Diane Coyle and Tyler Cowen FT podcast on the economics books of the year

by on September 11, 2013 at 7:29 am in Books, Economics, Uncategorized | Permalink

The link is here, (ungated?) emergency link here, It is about an hour long, and here is the premise:

A month ago I [Cardiff Garcia] asked Diane and Tyler each to choose five books released this year that would be fun to discuss. Then I narrowed that list of ten down to five:

1) Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O Hirschman, by Jeremy Adelman
2) The Undercover Economist Strikes Back, by Tim Harford
3) Giving Kids a Fair Chance, by James Heckman
4) How Asia Works, by Joe Studwell
5) America’s Assembly Line, by David Nye

(Worldly Philosopher was the one book included on both lists.)

We discuss these five in the first part of the podcast. In the second part we discuss Tyler’s new book, Average is Over, which is out this week in the US. We then close with some general thoughts about trends in economics books and a teaser of Diane’s own forthcoming book, A Brief and Affectionate History of GDP, scheduled for release early next year.

Here are some of Cardiff Garcia’s thoughts on my own new book, Average is Over:

From Average Is Over, what has stayed with me is that success in the future increasingly will be about managing comfort levels, those of oneself and of others — especially regarding the discomfort that comes with sacrificing personal judgment in favour of better, externally-offered judgment, perhaps submitted by a machine or an algorithm.

The reality of our inferior human judgment will first be resisted, but eventually it will be accepted. The transition won’t be smooth. It won’t be natural. It will lack the romance of the stories we now tell ourselves but will soon disbelieve. Those who do make the transition early will have an advantage over the rest. Trust will be a blurry concept for a while.

In more and more situations, “letting go” will be a better strategy than thinking independently. Sometimes both will be needed. Choosing from these options will be the one (meta) judgment that still matters. With time we’ll get better at it, but only after a period of intense emotional confusion.

I eagerly await Diane’s own work on gdp, as I have been wanting a good book on that topic for some while.

1 Corey September 11, 2013 at 8:28 am

I take it there’s going to be an Average Is Over episode of Econtalk within the next few weeks?

2 Andrew' September 11, 2013 at 12:03 pm

What does Siri tell you?

3 S September 11, 2013 at 9:00 am

Murray is right, Heckman is wrong.

4 prior_approval September 11, 2013 at 9:25 am

‘especially regarding the discomfort that comes with sacrificing personal judgment in favour of better, externally-offered judgment’

I have heard there are a couple of movies, by someone called Reifenstahl, that does an excellent job of exploring this in terms of both athletic competition and political motivation. And she was certainly someone who had no discomfort about sacrificing any personal judgment in favor of one offered externally – while also being recognized as one of the greatest film makers of the 20th century, a woman far beyond average.

First linking to Sailer, and now a truly amazing Weltanschauung, one that both Hoffer and Arendt would recognize, posted prominently on the site of a putative libertarian.

Sadly, far beyond satire at this point.

5 Tyler Cowen September 11, 2013 at 9:42 am

I’m sorry to say this, but I’ve actually concluded, contrary to my initial impression, that you are not in fact very bright or well-informed.

6 prior_approval September 11, 2013 at 10:35 am

I did not attribute the quote to you – but placing a comment that explicitly celebrates the idea that one’s personal judgment should simply be overruled by something beyond individual control is the sort of idea that most people living in Germany today (or the America of our youth, for that matter) rejects out of hand.

A conservative just might support such an idea, whether based on religion or on the idea that tradition is more important than individual whim.

Such a cited sentiment is very unlikely to be translated and published in Die Welt, and if held by you personally, as compared to merely quoted approvingly as part of a push to sell a newly published book, your reputation in Germany would be quite discredited.

Such a glowingly referenced citation is hopefully not part of our future – because in the far too well documented past, it was the excuse for horrible crimes. Crimes which a libertarian would instantly recognize have nothing to do with right or left, but instead with the abdication of personal responsibility in accepting what an external authority says is necessary.

You may feel that someone’s opinion about how the future is merely about learning how to lose the illusion of ‘inferior human judgment’ is a worthy one, but it isn’t as if others have not claimed the same thing, with much the same reliance on a spurious claim of better knowledge, though the term algorithm was not yet in use.

This is far beyond satire, and if you cannot recognize it, do not be concerned – I’m a disloyal reader, after all. One who still stubbornly believes that such a statement remains utterly false – ‘“letting go” will be a better strategy than thinking independently”.

7 Axa September 11, 2013 at 11:55 am

Relax, right now there are certain things that people already “let go”. Don’t tell me you still carry a printed timetable for public transportation or a printed road map if you drive. If you ask your smartphone app which is the best train/bus connection, I fail to see the (negative) conservative influence from religion or tradition.

Same case when you need a lawyer, a doctor, an architect, insurance people, finance people for advice or to make something you don’t know how to. For me, I don’t care if I get my insurance advice from a computer or from a human that also relies in the insurance company computer. You surrender to external judgement when you need doctors, you even sign that agreement. If you’re never required external advice (from humans or algorithms) to take a decision, that only tells me that you live a cozy simple life already planned for you.

Maybe, you’re fighting your inner demons (trust issues) instead of following the more down to Eath MR conversation =)

8 prior_approval September 11, 2013 at 1:25 pm

‘Don’t tell me you still carry a printed timetable for public transportation or a printed road map if you drive. ‘

Well, no, I don’t need a printed timetable, but the car does have maps – though my motorcycle doesn’t, even when I ride a 1,000 miles in a day (either in the U.S. or in Europe – want to know how to get from Santa Fe to Nothern Virgina? – take 25 south to 40 east, then 81 north to 66 – who needs smart phones to travel 2/3rds of a continent?).

‘You surrender to external judgement when you need doctors, you even sign that agreement.’

Actually, till now, neither in the U.S. or Germany, have I signed anything for medical treatment that surrenders my right to decide whether that treatment is correct or not (and wouldn’t, of course – doctors make mistakes, like prescribing the incorrect medication, Which happens, in my personal experience – always checking prescriptions before blindly taking them is just good practice).

‘If you’re never required external advice (from humans or algorithms) to take a decision, that only tells me that you live a cozy simple life already planned for you.’

Of course I’ve required expertise from others – but this is not the same as sacrificing my personal judgment as to whether that expertise is in my own interest or not. Call it TANSTAAFL. Or call it maturity, or cynicism. I lost blind faith in other people’s interest in my own good decades ago, after all.

9 Anon. September 11, 2013 at 9:48 am

Godwin’d in just 3 comments!

10 prior_approval September 11, 2013 at 11:45 am

As quoted, ‘especially regarding the discomfort that comes with sacrificing personal judgment in favour of better, externally-offered judgment’ meant that for anyone with even the faintest awareness of what the 20th century meant for literally hundreds of millions of victims, this post Godwinned (and Stalined, and Maoed, and Castroed, and Pinocheted, etc) itself before any comment was written. Ask anyone at http://www.volokh.com/ , expecially Ilya Somin. For an introduction, this link should be adequate – http://www.volokh.com/2012/05/01/victims-of-communism-day-4/

One does hope that the Volokh Conspirator’s libertarian credentials (OK, Stewart Baker and his undying love of the security state excepted) are adequate to show that an awareness of the shared nature of the greatest crimes of the 20th century is certainly understood by those who are proud to call themselves libertarians.

And a striking similarity running through all those criminal regimes was acceptance of this belief – ‘The reality of our inferior human judgment will first be resisted, but eventually it will be accepted.’

And if anyone is too disturbed to look at our actual history, then 1984 provides a fine fictional look at just how such a process can work.

11 Andrew' September 11, 2013 at 12:32 pm

That’s not what what it was about.

For example, the NSA can just stop spying. I don’t have to stop using my cell phone and e-mail and Google can keep sending me ads and I can keep ignoring them…although they are all these days for things I sought out to buy.

12 Michael Foody September 11, 2013 at 10:39 am

Maybe we could have something like Asimov’s of robotics law but for humans?

13 Michael Foody September 11, 2013 at 10:46 am

I’m obviously just kidding

14 mobile September 11, 2013 at 11:13 am

Those who do make the transition early will have an advantage over the rest.

Meh. Even if you are an optimist about this kind of software, I can confidently say that the early versions will be glitchy, lacking in features, and lacking in the insights that come from extensive use by real users trying to solve real problems. When they get it right, it will be more important to not be late than to be early.

15 Andrew' September 11, 2013 at 12:18 pm

I’m even less optimistic. I think they’ll just be glittery form of groupthink. Look how ad hoc and fail prone the internet still is. Then we’ll punish people for not following mass opinion instead of following logic and facts. And THAT will be “success”!

16 Andrew' September 11, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Our president doubled-down on the Trayvon Martin fiasco (The President!!!! Not to mention the more damaging but less obviously boneheaded NSA lies and Syrian red-line), so are we really going to go with (elected) “expert” judgment? We know group judgment is not the way to go (“House prices always go up! Buy as much as the bank will approve you for!”). So what is left? Personal preference. Great. But like you say, buggy software that you’ll probably ignore assuming Google is worming its ads into. I doubt the messiness will be on the side of people ignoring advice at their peril but getting the systems to be useful.

17 prior_approval September 11, 2013 at 11:47 am

Is it me, or is the caching/filtering/whatever flaky? The number of comments, the appearance, disappearance, and reappearance of comments – strange.

18 Andrew' September 11, 2013 at 12:20 pm

It’s you. You are flaky.

It’s a joke. True, but just joking.

While we are here, you seem to not understand the point. The point is that people can already and will in the future be able to ignore advice. If someone legislates advice that’s something else. It’s just that the advice will be less rather than more self-interested, more available, and the payoff/penalty more immediate.

19 prior_approval September 11, 2013 at 12:44 pm

‘the advice will be less rather than more self-interested, more available, and the payoff/penalty more immediate’

Since when has self-interest taken a back seat in human affairs? Truly, one has to be utterly unaware of the past century to understand that the idea that advice will be less self-interested is anything but laughable.

To put it a bit differently – you are aware that Google, for example, is doing this, right? ‘In late May 2012, Google announced that they will no longer be maintaining a strict separation between search results and advertising. Google Shopping will be replaced with a nearly identical interface, according to the announcement, but only paid advertisers will be listed instead of the neutral aggregate listings shown previously. Furthermore, rankings will be determined primarily by which advertisers place the highest “bid,” though the announcement does not elaborate on this process. The transition will be complete in the fall of 2012.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Google#Abandonment_of_Neutral_Rankings

Or for those who prefer a more journalistic source exploring another perspective of just how uninterested algorthms aren’t the basis for google search results –

‘It’s widely believed that Google search results are produced entirely by computer algorithms – in large part because Google would like this to be widely believed. But in fact a little-known group of home-worker humans plays a large part in the Google process. The way these raters go about their work has always been a mystery. Now, The Register has seen a copy of the guidelines Google issues to them.

The 160-page manual gives detailed advice for raters – on relevance, spamminess, and – more controversially – the elusive “quality”. For relevance raters are advised to give a rating based on “Vital”, “Useful”, “Relevant”, Slightly Relevant”, “Off-Topic or Useless” or “Unratable”.’ http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/11/27/google_raters_manual/

Why anyone would be foolish enough to follow Cardiff Garcia’s ‘advice’ that ‘“letting go” will be a better strategy than thinking independently’ escapes me, especially at a web site that considers itself to be libertarian.

20 Andrew' September 11, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Because your smart phone is both fundamentally different and marginally better than Hitler.

21 Andrew' September 11, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Like I said, all the ads I see now are for things that I personally reviewed. That, to me, tells you everything. First, they are me-directed, second they are so powerless all they can do is try to tempt me to pull the trigger on what I already want.

Google, for all their flaws, did not go begging the NSA to spy on their customers that they are so powerless over and the NSA has shown concern about protecting their “assets.”

22 Cliff Styles September 11, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Even if prior_approval’s views are a bit atavistic, I doubt that he (she?) is alone in having that hot button. It seems wrong to call him stupid and ignorant as a response, and that response would to this observer seem to advance prior_approval’s point more than retard it.

23 Andrew' September 11, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Well, you’d be hard press to retard it any more than it already is.

24 mike September 11, 2013 at 1:41 pm

His “hot button” appears to be Tyler Cowen and everything about Tyler Cowen. His outbursts are getting more and more bizarre and histrionic, to the point that I would be getting concerned for my physical safety if I were the object of his obsession.

25 Axa September 12, 2013 at 6:31 am

Wait, nobody’s calling names already. But, using arguments such as “Yo like Hitler” to describe something you don’t like is not what I call enlightened.

I’m just wondering if we have a typical lost-in-translation problem about the meaning of “judgement”? Perhaps for Tyler judgement is about decisions of whom to date, what to eat, keep a good sleep habit, today ab-crunches tomorrow push-ups………like having a little coach in your smartphone. It seems that to prior_approval “judgement” has a strong political significance. Tyler focuses on the individual, prior_approval on the group.

26 Cliff Styles September 12, 2013 at 12:50 pm

The conundrum seems to be this: if I am self-deceiving about the quality of my own judgment, then how am I to know when or when not to submit to the judgment of other people or a machine or an algorithm? It’s neither ignorant nor stupid to question such submission. It may be offensive to immediately go to the Nazi comparison, but we are now stuck with that hypnotic reference point forever, and not all references to that particular reference point are accusations of nazism. One writer of our age was queried about ‘why so much thinking about the Holocaust?’ and responded ‘no serious person thinks of anything else’. That said, it probably pays to use the reference judiciously, and prior_approval went there a bit quickly, but the conundrum remains. It cannot be dismissed by Professor Cowen, or anyone else, with personal attacks. I was moved to comment partly because it’s unusual for Professor Cowen to do such things.

27 Tom September 11, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I didn’t like any of these selections.

28 Andrew' September 11, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Can we get Ray Lopez in here to make the connection between computer-assisted chess games?

29 FC September 11, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Is “Cardiff Garcia” another pseudonym for Anthony Weiner?

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