My new favorite question to ask over lunch

by on June 26, 2013 at 3:44 pm in Education, Philosophy, Religion | Permalink

“So, are you a regional thinker?”

If they say no, fail them.  If they say yes, ask them to explain.  Here is my old favorite question to ask, and therein you find links to the very first question of this kind.

1 Ted Craig June 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm

So, for those of us who don’t think like you, could you explain the question?

2 Bill Benzon June 27, 2013 at 6:19 am

Yes. If I were asked that question out of the blue I’d wonder just what it meant. “Region? What’s that?” My top suspicion is that it’s geographical region. Even if so, think about what regionally?

3 Bryan Bortz June 26, 2013 at 4:06 pm


4 dearieme June 26, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Yeah, what the hell does it mean? And would it mean the same thing outside the USA/DC/GMU?

5 Cb June 26, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Sounds like an annoying lunch

6 William June 26, 2013 at 6:34 pm


7 KevinH June 26, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Yeah, my first response would be ‘wth does regional mean?’ Hopefully that doesn’t mean I fail…

8 Enrique June 26, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Yeah, it’s a bullshit question, like the ones Google used to ask … What should matter is one’s reasoning or explanation of one’s answer, whatever one’s answer is

Why not ask, are you a global or local or celestial thinker?

9 mulp June 26, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Because he’s looking for you to respond, “I not only think regionally, but also individually, locally, nationally, globally, and when appropriate intergalactically, though so far I haven’t yet done business with ET.”

10 Nick_L June 26, 2013 at 5:03 pm

You don’t do lunch with women much,. do you?

11 meegs June 26, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Have you seen where he eats?

12 Becon June 26, 2013 at 5:11 pm

If I’m not in Tyler’s inner circle and I say “I don’t understand the question,” then I guess the answer is yes.

13 Arthur June 26, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Very zen

14 Jeff June 26, 2013 at 5:17 pm

“It is clear to me therefore by every kind of proof that Cambyses was mad exceedingly; for otherwise he would not have attempted to deride religious rites and customary observances. For if one should propose to all men a choice, bidding them select the best customs from all the customs that there are, each race of men, after examining them all, would select those of his own people; thus all think that their own customs are by far the best: and so it is not likely that any but a madman would make a jest of such things.”

15 Ryan June 26, 2013 at 5:47 pm

I say one could be ethnocentric and empathetic simultaneously. Model that.

16 Ryan June 26, 2013 at 5:48 pm

My comment was not intended to respond to Jeff in particular.

17 John June 26, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Haven’t the numerous and various versions of cosmopolitanism already modeled this repeatedly and never with universal success?

18 Ryan June 26, 2013 at 10:49 pm

I hear ya, but I was aiming for something more narrow.

19 Chris June 26, 2013 at 5:17 pm

What larks one has in the DC burbs looking down one’s nose at those whose sentiments are provincial!

20 Tyler Cowen June 26, 2013 at 5:22 pm

It is the self-aware regional thinkers who are praised, and the faux cosmopolitans who are called to account. It does depend somewhat on the region, however!

21 Mark Thorson June 26, 2013 at 8:06 pm

But regional thinkers are by definition not self-aware that they are regional thinkers. If they claim to be self-aware regional thinkers, they are faux regional thinkers.

22 Philip June 27, 2013 at 5:36 am

Precisely. Have you ever met a small minded provincial who doesn’t deny that he (or she) is a small minded provincial?

23 Yog Sothoth June 27, 2013 at 4:26 pm


24 Yog Sothoth June 27, 2013 at 4:28 pm

That’s -1 to Tyler. No one wastes their time figuring out whether they are a regional thinker. But I like the label “faux cosmopolitan.” I’m going to self apply that from now on.

25 DON June 26, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Ugh, your previous question was interesting but this one isn’t because.
1) It isn’t consistent or obvious what regional thinker means.
2) It’s a yes/no question, there’s not too much opportunity for idiosyncratic/interesting answers.
3) It has an ‘obvious’ right answer from the ‘fail them’.
4) Assuming that anyone knew what you were talking about, there’s still the big problem of a total lack of any sort of scale. A regional thinker compared to what? Other people? Some sort of platonic ideal of thought?

I enjoy this post as an example of classic ‘bad’ marginal revolution. I actually get a kick out of Tyler’s opaque, pleased with itself, one man cant.

26 de Broglie June 26, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Tyler, please give an example of a regional thinker and a non-regional thinker.

27 John June 26, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Plato, and then Plato again (if I am taking Tyler and Herodotus the right way).

28 RM June 26, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Yes — to a limit.

Regionalism recognizes that political boundaries are artificial. Economic, ecological, and social regions are more important. These regions even straddle national borders.

Political boundaries, from local to national, stymie regionalism.

29 Seb June 26, 2013 at 6:57 pm
30 Blake June 26, 2013 at 7:08 pm

The only reasonable answer to this question is “mu” ( Am I a cosmopolitan? No, probably not. Am I a regional or local thinker though? No, unless we use a loose definition of region that encompasses academia, the economics profession, and blogs like MU or LessWrong. Those groups (including their possible faux cosmopolitan side) are more indicative of my culture than any particular geographical region.

A question that maybe gets to Tyler’s point while being less of a trap is “What tribes do you belong to?”.

31 Chris June 26, 2013 at 7:26 pm

The problem with this kind of question is that it punishes people who are knowledgable and open minded, but who don’t know what this esoteric question is actually asking, and rewards superficial thinkers who do well on playing to the question asker’s prejudices by reciting what they’ve been taught by Kaplan or other college essay tutorial companies. Those people know how to play the game, but of course knowing how to game their answers is not the same as actually being culturally aware and open minded; usually it reflects the opposite. These kind of bad questions plague the college admissions process so I’m not surprised Tyler in academia thinks this is a much better question than most of the people leaving comments.

What Tyler seems to be asking is whether the person only narrowly considers his own cultural perspective, or is the person aware of other cultural perspectives and if that has changed his own views at any point? Of course, asking it that way leads to a certain kind of answer, so the interviewer needs to be a much better interviewer by asking multiple, open ended questions until he brings out what he’s really after.

Maybe the thing we’ve learned is that Tyler is actually not a good interviewer? Not everyone can be Brian Lamb.

32 derek June 27, 2013 at 12:02 am

So open minded that you would feel punished by a question that you disagree with. I think I side with Mr Cowan here.

33 Chris June 27, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I am not saying I would be punished. I am saying that there are certain kind of questions that cater to people who are trained to answer these kind of questions instead of actually telling the interviewer what he really wants to know. In this case, Tyler’s question of “Are you a regional thinker?” has made many people perplexed. “What is Tyler asking?” seems to be a common response. I will take the risk that the majority of Tyler’s commenters are not stupid, and that this indicates the question is not very clear.

However, by looking at the links to Herodotus, Tyler indicates what he is really interested is whether the person is constrained in his thinking in some way, or whether has has looked to thinkers and experiences outside his milieu that has expanded his horizons. (Now maybe I am wrong in this assessment, but if so it means Tyler’s question is even more confusing.) If that is the case, then people who do fit that category, but are simply unclear about what the question means could not be adequately assessed. This, to me, does seem like they would be “punished” because they would be ideal candidates, but because Tyler’s wording is so bad he would end up eliminating them.

Tyler has made it very clear that a “Yes” answer means a follow up question, but a “No” question is an automatic fail. Why? If instead of failing the “no” people, if he would ask the right follow up questions, he could learn someone who answered “no” could be the every kind of candidate he wants.

On the other hand, I think many similar style questions (often thought of by the interviewer as being particularly clever or revealing) don’t really illuminate the candidate all that well. Instead, those kinds of questions reward people who have taken the time and money to hire Kaplan style tutors who can coach them in the best way to answer such questions. These kinds of coachings do nothing to make the interviewee a better person except that because they’ve learned certain tricks and skills, they do better in interviews. So even if the person is not a “regional thinker”, he can con Tyler that he is one. In essence, Tyler is not asking the question that tells him how good the candidate is. He is asking questions that tells him how good the candidate is at answering this style of questions – which are very predominate in academia.

I mentioned Brian Lamb for a reason. His style of interviewing authors is the exact opposite of the “clever question” school. He asks very simple questions, but he asks very incisive ones that cause his guests to explain their reasoning and can become quite illuminating as Lamb’s follow up questions, also simple, probe deeper and deeper. As someone who has watched Booknotes and other programs that Lamb has been on, it’s very clear that Lamb is not ignorant about his guests or subject material. So when he asks questions like “Who is Abraham Lincoln” it’s not because he doesn’t know who Lincoln is. He wants the interviewer to tell the audience who Lincoln is (on the off chance they don’t know), but also importantly learn who that person thinks Lincoln is, which could be revealing.

As someone who has done job interviews to hire people, I find that the Brian Lamb interview style produces better results than the “clever question that will be truly illuminating” style.

34 Affe June 26, 2013 at 7:28 pm

“Stop touching my leg under the table, professor.”

35 bdellium June 26, 2013 at 7:59 pm

“What does that even mean?”

36 bxg June 26, 2013 at 9:42 pm

You are half right. If they say no, “fail them”, by all means. But if they say yes, you should fail them similarly.
Only “what on earth are you talking about?” and variants are worthy of any respect at all.

This seems like a really good question for a Turing test.
Either “no” or “yes” are likely good “it-is-probably-a-cheap-robot” indicators.

37 fredJ June 26, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Do you like to signal status by using superficially clever jargon? If yes! you might be a good economist.

38 King Cynic June 27, 2013 at 10:41 am

Close. Replace “good economist” with “bad economist” and you have it right.

39 Bill June 26, 2013 at 9:55 pm

I think with a region of my brain,

If that is what you mean by a regional thinker,

So says my prefrontal cortex.

40 Steve C. June 26, 2013 at 10:35 pm

African or European?

41 Tyler Durden June 26, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Oh I get it, its very clever. How’s that working for you.

42 anon June 26, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Are we playing the guess the meaning behind the autist’s words, game?

43 Ashok Rao June 26, 2013 at 11:49 pm



I do think (hope?) I am some sort of thinker. Therefore the only question is the modifier thereof. I think self-styled “global thinkers” are usually associated with pseudophilosophy in which I’m not interested. So I’m not a “global thinker”. Hence it stands to reason that I must be a “regional” thinker of some sort, that is to the extent “regional” is the opposite of “global”.

Reihan Salam on Twitter seemed surprised to hear that I don’t consider myself a cosmopolitan, at all. I guess it’s because I’m a liberal, too.

44 s June 26, 2013 at 11:55 pm

I understood the question and its relevance right away. I literally work for a “regional development agency” so I see regional thinking daily. I once wrote a report explaining that droves of workers from my region were migrating to another region after wages in this latter region had climbed 40% higher. My director read it and said “oh that’s seriously bad news,” which blew my mind. Our mandate is to raise our local regions real incomes, and yet it wasn’t obvious to him that moving to get a 40% pay raise was doing just that. This is one area that GNP improves upon GDP.

45 CIP June 26, 2013 at 11:59 pm

I think Tyler is trying to create a new buzzword for the crackpot right.

46 Andrew' June 27, 2013 at 6:49 am

Yeah, that is EXACTLY what he does.

47 x June 27, 2013 at 7:12 am

Yep, I always think with my nether regions!

48 Smartass June 27, 2013 at 9:23 am


49 gfj June 27, 2013 at 10:28 am

Does anyone come back for a second lunch?

50 King Cynic June 27, 2013 at 10:43 am


51 Rusty Synapses June 27, 2013 at 11:12 am

I like this blog, and Tyler is generous with his time, so I’m trying to be forgiving and hoping he will admit what the various posters have pointed out – this is one of the most pretentious posts I’ve read anywhere in a long time. I guess he deserves a pass – if you’re putting out so much good stuff, occasionally you will (for lack of a better word) fail.

52 ac June 27, 2013 at 11:46 am

At the least, isn’t this question a false dichotomy? Or on the regional-to-cosmopolitan (or whatever) axis, is “0” [regional] the only correct answer for Tyler? That would seem…weird and unpragmatic.

53 Tyler Cowen June 27, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Not many of you are passing the lunch test!

54 Alex Godofsky June 27, 2013 at 3:57 pm

I don’t think anyone wants to.

55 dan June 27, 2013 at 4:09 pm

C’mon guys, you’re supposed to be reading this post in a Straussian manner! If you’re not reading between the lines that the author subtly hinted at writing, you’re doing it wrong.

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57 Jacob A. Geller July 16, 2013 at 10:48 am

I am a regional thinker. My region is the North Atlantic seaboard — Boston, New York, and D.C. But there is nothing in between those cities, really. I am an *urban* North Atlantic thinker.

For example…

1) I think that Boston sports actually matter. Boston-New York games matter about as much as a presidential election.

2) I think public radio is cool. I think that if you didn’t listen to the latest episode of This American Life and talk about it at lunch all week, then you must not be paying attention.

3) I think that non-college educated, native-born Bostonians of Irish descent, are basically aborigines.

4) I think that a polite, unassuming, formally educated, and garden-variety liberal Democratic outlook, coupled with a genuine yet pragmatic love of liberty (without becoming ideologically libertarian), is a pretty good place to be politically. 75th percentile, at worst.

5) If a college professor wrote something down, anything at all, I think I should read it. I don’t care if it’s a podcast, a blog post, a magazine article or a graph on a napkin — SHOW ME IT.

6) I think if I donate to like 5 charities, but only like $5 each, I can tell my friends I support Cause X and I’m not lying, because hey, that’s what Kant would do. And they will agree that I am cool for supporting so many good causes.

7) I think a good friendship consists of two college graduates and three advanced degrees, none of which have anything to do with one another (the degrees, that is), and that these two people a) enjoy pontificating about things they thought they learned while in college but possibly learned from the blogosphere and b) enjoy listening to one other one pontificate about that stuff.

8) I think that law and policy made in Washington, D.C. probably matters more to the human race than almost anything I can do as a private citizen. (Note that that is not necessarily an endorsement of what comes out of Washington D.C.) So that’s where I should focus all my energies as a thinking person — it’s not like I’m going to change the world with my (gasp) *job.*

9) I think the New York Giants, New York Knicks, New York Rangers, and New York Yankees are the four best sports teams of all history. No, make that all of the past, present, and future. Even the Knicks are (totally) gonna win a championship this year.

10) I think it’s OK, or even laudable, to stop thinking any of the above, and to speak with friends about how I came to change my mind. Changing my mind is fun more often than it is uncomfortable.

…and so on.

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