Discover Your Inner Economist – Tyler Cowen (2007)

Discover Your Inner Economist

Tyler Cowen’s new pop economics book Discover Your Inner Economist, is a fun read even if it does feel a bit thrown together.  While the obstensible theme of the book is ‘using incentives’, what I found most compelling was Cowen’s celebration of abundance in so many areas.

He points out the abundance of recorded music that is now available.  While many of us tend to get settled in our ways about what music we like, indeed there is just so much music recorded all over the world over the last 75 years or so which is all just waiting to be heard.

Likewise with movies – get a Netflix account and access tens if not hundreds of thousands of films, in genres or from countries you may know nothing about.

He points out that you can take a fairly similar view of great art – next time you’re at a museum, imagine that any of the art works could be yours, and decide what you would take home.  He calls it the ‘me factor’ – personalizing the experience of art to make it meaningful to you.

Cowen is also known as quite the gourmand, in a rather untraditional sense.  Again, he celebrates abundance, pointing out that in any restaurant the dishes which you may not recognize or indeed even seem unpleasant, are on the menu for a reason.  Why go with another roasted chicken dish when you could be trying something new and exotic?  (He takes it to a bit of an extreme, I think, as he seems to like shabby joints that clearly spend little on the decor or other marketing, figuring all their efforts are going into the food!)

As he notes, many transaction costs have been dropping in recent years through the internet and communications (think eBay), making even more abundance easy to access.

On the flip side, there are a few things that are perhaps not so abundant, the primary thing being our own time – so he’s got some good recommendations for ways of making meetings short (have everyone stand through the meeting, for one).

He’s also got some pretty radical ideas for the best use of time.  He says he frequently walks out on movies midway through, and starts lots of books that he doesn’t finish.  As he puts it, he’s continually asking himself the question, is this the absolute best use of my time right now, and if the answer is no, it’s time to move on!

You can find plenty of Cowen at his blog, Marginal Revolution, and here’s a short chat with him from Reason magazine – I like his comments on New Jersey (his home state):

very intellectual state, in part because of population density, proximity to nyc and philly, and an irreverent sense of humor and dynamic ethos

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