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The Not Unreasonable Podcast
Tyler Cowen on Stubborn Attachments, Tyrone and Multiple Perspectives
October 01, 2018 David Wright
The Not Unreasonable Podcast

Tyler Cowen on Stubborn Attachments, Tyrone and Multiple Perspectives

October 01, 2018

David Wright

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, 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 See older show notes at

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, 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 See older show notes at

Episode Transcript

Speaker 1:0:11Welcome to The Not Unreasonable Podcast. I'm your host David Wright. Actuary the insurance broker. This is a show of interviews with people who have something to teach us about managing our businesses and ourselves. There's a lot to learn out there folks. So let's get to work.

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David Wright:2:15My guest today is Tyler Cowen professor of economics at George Mason University. Blogger at Marginal podcast host 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 retitle 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 him what I'm trying to accomplish today. It might sound weird but before reading this book I thought of Tyler as an emotional mentor and role model to me. Luckily I think morality as being built on emotional foundations so toddlers 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:3:12Thank you for having me on. Thank you for the kind words.

Tyler Cowen:3:15I want to start with what I see as the most marginally important Kween 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 very smart people saying very smart things. Where does Tyler stand out. What do you need to go to Tyler 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 can explain to us who Tyronne is and I don't mean byname on his driver's license but you can tell us that too. Who is Tyronne really.

Tyler Cowen:3:48Tyrone is a guest writer on the marginal revolution blog and he appears periodically and writes very controversial or provocative ideas and a very straight forward no holds barred tone. So the reason there is a Tyronne. I thought some while ago well these thinkers out there you'd like to read variants on them like wouldn't you like to read a pessimistic Steven Pinker. Or maybe 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 Tyronne as you know my brother. In fact when I was born my father wanted to name me Tyronne my mother wouldn't let him. And it became Tylor. He liked 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 Tylor voices that may be as interesting or provocative. But Tyler himself doesn't have to bear all the hassles of being Tyrone.

David Wright:5:07So a reason I think Tyrones 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 don't see many people cross right so that being you know there's a there's a strong kind of almost anti intellectual sort of bent about Tyronne and the right way of putting it. But he has a perspective on the world's problems that are as wrong as a certain kind of way and you're often quick to point out Tyronne is so wrong. But all these things and then a year ago publish it on your blog under your own name is the author that goes into it. You know the publisher line or the writer line. And so I think of it as embodying a kind of conflict within yourself.

Tyler Cowen:5:46There's a dialogue that goes on that that generates that. Tyler Cowen view at the end. But Tyrones part of that is Tyronne is that a representation of what of what you are. Is it a version of you or is it something that is is a spoiler that you like to just sort of play off of or do you believe what Tyronne says in anyway 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 write them out. 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. Oh my goodness. Now I see what this implies that really must be wrong so engaging with Tyronne I would say it pushes tilers views and all kinds of different directions. So it's not that oh Tylor really agrees with Tyrone or Tyrone is the opposite of Tyler. You could say Tyronne increases the variance of Tylor in different directions leaves him open minded.

David Wright:6:52I liked that phrasing. Now I'm going to go a bit deeper on Tyronne still not done with him yet because

Tyler Cowen:6:57nor is he done with you.

David Wright:6:58I think not so. I learned that you're from Bergen County New Jersey correct.

Tyler Cowen:7:03Northern Jersey.

David Wright:7:04That'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 and 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 hilly there's little rocky there's a there is more of it. It is a lower socioeconomic level there than you'd think being that close in New York City. And when you grew up there it must have been very much more like that.

David Wright:7:33I would think for 30 40 years ago is that my right on not being an important feature of that part of a part of the country does that because I think of actually Tyrones view as being. I know I know Tyrones. I grew up I grew up in a small town myself. And I know people who are really smart smarter than you think they should be in some way. 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 my kind of like working hypothesis on Tyronne. There might be a real person that you're modeling Tyronne 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:8:25Well a composite. 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 quite working class background. My father hadn't gone to college right and I too grew up with many Tyrones 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 40 50 years ago when these guys made it correct. Yeah and Tyrone is somewhat of a throwback to that time and place so I like to say all thinkers are regional thinkers. Tyrone himself is indeed a regional thinker.

David Wright:9:13Right and his region is a working class northern New Jersey.

Tyler Cowen:9:17I would say Tyrones region is a bit to the south of tilers region tilers region is Bergen County intellectual not too far from New York City New Jersey Tyrones region is much more Hudson County closer to the heartland Soprano's territory. Bruce Springsteen land.

David Wright:9:34So we're I think Tyrone the way I think that he gets integrated into real view I think of that as being really instructive as a way to as a way to diversify your own your own thought process I guess and there is a thread in a lot of rethinking to the point I made earlier about the word of using it as a emotional mentor. And although as you know it was the first time we met so you don't know me or know we know what kind of person I am but I like your attitude and the openness you have to these different kinds of you 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 you are are wrong and wrong is just wrong and I can now dismiss everything you say there are good parts there and I think there's an openness and the word you use in your book which will touch on now maybe a little bit as pluralism which I think is is evidence of this phenomenon in your own personality. Maybe you can tell me what you think of that assessment and maybe define what pluralism is in and how it works and stubborn attachments.

Tyler Cowen:10:35Well first maybe 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 well-being is very important but other values matter. There are human rights. The arts can have an independent value above and beyond. How and 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 and valuing those perspectives even if. Well I suppose maybe overvaluing them in some sense because deliberately so you might not agree with somebody you but you recognize and respect that it has some value even though your cellphone not any value to it and you ought to weigh it with some probability.

Tyler Cowen:11:27So 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 percent. Well in your calculations for a good society you should put it in with right 5 percent. 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.

David Wright:11:56Yeah but it's always tempting and one of the things that I never idea associate with you is actually being pretty okay with the messiness of the world in some ways or celebrating it. Right. And that's related to... Surely that's related or not there's some link there between being able to acknowledge that other people's perspectives are... there is a Tyronne inside of you and there are people who have views that you don't agree with but still value with some probability. And it's a mess and that's OK.

Tyler Cowen:12:20Absolutely.

David Wright:12:22So in the book I think that there is there is a way that manifests itself is in this idea of I think maybe I'm getting this and drawing this line properly between radical uncertainty. Maybe you can define for us what radical uncertainty is and how that works.

Tyler Cowen:12:38Your kind of philosophy Bickell view or your framework 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 are ways of modeling those decisions they're really not very good. 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 an expected value terms is the best thing to do the chance you will be pretty wrong is likely fairly high. So you may favor what you were doing like 52 to 48 or 53 to 47 but rarely is it like 99 to 1 or 98 to 2. 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 you seem much better and you don't see why the other people don't get them.

David Wright:13:51That's related to pluralism

Tyler Cowen:13:52Absolutely. Pluralism and this epistemic uncertainty there are really two sides of the same coin.

David Wright:13:58And it is a twin idea in the book and we're going to kick it into the book tour. But as a book yeah it's that's nowaday in a book which is about rights. So that there are actually still absolutes.

Tyler Cowen:14:08That'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 I simply want to point out there are constraints on the calculus of utilitarianism right and that I think of those two ideas.

David Wright:14:30So this idea of call it relativism. Maybe I mean you can push back against my use of that word and rights as being conflict being an intention always inside of you and inside of other people. Did you always have both or were you sort of like started hasn't been more of a pluralist and you kind of drifted towards a bit more of. I'm not sure what the whatever the opposite of pluralist is.

Tyler Cowen:14:50Over time I started more as a rights theorist 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:15:23Interesting. And did you have you... Did you have it... What part what parts of this book existed and Tyler Cowen age 16.

Tyler Cowen:15:30Probably a lot of it. 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 spent taking out parts of the book 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. No I narrowed down this book and it took me a year and a half just to basically you know do control see and delete.

David Wright:16:07Yeah. Yeah but terms of the younger Tyler I mean so you mention that you're bit more of a rights theorist was that.

Tyler Cowen:16:15Was that like really Urlich pre college high school Tylor like 14 year old Tyler was the right guy was the right guy. But back then you know I believed in capital

:16:24. Sorry who influenced you in that to get you to that opinion.

David Wright:16:26Do you think of your dad as a rights guy or you know it was something

Tyler Cowen:16:30he was not very philosophical you might say he had an Inco hate view similar to Wright's view but Ayn Rand I read when I was early I was influenced by that libertarian thinkers people like Milton Friedman who was not himself a writer thinker but you read Friedman. You start thinking in terms of rights even though he claimed to be a utilitarian. But the real Milton Friedman in fact was also a writer thinker. So our early exposure to a lot of libertarians mostly Rothbart. What was the most important thing your father taught you 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:17:06And do you think about that.

:17:08Oh all the time of course

David Wright:17:09as part of his teaching to you and you think about your dad and you think about that doing that every day.

Tyler Cowen:17:14I don't know that 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 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:17:38And about your mom what did she teach you.

Tyler Cowen:17:41Kindness compassion openness and tolerance. So my father was more dogmatic my mother was very open loved to read about Eastern religion. Jonathan Livingston Seagull was one of her favorite books. So a kind of pluralist pluralist. Absolutely.

David Wright:17:57So right versus pluralism in the county household.

Tyler Cowen:17:59Correct.

David Wright:18:00And it did it did that. Is that something that is. How true is that as a as a characterization of your upbringing was it. Are you actually just the synthesis of your parents as OPCO to use implicit or they might be.

Tyler Cowen:18:11Probably. Sure. Yeah.

David Wright:18:13Here's another thought that I actually asked this people in job interviews. So you'll be interviewing for a job. How does the relative strength of your cult your intellectual capability your personality change over time. So you're in high school and you're probably you know probably a pretty good high school student. I would imagine so but you had a relative strength say against your peer group and then in college that changed. And so you know now everybody is kind of smart now. So now I'm going to change now and adapt a little bit and there's a feedback mechanism you're right and then maybe as a graduate student maybe as a professor and over time it involves you know kind of what your marginal contribution is. How would that have changed over your life in relative terms.

Tyler Cowen:18:50I've become much worse at math relative to my peer groups with age.

David Wright:18:55Having started out pretty good probably

Tyler Cowen:18:56Right and much better at the humanities and doing and integrating theory and practice and judging talent and I've worked hard at trying to better myself in those areas and have gained a lot in those areas. And in terms of how rapidly I can multiply two numbers in my head both have gotten worse at absolutely and I keep on meeting people who are way way better at it than I am. Not to mention topology and differential equations

David Wright:19:21and so is there a lesson there in kind of a value statements 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

Tyler Cowen:19:31The more valuable skills you always need to change what you're doing as you age. Because your peers are changing what you're good at. Change isn't what the world demands changes. So if you're just doing the same thing you get into a right 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 know from the beginning pretty much is

David Wright:19:54another thread to a lot of your writing and thinking that I and I share this with you where there's a there's an appreciation of respect for religion and what you read a quote a lot of what you write.

Tyler Cowen:20:04I'm not religious myself right.

David Wright:20:05Likewise. And yet. But man it does a lot of good for the world for the most part

Tyler Cowen:20:10correct. And even if some of it harms the world you know we should she 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:20:31I think of religion from those who choose to be critical of it. They see it as a set of constraints against people and they say there's rules you can't do this can't do that and people find that confining I think outsiders find that confining. But I think the experience of people within religion is something you think of this as a restraint not constraint. Right. So restraint is more about 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 when you think about that distinction.

Tyler Cowen:21:00It's true when 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 notion of creation the universe in a way that may well be harder for secular people and you do use.

David Wright:21:17You don't drink.

Tyler Cowen:21:19Not at all. That's right.

David Wright:21:20And so that's a form of restraint that you're choosing to to adopt in your life. What's interesting. So I had this experience when I was in high school I sat through class and people came and these women came from Alcoholics Anonymous and they said to me they said to the class anyway... They referred to themselves in the present tense as alcoholics and they hadn't stopped drinking whatever 20 or 30 or whatever number of years right but it was a personality characteristic whereby they had to impose upon themselves this extraordinary restraint they needed to because they had 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 desire in your removal of it after the fact. And I'm wondering if 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 and doesn't need to be something necessarily destructive.

Tyler Cowen:22:15Actually 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 in a 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 in. 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 say you can live a life without alcohol. There was a study on my blog Marginal Revolution this morning and estimate that one out of 20 deaths in the world result from alcohol. Now that 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:23:17And in language you'd use raised the status of non drinking correct.

:23:21Yet Mormons have done this as well. It's another way in which religion can be a big positive.

David Wright:23:26Yeah I'll want to turn now to back to the book and talk about another call them and their pair of ideas which I think are really related and I actually think of the first set of ideas there is sort of the the I don't know the the moral core of Tyler. You know these are the urges maybe you have and you're acting to a bit more emotionally perhaps and the next set of ideas I think of as actually being much more intellectual ideas and studios are time preference and economic growth. Right. And maybe you can talk about some interesting thoughts. The first time I've ever seen something like this on on time preference me defined what that is and then explain your view on it in a book

:24:01Time preference is 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 for 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 discounted 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 dessert and said well this may lead to 5000 people dying a horrible death. Now 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. Is not some kind of waiting in the meantime that anyone has done so morally. Usually at the social level should think of time as an illusion and worry more about the future. And that has an interesting implication that 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:25:07And what I think is especially powerful about these both th ese ideas. I mean Powerful might not be the right word here but they are counter instinctive let's call it right so these are both two ideas which actually particularly the idea of of non zero discount rate that is values an outcome in the future the same as you value it today. That is not something that humans naturally do. We prefer the bird in hand as opposed to the bird in the bush. That's not an exact metaphor mapping what you're talking about

:25:34put off going to the dentist right.

David Wright:25:35Right so you know I'd rather have something today it's more real and you deal with some of those arguments. But it's not something that instinctively somebody would just come up with probably.

:25:43You're an actuary so the notion of taking advantage of the power of compound returns must be quite familiar to you.

David Wright:25:49Of course

:25:50What 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 and work it 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 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.

:26:23Yeah yeah and again something to the idea compounding is something we struggle with intuitively. Something you have to learn.

:26:29That's right.

David Wright:26:29Yeah you have to deliberately learn... observe in the data in order to convince yourself it's correct.

:26:33That is true probably 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 year after year after year it's a terrible bargain for them. And just teaching people to think that way does not come easily.

David Wright:26:48So what I was kind of wondering about as I was reading this and I'm harkening back to a conversation you had with Agnes Callard you talked about philosophy and reading the ancient texts.


David Wright:26:59And so there's a point she made I think it might have been an article that you referenced not necessarily the conversation itself but this idea was there which is that we read the ancient philosophers because they.. they've.. I'll use my 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 in zero time preference right. So it seems to me this is actually a philosophical innovation the likes of which the world hasn't seen in millennia. Could that be the case? big words.

:27:26Yes, you know.. Agnes has one of the deeper understandings of ancient philosophy because she also has a Ph.D. 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 sect like so you advance for a while and then you move backwards. So it's hard to keep a lot of compound returns was probably correct for them to believe that in their time. But we're now in a world where at least say Great Britain since you know the 16 twenties or so has mostly had positive compound returns for centuries. And that's a practical innovation and our theories need to adjust accordingly.

David Wright:28:04Yeah is it something that that.. is just the beginning of that adjustment? I mean have people talked about this before? Has this been unconsumed by the philosophical community for the most part.

:28:14If you look at the classical economists Smith, Ricardo, John Stuart Mill they were at least toying with the idea of compound returns 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:28:46There's 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 we talk it is from an IT it's not just economic growth GDP growth it's wealth plus maybe talked about well what. Well what wealth plus is.

:29:02while I talk 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. 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 very hard to do. But I call it wealth plus instead of just taking GDP as measured for granted

David Wright:29:30and what's an example of something that's in wealth plus but not in GDP.

:29:34For instance if we are releasing too much carbon into the atmosphere and maybe 30 years from now this will have a terrible consequences 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 is unhappy because all people do is work and need to count that leisure time.

David Wright:29:53And the problem that this idea solves. I mean it's also a really nasty one maybe a few interlinked problems is something that you call the aggregation problem which is so let's say the alternative to to call it a numerical aggregation so in numerical is a case of economic growth and you can measure it 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 now my objective is to maximize peace maximize happiness. Where you need to define these things for one and you have to determine tradeoffs between them for another. How do you add them all up together an aggregation problem is almost insoluble in that kind of philosophical world.

:30:36And 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:30:51So 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 were talking about tight and loose cultures. Michelle Gelfand Michelle yes sorry. And when you're talking about that you asked her whether there was a relationship between tight and loose cultures. Maybe we can define that for a second. If you are ok with that and it wasn't necessarily related to economic growth and so tight cultures don't tend 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. Am I right on that.

:31:29A 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 of 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 than 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:32:19So let's just take the counterfactual then and say that there wasn't one. How would you fit a what it seems to be an important distinction between human experience as in different countries. That doesn't map on economic growth. How do you. It does not just fall into the pot of of the you know the uncertainties saying that these are the sort of things are boiling away in the world they don't actually matter actually in the end. Or it is or how do you fit the discussion of Titan Lulus cultures into your value system as as it's. How would you and this book or something else that didn't necessarily affect economic growth but it feels like it should matter but it's not a right and it's also not effecting growth. Is there another category or are these things actually that don't matter.

:33:00Partly I interviewed Michelle Gelfand because she has this other axis of culture white 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 where 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 tight axis necessarily. So it gets back to the why do the cultural axes that explain the world best.

David Wright:33:47And one of them is that it seems to me that I did 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 Korean farmers and foragers right. I mean you know this better than me. So the more organized society farmers organize 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's societies which are much more loose I guess than he describes it I feel like it made sense to me of his progression of our own societies. Call it you know North American society going from tight to loosening over time. And I asked him what he thought was going on there and he's ever just get richer and say well we're getting richer Rivers 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.

:34:38That'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 it for Ajer societies where like there's a few of them left in the world today. But we're watching highly corrupted versions of them are that also have had a lot of Alsammarae with agriculture and a small sample and even then they seem to be highly diverse so pigmies 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 become richer. It's mostly been true since World War II. 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.

Speaker 9:35:25I 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 be seen like wrecks that Trump happen to me suggests the standard view of you're sliding along these curves of ever greater liberalization is probably not right. So the cyclical 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. The foragers. I don't know what hunter gatherer societies really were like or are like now.

David Wright:36:07So what would your story be for their 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 I mean think about gay marriage and think about various other kind of social constraints which existed hundred years ago which don't look so much now. What what what what is going on or was going on.

Speaker 9:36:27Maybe 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 still economic growth. But a lot of life looks the same like this table we're 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 in 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 how I feel we're at another break point. It's making many people uncomfortable they're flipping out.

:37:23Are those in well plus those things.

Speaker 7:37:24Yes those are in wealth plus a greater tolerance if you're 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 Knepp and does that does that result this the idea of being born gay being better off and wealthier societies as a whole. Statistically across the world certainly for the Western world it seems to me there might be some African countries where that's not the case the weight richer they get the better it gets for the gay population.

Speaker 9:37:53I 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 a 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.

:38:13And so again back to 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 a part of wealth plus Absolutely.

Speaker 9:38:24So 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 than regular GDP but 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.

:38:48Another thought that I was having this is more kind of in your wheelhouse of the world of public intellectuals is the is how. 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 your podcast you've had venture capitalists right and I think of these in some ways as as public intellectuals who are trying to boost economic growth and they think very conceptually venture capitalists they do and they're generalists and they are right.

Speaker 10:39:16Right. And are they similar to university professors I mean are there much better or better at every almost everything they're smarter than we are.

Speaker 9:39:24They're playing with real stakes. They understand more different things they're better at judging people they've created more good for the world and in most cases. So we should feel ashamed of ourselves if we sit down with venture capitalists and yet they don't win a Nobel Prize.

Speaker 5:39:37And they don't they can't become color historically famous or much less so and obviously think they will become historically famous.

Speaker 9:39:43Well they already so well like Mike Moritz or Marc Andreessen or Sam Altman Y Combinator. I think they will go down in history as major figures of great import.

:39:53Would there be an analogue. So is it like a Rockefeller kind of thing or is there a higher level of status associate of you they're achieving is achievable for them something like I think between let's say a Rockefeller and Albert Einstein. Right. Similar levels of achievement Einstein's way we're more revered and more famous I think but you know what in the future would today's Einstein actually pale in comparison to Peter TEEAL let's say or Marc Andreessen or one of these guys.

Speaker 9:40:17I don't know that we have a 9. Stein 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 Rattner 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 chiel in relative terms I think a lot of us are underestimating how much fame they will keep. And they will be like symbols of an era.

Speaker 5:40:41People behind Google the way be to point to something because I feel like you need it you need like a trinket.

Speaker 9:40:48I think you need some cool 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.

:40:55And these will be like the Einsteins of the Internet is not too diffuse because you know I worry about their status. So I worry about the future status future perception of the current status of Peter TEEAL because I feel like oh you know he had a great return on equity or whatever the percentage that some Vout some like assessment of the economic contribution that he made but those seemed to be such dry statistics is not inspirational to people. I worry about that.

Speaker 9:41:17Do you think I'm right on that or I think there will be 10 to 15 people seen as essential behind the development of the Internet. Peter Teel and other venture capitalists and CEOs 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 they who wrote the first novels are the first symphonies they tend to keep those positions I think.

:41:42I think distinguished so let's call it the Venn diagram of intellectual life you have academics obviously explicitly dedicated to that. You have venture capitalists. The circle covers academics but also covers some of this business. Makes 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 and there are problems underappreciated problem. There's another part of that Venn diagram which doesn't really overlap as much with venture capitalists and journalists. So things surprises me a lot of what journalists actually have damn smart. Of course I mean remarkably so. And there are also I think of as another world academics in a lot of ways and there's a lot of overlap team what academics do and what journalists do. But it seems to me that venture capitalists are just eclipsing them as call it couch potato or sorry milk armchair academics and are not adding maybe as much value. What I'm wondering about is in your philosophical framework do you do you think that journalists are overvalued because are not necessarily contributing to economic growth.

Speaker 9:42:40I 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 are simply very many good ones. So it's journalism that's adding value. But if you said Well who's the Einstein of journalism or even like the Peter T.L. Mark Andriessen of journalism. Mark Zuckerberg of journalism whatever you might think that to mean it's much harder to come up with the names you would just say well the whole ecosystem and 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.

:43:24So it may be tying it together with the book. You mention it was interesting actually you said one of the ways in which you recommended we synthesize it is actually that we should have undervalued East Asia. Yeah. And explain what that means. That's an interesting comment.

Speaker 9:43:41Well I'm not sure that East Asians undervalue East Asia Fair enough. But Americans were certainly all familiar with the fact that a number of those countries have grown at a rapid pace. But to me that there of special moral importance that's like the one case in world history where countries did everything possible to grow at his 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 as you know why.

:44:16Why would they have gotten that right because I think it kind of longer history of these ages is being a little bit more depressing and cyclical.

Speaker 9:44:22Of course not closing off in Japan and those countries actually being you know to reference another book of yours are incredibly complacent but at least recently relatively recently they've grown at rates approaching 10 percent 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 that was not true for Western Europe in the year 1800 or 6500. 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 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 wakeup call and I'm delighted that it's out there for all its imperfections and the word you actually used when you described that was at Ostrosky and reading of the book.

:45:40And listen I've been reading your blog Tollar for ten years and it was only a couple of years ago I figured out what Straussian means. Could you just define that for us quickly. We'll talk with the human side.

Speaker 9:45:48Well I often use the phrase know me in reading or I refer to Strauss and the single question emailed to me the most often is what does this mean. But I think the point is there's not quite a single meaning and if you google what is Straussian.

:46:01I tried that a few times.

:46:03It doesn't necessarily help that much. And Leo Strauss himself was a deliberately obscure writer. Yeah I think it's Strauss and 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 pullout ever richer layers of meaning. And that's the strategy and method it's useful for making you smarter and see different perspectives. There is 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 Strauss and I mean the broader approach to strategy and as a close reading deep reading there's a hidden messages maybe it's deliberate.

Speaker 7:46:43Maybe it's not always probing more and more and then you meet actual stridency and ask them what Strauss seen in them you get all these different answers. But like the thing they embody is this passionate commitment to always trying to read think at a deeper level and that to me is very impressive.

:46:58So I have a Straussian reading of this book and my Straussian reading is that

:47:02I happy already by the way.

:47:04It's a it's it's actually a sequel to average is over. And I know it's not. But I would think of it as actually averages over and I was listening listening to your podcast with Russ Roberts and in that he made the point and you made it who made it first but you were agreeing about the fact that averages over which I'd like you to summarize that if you don't mind a moment I'll give it my shot which is about how there's this in society there is going to be a big difference between people who are very good at the kind of development the technology that society is producing and then you have people who are not and you're going to wind up with you know what Ross calls a bi modal distribution which as you have you know a whole bunch of hands and a bunch of have nots and sort of hollowing out of the middle of society. And in that conversation you were talking about how really the book was was was not as you put it there are not normative in the sense that you were make really think bittering opinion on things is good or bad this is kind of what's happening. And I think that the Straussian reading of stubborn attachments is that that's not true. It actually this is a message to the have nots a room averages over and saying just do it for your grandkids I agree with that.

Speaker 9:48:08But all you know see your bid and raise you a few. OK. So I think there is 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 raise the question of whether commercialization capitalism creates sufficient mythology or religion to be self-sustaining. So the optimistic books are in fact a bit pessimistic and one thing's stubborn attachment 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 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 flipped strategy. 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.

:49:32Boy you very much. So let's switch to some some more general topics I guess. One of the things that you've done for me actually is and this is probably not as early as in reading of your own advice which is to lower the status of books do you read a lot of books. Read a lot of books and you throw books away.

Speaker 9:49:50Correct 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 is become a logistics issue. Yeah right. They're heavy. And I give a lot of them away. I don't throw them all the way 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.

:50:18And you know finish books most your books. Correct.

Speaker 9:50:21I just read parts of them as much as you feel like you want to put 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.

:50:30Yeah. You've mentioned many times that 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 it's very hard.

Speaker 9:50:43So 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 Folger 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. Folger is one place to start. But without the notes it's maybe not going to work. It's when 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.

Speaker 11:51:12What 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.

Speaker 9:51:19I 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. Some of them are not necessarily that good Merry Wives of Windsor like you. Should you read it once. Probably should you study. I mean probably not but something like the Henriad 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

:52:03Is Tyrone kind of Shakespearean?

:52:06I mean is he is. What does he emphasize intellectually relative to you. Is it more about the kind of the darker side of human condition.

Speaker 9:52:13Is it an appropriate reading and Tyrone think of Tyrone as one of the Shakespearean quote unquote fools or buffoons. Very often speaks the truth and says things other people won't say or CANSEI are afraid to say he's a particular kind of Shakespearean character.

:52:28I think sometimes 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 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 is I have a I've an appreciation maybe an over appreciation for that and sort of 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. 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 so don't seem to me to understand feeling in the right kind of way it's Tyrone seems to me to be an indication that you do understand feelings and people 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.

Speaker 9:53:27Sure I have a phrase I call it devalue and dismiss. And 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 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 last from because they offend you and try to learn more from those people.

:53:58I want to switch your podcast a little bit. I was stressing reading your podcasts. GREENE I love your podcast. Thank you. And it's what's interesting to me is the variety of guests right. Podcasts tend to be tend to be variety shows. But I think that your style is really interesting because you have obviously a broad range of interests. I mean in some ways I find that that description of you to be a little silly because I feel like everybody has broad reaches of interest you're just more public about them the other people are maybe you put yourself out there a bit more but you've interviewed Kareem Abdul Jabbar Martina Navratilova Dave Barry and what amazes me about some of those interviews in particular Dave Barry when it struck me as you're coming to it actually as an economist. And so the jargon you are using and the kind of questions you're asking me to stress the reading of your podcast the incorrect dressing reading in my mind is saying to two I guess the world isn't it cool how economists are and how we can actually ask people these questions.

:54:55And you know I I'm I'm I'm a variety show one man variety show. And that's neat and academic. Raising the status of academics but actually in the real stress and reading is the message the audience for conversations with Tyler is academics and saying here's the things you should be interested in. Inheres I'm interpreting the rest of the world in a language that you can understand and I don't care if you don't know what Strauss means. You don't use that word and you're being you're being more kind and 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 kind of interpreting the world explicitly as an academic economist and showing everybody that it can be done.

Speaker 9:55:31Well I think both of those are true. You called one the real Strauss the inner eating own. That makes me a little nervous about possible strategy and readings. And then the other strategy in reading is I want to do these interviews so I can focus my own reading.

Speaker 12:55:45And I learned 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 yeah that's yet another quite significant. You could call it stridency in reading I don't know if it's even that but it's it's a big motive for me. Do you listen to podcasts. No not at all. Really interesting. I find them to Salau often boring I don't like how 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 where I could read it like 13 x speed. So even you do one point five X 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.

Speaker 13:56:34I listen to a lot of podcasts reason and started this podcast and I get a couple of things out of it. One I can do it on a cult podcast time which is going I'm doing something else. I actually tend to listen to a pocket clean the dishes or walking the dog whatever I'm doing commuting a little 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 to. 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 this this one particular way because I think what's great about conversations is that there's misunderstanding in a conversation can 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 and a written word but it doesn't necessarily it isn't understood efficiently because you read it over and over again sometimes only a 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.

Speaker 13:57:33I think that Russ Roberts podcast is one of the things that taught me me me more than anything else I've ever encountered in my life because it's two experts talking about something for the most part. Right. And they skipped through all the intro crap because that's boring for the most part to them into me. And they go right to the heart issues and through the hard issues you can actually get enough feel for what the underlying principles are leading to enough of them. But hearing experts converse about a topic I think is really I think the best the best thing. I want to do with my spare time. What did you learn about a new topic.

Speaker 12:58:03I like reading transcripts of podcasts and that's a huge thing in my life. So I write every day and in my downtime things like driving commute. I listen to music 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 free open time and music does that for me.

Speaker 13:58:30And then I get more and I find that sometimes I can have some of my most interesting thoughts or when I'm listening to a podcast and my mind wanders a little bit into some other topic that it's almost a subconscious wonder. I actually stop the podcast and I'll just sort of think that thought for a little while and I might write something down at once that being a kind of catalyst for other thoughts which are like there there's one podcast episode which is I think my favorite Paca I suppose and I'm wondering if you've heard of it Ezra Klein and Sam Harris debate you heard.

Speaker 9:58:56I've heard plenty of it and I've heard many people email me and ask me what I think of that 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.

Speaker 13:59:10So I it's my favorite podcast episode of all time and I agree with the assessment that it was can be considered a trainwreck but I think that the worst the people who came out most disappointed that were probably Ezra and Sam because I think that they didn't resolve their tension and it didn't. I don't think they actually their minds didn't meet but it's almost as though that the product they created was a phenomenal educational tool for everybody else. I think the rest of us really benefited from it because I think it shows how two well-meaning super smart caring people people who wanted to get there and figure something out couldn't do it. And to me there's all sorts of interesting readings hidden messages but also just sort of naked displays of the limits of some inquiry can be and I just I mean I listen to it.

Speaker 13:59:56I listen to it again. I just do it twice. So it was new 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 I think that you know it's almost I think distressing reading of that debate is actually whether politics matters. So so you think of like Sam's point is he's against the extreme criticism the ostracization of public intellectuals 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 destruction they can wreak and empowering other people who will do bad things with those ideas. That's kind of my assessment of it might not or might not agree with that or Sam but really it comes down to is is I think of whether you know if you're influencing a debate publicly in some ways 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 or should be taken into consideration. And I think Sam disagreed with me. What do you think about that.

Speaker 12:60:59I mean I know you haven't listened to it you've heard a lot about it but that idea maybe I deliberately choose not to listen to it but I suppose I'd like a controlled experiment to rerun that podcast but switch out no one time Sam and one time as were with other people and see what the result is and compare and maybe we'd learn something more from that.

Speaker 13:61:20Now that's interesting. Here's the other pitch for podcasts my favorite podcast is a podcast called heavy hands which is about mixed martial arts. Who runs it. These two guys called Connery Bush and I used to be named Patrick Wyman. Now it's getting Phil McKenzie. So it's it's independent and I don't even watch anime. But what is amazing about it is that technical analysis of the sport and so is two guys who are really smart guys just talking about something that I've learned by listening to the podcasts 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.

Speaker 10:61:56Sure I love Bill stuff. I don't even like basketball but I love reading writing and analytic Yeah. So informationally dance.

:62:03Yeah and I don't really watch movies but I loved reading Roger Ebert when he wrote movie reviews he was such a great writer in movies. I actually enjoyed the reviews and liked Bill's articles more than I enjoyed the actual product itself and so it's a kind of consumption about about a medic consumption of an actual product which itself can be enjoyed but which to me is counterintuitive.

Speaker 9:62:22One of the things we learned from podcast's 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 rapidly loved it and a lot of people love that they've written me they've told me and they don't even play chess. But they feel something about the connection. And I think podcast's 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.

Speaker 13:62:54Yeah I think I think of the quality as you're looking for people who are real and I guess there's this. That's what charisma to mean it 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.

Speaker 12:63:07And my podcast with Callard has the same whether or not people know a lot about ancient philosophy or Plato. Somehow that dialogue felt real to them I think.

Speaker 13:63:16Yeah it did. And it's a it's an expressive personal expression of your interest to do your podcast and overlap with some parts of your audience and not others. I mean it amazes me when I talk to people about it. Everybody likes a different episode listens to different yes it makes it very hard to track how many people it listens to thing and that it's not too professional.

Speaker 9:63:31So the sound quality should be good it shouldn't be obviously unprofessional but at the same time you don't want to package the way say a TV show would be.

:63:41So in that time. But I wanted to I wanted to touch on one of the idea which is your own audience. And you recently you were writing a new York Times column for many years. And you switched over to Bloomberg. You do write popular popular works right. Popular is a tricky word continue. So I'm wondering kind of what why you do that what you're trying. You know what is or is it just because you find it fun to try and constrain yourself in a certain way to speak because your blog is not popular the popular voice Attalah right.

Speaker 13:64:09I mean you use more jargon and you speak about kind of over esoteric things. But I think that definitely when I flick through your links and read the Bloomberg columns it's definitely for a popular audience and it's edited into a different feel to it. Why do you do it.

Speaker 12:64:22My 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. Yep 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 has 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.

:64:59Yeah sure sure helps. So let's close on one last point which is that the proceeds of the book Start attachments went to talk a bit about when and why you decided that because you did publish a version of this book a little while ago and now you actually this is a proper publication and something changed your mind. What was that.

Speaker 12:65:15I 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 stright mission. I just thought that would be perfect and the book is idiosyncratic and often mainstream New York publisher probably wouldn't even consider it too philosophical. It's not like the normal length it'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 call him Yonis.

Speaker 12:66:03It'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 actually try to live their work and if they write something and mean it they should incorporate that into their lives to 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. Yonis is 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.

Speaker 11:66:57My guest today Tyler Cowen thank you very much

:66:59Thank you very much.

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