they they've always my word infected our thinking, and it's the roots of quite a lot of current philosophical thought they wouldn't have had a chance to think about compound growth and and taught in zero time preference, right? So it seems to me this is actually a philosophical innovation I like to watch the world hasn't seen in millennia. Could that be the case? big words?

Tyler Cowen:

Yes. You know, Agnes is one of the deeper understandings of ancient philosophy. Because she also has a PhD in ancient history, and has studied ancient philosophy. And the view of many of the early Greeks was there's something retrogressive about history or cyclic, so you advance for a while, and then you move backwards? Yeah, so it's hard to reap a lot of compound returns, it was probably correct for them to believe that in their time, yeah. But we're now in a world where at least a great britain since, you know, the 1620s or so has mostly had positive compound returns for centuries. Yeah. And that's a practical innovation. And our theories need to adjust accordingly.

David Wright:

Yeah. Is it something that that is this the beginning of that adjustment, I mean, has had people talked about this before has this been unconsumed? By the philosophical philosophical community, for the most part,

Tyler Cowen:

if you look at the classical economists, Smith, Ricardo, john Stuart Mill, they're at least toying with the idea of compound returns, they're still living in an age of relatively slow growth. It's not until fossil fuels that industrialization truly picks up. But as far as I know, those are the first glimmerings of it. And before the Industrial Revolution, the cyclical model, you do well for a time, but someone conquers you, or there's an environmental problem, and then things fall into decay. That was the rational and common view for much of human history.

David Wright:

There's another another problem that the actually framing things in terms of economic growth being the ultimate goal, and I know you actually define it, not just as I can move to this from an IT not, it's not just economic growth, GDP growth, its wealth, plus, maybe talk a bit about well, what what what wealth plus is? Well, I

Tyler Cowen:

talked about the notion of maximizing the rate of sustainable economic growth, but I don't think we can quite just use current GDP numbers, they're missing some important features. They're a general generally an overall decent guide, actually somewhat underrated, but they don't count leisure time. They don't in every way, count the quality of the environment. So we need to tweak them a bit. If we're going to use GDP numbers as our guide, I don't think it's so very hard to do. But I call it wealth plus, instead of just taking GDP as measured for granted.

David Wright:

And what's an example of something that's in wealth plus, but not in GDP.

Tyler Cowen:

For instance, if we are releasing too much carbon into the atmosphere, and maybe 30 years from now, this will have a terrible consequence, but we don't see it quite now. We need to worry about that. Or a country that is growing at a higher numerical rate, but everyone's unhappy because all people do is work. You need to count that leisure time.

David Wright:

Yeah. And the problem that this idea solves, or I mean, it solves a really nasty one, maybe a few interlink problems is something that you call the aggregation problem, which is, so let's say the alternative to call it a numerical aggregation. So numerical, this is the case of economic growth, and you can measure and so now there's actually a value we're assigning to things because they have a number and you add those numbers up, and you get the total amount of economic growth which occurs. And the alternative to that is, if you were to say, talk about goals, and it's hard now to say, No, my objective is to maximize peace, maximize happiness, wherever you need to define these things for one, then you have to determine trade offs between them for another right? How do you add them all up together and aggregation problem is almost insoluble in that in that kind of philosophical world?

Tyler Cowen:

And my answer to the question, like when can we say one choice is better than another? It's when the better choice gets you compound returns and the other doesn't. That's the one judgment you can make. If the time horizon is long enough, the compound returns will pay off for you.

David Wright:

So maybe it's worth talking a bit about what what I think might be some downsides to that. I was really struck again by your interview with Elizabeth Gelfand. And you're talking about tight and loose culture.

Tyler Cowen:

Michele Gelfand,

David Wright:

Michelle. Yeah, sorry. And it when you were talking about that, you asked her whether it was a relationship between tight and loose cultures, maybe we can define that for a second, if you're alright with that. And that wasn't necessarily related to economic growth. And so tight cultures don't send don't tend to do better or worse, in terms of wealth or economic growth. And that seemed to be disappointing to you, in a certain way, in my right on that.

Tyler Cowen:

A tight culture she defines as one where the norms are fairly strong and people are fairly constrained. A loose culture is one where there's more choice and tolerance and openness, but also maybe people will be free to make too many mistakes. She argues in her work, there's no correlation with wealth. I'm not sure I agree with that judgment. It seems to me there are some cultures more conducive to producing wealth and others, maybe they cannot be well described along the axes of tightness and looseness. But if you look at the well off countries in the world today, they do have common features. The places say from East Asia that has become wealthy Singapore, Japan, South Korea, have done so by importing or copying at least some particular practices from outside So I think there are common norms behind prosperity.

David Wright:

But it but it's let's just sort of take the counterfactual then and say that there wasn't what how would you fit? A what it seems to be an important distinction between human experience is in different countries that doesn't map on economic growth? How do you it doesn't just fall into the pot of of the, you know, the uncertainties saying, well, these are just sort of things sort of boiling away in the world, they don't actually matter actually, in the end, or does or, you know, how do you fit the district discussion of tight and loose cultures into your value system as it's how would you in this book or something else that doesn't necessarily affect economic growth, but feels like it should matter, but it's not a right. And it's also not affecting growth? Is there another category these things actually just don't matter?

Tyler Cowen:

Partly, I interviewed Michele Gelfand because she has this other axis of culture, pride versus loose cultures that I hadn't thought about enough. And I thought, well, I'll learn something by talking to her. So what I see is a critical norm, for instance, is that what age do women have children. And that if that's pushed off somewhat in time, you have a much better society. And it seems to me that's close to Universal. So you look at a country like Niger, were really a very high percentage of women have children before 18. And the human capital transmitted from the mother to the children is low. And that tends to lead to bad political outcomes, much lower standard of living, it's not on the loose versus five axis necessarily. So it gets back to the water, the cultural axes that explain the world best. And one of them is that.

David Wright:

It seems to me that so I did an interview with Robin Hanson on his podcast. And one of the questions I asked him was, what he thought was going on by you know, he has this distinction between farmers and foragers. Right. So the I mean, you know, this better than me, so the more organized society farmers in organized the right way of putting it, but you have stronger norms, you have tight cultures, and then I think that's the right way of mapping that. And then you have forger societies, which are much more loose, I guess. And, you know, he describes and I feel like it made sense to me of this progression of our own societies call it you know, North American Society of going from tight to loosening over time. And I asked him what he thought was going on there. And he said, we're just getting richer. And so as we're getting richer, we're just behaving more like rich people have always behaved. And so it's more of a transition as opposed to a progression. Am I getting that? Right? What do you think about that?

Tyler Cowen:

That's a good description of what Robin thinks I'm not convinced by I mean, everyone has their own set of cultural distinctions or the cultural axis that matters. In my view, we don't really know what foragers societies were like, there's a few of them left in the world today. But we're watching highly corrupted versions of them that also have had a lot of consequences and with agriculture and a small sample, and even then they seem to be highly diverse, so pygmies, tribes found in the Amazon tribes found in the Philippines. From what little I know about them, they don't seem to be all the same thing. The notion that values necessarily get looser as we're we become richer, it's mostly been true since World War Two. I'm not convinced it's a general pattern. It's like people who think well, liberalism is inevitable tolerance is inevitable. We're all going to be secular, I would just say those are hypotheses, they've appeared mostly true for about 40 or 50 years. But if you just think we're going to play out the clock and keep on waltzing along that line, you're probably in for some huge surprises. And just we've seen like Brexit Trump happened, to me suggest the standard view of your sliding along these curves of ever greater liberalisation is probably not right.

David Wright:

So they're cyclical.

Tyler Cowen:

I would say we don't know. cyclical means well, on average, you tend to move in the opposite direction, that may just be a random walk. It may depend on say technologies, which are not cyclical, but not just always moving in the same direction. Do you know the foragers, I don't know what hunter gatherer societies really were like, are like now.

David Wright:

So what would your story be for the cultural let's not call it progression, but transition over the last 50 years? I mean, you have things that appear to be called liberal changes of our society, you mean think about gay marriage and think about various other kind of social constraints which existed 100 years ago, which don't really so much now. What, what, what, what is going on? Or what's going on? Maybe,

Tyler Cowen:

maybe there are two stages to the pattern. The first would be earlier in the 20th century, where people go from living on farms and not graduating high school, to basically car in every garage, chicken in every pot. That's bringing us up maybe through the 1960s. So you go from pretty poor to actually pretty well off. And then after that, there's still economic growth, but a lot of life looks the same. Like this table, you know, we're at the bottle of water. It's not that different from the 1960s other than the smartphone. And then there's stories like greater tolerance, most of all elevation of women, social changes, changes in health retirement is much more pleasant. People are less likely to beat their children and the last 40 years, those seem to be maybe more important than just piling more prosperity. On top of the heap, and what's coming next, we don't know I feel we're at another breakpoint. It's making many people uncomfortable, they're flipping out.

David Wright:

Are those in wealth plus those things?

Tyler Cowen:

Yes, those are in wealth plus a greater tolerance. If you're, you know, born gay today, your prospects are really much, much better than would have been the case in the 1970s. In the United States, at least.

David Wright:

Yep. And does that does that result this sort of the the idea of being born gay being better off in wealthier societies is that hold statistically, across the world?

Tyler Cowen:

Certainly, for the Western world, it seems to me there might be some African countries, but that's not the case.

David Wright:

The way it Richard they get not the better it gets for for the gay population,

Tyler Cowen:

I would say I'm uncertain. But it could be. Wealth is also greater surveillance in some ways. And if you have anti gay norms in society, you can have periods maybe also in Jamaica, where greater wealth is going with inferior treatment of minorities, people who are gay, people who are different in other ways, it's not always all pointing in the positive direction.

David Wright:

And so again, back to the my original thinking here is these are things which in the strict reading of your value framework matter, then in the sense that they are related to economic growth, and they are part of wealth plus,

Tyler Cowen:

Absolutely. So if today you're born and you end up being gay, you will be probably more productive, there'll be less discrimination against you, you'll get a better job, you may have a better chance of founding a company, like that counts in regular GDP, but just you're probably happier, you know, you have a greater chance of finding a partner or building the kind of life you want to have. And not all of that's in GDP, but it's very, very important.

David Wright:

Another thought that I was having this is more kind of in your wheelhouse of the world of public intellectuals is the is how should here's the question, should academics or people who seek to influence the world, according to your value system? Should they try and boost economic growth more? So I'm thinking of, on your podcast, you've had venture capitalists, right, I think of these in some ways as as public intellectuals who are trying to boost economic growth.

Tyler Cowen:

And they think very conceptually, venture capitalists

David Wright:

they do

Tyler Cowen:

and they're they're generalists.

David Wright:

They are right. Right? And are they similar to university professors? I mean,

Tyler Cowen:

they're much better, right?

David Wright:

Better at

Tyler Cowen:

every almost everything, they're smarter than we are. They're playing with real stakes, they understand more different things, they're better at judging people, they've created more good for the world in most cases. So we should feel ashamed of ourselves if we sit down with venture capitalists,

David Wright:

and yet they don't want a Nobel Prize. Right. And they don't they can't become called historically famous or much less so I mean obviously..

Tyler Cowen:

I think they will become historically famous. Well, they already so I like Mike Moritz or Marc Andreessen or Sam Altman, Y Combinator, I think they will go down in history as major figures of great importance.

David Wright:

It would there be an analog so is it like a Rockefeller kind of thing? Or is there some Is there a higher level of status associated? You get there achieving is achievable for them? So I'm thinking like, think between, let's say, a Rockefeller and Albert Einstein, right? similar levels of achievement. Einstein is way, way more revered, and more famous, I think. But you know, what, in the future would today's Einstein actually pale in comparison to Peter Thiel, let's say, or Marc Andreessen, or one of these guys,

Tyler Cowen:

I don't know that we have an Einstein today, there's plenty of science, but particular contributions are more more doled out into parts, there's more division of labor. So maybe Craig Venter or someone would be something like that, but you don't even hear his name as much anymore. You don't, which is odd. So someone like Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, in relative terms, I think a lot of us are under estimating how much fame they will keep, they will be like symbols of an era people behind Google.

David Wright:

But will we be able to point to something because I feel like you need it, you need like a trinket, I think you need some

Tyler Cowen:

Well the internet is that trinket and the internet may be replaced by something better, but it will still be seen as an extension of the internet. And these will be like the Einsteins of the internet

David Wright:

is that too diffuse because I you know, I worry about their status. So I worry about the future status, future perception of the current status of a Peter Thiel because I feel like oh, you know, he had a great return on equity or whatever the percentage, some value, some like assessment of the economic contribution that he made. But those seem to be such dry statistics. There's not inspirational to people, I worry about that. Do you think I'm right on that, or

Tyler Cowen:

I think there'll be 10 to 15 people seen as essential behind the development of the internet, Peter Thiel, and other venture capitalists and CEOs will will be on that list. There's still time for others to displace them. But they were in there at the early stages. And people in the early stages, say who wrote the first novels or the first symphonies? Sure, they tend to keep those positions I think,

David Wright:

I think I distinguish. So let's call it there's an event diagram of intellectual life. You have academics, obviously, explicitly dedicated to that. You have venture capitalists who the circle covers academics, but also covers some of this business. You may call it more prosaic kind of business thinking, how to manage people, which are important skills. I spend a lot of my my day job thinking about those problems. I think they're hard problems under appreciated property. There's another part of that Venn diagram, which doesn't really overlap as much as venture capitalists and that's journalists. The thing that surprises me a lot about journalists is actually how damn smart they are, of course, I mean, remarkably And, you know, they're also I think of as Netherworld, academics in a lot of ways. And there's a lot of overlap in what academics do and what journalists do. But it seems to me that venture capitalists are just eclipsing them as call it the couch potato, or sorry, armchair academics, and they're not adding maybe as much value. And what I'm wondering about is in your philosophical framework, do you do you think that journalists are overvalued because they're not necessarily contributing to economic growth?

Tyler Cowen:

I think journalists contribute a great deal to making politics better by enforcing accountability. I can't think of individual journalists today who I think will remain famous for long periods of time. There's simply very many good ones. So it's journalism, that's adding the value. But if you said, well, who's the Einstein of journalism or even like, the Peter Thiel, Marc Andreessen of journalism, Mark Zuckerberg of journalism, whatever you might think that to mean, it's much harder to come up with the names, he would just say, well, the whole ecosystem. And well, you know, whatever happens with the Trump administration, I don't have a prediction at the moment. But it seems under all scenarios, journalism will have played a major role in the final outcome there. And that's significant.

David Wright:

So maybe tying it together with the book. You mentioned. It was interesting, actually, you said one of the ways in which you you recommended we synthesize it is actually that we should we have undervalued East Asia. Yeah. And explain what that means. That's an interesting comment.

Tyler Cowen:

Well, I'm not sure that East Asians undervalue East Asia, fair enough. But Americans, we're certainly all familiar with the fact that a number of those countries have grown at a rapid pace. But to me that there have special moral importance. That's like the one case in world history, where countries did everything possible to grow at as rapid pace as possible, and basically succeeded. So we should revere those experiences as a kind of central principle, a world historical principle that East Asia got right. So far, and nowhere else has,

David Wright:

do you know, why? Why would they have gotten that right, because I think of the kind of a longer history of East Asia as being a little bit more depressing, and cyclical things closing off in Japan, and those those those countries is actually being, you know, to reference another book of yours incredibly complacent.

Tyler Cowen:

But at least recently, or relatively recently, they've grown at rates approaching 10%, for the most part, they have stayed quite stable, or even become more stable. Of course, growth rates fall at some point. They had wise leadership, often good policy, in many, but not all cases, well educated population. So if you look at Chinese education, or even Chinese IQ, while China was still poor, IQ and education were pretty decent, in a way say that was not true for you know, Western Europe in the year 1500, or 1600. So they had that headstart, they understood how to build on it. Singapore probably has had the smartest economic policy, maybe of any country ever. So those are impressive achievements. I'm glad there's this movie out now, you know, crazy rich Asians there. Yeah, there are objectionable features to the movie, don't get me wrong. But the mere fact there's something on the screen, Americans can look at the screen see Singapore and say, oh, my goodness, these people live in a much nicer place than we do ought to be like a slap in the face and a wake up call. And I'm delighted that it's out there for all its imperfections.

David Wright:

And the word you actually used when you describe that was the straussian reading of the book. And that, Listen, I've been reading your blog color for 10 years. And it was only a couple of years ago, I figured out what stress means. Could you just define that for us quickly? And we'll talk about that again for a second.

Tyler Cowen:

Well, I often use the phrase, you know, strive, see and reading or I refer to Strauss. And the single question emailed to me the most often is, what does this mean? Yeah. But I think the point is, there's not quite a single meaning. And if you Google, what is Straussian?

David Wright:

I tried that a few times.

Tyler Cowen:

It doesn't necessarily help that much. And Leo Strauss himself was a deliberately obscure writer. Yeah, I think of straussian thought as a method, not a single conclusion. That's why it's hard to define. You try to read things that ever deeper levels, and pull out ever richer layers of meaning. And that's the straussian method. It's useful for making you smarter and see different perspectives. There's the like much more specific view the belief that older writers wrote in a form of code. They didn't always say upfront what they thought I agree with that. But when I say Straussian and I mean the broader approach to Straussianism

David Wright:

a close reading deep reading, there's a hidden messages maybe it's deliberate maybe it's not and

Tyler Cowen:

always probing more and more and when you meet actual Straussians ask them what Strauss, straussianism, you get all these different answers, but like the thing they embody is this passionate commitment to always try to read things at a deeper level. And that to me is is very impressive.

David Wright:

So I have a Straussian reading of this book. And this Straussian reading is that

Tyler Cowen:

I'm happy already by the way.

David Wright:

It's a it's it's actually a sequel to Average Is Over. And I know it's not, but this is how we think of it. It's actually averages over and I was listening, listening to your podcast with Ross Roberts. And in that he, he made the point and you made I forget who made it first, but you were agreeing about the fact that average is over which I'd like you to summarize that if you don't mind in a moment, I'll give it my shot, which is about how there's this in society there, there's going to be a big difference between people who are very good at the kind of development technology that Science Society is producing. And then you have people who are not, and you're going to wind up with, you know, what Russ calls a bimodal distribution, which is you have, you know, a whole bunch of hands and a bunch of have nots, and that sort of hollowing out of the middle of society. And in in that conversation, you were talking about how really the book was, was, was not as you put it, there not normative in the sense that you weren't really venturing an opinion on it, you weren't saying this is good or bad. This is kind of just what's happening. And I think that the Straussian reading of stubborn attachments is that that's not true. And actually this is a message to the to the have nots from Average is over and saying, just do it for your grandkids.

Tyler Cowen:

I agree with that. But all with it, you know, see your bid and raise you with you. So I think there's a consistent straussian reading of all my books, starting in 1997, with in praise of commercial culture. So in praise of commercial culture, what price fame, my early books on culture, they're mostly positive and optimistic about commercialism. But they see some ways in which it's alienating. And they raised the question of whether commercialization capitalism create a sufficient mythology or religion to be self sustaining. So the optimistic books are in fact a bit pessimistic. And one thing stubborn attachments is trying to do is fill in the boxes of what that mythology has to look like this extreme valuation of the future attachment to compounding returns, sustainable economic growth. And I also understand that's not enough to inspire most people. So you need a kind of lower level, more religious version of that idea. And stubborn attachments read between the lines indicates that and I think suggests that rather strongly. So I think, I don't know like 15 books or so however many I've written, they more or less all tied together with this consistent message. And each one has a kind of flip Straussian in reading the optimistic books are a bit more pessimistic than they look, the pessimistic books are more optimistic than they look. And it's all part of this big long story. But I'm not allowed to say that anywhere else, only on your podcast. I'll never say it again.

David Wright:

Thank you very much. So I'm gonna switch to some some more general topics, I guess. And one of the things that you've done for me actually is, and this is probably not, this is probably a straussian reading of your own advice, which is to lower the status of books. So you read a lot of books, or read a lot of books and you throw books away.

Tyler Cowen:

Correct. It's become a problem for me, I get so many review copies not a complaint, by the way, if you're a publisher listening, but simply carrying them away from the house has become a logistics issue.

David Wright:

Yeah, right. They're heavy.

Tyler Cowen:

And I give a lot of them away, I don't throw them all away by any means the good ones I give away, I'm very careful to give it to the right person. But some of them I feel, well, if I give this to a person, they might read it. And they should be reading Moby Dick instead. So unless I think it's the very best book for someone in particular to read, I won't give it away.

David Wright:

And you don't even finish books. Most of your books.

Tyler Cowen:

Correct. I just read parts of the

David Wright:

Yeah, as much as you feel like you want to. And

Tyler Cowen:

a lot of books, I reread my favorite books, the most important books I try to read three, four times in the course of my life. Yeah,

David Wright:

in you've mentioned many times that you reread Shakespeare frequently. Yes. And it's something that I've struggled with, because I just don't understand I can't get through the language. Like any advice for me.

Tyler Cowen:

It's very hard. So I find For instance, if I see a Shakespeare play on the stage, I literally cannot understand what they're saying, right? If I read a fogger edition with notes and follow the notes, I can do fine. But I'm a slow reader of Shakespeare and to get the right edition for you. fogger is one place to start. But without the notes. It's you know, maybe not going to work. But I worry that 50 100 years from now, like no one will be able to really read Shakespeare, and the sense that hardly anyone can read the real Chaucer today.

David Wright:

What do you get from it, then? If you can't really read it? Could you still get something from it? What do you get from it?

Tyler Cowen:

I can read Elizabethan English well enough with notes. I think Shakespeare is the deepest, most profound observer of human nature and the diverse condition of humanity, the nature of political power, the differences between the sexes, tragedy, comedy, everything is in there. in a way that's not the case for any other thinker. Humanity has produced it maybe only two thirds of them require study, you know, some of them are not necessarily that good Merry Wives of Windsor like should you read at once probably should you study it? I mean, probably not. But something like the Henry ad or King Lear or Hamlet or Measure for Measure, Midsummer Night's Dream, my goodness, you could like read these every year for the rest of your life and always discover more.

David Wright:

is Tyrone kind of Shakespearean I mean, this is he is what does he emphasize intellectually relative to you? Is it more about the kind of the darker side of the human condition is that is that an appropriate reading? Tyrone,

Tyler Cowen:

Think of Tyrone is one of the Shakespearean quote unquote fools or buffoons, right very often speaks the truth and says things other people won't say or can say are afraid to say. So he's a particular kind of Shakespearean character.

David Wright:

I think sometimes of when when I see somebody making a mistake or doing something that's wrong or appears to be wrong or probably is wrong, I often get it. Like, I know why you did that. And, and I feel like that because I've experienced similar urges in my life, which are the wrong thing. You don't always do it. Sometimes you do have made mistakes, of course, but I feel like that there's a I have a I have an appreciation, maybe an over appreciation for that. And I sort of afford a little bit too much sympathy to people who make mistakes, because I just kind of get it and I understand how you could easily easily do that. Do but I for some reason, get the feeling that people when they have those feelings, they forget about them for some reason, and they you know, they can they load up with negativity opprobrium on people that make mistakes and, and so don't seem to me to understand failing in the right kind of way to Tyrone seems to me to be an indication that you do understand failings and people and is it that you feel them yourself? Do you do you introspect about that, and you're like, I kind of get why somebody made those mistakes.

Tyler Cowen:

Sure. And I have a phrase I call it devalue and dismiss, you can always look at what other people are doing, find the mistakes, and play a strategy of devalue and dismiss, oh, this person said that, or they had this outrageous moral view, or, you know, they forecast that incorrectly. But you still want to learn from them. And it's often the people who offend you the most, that at least at the margin, you can learn the most from I'm not even saying they're the wisest, but they're probably the people in the past, you've learned less from because they offend you. And try to learn more from those people.

David Wright:

I want to switch to your podcast a little bit. I have a stressing reading of your podcast. Great. I love your podcast. Thank you. And it's what's interesting to me is, is the variety of guests, right podcast tend to be tend to be variety shows. But I think that your your style is really interesting, because you have obviously a broad range of interests. And I mean, in some ways, I find that that description of you to be a little silly, because I feel like everybody has broad ranges of interests, you're just more public about them than other people are maybe putting yourself out there a bit more. But you've interviewed Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Martina Navratilova, de Berry, and what amazes me about some of those interviews, in particular, the Dave berry one that struck me is you're coming to it actually, as an economist. And so the jargon you're using and the kind of questions you're asking it, to me the stress the reading of your podcast, incorrect dressing reading, in my mind, is saying to to, I guess the world? Isn't it cool how economists are and how we can actually ask people these questions. And you know, I'm, I'm a variety show one man variety show. And that's neat and academic raising the status of academics. But actually, the real stressing reading is the message the audience for conversations with Tyler is academics and saying, here's the things you should be interested in. And here's I'm interpreting the rest of the world in a language that you can understand. And I don't care if if they don't know what straussian means. Have you ever used that word and you're being you're being more kind than that, of course, but you're not actually sacrificing what I see it as your intellectual style as a certain region you're from. And you're, you're you're kind of interpreting the world explicitly as an academic economist, and showing everybody that it can be done?

Tyler Cowen:

Well, I think both of those are true. You called one, the real straussian reading on my own was just that makes me a little nervous. They're both possible straussian readings. And then the other straussian reading is, I want to do these interviews, so I can focus my own reading. And I learn more when I read if I'm preparing for someone or something. So I'm not in any way paid to do it. And the notion that it improves the quality of my reading as what it's really about in a selfish way. That's yet another quite significant. You could call it straussian reading. I don't know if it's even that but it's, it's a big motive for me.

David Wright:

Do you listen to podcasts?

Tyler Cowen:

No, not at all

David Wright:

Really? Interesting.

Tyler Cowen:

I find them too slow, often boring. I don't like most people do interviews. There are too many questions. Oh, could you tell us what your book says? Yeah, sure. Then you get some kind of drone like answer. Or I could read it like at 13x the speed. So even you do 1.5x on podcasts? Why should I listen? I will listen if I'm about to interview a person as a kind of prep. But I never feel it's like what I want to be doing what I want to be doing is reading.

David Wright:

I listened to a lot of podcasts The reason I'm started this podcast and I get a couple things out of it. One you can I can do it on a podcast time, which is when I'm doing something else, I actually tend to listen to a podcast cleaning the dishes or walking the dog, whatever I'm doing commuting, little bit less than I'm commuting because I feel like I have too much attention energy when I'm commuting. I'd rather be reading or writing or doing something else. But I find it i think i think podcasting is maybe the one the most significant educational innovations since the printing press because I think that I agree and it's this one particular way because I think that what's great about conversations is that there's misunderstanding in a conversation right and get worked out in real time as opposed. I think writing is a little bit too perfect and In the sense that you can actually express an idea very efficiently in a written word, but it doesn't necessarily isn't understood efficiently, because you have to read it over and over again, sometimes your complex idea, and you don't really necessarily, you don't have an audience to kind of react to what you're saying. And I think in podcasting, in conversations, you have this interactive element to it. And listening, I think that Russ Roberts podcast is one of the things that's taught me maybe more than anything else I've ever encountered in my life, because there's two expert talking about something for the most part, right, and they skip through all the intro crap, because that's boring for the most part to them, and to me, and they go right to the heart issues and the to the heart issues, you can actually get a feel for what the underlying principles are, it doesn't do enough of them, you know it but hearing experts converse about a topic I think is, is really, I think the best, the best thing I want I want to do with my spare time, when we learn about a new topic.

Tyler Cowen:

I like reading transcripts of podcasts. So here's the thing in my life, so I write every day. And in my downtime, things like driving, commute. I listen to music, which first of all I love. But I feel I need to keep my mind open for what I'm writing on. And the podcast fills me up too much. So I don't want to hear it in the car. I don't want to be trying to learn Spanish in the car, or whatever else I might do. I want that to be a free open time. And music does that for me. And then I get more written.

David Wright:

I find that sometimes I can have some of my most interesting thoughts or when I listen to a podcast and my mind wanders a little bit into some other topic. It's almost a subconscious wandering, I actually stopped the podcast. And I'll just sort of think that thought for a little while and I might write something down or it winds up being a kind of catalyst for other thoughts, which are like, there's one podcast episode just I think, my favorite podcast episode, I'm wondering if you've heard of it as recline in Sam Harris debate, you heard that?

Tyler Cowen:

I've heard plenty of it. And I've had many people email me and asked me what I think of it. I haven't ever heard it. I've heard it was a kind of train wreck, though no one can quite agree. Like who is at fault or what went wrong, but I certainly know what you're talking about.

David Wright:

So I it's my favorite podcast episode of all time. And I agree with the assessment that it was can be considered a train wreck. But I think that the worst the people who came out most disappointed that we're probably Ezra and Sam, because I think that they didn't resolve their tension. And they didn't I don't think they actually their minds didn't meet. But it's almost as though that the product that they created was a phenomenal educational tool for everybody else, I think the rest of us really benefited from it. Because it I think it shows how to well meaning super smart, you know, caring people, people who wanted to get there and figure something out couldn't do it. And to me, there's all sorts of Straussian readings, hidden messages, but also just sort of naked displays of what the limits of some some inquiry can be. And I just, I mean, I really listened to it. I've listened to it again, I listen to it twice. So I just do it three times. Yeah. And I like hearing, I don't like hearing it, I actually find it kind of uncomfortable. But I found it to be educational. And and I think that, you know, it's almost I think the straussian reading of that debate is actually whether politics matters. So So you think of like Sam's point is he's against the the extreme criticism, the authorization of public intellectuals for for associating with Charles Murray's ideas. And Ezra, I think his point is, you know, there are certain topics which should be off limits, and because of the social disruption, they can wreak an empowering other people who will do bad things with those ideas. That's kind of my assessment of it might not measure might not agree with that, or Sam. But really, what it comes down to is, is I think of whether, you know, if you're influencing the debate publicly in some way do you have Do you have to consider that when you are when you are writing something, or when you're conducting research? I mean, it's not just about the objective question you're asking are there are things which are unrelated, which should be taken into consideration? And I think Stan disagreed with me. What do you think about that? I mean, I know you haven't listened to it. You've heard a lot about it. knew of that idea.

Tyler Cowen:

Maybe I deliberately choose not to listen to it. But I suppose I'd like a controlled experiment to to rerun that podcast, but switch out, no one time Sam and one time Ezra with other people, and see what the result is and compare and maybe we'd learned something more from that.

David Wright:

Yeah, that's interesting. Here's another pitch for a podcast. My favorite podcast is a podcast called heavy hands, which is about mixed martial arts.

Tyler Cowen:

Who runs it?

David Wright:

These two guys called Connor Ruebusch and well it used to be guy named Patrick Wyman. Now it's a guy named be Phil Mackenzie. So it's, it's independent. And what it I don't even watch MMA but what's amazing about it is as a technical analysis of the sport, and so is two guys really smart guys just talking about something that I've learned by listening to the podcast and don't actually directly enjoy it myself. I have a history of doing this because I've read Bill Simmons blog for years and you're a basketball fan.

Tyler Cowen:

Sure. I love Bill's stuff.

David Wright:

I don't even like basketball. But I love reading it.

Tyler Cowen:

Yes, writing. analytic. Yeah, that's right. Oh, informationally dance. Yeah.

David Wright:

And I don't really watch movies. But I loved reading Roger Ebert when he really wrote movie reviews. He was such a great writer of movies. I actually enjoyed the reviews and like Bill's articles more than I enjoyed the actual product itself. And so it's a kind of consumption About about. It's a meta consumption of an actual product which itself can be enjoyable, which to me is counterintuitive.

Tyler Cowen:

One of the things we learned from podcasts, I think is how often the audience doesn't mind when they're completely clueless about what's going on. So my podcast with Garry Kasparov, there's a part where he and I talk about chess quite intensely, and I loved it. And a lot of people love that they've written me, they've told you and they don't even play chess, but they feel something about the connection. And I think podcasts could go further in this direction of realizing, look, what the audience actually wants from the podcast isn't quite what the producers might think it's something more ineffable.

David Wright:

Yeah, I think I think of the quality as they're looking for people who are real. And there's this, that's what charisma to me and to me is it's something that you can be coherent, and articulate and interesting at the same time is really actually speaking from the heart.

Tyler Cowen:

And my podcast with Callard has the same whether or not people know a lot about ancient philosophy or play it out. Somehow that dialogue felt real to them, I think,

David Wright:

yeah, it did. And it's a it's an, it's a personal expression of your interest is your podcast, and it's overlap with some parts of your audience and not others. I mean, it amazes me, I've talked to people about it. Everybody likes a different episode listens to a different episode, it makes it very hard to track how many people listen to stupid thing,

Tyler Cowen:

and that it's not too professional. So your sound quality should be good. It shouldn't be obviously unprofessional. But at the same time, you don't want it packaged the way say a TV show would be.

David Wright:

So we're running out of time. But I wanted to I wanted to touch on one other idea, which is your own audience. And you recently you writing a New York Times column for many years, and you switched over to Bloomberg, you do write popular. Popular works, right?

Tyler Cowen:

popular is a tricky word. Yeah, continue.

David Wright:

So I'm wondering kind of what why you do that what you're trying, you know, is there? Is it just because you find it fun to try and constrain yourself in a certain way to speak? What because your blog is not popular? The popular voice of Tyler, right? I mean, you use more jargon, you speak about kind of esoteric things. But I think that I definitely when I click through your links and read the Bloomberg columns, that's definitely for a popular audience. And it's edited. And it's it's a it's a different feel to it. Why do you do it?

Tyler Cowen:

My Bloomberg editors don't in general, you know, change my voice, they may improve certain things. But they don't try to make it sound not like Tyler. So what you read on Bloomberg is like, the Tyler Bloomberg voice. Yeah. And it's this idea of multiple perspectives, that you should try to write some things through blog posts, other things through Bloomberg columns, New York Times columns, other things through tweets, and you'll understand it better. So writing for the Bloomberg audience, which is a fantastic audience, I meet people who read them all the time, is another way to learn things. It's also a job to write

David Wright:

Yeah, sure. Sure that helps. So let's close on one last one last point, which is the the proceeds of the book stubborn attachments, you want to talk a bit about why you decided that because you did publish a version of this book a little while ago, and then now he actually has a proper publication. And something changed your mind What was that?

Tyler Cowen:

I put it free online. About two years ago, I think. And I just wanted people to read it. And then there was a new project called stripe press, which comes from the payments company, the tech company, stripe. And I thought this would be a great place to publish the book with a company that's actually doing things and trying to maximize GDP of the internet. It's part of the strike mission, I just thought that would be perfect. And the book is idiosyncratic enough, a mainstream New York publisher probably wouldn't even consider it too philosophical. It's not like the normal length that's shorter than average. So stripe was interested. But I thought like, this shouldn't be a book for me to profit from. And I was traveling in Ethiopia. I guess this was in June. And I met a guide in lalibela, who I will, I will call him Jonas. It's not his real name to preserve his privacy. And I thought it would be neat to send all the proceeds of this book to him. One of the themes of the book is the wealthy countries, being wealthy helps the poorer countries. So I believe people should like to actually try to live their work. And if they write something in meaning, they should incorporate that into their lives be consistent. So I'm saying well, the wealthy countries help the poor countries. I should do more of that. I argue in the book, people should be more altruistic at the margin, and I thought, here's my chance. Jonas's yearly income is really quite low. The proceeds of this book, in terms of him buying a house, taking care of the 10 people he is responsible for. He wants eventually to start a travel business in lalibela. He struck me as a man of high integrity and intelligence and he taught himself good English all on his own. Of all the people I met, I thought like, he's the one I should give this money to.

David Wright:

My guest today is Tyler Cowen, you very much,

Tyler Cowen:

Thank you very much.