Who are the people I most admire?

Last I looked, Elon Musk was a clear winner of the MR readers’s poll for “most admired.”

Personally, I admire successful creators, scientists, and entrepreneurs a great deal, and Musk fits into those directions very well.  Still, the very top of my personal list would be shaped more by how much individuals had sacrificed.  Let me throw out a few options:

1. The members of the Mexican judiciary who have stood up to the drug gangs, often at the expense of their lives.  They believed in a better future for Mexico and I think eventually they will triumph.

2. Public health professionals who work under great hardship in difficult places, for years, to limit malaria or the spread of Ebola.  In addition to questionable living conditions, they often face high health risks themselves.

3. How about Aun San Suu Kyi, who endured about fifteen years of prison to help bring greater liberty to Myanmar?

4. At a smaller scale, how about individuals who volunteer to work in the burn unit at the hospital?  That has to be fairly icky labor, yet as medical care it can be effective.

You can do variants on my 1-4, but I would start with examples such as those.  Not at the very top of my list, but I also would think about good parents who work as primary caregivers.

If we are restricted to political/public figures, I would opt for Ben Bernanke.

Overall I was surprised how few of you approached the question the way I have, rather as a group you picked too many nerdy white guys.  Now I don’t like to play “the PC card,” and if a process generates a lot of nerdy white guys, I don’t then assume that process is necessarily biased or requiring correction.  Still, the fact that my list creates so much room for women (and non-whites) suggests it reflects the universality of human experience more than what most of you came up with.

It is also notable how few of you picked entertainers or sports figures, as such individuals have figured prominently on such lists in the past (see my What Price Fame?).  In 1971 a lot of people would have said “John Lennon,” and in his day Ted Williams placed high in such surveys.  These days, for better or worse, the tech world and politics seem to exercise a stronger hold on our imaginations, all the more among MR readers I suspect.

Addendum: Here is Noah Smith’s list.


Good to see someone standing up for the everyman and everywoman!

As much as I admire Aung San Suu Kyi, I admire Thein Sein even more. Campaigning for freedom and surviving years in prison is hard. But voluntarily giving up dictatorial power is arguably even harder. It's certainly a lot rarer!

Good point. I always thought the real hero in South Africa was de Klerk, since he was the one who actually dismantled the apartheid system and set up free elections. This was without any military threat whatsoever. All Mandela had to do then was not destroy the economy and system he inherited. Yet Mandela gets all the praise.

All Mandela had to do then was not destroy the economy and system he inherited.

Looking at what his successors did that praise seems justified.

Domestic product per capita in South Africa has advanced pari passu with that of United States since 1994. Disappointing, but not disastrous. (South Africa actually lost a great deal of ground by that measure during the period running from 1980 to 1994). South Africa has a high homicide rate, but it's half of what it was twenty years ago.

Except Mandela actually suffered and went to prison because he stood up for the rights of the oppressed majority in South Africa. Oh but he's black so we gotta dump on the hate here on Marginal Revolution

He was also a member of the Communist Party, which does not stand up for anyone's rights. By 1989, most of the African National Congress' executive board was composed of people who had been members of this tiny and repellant little sect.

Mandela came to power by the public lynching of any Black person who did not agree with him or would not support his Communist-front party. The ANC did not start out with the support of the majority. They simply killed all the alternatives.

Not since the Spanish Inquisition have so many Western intellectuals defending burning people to death for political views. In fact it is more or less compulsory in polite circles.

A sensible reading of 20th century history would note Mandela was one of the bad guys. Saved only by the collapse of the Soviet Union that meant he never got to put his plans into action. Unlike Mengistu in Ethiopia for instance.

If you see what happened in South Africa since 1994 as being good then he's a hero. I don't.

It is bizarre that of almost 400 comments on the 2 posts so far, this is all MR commenters have to say about Mandela (though I assume Just Another MR Commentor is trolling)

De Klerk does deserve some praise but South Africa did indeed face the dual threats of international sanctions and unrest at home. De Klerk has clearly stated in interviews that the sanctions and threat of violence and unrest at home were key factors in his decision to release Mandela, legalize the ANC and hold multi-racial elections.

As for Mandela, in 1994, some South Africans were genuinely afraid of civil war. It never happened and Mandela's leadership was almost certainly a big part of that. South Africa has lots of problems today but it has exceeded almost all expectations.

Well, De Klerk and Mandela did jointly receive the Nobel Peace Prize for "their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime." So he certainly received recognition. But Mandela had to take a majority population that had been kicked in the face for 100 years and get it to not inflict 'victor's justice', and to generally respect the ownership rights and privileges of the people who had been doing the kicking.
There was a lot of violence before the end of apartheid, including government death squads and insurgent - terrorists. Cooling off those passions was no easy work.

This is an important insight. One of the great things about the Mandela story was that he had been imprisoned so long under maximum security conditions that he became a blank canvas upon which the seething black populace could project upon. He was the central political figure in a drama whereby he had no political baggage. That gave him along with the wisdom of age the extraordinary ability to act as a realist and pragmatists. The entire black political elite new that white South Africans were essential to a future South Africa that could realize the aspirations of the black population. It was everybody on board or nothing. But that truth had to be masked, and Mandela pulled it off.

Tyler, whilst I completely agree with that you pick people based on how much they have sacrificed, why would you admire creators?

Don't get me wrong, I admire creators the same way that I admire the snow covered peaks of the Alps or IBM's Watson: it's impressive to look at. However, I don't admire those people the same way as I would the people form numbers 1 - 4: those are hard choices to make.

Take Isaac Newton, for example, probably the greatest mind to have ever lived and Keynes' posthumous lecture is like a marvelous painting of a landscape that can only be described as sublime once you perceive it, but he seems to have been a horrible person otherwise.

My feeling is that to (just) use the verb to admire for both is to mix two categories.

I wouldn't call Newton a horrible person, although he might have been unpleasant to be around. He was miserable, a sufferer of what we would today call a mental illness, but I have no reason to believe that he intentionally treated other people poorly.

In response to Tyler's question I thought of figures like Elon Musk too. He primed his query with the earlier list that had public figures like Obama, Pope Francis, and W.

Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders are perhaps the most admirable group of people today IMO

Agree that DWB is terrific, but there are many other charity groups deserving of the same admiration, I don't need to list them all....

Why does Burma/Myanmar matter? At a GDP of $52 B, about the same as North Korea sans nuclear weapons, it does not. I have visited Myanmar at the Thai border, and the border was, even before the liberalization, very porous, so anybody could work in north Thailand illegally. Of particular interest is it seems the heroin ("Golden Triangle") and illegal logging industries sustain the population up there, including the standing armies and other strongmen. And anyway Aung San Suu Kyi seems somewhat compromised since the dictatorship keeps her on a short lease.

I think on a GDP adjusted basis, quite possibly Oprah Winfrey is the most admired. Certainly she added more to world GDP--as measured--than probably all the IBM fellows and even lots of Nobel Prize winners. That's because present society does not reward their inventors, yet they continue to invent for love of science. Should this be admired? It enables businesspeople to capture their valuable output, so I guess it should be celebrated as a cheap way of getting nerds to work. So the winner of my vote is: 'the unknown scientist', like some character out of an Ayn Rand novel.

Burma matters for the same reason Vermont matters - because it's there. And people live in it. Their freedom is just as important as anyone else's.

@LS--ridiculous. You really need to understand how the world works. Vermont != Burma. It's people like you who got us into trouble trying to 'liberate' the Middle East. One factoid for you to consider: people in India deliberately cripple their kids so they can become beggars to get money more easily. How does that comport with The American Way? Quick, write your congressperson! Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and places like that are used to feudal repression; they don't play by our rules. If you don't like it, then advocate open borders so the dissidents (who BTW are typically artists and wacko nut cases, pretty much the dregs of society) can come to the USA.

" illegal logging industries sustain the population up there"

Of course, the trees are the property of the state, the politicians and generals that run the show, not the proles that live in their shade.

My God, Noah's list is pretty bad.

Elizabeth Warren? Really? At least the rest don't typically get discredited within hours of publishing a paper.
Steve Chu is pretty bad too. Took a political position and abruptly left his scientific creds go to waste.
Rest of the list is quite weak as well.

My thoughts exactly.

[i]Elizabeth Warren? Really?[/i]

Noah Smith needed to fill the American Indian slot.

It is simply red meat for his readers. Noah understands his readership and gives them the absurd nominees that they want.

I don't really get why Tyler linked it. There isn't anything in that list for the non-hyper-partisan. I guess it is just cross linking to gain readership.

I thought he was trying to shame Noah for picking partisan ones, just as he criticized the rest of our picks as undeserving.

I get Warren given her role standing in for a democratic party that's anti wall street. We can disagree but it makes sense/

Okay, but even conceding that point: Jon Stewart? Really? Even back when I was your typical college liberal, I found that guy's smugness and "can you even believe it?" routine a little offputting.

Also, this deserves discussion, too:

10. My "heroes of blogging": Brad DeLong, Annalee Newitz, Ramez Naam, Devin Stewart, Cory Doctorow, Phil Yu, Richard Florida, Paul Krugman, Barry Ritholtz, Mark Thoma, Miles Kimball, Justin Wolfers, and more!

Some pretty questionable names on that list. Richard Florida? Am I in a time warp? Is it 2007 again?

This is why Warren is great for the Democratic party. Look how butthurt her opponents get when she shows up on a list. As Rand Paul would say, shh.

Is it because she shows up and shoots arrows at people's hindquarters? She is an Indian after all. I don't think they allow bows and arrows or tomahawks in Presidential Debates however.

And of course conservatives only have racist obsessions to fight back with

You have missed the point about Warren. It is not race. It is fraud.

She seems to have knowingly and dishonesty mis-used a program designed to help the poorest and most marginalized in society, to get herself a massively well-paid tenured job.

The fact that the Left is fine with this shows how little they care about personal integrity - or racial discrimination if it comes down to that. They clearly only see race as an excuse to bash Republicans and shovel money to their clients. Otherwise they would be outraged.

Can't believe I'm telling SMFS to not feed the troll.

JAMRC - I'm enjoying how your satyrical focus on all challenges requiring a solution of open borders is slowly morphing to reflect the more and more overt racism amongst some commenters here. Well played.

You two are morons. JAMRC is making fun of that Warren got her job at Harvard by falsifying that she was American Indian.

No, he's satirizing racist jerks here at MR in his usual Stephen Colbertish way.

Mocking her for abusing affirmative action is not racist, MSG.

I feel like Jesus or Confucius, people arguing over "what he REALLY meant"

You realize he is against immigration? That's his whole shtick, satirical support for open borders

I agree Warren is helping to reinvigorate the Democrats and is a lion in the Senate. I still prefer Hillary for President because she has a wider breadth of experience, but Warren is basically the only person in the Senate fighting Wall St. corruption. When there is so much incentive to cave to Wall St., going the other way is admirable.

The "how butthurt" apparently is "driven to write 'really?'

Yeah, she really drove him over the edge

"This is why Warren is great for the Democratic party. Look how butthurt her opponents get when she shows up on a list."

Yeah. Sure. And also:

"This is why Palin is great for the Republican party. Look how butthurt her opponents get when she shows up on a list."

Agreed. This sentence in particular is rather absurd:

"Chu worked tirelessly to create a sensible energy policy that was diversified and that balanced the need for boldness with the fear of waste."

..."while still satisfying the White House's desire to reward its supporters" is the missing clause.

>Elizabeth Warren? Really?

It takes a lot of balls to brazenly claim Native American heritage based on no evidence whatsoever, and then use this to get $400K annually for teaching a single class at Harvard. This really hasn't been done before. Truly pioneering work.

And how about blaming Jewish bankers for all the world's ills, and using it to further a political career? True, I think that might have been done before. I can't remember the guy's name. Still, this is highly admirable stuff.

"Noah’s list is pretty bad" - but then, he seems like a bad person himself, so it makes sense:


That was a pretty low point in Smith's career as a blogger.

But I hadn't read this before

My topic was the relative harm of cuckoldry & rape. Noah Smith says that this topic itself is innately offensive to most women, who think cuckoldry to be of such low harm that comparing it with rape suggests rape to be low harm. He is further offended that I would talk on a topic if I knew it might offend in this way. I said his presuming cuckoldry is of very low harm offends the many men who think it very high harm. He disagrees that there are many such men, and would bet on a poll on the subject, but thinks it offensive to make such a poll, and won’t help with that.

Assuming that's roughly true, which I can believe, knowing how Noah behaves, what an asshole.

Are you surprised?

Women>Man, Black>White, Etc. Typical.

If we're going to pick Burmese figures, I admire Ashin Wirathu, who's standing against the totalizing universalisms of neo-liberalism, Cultural Marxism, and Islam.

who’s standing against the totalizing universalisms of neo-liberalism, Cultural Marxism, and Islam.

A trifecta of nonsense. Good show.

Trifecta of nonsense: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam - the Abrahamic religions.

Who let the chipmunks get a computer?

Still, the fact that my list creates so much room for women (and non-whites) suggests it reflects the universality of human experience more than what most of you came up with.

Them's fighting words. OK, let's us agree any other list is likely to contain more of the universality of human experience. But so what? The point of admiring people is that their experience is not universal. Everyone's grandmother cooks a mean apple pie. I mean so what? I like my grandmother but I don't expect anyone to admire her.

1. The members of the Mexican judiciary who stood up to the drug gangs? Well let us agree that it is not enough to say that is their job. It is, but it is not enough. Let us also pass over the fact that thousands of them have not stood up to anyone. Let us also pass over the fact that they get police protection. Let me just point out that there are thousands of them. There is only one Elon Musk.

2. Public health professionals who work under great hardship in difficult places, for years, to limit malaria or the spread of Ebola? That is great. Name three. It is so boring, as work goes, that none of us want to know about it. Hence it is not on the news. So much the worse for us. These people tend to be, you know, pretty palid. Also often male. The health risks are not great - so small in fact that a little bit of home isolation was deemed outrageous.

3. How about Aun San Suu Kyi, who endured about fifteen years of prison to help bring greater liberty to Myanmar? For a start she had about fifteen years of house arrest in her comfortable mansion. Not exactly prison. Second, did she change anything?

4. At a smaller scale, well, how about individuals who volunteer to work in the burn unit at the hospital? How many of them are there in the world? We are beyond thousands now. This work is vital if you or a family member gets burned, but the point of such work is that it is routine now. It used not to be. Let us give credit to the palid males who made it so boring. And palid males they mainly were.

People should be admired for doing something exceptional. Punching a time card at a local hospital is nice but not exceptional. Inventing Pay Pal is.

These lists are usually un-PC because so much achievement in the world is the work of palid males. That is just the way the cookie crumbles. We can take ten minutes out to celebrate someone less palid for inventing 36 novel uses of peanuts, as the school system does, or we can just focus on exceptional achievements.

Punching a time card at a local hospital is nice but not exceptional. Inventing Pay Pal is.

It's wonderful to be alive in the age of Paypal. Someday I'll tell my grandchildren what it was like before Paypal was invented. They won't believe it!

I get your point, but I really don't understand the Elon Musk worship by many here. If Telsa (or SpaceX) survive and become major corporations, he'll go down as a titan. A major historical figure. But if ultimately he can only hang his hat on Paypal, he's not going to be mentioned in the same breath as a Steve Jobs or Sam Walton.

Actually I don't get the Elon Musk worship either. The electric car is a waste of money. The space rocket looks interesting but I suspect it is using the wrong technology and won't be economic. However the economic impact of Pay Pal through on-line retail should not be under-estimated.

On the other hand, I think Steve Wozniak deserves more recognition than Jobs. It is great that Jobs could bully everyone around him without conscience or remorse, but the engineering is more important.

Either way, saying that we are all horrible people because we did not pick enough women or non-pallid people is absurd. Such lists should be about individual achievement. Not racial or gender quotas.

But Apple reached, by far, it's greatest heights long after Wozniak was gone. And then there's Pixar (which is actually the source of most of Jobs' wealth). However people want to categorize Jobs (entrepreneur, technologist, marketer, whatever), the only description that truly works is genius.

Yeah, I'm so tired of the diversity nonsense.

How about John Lasseter? An innovator in technology, the arts, and business ...

How about the Coen Brothers? Not only do they consistently make good and different movies over a very long period, but they pioneered in America a new form of the auteur system that doesn't exhaust one individual by teaming up brothers. And they are a role model for how sibling rivalry can be productively managed.

I included John Lasseter on my list.

I admire the people who work at that IHOP right next door to Pixar.

It's Tesla, not PayPal. PayPal is essentially a gimmick. Tesla could revolutionize the world (I am loath to say "save" the world about anything).

Or Tesla could be a dud. The jury is still out. So far it has a niche following & is way more expensive than the utility / economy it offers. Then there are those pesky subsidies. Besides how much truly better for the environment is a Tesla as opposed to a good Hybrid?

Last I checked Tesla stocks weren't doing so good either.

@LG, Rahul, apparently GM has an "EV" electric car variant 'as good as' whatever Tesla offers, just based on some recent news headlines. So the Tesla technology possibly is not so unique to Tesla, and/or the entire industry steals from each other, as is not uncommon as employees move around and IP protection is deliberately weak with know-how and former employees, for better or worse.


Also, the Ford Focus Electric. Already selling at approx. $30,000 & purporting a 105 MPGge.

Out of curiosity what's the best Tesla price point / MPGe so far?

PS. With the Ford Focus' advertised range of 76 miles (real's probably lower) I'm not sure I'd buy it anyways.

If you haven't bought one then I guess you don't think the price is right for the utility it offers you. Obviously the people who bought one disagree. It is a luxury vehicle.


As a luxury vehicle / eccentric product totally fine. But is that why we admire Musk? Is that how Tesla portrays itself?

Mostly +1, except for Aun San Suu Kyi who is losing her credibility because of her non-stance on the Rohingya issue. As of now I am still willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, but at the same time I temporarily suspend her from the list of greats until I see what stand she eventually takes.

Its kinda unfair to derate someone for a non-stance.

Welcome to the brave new world of University politics!


It's amazing how a post about people Tyler Cowen admires instantly turns into "Why I hate nonwhite people". That's the Marginal Revolution comment thread though, the true face of the Right.

As bad as you want this to be true, anyone reading the comments will know you are concocting this completely. One comment about how de Clerk should be given more credit and Mandela less and the racist card comes flying out. Typical Lefty!

Not just one comment, SMFS post was basically just to remind everyone that white males did stuff - you know because its necessary to obsess over that time and time again before he crawls back into his Cavern of Hate.

You can't dispute the factual accuracy of what he says, only say he's somehow immoral for noticing it.

@Antidote - so praising someone for ending the racist apartheid system is racist? Wow, I will never learn the rules of this game.

Yeah, I think what garners a lot of admiration is really talented people doing things the rest of us simply can't do. Standing up for justice and law and order is certainly admirable--I think I may have even seen a movie or two that drove this point home--but that's something that we all should be doing anyway, even if it's just a coworker padding his expense report rather than a Mexican drug cartel.

Somebody like Elon Musk, on the other hand, who, subsidized or not, has put a pretty innovative and cool lookin' car out there on the roads...that's simply beyond the ken of most of us.

If you're going to put so much emphasis on trying to make "pallid" happen you should make sure to spell it correctly.

What kind of dumbass puts up a post titled "Who are the individuals you admire the most?" and then chastises responders for naming individuals rather than categories of people

Well did respondents name any individuals in the categories mentioned?

Strong language aside, I agree with rick.
"Well did respondents name any individuals in the categories mentioned? "-Rahul
Did he?

Why would you expect the individuals one admires most to reflect the "universality of human experience"? Only a very small part of the universality of human experience is especially admirable.

What do you expect from consumers of american culture. Do they even know what principles are anymore? Jesus's life sells advertising on Sunday morning telechurch. People risking a squalid anonymous death at the hands ruthless butchers for some abstract principles? Sounds like a drag, man, gimme that guy tryin to get to Mars, he makes me feel like I'll live forever.

He asked for individuals, not what type of behavior or actions are most admirable. I don't know about you, but I find it really hard to name someone who is "risking a squalid ANONYMOUS death." There's no question that there is a geographic bias, but otherwise the answers seem very reasonable and far superior to the typical Popes and Presidents that top polls.

Seems to me that you would admire people for the behaviour and actions they exhibit, not some other thing that is not at all representative of their character. Or do you go around admiring people for being lucky?

You may not be able to name specific people taking perilous risks for the betterment of all, but you can name that class of people and their subclasses, as Tyler did.

i would submit Tyler is cheating in giving this response since the general assumption is you need to name specific people.


These comment threads remind me, again, of something I don't understand. Tyler Cowen is a very smart person, with an open mind and broad interests, willing to follow where facts and logic lead him. Occasionally he says things that I think are silly and some of what he wants the world to be is not to my taste but I have both learnt a lot and gained gained considerable harmless enjoyment from his blog.

Prof. Cowen, do you ever wonder why so many of your fans are ignorant, narrow-minded and vicious?

an admirably light hand at comment moderation coupled with the natural attractiveness of libertarianism to privileged, thoughtlessly bigoted affluent white males.



Hey, the thoughtlessly-bigoted need a place to spout off once in a while, too!

How about the thoughtfully bigoted?

MR should be judged by the quality of its trolls, not its bigots.

There is the witty JAMRC. There is the one-trick-pony Prior Approval. And, sigh, to everyone's cognitive detriment there is Antidote.

What's your review of Ray Lopez?

But what if, they're all the same person? Do you really want to know just how deep this rabbit hole goes?

JAMRC is suggesting, of course, that we're all just aspects of a bedridden and autistic tyler cowen's psyche.

it kind of all makes sense.

Plus about a trillion. MR comment section was a smarter place in it's earlier days. But the post financial crises the streets here got meaner and dumber. Tribal identity and signaling became more important, as can be clearly distinguished from simply looking at this comment thread, where tribal members are repulsed by the admonition they should look beyond their own tribe for heroes. I still think TC puts less effort into this project than he used too, and there is allot he wont talk about that he used to. For good reason mind you.

He did, you know, kind of call us all narrow minded bigots. You can't accuse people of something like that without having some mild level of blow back. And it has been mild. If you think any of the comments so far are vicious you live in a really really nice town.

Well you are pretty narrow-minded. You can hardly make one post here without it being something to do with race. Tyler Cowen makes a post about people he admires - your response is immediately "we need more white person appreciation".

Tyler's post specifically brought up the topic of race

Just briefly but of course the conservative instinct is to not react positively but instead angrily that he dared to not place white males on a pedestal.

Not exactly

I did not list one single White male nerd to be admired. But then TC, who is generally a sensible person, attacks everyone for not listing enough women and people of less pallor. I did not bring race in to it. Nor do I insist on White people appreciation. But I can see why you need to think I did.

I pointed out that our admiration ought to be for people who actually achieved things. Great things ideally. And that these people are over whelmingly White and male. The former is a value judgement, but a sensible one. The second is an observation that happens to be true.

Why is it that you are so thin skinned and sensitive to being told the truth?

....because its a fairly representative sample of people truly are?

The basic problem is this: For this blog to work properly, Tyler should be the leftmost voice, trolling the commenters to greater achievements. But he's not, so now we get these earnest vapid boring leftoids lecturing and policing us and who can take that seriously? Hence, it just never gets beyond a certain point.

So I don't really know who Elon Musk is, but from the comments it seems that if he had never existed we wouldn't have Paypal and a version of electric cars. If Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan never existed there would be some hundreds/thousands more Liberians dead from Ebola. Which of these made the larger positive difference in the world? Which of these deserves more admiration? I guess ultimately it comes down to values, specifically, how high do you value the life of a black African.

Yes... It says a lot about the commenters here right?

Probably that they don't know who Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan is

By the way, anyone who "values the life of a black African" very highly can save a lot of them for a relatively low cost... There are probably people who have donated thousands of mosquito nets who have saved thousands of lives.


I don't understand the admiration for Musk either. Even in techie, geeky stuff, Torvalds I can imagine. But not Musk. I'd rather admire Dennis Ritchie more than Musk.

He's just well known

I'd put Richard Stallman ahead of Torvalds.

So long as its Stallman and not Musk. :)

He wasn't on my list, but I see why others admire him. In an age where entrepreneurs obsess over Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, he's tackling supremely hard problems. Further, he's doing it via startups rather than government or giant incumbents like defense contractors or car companies.

Sheik Humarr Khan would be a fine choice. I understand he treated roughly 100 Ebola patients (the survival rate?) so I'm not sure how you get "hundreds/thousands." Either way, he deserves a great deal of praise. Excellent choice.

If I were a black African, the first thing I would try to do for my children would be to get them to the West. That would also be my second thing, third, fourth, fifth , etc. However, if I knew my children would be stuck in Sub-Saharan Africa and I could make a wish: either the next black baby born in my country would be exactly like Sheik Humarr Khan or exactly (except black) like Elon Musk. I would take the latter. In fact, if the choice were between 10 Sheik Humarr Khans and just one Elon Musk, I would still choose Musk (provided he too couldn't emigrate).

While I certainly think Dr. Khan is well deserving of the type of respect you suggest (though didn't know the name before you mentioned it) I do think there's an interesting question to consider here. Is it the results one should be respected for, the effort one makes towards specific restuls (even if Khan was unsiccessful, for einstance, doen't the respect still apply?) even if the effort failed, or perhaps more how they went about living their lives (gets away from the ends and focuses on the means in a sence -- dots leading to the question of ends justifying means).

ASSK is certainly someone who has made great sacrifices - leaving her family and a comfortable existence in the west to risk her life serving /leading the struggle in Burma. It veels almost cheap to point it out, but she was not (except for very brief spells) in prison but under house arrest in the family villa on Inya Lake in Rangoon, under conditions the average Burmese would consider extremely luxurious.

noted libertarian blogger polls blog readership on their most admired people, admonishes them for admiring noted libertarians.

film at 11.

Not only are you not answering your own actual question ("individuals"), I'm not sure I entirely believe you. Do you really think of people working in burn wards often enough to honestly say you "admire" them in a meaningful sense? Or do they only come to mind when it's time to signal wholesome community-mindedness?

Though I'll admit that pretty much the only purpose of asking this question public is to invite politicized far-mode signally, which is why I didn't both answering in the first place.

I was pondering putting Louis CK and Dave Chappelle in that thread. I'm glad I didn't throw a wrench in Tyler's moral superiority play.

Here's pre-Louie pre-Carnegie-hall Louis CK ruthlessly mocking man with a down syndrome for 10 minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ea1KyS5kO98&t=02h13m21s (might make you really angry)

I just do not get how liberals gave him a pass.

There are two poles - a list of people you actually admire ranked in order, and moral posturing. The more a list reflects "the universality of human experience" the more likely the latter. Of course, admiration is a weird thing, the point of which I am not really sure.

I agree Tyler should have been more specific, its a bit of a cop out in some sense to not name names. Sometimes I think Tyler is the biggest troll of all. He knows his commenters and just wants to yank their chain by being "different".

The whole topic is strange, how does one even talk about "people you admire" anyway? Is it people who wish to emulate in your life? If that's the case then Tyler would probably list a few economists he admires and who perhaps inspire his own work. Of course this wouldn't be so interesting to readers here since many of them would be obscure academics.

Still Contend Mariano Rivera should be on the list

Meh. He threw one pitch really, really well. (As long as he didn't have to throw it more than 15-20 times.)

He's also the only baseball player to ever single-handedly choke away a World Series Game 7.

Are you sure he's the only pitcher to choke in a WS game 7?

He went multiple innings plenty of times.

How about 50~ Ukrainian men who were advancing with paper-thin shields and were massacred by snipers in Kyiv on February 20 2014. I haven't seen more shameless victim demonisation in my life than what Russians have been spewing about them this whole year.

You're waving the red cape. Some alt-right votary will appear and claim they were all neo-Nazis and that anyone who read widely and critically would know that.

Nothing to see here, peons. Move on.

Tech developed by nerdy white guys eventually improves the lives, directly or indirectly, of the caregiver, activist, or volunteer.

While I admire Musk, I am pretty disappointed that he got so many votes. Yes, he is a CEO and entrepreneur. But there are lots of others like him. Inventing Pay Pal is cool, but is that the most admired invention we can come up with. My only explanation for the level of worship that Musk generates among MR readers is that he is a guy with cool cars and cool rockets. If he were inventing vaccines or harder-to-understand technologies (e.g. an industrial process), nobody would pay attention.


Your readers are, basically, nerdy white guys. That's who is interested in what you are interested in. Everybody else wants to talk about whether the Seahawks should have handed off to Marshawn Lynch or whether Kim is looking like she has put on some pounds.


Well said, kind of boils it down to the essence. I guess Tyler is hoping his audience of nerdy white guys would tone down the hate.

What hate are you talking about?

Still, the very top of my personal list would be shaped more by how much individuals had sacrificed.

Fallacy of mood affiliation. What is admirable isn't sacrifice, but rather achievement. Perhaps Prof. Cowen should discover his inner economist, and consider that sacrifices are actually a cost. Besides which, are these people even making great sacrifices? On the margin, the sacrifices made by (say) hospital volunteers and public health professionals is very low - they are getting psychic compensation, which is why these positions are always heavily oversubscribed, despite the low pay.

Within the rules of eligibility, the person I most admire is Margaret Thatcher.

Yeah, I'd imagine being a nurse or doctor, while at times difficult, is also very satisfying.

For sacrifice you need to look at people who defer gratification to a greater extent. You might as well choose someone who is thrifty. They forego the immediate pleasure of spending, don't become a burden to others and their savings fuel investments elsewhere.

So my hat is off to the bedrock of modern civilization - the hard working man or woman in a second hand Honda, small or no mortgage and fully self funded pension.

We wouldnt be here without you.

Listen, we can all tolerate and even appreciated good trolling, but you need to come up with something new, you are getting way too boring.

Fallacy of mood affiliation. What is admirable isn’t sacrifice, but rather achievement. It's not any particular kind of fallacy, it is just a value judgment about what "admiration" is for.

If you take utilitarian view, then "admiration" is like a prize he hand out for valuable services that might otherwise be under-provided. Then spending your admiration on people who invent clever stuff in order to make lots of money is probably wasteful: they would do it any way. Better to "compensate" people for their sacrifice.

Of course above argument is not the only valid one, not least because you might night take the utilitarian view. The point is that admiring sacrifice is reasonable, not an outright fallacy.

There are admirable nerdy white guys: plant scientists that develop new GMOs. GMO patent periods are ending. Which will be the most famous generic GMO?

Norman Berlaug's dwarf wheat has had far greater impact, by orders of magnitude, than any GMO since developed (however much one might hope that might one day change) - and no one had to wait for the patent to expire.

Name one. Just one.

Bt corn? Corn yiels will still rise since adoption is not 100% and technology is still developing. Perhaps in 10-20 years the yield increase by GMOs will be the same or greater compared to the Green Revolution. http://www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/corn/news/timeless/yieldtrends.html

What do you prefer, 120 or 160 bushels per hectare?

The fact that none of us can name one of them doesn't really nullify his point, though it probably makes a decent point about what society values.

All of us can name Mark Zuckerberg, who stole the idea for a Friendster rip-off and turned it into software that wastes untold trillions of hours. None of us can name the folks who developed fracking and broke the OPEC/Russia stranglehold on the world economy. That does not make Zuckerberg the more admirable person. (Even if you think fracking is a disaster, you can't think it's worse than Facebook.)

Then again, I think we've all been a bit fuzzy on the word "admire" and that has led to some of our disagreements.

Developing technology that makes life better for large numbers of people makes you, by definition, a benefactor of mankind. On the other hand, Zuckerberg, the fracking folks and the GM food folks all get paid good money to do interesting work in comfortable surroundings. To folks who think you have to suffer to be admirable, they don't qualify. On the other hand, I understand rational thinkers who think it's insane to celebrate a guy who sacrifices his comfort for decades to save a few hundred kids from malaria over the guy who cures malaria, just because the latter does so from the comfort of a nice university lab.

I suspect there is also a difference between people who we admire and people we would like our children to emulate.

Here's some admirable non-whites, Tyler:

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda
King Abdullah of Jordan
James Shikwati, Kenyan economist.

King Abdullah's mother was British, so he might not be non-white enough for your liberal friends.

The jury is very much out on Kagame; many accuse him of depotism.

I would rather suggest Paul Rusesabagina.

While both have their detractors, none of Rusesabagina's have ended up prematurely dead.

He kills in a timely manner?

If the goal was to pick a person who best reflects the universal human experience, you'd have to find the laziest, most fearful, mediocre person in the world.

Admirable people tend to be admirable because of how far they deviate from "the universality of human experience".

Musk is a subsidy whore - a smart one but nothing admirable there.

I'd vote for salma hayek.

This highlights how many ways you can define 'admire'.

"I’d vote for salma hayek."

She's one of the most vacuous actors around. And that's a pretty high bar to jump.

I'm pretty sure it's not her acting skills he admires.

At this point, I don't know about admire here, but I wonder if the future great leader of our times will be Angela Merkel. Right now she is in the middle of defending the Euro against Grexit, dealing with continued Euro problems and does most of the Russian/Ukraine/West negotiations at this point. Of course, it matters how these issues turn out for her reputation.

Otherwise, most admired are the doctors and nurses in Africa dealing with a true Ebola crisis.

Not one mention of Paul Farmer?

That's Bananas.


Journalists who endure hardship and risk kidnapping, disease, and death reporting to us from the world's war-torn nations and political and civil hot spots.


I guess I am the only person who's never heard of Elon Musk?

Because you're not a nerdy white guy.

"I guess I am the only person who’s never heard of Elon Musk?"

He's the driving force (and CEO) of Paypal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX. While several commentors have pointed out that only the first on of those (Paypal) is a phenomenal success, the other two have the potential of being just as big.

He's probably had a bigger impact on humanity than any particular actor you could name.

Not bigger than Clooney, surely?

"Now I don’t like to play “the PC card,” and if a process generates a lot of nerdy white guys, I don’t then assume that process is necessarily biased or requiring correction. Still, the fact that my list creates so much room for women (and non-whites) suggests it reflects the universality of human experience more than what most of you came up with." -Mutually exclusive implications, please expand upon this. If you are "adjusting" a measure to create room for women and then assume it's better simply because it creates room for women, you ARE assuming a measure a process generating nerdy whtie guys requires correction, for the typical use of the word "assume."

It's natural to care more about(and be more familiar with) something that's happening in your own country, to your own people than something that is happening to foreigners, which is why Edward Snowden got a lot of votes and no one has yet voted for Aun San Suu Kyi or any of those Mexican judges.

By your criteria, Alberto Nisman would have been a timely pick.

Re: Elon Musk


"Will they still love me when I'm 64?"

It will be interesting to watch if Elon fails in a business venture before he is 64, and then

Whether he will still be on the list of those who chose him for the items he sponsored before the failure?

There were many men who were hailed as inventors, captains of industry, etc. in there own time who you don't hear about today because of the advancement of technology or their business failure in the Great Depression.

What do these celebrities, wealthy and famous in their own days, all have in common:

M.C. Hammer, Burt Reynolds, Kim Basinger, Larry King, Mark Twain, Wayne Newton, Dionne Warwick, Debbie Reynolds, and Ulysses S. Grant.

They went bankrupt.

"What do these celebrities, wealthy and famous in their own days, all have in common:"

They're all American.

Malala Yousafzai


I think it also depends on your definition of admire.

If one was to summarize people's lists from the previous post it would be "here's a list of people who did something I wish I could do in achieving greatness". These are things you could try to do but are extremely hard to achieve.

By contrast Tyler's list here is "here's a list of people who demonstrate the best characteristics of humanity". These are things that take great sacrifice to try, but are relatively achievable if you decide to do them.

I'm not sure it's a difference of morals or ideals as much as priming. The original list in the first post showed people who had achieved greatness, that framed the debate as a discussion as to which kind of greatness people aspired to.

when i read the prompt for the last post, i could swear it said "man" and not "individual". it momentarily gave me pause that women were excluded, but i decided that it was by design for some reason.

obviously i should have examined more closely. kudos for taking us to task.

It's a bit more subtle than that.

The first post was entitled: "Who Are the Most Admired Men in America Today", and then proceeded to list men.

The second post was entitled: "Who Are Individuals You Admire the Most?", which makes a reference back to the first post, but the post also now refers to individuals, and lists Joan of Arc and Einstein as individuals in the text.

Perhaps you were framed.

"as a group you picked too many nerdy white guys"... "few of you picked entertainers or sports figures, as such individuals have figured prominently on such lists in the past"

Maybe partly because fewer of the prominent entertainers and sports figures today are nerdy white guys?

The nerdy white guy quotient among great athletes and entertainers has remained constant over the decades — at zero.

There are many entertainers who play nerdy guys but almost none who are nerdy guys. If, say, Woody Allen were the sort of insecure, indecisive loser he pretends to be, he would not have thrust himself in front of the masses as a performer and then made a movie a year for nearly 50 years now.

Ted Williams was a professional athlete, true. As a baseball player, he demonstrated a ferocious intensity at the plate, becoming arguably the best contact hitter of the modern era. He also mastered the Green Monster as a right fielder in Fenway Park.

Williams also was a naval aviator who worked as a pilot instructor during the 2nd World War and a combat pilot during the Korean conflict. He had been granted a dependency deferral from military service because he was the sole support for his mother. After being criticized for this, he set aside money to support his mother and enlisted in the Navy. Instead of taking the easy road, and playing baseball on a military service team, (as did many other athletes), Williams flew 39 combat missions in Korea. In 1991, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the US.

Williams was a great athlete, and was more than an athlete. *That* is why he garnered the respect of so many Americans.

He merits respect for his achievements and honor within certain spheres. He was also a cold and difficult man in domestic circumstances and ran roughshod over his wives. That his oldest daughter and his son got into a gruesome dispute over his corpse after he died was fitting in its way

Many on everyone's list are admirable for their public behavior and jerks privately. That's yet another portion of the Comedie Humaine.

The Green Monster is in left field.

Ted Williams was a left fielder.

Steven B said otherwise, I was correcting him.

Of course the Green Monster is in left field! My mistake. Ted Williams played both right field and left field during his career. He was switched from right fielder to left fielder in 1940 when the bullpen was built in right field and to give Dom DiMaggio playing time.

Tyler's answer was one step above: I admire fireman, police officers, nurses and teachers, for all the good they do.

Kids, what do you want to be when you grow up? A firmeman, police officer, nurse, teacher.

“Now I don’t like to play “the PC card,” and if a process generates a lot of nerdy white guys "

This is pretty funny. You don't like to be PC, yet you describe obviously brilliant and competent men as simply "nerdy", instead of brilliant and competent. No, you don't do PC. Not at all. Certainly not in the same sentence.

Just like it's factual to point out how many people picked here are white, it's factual to note how nerdy so many of them are, in addition to being brilliant. In fact brilliant usually means nerdy too. Own it.

No. Saying someone is "nerdy" doesn't qualify them as brilliant and competent. At least not on the world class level. So D's point is correct. Tyler is clearly being Politically Correct. He set up the rules, people responded, he was upset with the results and has changed the rules and chastised those who didn't provide "correct" answers.

There are many not-brilliant nerds, but few brilliant non-nerds

It's also factual to point out they have two legs. But what sets them apart and why they were chosen wasn't that they were two legged or nerdy. It's that they're generally brilliant and competent. But paring those words next to "white guys" is dangerous territory.

Maybe the Tyler Cowen ideal audience (aspy stem-educated infovores with a deep appreciation of high culture; generous, tolerant cosmopolitans with no time for PC taboos; libertarians with a serious interest in history and anthropology; people who read Ayn Rand and the LRB) just isn't very big.

I have no interest in Ayn Rand. And I gave up on the LRB years ago when it allied itself with the postmodernist Far Left.

What the hell am I supposed to read?

Edward Snowden

He is now living as an exile in a (very) distant land for having the courage to reveal to the American people the extent to which their government was spying on them. I can't even fathom comparing someone like Elon Musk to him. Musk puts his fortune on the line, but Edward Snowden has risked absultely everything - his freedom, his fortune, and his life.


Good pay, a Hawaiian paradise, and a really hot girlfriend? You call giving that up for Moscow a sacrifice? Oh, I suppose so.

"1. The members of the Mexican judiciary who have stood up to the drug gangs, often at the expense of their lives. They believed in a better future for Mexico and I think eventually they will triumph."

I can't understand why this is number one on your list. And that's not to question the heroism of the judges. But the only reason the drug gangs exist or at least the major reason is the misguided American war of drugs, destroyer of thousands of lives. So the judges support this destruction? I would want to see the judges on this list if they stood up against this misbegotten war.

I would add Ai Weiwei to your list as well

Tyler, would Bruce Jenner be acceptable to you as a compromise?


No mention of Normal Borlaug? To me, he's my #1 and its not even close.

I like his sister Abby Normal Borlaug better.

I thought of Norman Borlaug, but I thought Tyler wanted us to list living people, by name.

Bob Dylan is the man I most admire. Does he count as a nerdy white guy?

Is there any doubt?

I have doubts, msgkings.

With which part? The nerdy, white, or guy?


I made a wikisurvey which is a fun way to express who you admire:
You can submit your own suggestions or just compare ideas others have submitted.

Elon Musk

Define "admire"

If I could trade places with anybody, It would be George Clooney or Lebron.

If we're nominating people who are improving the human condition, I'd choose Bill Gates. There have been others who poured tons of money towards ending poverty in Africa, but Mr. Gates seems to have a more realistic idea of the causes.

If we're giving thankless bravery awards, It goes to anyone who preaches secularism in Islamic countries.

Yes Doctors without borders.

I find Tyler's inability to actually name the great majority of those he claims to "most admire" telling :)

Everybody's new favorite blogger Scott Alexander once observed that "nerdy white guys" has become a favorite phrase of the internet bully. And indeed, this kind of high-handed intellectual bullying is typical of Tyler, as regular readers should know by now.

Still, as mean-spirited and dirty as this trick of asking readers to take a poll and then insulting them based on their answers was, I'm tempted to say that if you haven't stopped falling for Tyler Cowen's tricks by now, you have only yourself to blame.

Just when nerds thought they were safe from bullying by living online...

I like Tyler's list. I nominate Deborah Hughes, who in response to the savage beating of a man in her neighbourhood lay across the body of the man being beat and promised herself that she would put a bullet in the next person to strike him, from ."http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/26/opinion/a-beating-in-detroit.html"

Noah Smith's list is only about him pretending to be smarter and a better person than you, He is not. Whomever you may be.

John Dehlin has suffered mightily for an excellent cause.

Those who fought for the rights of the unpopular:

* Radley Balko - the criminally accused
* Jacob Sullum - drug users
* Belle Knox - sex performers and sex workers

BARACK OBAMA, obviously. Game set and match, please form an orderly line for autographs.

You can praise the martyrs who sacrifice themselves to mitigate the pain for a few people in the short term or you can praise the "nerdy white guys" who have made life better for everyone in the long term.

The short term sacrifice might be more noble but the long term benefit is more useful.

Nikola Tesla did more good for more people than all the "saints" who ever lived did combined.

(my nominations included a nerdy Jew and a nerdy Chinese-American)


Jack Bogle.

Dashrath Manjhi

three who fall within the 5 year deceased window:
George P. Mitchell
George Modelski
James Beniger

and two who are still with us
Immanuel Wallerstein
Peter Hugill

and Rep. Randy Forbes

More than icky, working in the burn unit is emotionally hard, seeing children come in with burns from their parents meth labs.


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