My new podcast with Ezra Klein

by on March 29, 2017 at 12:41 pm in Current Affairs, Economics, Education, Food and Drink, History, Philosophy, Political Science, The Arts, Travel, Web/Tech | Permalink

Here is part of Ezra’s description:

I had a simple plan: ask Cowen for his thoughts on as many topics as possible. And I think it worked out pretty well. We discuss everything from New Jersey to high school sports to finding love to smoked trout to nootropics to Thomas Schelling to Ayn Rand to social media to speed reading strategies to happy relationships to the disadvantages of growing up in Manhattan. And believe me when I say that is a small sampling of the topics we cover.

We also talk about Tyler’s new book, “The Complacent Class,” which argues, in true Cowenian fashion, that everything we think we know about the present is wrong, and far from being an age of rapid change and constant risk, we have become a cautious, even stagnant, society.

This as information dense a discussion as I’ve hosted on this podcast. I took a lot away from it, and I think you will too.

Here is the link.

1 AlanG March 29, 2017 at 12:46 pm

I listened to a little more than half of it when I was out walking this morning. Interesting stuff. It certainly surprised me that Tyler was “complacent” and used to find his wife. He’s also brave than I, in going to Lagos to experience Nigeria.

2 Captain Obvious March 29, 2017 at 7:04 pm

Is it complacent or efficient to find a wife on

3 anonymous March 29, 2017 at 10:18 pm

If you care about other people you do what it takes to make other people happy. So, efficient. If you don’t care —- Sad!

4 J. Ott March 29, 2017 at 1:10 pm

Good interview. It adapts Tyler’s blog format very well to a Socratic form – little thought-provoking squibs on a broad range of topics.

5 So Much For Subtlety March 29, 2017 at 4:46 pm

Given Ezra Klein’s background in Journolist and its successors, should we be suspicious when a bunch of never-before-seen handles turn up praising his contribution?

I wonder.

6 JWatts March 29, 2017 at 6:33 pm

It was a good interview. Ezra Klein asked good questions and he didn’t try to interject his own opinions very strongly.

This Vox Podcast was far better than the average Vox article. There’s was no moral preening, biased presentation of arguments or speaking to the choir.

7 Daniel Weber March 30, 2017 at 11:52 am

If Tyler suddenly blogs about nootropics, we will get visits from the nootropics crowd.

It’s just as exhausting dealing with those who insist everything must be a fight as it is dealing with those insisting that we need to deal with Those People at all times because they want to make everything a fight.

8 Joseph Flaherty March 29, 2017 at 1:36 pm

I’ve listened to Tyler on eight or so podcasts promoting The Complacent Class and this is by miles the best, mostly because it assumes his fans will largely be familiar with the premise and digs into dozens of interesting topics. Don’t skip this one. Conversations with Tyler is a great series, but a bi-weekly companion show that’s just Tyler opining on the news of the day would be fascinating. I’m particularly interested in which TV shows he enjoys.

9 AlanG March 29, 2017 at 1:55 pm

“I’m particularly interested in which TV shows he enjoys.”

Probably ‘The Americans’

10 Barkley Rosser March 29, 2017 at 4:30 pm

Yes, he does.

11 thfmr March 29, 2017 at 7:28 pm

I’m probably less productive than the median commenter here, much less Tyler’s level. Who has time for vegging in front of TV?

12 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ March 29, 2017 at 2:15 pm

Tyler repeats something that I disagree with. I don’t expect him to answer me, but perhaps some of you will act as .. what’s the political word .. surrogates.

He says that the Internet is not big yet because it does not show up as productivity now. That’s a circular argument in my opinion. The Internet is a thing. Productivity is a thing. They may both be “big” now, but their mapping is complex. There is nothing to say that the Internet (really cheap computation and communications) should impact a particular measure of economic activity in a certain way. The Internet may be changing human societies in ways that increase and decrease economic activity (and productivity) at the same time. I think you have to look at it with a much bigger lens than economics (while recognizing of course that economics is one aspect).

13 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ March 29, 2017 at 2:34 pm

Let’s make a vast and mixed set of human activities massively cheaper .. and then look for from that an increase in sales per employee?

Maybe not ever, for better and worse.

14 Boonton March 29, 2017 at 8:00 pm

Say tomorrow the Star Trek replicator on steroids is invented with an open source license. No patent control, cheap electricity can make just about any good replicate for you in a second. A huge library of free open sourced goods are on the internet for downloading.

GDP would plummet. Just about all retail and manufacturing would vanish. A huge piece of transportation would vanish too since there’s little need to move goods around anymore. Perhaps some service based production would remain. You may pay an interior decorator to pick out cool stuff for your house, for example. But as huge as this would be for human well being, it would show up in the economic stats as a total collapse.

15 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ March 30, 2017 at 8:10 am

That’s a good reminder. And what are our connected phones and tablets but “replicators” for things that used to be physical.

Tyler, when’s the last time you had film developed?

16 Todd Kreider March 29, 2017 at 2:52 pm

Tyler repeatedly states incorrect American productivity levels on almost every podcast.

This time to Ezra Klein at 31:00 “We’ve had the internet — and productivity rates have been stagnant or falling. This isn’t true, and Tyler should take the time to use the BLS to actually look up the productivity rates rather than relying on a “meme” of what they have been.

For the 20 years prior to the internet taking off, 1975 to 1994, 1975 to 1984 = 1.6%; 1985 to 1994 = 1.6% for a full 20 years of 1.6% productivity growth, which is below the 2% U.S. average.

The internet started to take off in 1994 to where in 1995 the jump was up to 10% of American users from just 5% in 1994 and just 2% in 1993. The productivity from 1995 to 2010, 16 years of the internet rapid expanding in the U.S. and around the world from closer to 1999 or 2000 was 2.7%. After the US financial collapse, productivity has been very weak from 2011 to 2016 at 0.5%.

How is 16 years of 2.7% productivity “stagnant” when well above the historical average? A non-econ guy like Klein (or most other journalists) won’t take the time to look this up, but I think Tyler should.

Here is the link to the BLS where one can click on “include annual averages” at the top:

17 Curt F. March 29, 2017 at 6:13 pm

How do you think the new health pills will affect productivity?

18 Todd Kreider March 29, 2017 at 6:33 pm

Up and to the right, of course.

19 Tyler Cowen March 29, 2017 at 6:41 pm

Consider TFP, and check the book for the documentation of the correct numbers, which are consistent with my presentation.

20 Todd Kreider March 29, 2017 at 6:48 pm

But you have been saying “productivity” which unless specified is assumed to be “labor productivity.”

21 Todd Kreider March 29, 2017 at 7:22 pm

I just read the free page (p. 89) on Amazon where TFP is discussed. TFP from 1919 to 1947 is mentioned as “well over 2 percent” although a specific number would have been nice. Then, “Later from 1948 to 1973, this measure of innovation still tended to average about 2 percent. But in 1973, TFP declined dramatically, often coming in below 1 percent a year, and for the most part, TFP growth stays low until 1995, with an average of about 0.5 percent.”

That is not at all what the FRED graph shows below. Instead, TFP is flat from around 1966 to 1982, then steadily climbs steadily higher each year apart from the 1991/1992 recession and the 2001/2002 recession.

“The mid 1990s to early 2000s were a new golden age for TPF, which again at times ran at 2 percent or more.”

This TPF graph shows the solid gains from 1983 , and really further back except for the severe 1982/1983 recession, all the way to 2011, although there is a slowdown from 2005, a drop from the recession, and then climb up to 2011 where it stops.

FRED: Total Factor Productivity at Constant National Prices for United States, 2007 = 100

22 Enrique March 29, 2017 at 2:59 pm

A transcript would be nice. I would prefer to read the interview …

23 spy magazine in the late 80s March 29, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Log rolling in our time

24 msgkings March 30, 2017 at 3:03 am

Miss that magazine…especially with their old nemesis in the White House

25 JWatts March 29, 2017 at 4:16 pm

“I’m not that curious … I’ve never ridden on a motorcycle …”

Tyler, you’ve missed out. The joys of riding on a motor cycle aren’t in just the riding, it’s the freedom of travel. Motorcycles are more connected to the open world and inherently open exploration of the world around you.

26 Todd Kreider March 29, 2017 at 4:21 pm

On the plus side, he’s still alive to travel by other means.

27 JWatts March 29, 2017 at 4:36 pm

Motorcycles aren’t that dangerous. They are about 5 times more dangerous per mile driven (But I imagine that factor is heavily influenced by alcohol consumption.) For reference, bicycles are anywhere from 3 to 11 times more dangerous than cars per mile driven.

However, even taking the stat straight up, few people drive a motorcycle enough miles per year to make them more likely to die on a motorcycle than in a car.

28 Curt F. March 29, 2017 at 6:17 pm

I think a better normalizer is time spent in operation. Of course bicycles are more dangerous on a per mile basis, because they go slower and can’t travel on the safest roads (e.g. interstate highways in remote areas late at night when there is no traffic). No one is biking 300 miles per week, but plenty of people drive that much, every week. Of course, this doesn’t matter for motorcycles vs. cars, because average speeds are probably similar.

29 JWatts March 29, 2017 at 6:42 pm

“I think a better normalizer is time spent in operation.”

Fair enough.

An average motorcyclist might drive a car on average 20,000 miles per year and a motor cycle 5,000 miles per year. So, his risk of dying is about the same as someone who drives a car 45,000 miles per year. It’s an increased risk, but most people don’t evaluate it very well.

30 thfmr March 29, 2017 at 8:03 pm

I commute daily on a motorcycle and highly advocate them. Nonetheless let’s be honest about the statistics.

From IIHS, in 2015:

-Versus cars, fatalities were 27 times as likely for motorcycles, per mile driven.
-27% of killed riders did not have a valid license
-28% had Blood Alcohol Content >0.08
-At night (9pm-6am), 49% had BAC >0.08
-41% were single-vehicle, and of these 42% had BAC >0.08
-9% of motorcycle deaths were female, with 63% of these being passengers (vs 0.3% of male deaths)

31 JWatts March 30, 2017 at 11:10 am

I stand corrected. The original results I looked up indicated an injury rate of 5x the rate for cars. I didn’t specifically look for fatality rates and failed to see the huge discrepancy.

32 Govco March 29, 2017 at 6:02 pm

3 kinds of people in the world: motorcyclists; people who tell every motorcyclists they see some stupid anecdote followed by “it’s really dangerous”; and normal cagers.

33 thfmr March 29, 2017 at 8:05 pm

Haha. Can confirm. True for pilots as well.

34 mikey March 30, 2017 at 2:44 pm

There are also those who are not yet motorcyclists (bicyclists).

35 Robert McGregor March 29, 2017 at 5:03 pm

The problem is driving in a car is the most dangerous thing most people do, unless they are in extreme sports like skydiving or mountain climbing. And so something like motorcycling which is 5x more dangerous than that–is really dangerous! Bike riding may be 3 to 11 times more dangerous than a car per mile, but the miles per trip are much lower, and also the number of trips per year.

36 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ March 29, 2017 at 5:09 pm

“Bicycling” is such a varied activity. It might be idling along a boardwalk on a beach cruiser, or it might be trying 360s on a BMX bike.

I’ve been to the emergency room three times for mountain biking crashes, but I figure over 30 years that’s not bad. I take it easier now, and I’m more often on a beach cruiser.

37 rayward March 29, 2017 at 5:11 pm

His voice is like that of a siren from off some Greek island. Just the sound of it could put you into a spell. He is enchanting. You’d have to get yourself strapped to the mast like Odysseus and plug up your ears so you wouldn’t hear him. He’d make you forget who you are.

38 Rich Berger March 29, 2017 at 5:24 pm

It’s getting harder to drum up the spirit to make fun of this. A little too easy.

39 bjdubbs March 29, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Why do Ezra Klein and other high status people use vocal fry. You never hear a low status person with vocal fry. Cowen has his aspy monotone so he doesn’t fry.

40 Scott Mauldin March 29, 2017 at 5:52 pm

Because speech patterns are very often spread socially as much as geographically. For example, non-Rhotic English accents.

41 bjdubbs March 29, 2017 at 6:10 pm

OK but why vocal fry. Why adopt the vocal patterns of high school girls.

Here is another example of high status vocal fry.

42 Jan March 29, 2017 at 8:01 pm

What do you think of the Northern Cities Vowel shifters?

43 bjdubbs March 29, 2017 at 8:35 pm

Interesting. US might develop more regional accents as mobility decreases and ghettoization increases in some parts of US.

44 anon March 30, 2017 at 3:26 pm
45 Todd Kreider March 29, 2017 at 5:55 pm

On the topic of picking schools, Klein mentioned studies showed it didn’t matter where you went as long as the rankings were similar. Cowen agreed.

But that missed the real insight of the studies that have shown where someone attends college or university hardly has *any* impact on that person’s income twenty years later even with rankings that are far apart. From the WaPo:

‘In 1999, economists Alan Krueger and Stacy Berg Dale published a widely read study that compared the earnings of graduates of elite colleges with those of “moderately selective” schools. The latter group was composed of people who had been admitted to an elite college but chose to attend another school.

The economists found that the earnings of the two groups 20 years after graduation differed little or not at all. A larger follow-up study, released in 2011 and covering 19,000 college graduates, reached a similar conclusion: whether you went to Penn or Penn State, Williams College or Miami University of Ohio, job outcomes were unaffected in terms of earnings.’

46 Michael March 29, 2017 at 6:24 pm

I think Ezra’s simple plan worked just fine.

47 thfmr March 29, 2017 at 7:55 pm

Want to hear the sound of a Vox writer hiding apoplexy?


48 Jan March 29, 2017 at 8:05 pm

Nice try, Steve.

49 rayward March 30, 2017 at 7:28 am

Cowen has become a public philosopher, and a very good one at that. What’s striking when listening to this dialogue is how fast Cowen’s mind works, his responses to questions not only very thoughtful (he really has thought about these questions) but immediate, without even a second to gather his thoughts and transform them into words and sentences. I suspect his speed reading ability is related to this. Cowen is a very good writer but an even better speaker. I once worked with a lawyer with a special talent as a writer, his paragraphs compared to the pre-film animation devices that produce the illusion of motion by displaying a sequence of photographs (I believe it’s called zoetrope). Cowen’s speech is like that, as if his words and sentences come from a visual image in his mind (i.e., a page from a book).

50 rayward March 30, 2017 at 7:48 am

Cowen’s explanation for his speed reading ability (one of them) is that he has read so many books on so many subjects that it’s rare to read a book that he doesn’t already know what’s in it, so he can quickly glance at a page and identify anything he doesn’t already know, read it, and skip over the rest. He also mentioned that he prefers reading to listening, the latter moving much too slow, boring him because he already knows what the speaker will say. I’m not that smart, but I prefer reading to listening for the reason that I’m more visual than auditory. For example, if I am going someplace I’ve never been before and get oral instructions how to get there, I’ll wander around for hours trying to find the place, but if I glance at a map, I will go right to my destination. I’ve compared reading to athletics, the more one does it, the better one does it. While that may be true, Cowen’s explanation for his speed reading ability is on an entirely different level: his brain has so much already in storage that there’s little left to add to it.

51 Todd Kreider March 30, 2017 at 1:25 pm

The down side is that this is probably what contributes to his errors when he speaks.

52 Gregory Blake Johnson March 30, 2017 at 11:37 am

one of the most interesting counter intuitive thoughts was that people die with too much money and should spend more. only problem – people don’t know when they’re going to die! your money might be needed for 1 year or 20.

random thoughts on the topic:

1) should people with a nest egg vs. a pension invest more in annuities to free up other cash for pleasurable spending?

2) obv this is an upper / upper middle class problem and are older generations hoarding more cash for their children b/c they see their economic prospects as dimmer than past generations?

53 D March 30, 2017 at 2:30 pm

I strongly dislike Ezra Klein, but this was a great podcast and both of you made it so.

54 Roberto Patriarca March 30, 2017 at 7:51 pm

Complacent class, Nordic edition

“The researchers suggest the migration flows, which were small relative to the native population of America but equivalent to about 25 per cent of the total population of Scandinavia, changed the character of Norwegian and Swedish society by removing the most ambitious and independently-minded people. In other words, Scandinavian social democracy might not be possible without America’s historic willingness to absorb those who refused to follow the “Law of Jante”.”

55 Flannery Bro'Connor March 31, 2017 at 9:47 am

How can you be “friends for years” and not know how to pronounce the guy’s name? Is this like an internet “friendship”?

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