Seven Things I Learned from Tyler Cowen

I recently attended a "Conversation with Tyler" interview at Stripe with Stripe's CEO Patrick Collison serving as the moderator and Tyler Cowen serving as the subject. It was presented in the form of one of Tyler's own "Conversations with Tyler" interviews


I had a few key takeaways from the interview:

  1. Encouraging diversity of thought instead of exclusively diversity of identity

    • I definitely think we as a society still undervalue diversity of identity, but Tyler noted that diversity of thought is important as well and might need to be considered more by "coastal elites" (especially in light of recent election results).
  2. Optimizing one's life and national policy for creativity instead of happiness

    • Tyler argued that optimizing for happiness tends to lead to the opposite. Optimizing for creativity creates more public goods, welfare, etc. and also provides direction and purpose. These can indirectly lead to greater levels of happiness than targeting happiness directly. 
  3. Increasing randomness in one's life

    • This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. To increase creative outcomes, Tyler argues we should be relying less on algorithms and more on serendipity. Instead of going to Yelp, he recommends spending time on the ground taking risks on different local venues. Obviously, you will get a ton of misses, but you'll learn and develop a lot more in the process. Not an entirely novel idea, but it was interesting to hear coming from him based on his enthusiastic support for most innovation and technological development.
  4. The US should encourage more immigration

    • This was super fascinating to me and I hope to write a post detailing this more in the near future. Tyler argues that the US can and should encourage more immigration, but not have open borders. The latter forces a country to lose its binding narrative and lose its competitive edge. However, more immigration encourages more creativity, fresh perspectives, and hard workers to contribute to our society. The ideal immigration process in his mind would be completely randomized and encourage makers/creatives (to which Patrick replied that our policy currently does an excellent job at the former). 
  5. In green energy, we should over-weight science + technology and under-weight policy solutions

    • The carbon tax is widely considered as one of the most effective (if politically unpalatable) policy solutions to mitigating CO2 emissions in the US. However, Tyler argues it's a drop in the bucket and all of that time, energy, and money would be better served working on basic science and technological research. Even if most of that ends up as nothing, it's better to invest in the possibility of breakthrough success instead of hammering away at implementing a carbon tax -- a solution he considers, at best, a marginal improvement over the status quo. 
  6. Paul Romer's paper on macroeconomics is more marketing than substance

    • Paul Romer recently published a controversial paper arguing essentially that macroeconomics as a discipline is BS. This is especially interesting given his position as the Chief Economist of the World Bank. Tyler noted that it was more of an attention-grabber than anything else and asserts that, like most sub-fields of economics, there are places where the field falls short and places where it actually is useful in policy- and decision-making.
  7. How to fix Hollywood

    • I asked Tyler a question about movies and this was our *paraphrased* exchange: 
    • Q: Do you agree with the assertion that Hollywood is a stagnating industry? If so, what can be done to fix it and what can individual filmmakers do to add the most value to the medium?

      A: I absolutely agree. Tent poles, franchises, the like. I would recommend people simply watch more foreign cinema. There is so much innovation and interesting content being developed in countries besides the United States. As far as advice to filmmakers, I would echo “watch more foreign cinema” and obviously find a way to share your unique perspective. 

The conversation was much more expansive (I'll update this post when it is online), but these were the most poignant to me. 

I definitely encourage you to read/listen to all of Tyler's interviews. He is a wonderful conversationalist. I also encourage you to read his blog, Marginal Revolution. While I don't agree with all of Tyler's views, I find his opinions interesting, logical, factual, and always thought-provoking. He is also one of the true polymaths out there who can speak intelligently about pretty much any subject and also apply the lens of economics to any field.